The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Lisa Griffin

The need for a ‘thinking’ governing body

Lisa Griffin reports back from the Optimus ‘Developing Skilled and Strategic Governing Bodies’ conference.

The first task of the day for those attending the conference was to answer a question posed by chair for the day Dr Jamie Clarke, an executive headteacher and National Leader of Education. He asked the room how they thought the role of governor would develop in the near future. Would it:

  • become more straightforward
  • become more complex
  • remain about the same?

A quick poll found a whopping 96% felt it would be more complex – is this any surprise? In a constant and rapidly changing educational landscape, the role of the governing body is perhaps more important than ever.

Like a dog with a bone

Director of RMA Governor Support and National Leader of Governance, Ruth Agnew, began with her keynote on the new Ofsted framework and expectations of governors.

She outlined the importance of providing evidence of the work of the governing body for Ofsted inspections and likened the behaviour of governors to that of ‘a dog with a bone’ when holding schools to account. It is not enough to just ask questions of the headteacher and school, governors must also be ready to challenge the response they receive and, like a dog with a bone, not let go of the issue until they are satisfied with the evidence.

The importance of the increased level of accountability governors now have was a recurring theme throughout the day, which inevitably involved discussing the ‘Trojan Horse’ case. Emma Knights, chief executive of the National Governors’ Association, provided an excellent round-up of the lessons learnt by governing bodies and what has changed in terms of their accountability since the’ Trojan Horse’ case.

I attended various sessions during the day which dug deeper into how to develop a skilled, strategic governing body. School improvement consultant and vice chair of governors at a primary school, Yvonne Lewington, outlined a four-step guide to carrying out an effective skills audit of a governing body – a crucial task in identifying gaps and areas of development for governors.

Questions and challenge

There are many questions governors can and must ask of a school to ensure they carry out their responsibility in holding it to account, but there are also questions governors must ask of themselves to ensure they are contributing to the work of their governing body:

  • What is our purpose?
  • Are we equipped to fulfil our responsibilities?
  • What are we missing?
  • Do we need to recruit for the skills we need?
  • Can we develop the skills through training?

This train of thought tied in nicely with a session from National Leader of Governance and National Coordinator of Governor Services Chair, Andy Kent, on the importance of governor self-evaluation and how this impacts on planning for school improvement. If you don’t know the strengths and weaknesses of your school, how are you able to understand how it needs to develop, fulfil your role in effectively holding the school to account and provide evidence of it for Ofsted? It’s no small task, that’s for sure.

Advice that will certainly help came from all experts throughout the day; the role of a skilled and strategic governor is that of a thinker, not a do-er. Governors need to possess the skills required to develop a strategy which directs the success of a school, not to do the school’s job for it.

According to Ofsted, the responsibility of a governor is to ensure clarity of vision, ethos and strategic direction, including long term planning – the operational, do-er tasks belong to that of the school. The strategic ‘thinker’ task for the governor is to support the headteacher and find ways to provide a climate where headteachers, and ultimately the school, thrive.

Further reading

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