School governors are people who want to make a positive contribution to children’s education. Governors are one of the largest volunteer forces in the country, and have an important part to play in raising school standards. The role of the governing body is absolutely key to the effectiveness of a school. Time and time again Ofsted has noted that the most efficacious schools demonstrate successful leadership and management – including by the governing body.
School governors provide strategic leadership and accountability in schools, and they appoint the headteacher and deputy. In some schools, it is the governors who hold the main responsibility for finance, and it is governors who work with the headteacher to make the tough decisions about balancing resources.
We interviewed Nicky Wadley, Head of Governance at Ormiston Academies Trust, who offered an insight into the challenges currently facing school governors in the UK today.
The following, in no particular order, are common problems Ms Wadley believes are affecting governors:
- Transition period – governance is in a transition period and experiencing an emerging model, from the stakeholder model to a skills-based model. This may lead to some governors not quite knowing what their role is and where their original contribution fits in with the emerging model, and also some governors questioning the value of their contribution. This can potentially create inconsistencies on governing bodies due to mixed understanding and expectations. It takes an effective Chair to manage this period of change and to support governors (who may have been elected on a four-year term) to have the opportunity to access good training, and be given the chance for their skills to be enhanced to fit a skills-based model, or to be supported to recognise the role may no longer be for them.
- Outcomes – the expected outcomes for children is becoming increasingly high and governors are needing to keep up-to-date with some very fast-paced changes in how these outcomes are measured. We have seen changes to Ofsted judgements and the removal of levels, and as much as teaching staff have been unclear about the data this year, governors have too. The job of holding the senior leadership team (SLT) to account against unknown criteria has been difficult – in both the roles of support and challenge! Changes in political focus has added to the feeling of confusion, governance is certainly in a time of change and uncertainty.
- Finances – school finances are becoming even more challenging, standards are expected to rise and we are in the midst of a recruitment crisis. This combination is creating a perform storm; all feeding into and impacting on each other. To improve outcomes, you need appropriately and highly-skilled staff, or the ability to recruit high-quality staff with the right skills and expertise – but you need to have the resources to fund this. Governors are having to make some challenging decisions around how resources are allocated.
- Recruitment – it is a shared challenge for the majority of governing bodies to recruit people with the right skills, who have the time and inclination to volunteer for the role of governors. The emerging skills-based model in governance has made recruitment much more focussed, but also more challenging – giving governors another task they have to manage. This increases the expectation on governing bodies and, with a heavier focus on accountability and skills, makes recruitment a challenge. A creative approach to recruitment is needed; if you carry on doing the same, you will get the same results! Inspiring Governance is an online matchmaking service which can help governors connect with skilled volunteers who are interested in joining the board.
These are a fairly unnerving set of challenges – and with current, ever-changing legislation, its seems apparent that this list will continue to grow. Many governors, or prospective governors, may feel a sense of foreboding about the months and years ahead, but with the correct procedures in place, there is no reason why any board of governors can’t be run effectively, overcoming any challenges, and ensuring the smooth running of the school community.
TheSchoolBus is rapidly and irrevocably changing the expectations placed on school support by doing more, for less. We offer the only made-to-order model policies on the market; provide up-to-the-minute news updates affecting governors; source insightful guidance from specialists in the sector and deliver it through a variety of interesting and quality assured methods; answer questions quickly and accurately; address all areas of governance through a combination of trusted guidance and actionable resources. Head over to our dedicated section for Governors for all our related resources and supporting documents!
Nicky Wadley (2016) (Email communication regarding the challenges facing governors) [Personal communication: 9 November 2016]