With the continuous shifts and changes in the educational landscape, leadership in schools has become an even more significant component (as if that was possible) when it comes to maximising student outcomes; potential and making sure all children have access to the best possible education. It is our role to provide a safe and secure learning environment that serves to protect the best interests of pupils while giving them the opportunity to shape their own futures.
Taking into consideration the post-covid learning gaps, the diminishment in student confidence when it comes to their abilities, and bolstering adapted routines to make every lesson even more effective, effective school governance is central to the promotion of high standards and expectations. With high standards comes better educational achievement for all.
It is important to note that the role of the school governor is diverse. It is of huge importance, especially within the current learning climate, that we are well-equipped to meet the significant and sometimes unprecedented challenges of raising and maintaining standards of teaching and learning.
Governing board members, form an integral part of the school leadership team, and it is their role to ensure that the long-term vision of the school is attainable and that it aligns itself with the ambitions for achievement and teaching and learning standards. By offering their unwavering support to the headteacher, and challenging plans and expectations, they are essentially what makes the school itself successful in its inclusive approach to making success a reality for all pupils within their care.
It is crucial, then, that these board members, which are often made up of local people, are effective and dynamic when it comes to ensuring that standards are high, teaching and learning are at their best, and that facilities, equipment and the building itself are well maintained to foster progression and achievement. Despite their distance from the actual teaching and running of the classroom environment, it is their eyes-on and unbiased approach that helps steer the ship in the right direction alongside the senior leadership team.
With a well-established governing body working behind the scenes for the best possible outcomes, success is a real possibility. Especially, when it comes to plugging learning gaps, and providing an effective provision that prioritises achievement and progress for the young people within the care of the organisation.
It is important to remember, then, that effective school governance embodies appropriate structures that reflect the scale of the educational institution, with definable clarity over key priorities that ensure improvements can continuously be made.
So, with this in mind, let’s take a look at what makes a governing body even more effective and successful.
Firstly, it is important to recognise the effectiveness of the governing body in line with the three core functions.
The core function of an effective school governing body should be centered around providing strategic leadership that involves planning and executing upon a school vision that benefits all involved.
School visions and strategic priorities, although focused upon achievement, progress and the effectiveness of provision, should also be keenly aligned with the setting and modelling of the school’s culture. Therefore, its values and ethos should be highlighted and focused upon as a key priority.
Accountability and Financial Wellness
Solid systems of accountability for executive leaders are also central to enabling the longevity of high standards and expectations. What’s more, it contributes to the school’s long-term sustainability, and functionality as well.
An effective school governing body, then, will be proactive in holding executive leaders to account when it comes to educational performance and pupil progression. What’s more, they will be vocal when it comes to challenging how performance management is handled when it comes to the continuous professional development and appropriate improvement strategies outlined for staff.
In addition, overseeing the financial performance of the institution and making sure that school money meets the outlined priorities that will contribute to sustainability and continuous improvement is vital, too.
Having a culture within the organisation that enables governors to challenge the headteacher, and other leaders, allows for communal contributions that create positive outcomes for everyone involved. That includes leadership, teachers and staff members, pupils, parents and all those affiliated with the journey that the school is on.
Communication, although a seemingly obvious one, is key to making sure that both executive and non-executive leadership are on the same page when it comes to achieving the long-term goals outlined within the school vision itself.
This goes for creating time and ensuring there are plenty of opportunities for members of the governing body to meet, too. These meetings should have a consistent set of standards that recognise the importance of everyone’s opinion, and the culture should promote a safe space for members to have the confidence to challenge one another, as well. This way, we can learn from each other, and other schools, and share best practices when it comes to contributing to the overall improvement of the facility.
Foster positive relationships
To make sure everyone is working towards the same goals, targets and objectives, it is crucial that we foster positive relationships between both governors and school leaders. Furthermore, the relationship itself should be based on trust, the ability to be open with one another, and transparency.
It is the role of the governor to systematically monitor progress towards meeting specifically agreed development targets. Therefore, any information regarding what is going well, and where improvements should be made, need to be shared without bias, and with the wider context of school operations in mind. For this to consistently work, a culture should be established that enables governors to ask for information and seek clarification when explanations are necessary to widen understanding. By having this in place, identifying and planning for actionable improvement processes becomes much easier.
Don’t forget to always behave with a high level of integrity and offer mutual support to both fellow governors and senior leaders. This symbiotic relationship is more effective when we are understanding of one another, and we recognise that school leaders and governors provide different perspectives which contribute to strong leadership.
Consider SEND in everything that you do
Making learning inclusive and accessible to all is vital when it comes to ensuring that every pupil has an opportunity to succeed. Considering, and paying importance to the SEND provision available, then, will ensure that high standards permeate into the wider reaches of teaching and learning across the school. This goes for pupil premium and closing the learning gap for disadvantaged students, as well.
