Three core functions of high quality governance
The role of school governors is sometimes overlooked when discussing the levers for school improvement.
In a Westminster Hall debate, on 8 October, the schools Minister, David Laws, acknowledged how important governors can be in driving school improvement. Laws said “Our Department believes that school governance has a vital role to play in driving up school standards and pupil performance” and “The success of our education system relies upon the expertise and hard work of those governors, and we need more skilled governors to help schools to improve, particularly in many of the disadvantaged areas where school performance is, at most, inadequate.”
He continued: “In our view, high-quality governance is characterised by a relentless focus on three core strategic functions: first, setting the vision of the school; secondly, holding the head teacher and senior managers of the school to account for their educational performance; and thirdly, ensuring—of course—that the school’s money is well and properly spent.
“Those functions reflect the criteria that Ofsted inspectors use when considering the effectiveness of governing bodies. All governing bodies, in both maintained schools and academies, should focus on these functions, leaving the senior leadership team responsible and accountable for the day-to-day management of the school. They should stay focused on these big issues and other specific statutory duties, and avoid being distracted by the myriad other things that might compete for their attention.”
The Government funds the School Governor’s One Stop Shop to offer a free service to schools and local authorities, in order to help them to find new and highly skilled governors. And Laws is keen to enlist the CBIs support in getting more business leaders onto governing boards.,particularly in disadvantaged areas. Laws said “To achieve the very best for the children in their school, every governing body needs to reflect regularly on its effectiveness and performance, and governing bodies should not be shy of paying for high-quality training and development to help improve their skills and effectiveness.”
Laws also focused on the issue of collaboration. He said “Governing groups of schools can be highly effective, and it can also bring many benefits. In particular, it can help to drive up standards by enabling governing bodies to compare and contrast across schools, thereby creating more robust accountability. It can also enable highly skilled governing bodies to have an impact in more schools. We in the Department encourage governing bodies to put aside any issues of territorialism, and to consider—where it is appropriate—forming a single governing body across a federation of schools. Alternatively they can, of course, consider a multi-academy trust or an umbrella trust, which benefit from the greater freedoms of academy status.”
In short, what is required is that governors have sufficient time, interest and skills to do their job effectively .And ,crucially, they are prepared to support and challenge in equal measure.
Ministers are sensitive about claims that the structural reforms have reduced accountability .They see chains and governance of groups of schools as a means to deliver school improvement and more accountability. However, most schools are not part of a chain ,or partnership arrangement.