Governing Bodies

Simon Clifford's picture
I joined my child's school as a parent Governor about three years ago. For the first year I coasted, read all the briefings, did some training and tried to do my bit. In the second year I wanted to make a difference. What I discovered was that my Governing body did many things very well, but other things less well.

I decided to make an impact using my core web/technology skills and was greeted with polite support, but was largely unsuccessful. Frustrated I went on more training, and spoke with other Governors, on the training sessions, only to learn that my experience was far from unique.

Therein I began to connect and contact other governing bodies in my borough and five months on I am now the Chair of an association of schools, with representation from 55 schools in my borough, supported by the local authority.

I think the model of governing bodies and their recruitment from education, community and parents is a strong, but my experience has shown that the model must be rigorously re-enforced.

I would welcome contact from any governor or interested party keen to learn from my personal experience and that of the association I launched.
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Henry Stewart's picture
Thu, 16/02/2012 - 22:27

Simon, Thanks for this post. I am Chair of Governors of a secondary school in Hackney. I think many people do find the role of governor challenging and its a useful discussion to have. I've now been a Chair for 12 years (first of a primary then a secondary) and hope I've learnt a bit along the way.

I'd be interested for you to give more detail of what worked and what didn't.

The key for me is the 'critical friend' role, being hugely supportive but also challenging and ensuring accountability. Included in this is setting a clear strategic focus, ensuring the right data is being collected in the school and reported to governors, and clear monitoring of this.

One useful thing we've done (learnt from another Hackney school) is to set one specific key governor focus for each year. The school leadership has reported back on this key issue at each meeting and an agreed clear priority has been very useful.

But do say more on your experience and the benefits of your association.

Leonard James's picture
Fri, 17/02/2012 - 08:06

The best thing a governor can do is get into the school and ask teachers what they need to get the job done. What I don't need is yet another critical friend telling me what I need or yet more interference from those trying to further their own agenda.

S Governor's picture
Thu, 14/02/2013 - 13:18

I became a parent governor 2 years ago at my daughter's primary. My experience is almost entirely negative. The head is a control freak who wants the governing body to be a group of "Yes men". It is a waste of time being involved.

I am not some naive fool who thinks they know better than those working "at the coal face" and I am entirely familiar with the role of critical (&encouraging) friend rather than manager, as I have been a non exec on a small company, a chair of parish council, a professional mentor etc. I was originally very committed to the good of the school which is a medium sized school with "Good" OFSTED rating and mixed social intake. I chose this school on my daughter's application form over another higher OFSTED rated school because it was my local school and I believed it best for all if us middle classes supported our local school instead of piling into the nearest outstanding in town (whose performance in our town can be explained by a better social intake).

Time spent as a governor is time wasted. The Head and incumbent chair (head's personal friend) want to inform the governors of statistics and wave goodbye. When I first attended, I asked polite questions and had several other (mostly parent) governors comment afterwards that it was refreshing. They also started to ask questions. However, the Head and her chair keep it all tightly under control. For instance, the governors agreed they'd like to consult parents (which they never did before) and suggested a questionnaire. The head responded by devising her own version labelling it as from the governors, issuing it with no consultation, summarising responses and reporting. Surprisingly (?), the results were overwhelmingly positive, despite the fact I had spoken personally to several people who had given quite negative responses to some of the questions. It is only by exploring these areas for improvement (if they appear valid) that we can improve. The school is not that bad, just there are issues the parents would like to see addressed.

I am utterly disillusioned with my experience as governor. At the last meeting, they spent most of the time congratulating themselves on gaining "outstanding" for a C of E RE teaching inspection but do not wish to discuss whether we might raise standards in other subject areas.

It worries me that as more schools become academies, groups of friends and do-gooders like this with their own (in some cases malign) agendas will have free rein to run schools as they see fit without reference to external expectations from say Local Authorities. My experience completely disavows the popular myth that parents can have influence upon their local school through being on the governing body. I am only still there on principle to show they cannot make me give up. Other parent governors have given up but none have been brave enough to give honest feedback but made excuses about being busy etc.

Sorry I have used a pseudonym as I don't want to criticise my local school in public forum but the head would recognise who I am if she stumbles across this...

S Governor

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