Make it a priority to dig deep into the data and examine how the SEND pupils within the school’s care are performing. Use pupil voice, too, when it comes to identifying what can be done better, and explore how the current curriculum aligns itself with a SEND perspective.
Another thing that we can do to ensure that SEND provision provides realistic and high levels of achievement is to elect a SEND Link Governor. This role will require the SLG to meet regularly and work closely with the SENCO and feedback to the board. By incorporating this line of communication into your governing structure, not only do you gather information on how this particular area of provision is performing currently, it gives you a unique insight into where developmental opportunities lie, enabling us to address areas for improvement efficiently and through the most appropriate lines of action.
It can sometimes be challenging to get everyone in the same place at the same time. With this in mind, make sure to consult every member of the board and compromise on a meeting time that is suitable for all to attend.
To get even more out of your governor’s meetings, make the experience visual. Creating a few slides that are engaging and making sure they are aligned with the clear agenda of the meeting will really help you get your point across. This is even more impactful if the meeting itself has a lot of information to cover. If this is the case, why not consider bringing in a co-host if you are leading on the meeting? This can break up blocks of information, and make the process more digestible for those in attendance.
Most of the discussion you will have around school improvement and strategies will be confined to scheduled board meetings. If you are taking a lead role in organising these, make sure to keep the meeting below a two-hour period. Concentration is key to discovering effective solutions and building achievable strategies, asking anyone to sit in a meeting beyond the two-hour mark and remain completely focused on the task at hand is a big ask.
If you are chairing the meeting, it is your responsibility to make sure board agendas, minutes and reports are issued well in advance of the commencement of your planned meeting. What’s more, it is crucial that you keep all board members on task, and that discussions taking place are confined to the agenda, so as not to waste precious time when everyone is together.
If there are further discussion points that arise from the original agenda, consider creating subcommittees. Again, make sure that minutes, reports and agendas are issued prior to this taking place, so that any subsequent discussion can be focused on decision-making.
Involvement not Interference
An effective school governor is passionate about the school they are involved and active in contributing to the continuous improvement of their organisation. However, there is a big difference between being involved and interfering with proceedings. For example, it is a good idea to attend school events, as this enables us to assess if things are going well, but there is no need for us to be involved in the running or organising of said events.
With this in mind, it goes without saying, good board members definitely do not cultivate favourites among school leadership or staff and keep the welfare of the school, as a whole, central to the decisions they make. Equality, in this sense, is everything.
Make sure to attend as many school functions as you can, and be proactive in meeting new members of staff. Communicating at appropriate times with the appropriate members of staff is key when it comes to gathering information, getting to know how the school runs on a daily basis and gaining knowledge of the provision available for the children at the present time.
Always look at the big picture
Although it is only natural for anyone to be passionate about what they think will be the most beneficial to the school’s overall growth, it is also important to recognise that there are many components to bringing about continuous success.
It is important, then, to leave any discussion regarding your own child’s progress (if they attend the school) out of group meetings. For strategies and the overarching vision of the school to become a functioning and effective tool for promoting growth, we must recognise the wider context of how the school’s operations cater for all pupils and how this translates into improved outcomes for everybody.
Listen to Parents
A governing board’s engagement with parents is also vital to the success of the school as a whole. By considering the opinions and concerns of parents, in conjunction with the voices of both pupils and staff, we can effectively construct outcomes that are suitable for all involved.
By getting to know parents and encouraging them to engage in their child’s learning journey, strengths and developmental areas are much easier to identify and rectify. Although governors do not direct staff, it’s important that we do everything we can to support the people who make those decisions and, therefore, help school leaders to shape the educational experience offered to children.
Sometimes, governing boards can be seen as a place for parents to raise concerns and/or complaints, but, we can achieve things on a much greater scale when we work collaboratively towards the same goals.
Reflect and Correct
Reflection is a key skill in many walks of life, and equally, this practice is important if we are going to continue to contribute positively to the improvement of the organisation we are involved in. Self-evaluation, then, is a fundamental feature of good school governance.
By considering how our own performance impacts the leadership, strategies and vision of the school itself, we can effectively adapt and become flexible in how we approach the broad range of requirements to impact improvement.
What’s more, it allows us to consider whether we as a whole are delivering the core functions of a governing body in an effective, ethical and accountable way, that we assure compliance, as well as achieve improved outcomes for all pupils within our care.
Finally, do it with passion
It goes without saying, but when something is done with passion, you are likely to achieve more collectively. For any team to be effective, and to implement the changes and improvements required to maximise outcomes, all governors should be ambitious for the children within their care and have an unwavering commitment to continuous school improvement and the sustainability of their school.
For even more information on effective school governance, and how this aligns itself with preparing for an Ofsted visit, take a look at this blog.