Thursday, 9 June 2016

The Chair's Handbook NGA Guide


The Chair's Handbook: A guide for chairs of school governing boards,
Gillian Allcroft & Emma Knighs, National Governors' Association, 5th Edition, 2016, 72pp

I didn't especially want to be Chair of Governors. I joined our school's governing board as a Parent Governor, not really knowing much about governance. The existing chair seemed pretty well established and didn't look as though she was going anywhere. Only I was wrong about that. One FGB she suddenly announced that she was standing down. Soon. By that time I'd only been a governor for a year (since January 2012) and didn't feel up to taking on the role. Neither did anyone else for that matter. "Would anyone like to be considered as chair?" asked the outgoing one. The wind whistled around our ears like in that tense moment after a gunfight in a cowboy film when the Colt 45s have fallen silent. No one made eye contact. Tumbleweed rolled across the boardroom floor. "That's a 'no', then." Certainly was.

The LA was approached and they managed to rustle us up a recently retired headteacher to act as chair. Her main task was to oversee the appointment of a substantive headteacher, as an interim head was in place at the time. Oh, and she also had to lead us through an Oftsed inspection a couple of months after taking the chair. We were judged Requires Improvement. Another thing was to spot a successor from our own number. A substantive headteacher was appointed, with Dr. Riding due to start in September 2013. That job done, the chair could now concentrate her efforts on digging an escape tunnel. Cue 'Great Escape' music. 

Only I was the escape tunnel. Won't bore you with the details, but I was persuaded that I was the right man for the role and was duly elected to serve as chair in July 2013. Steep learning curve. You don't know what it's like to be chair until you're it. The clerk is calling for a decision. The headteacher wants to discuss how best to handle a tricky situation. Then there's the board. You have to ensure that they become a strategic leadership team, united behind a common vision, working with the Headteacher in pursuit of shared goals. Now you can't become aware of an 'issue' and think, 'Oh I'm sure someone else will see to that', because if you don't get it seen to, it's likely no one will. 

I was used to chairing meetings and leading a group of volunteers, which was a good start. Those bits are part and parcel of my role as a Baptist Minister. The Church Members' Meetings which I chair as pastor have formal agendas; the church's vision, goals and activities are discussed, accounts received and so on. But those were the only types of meetings that I'd ever chaired. I was a bit worried that I'd begin my first FGB in a non-denominational school by saying, "Let us pray" and finish up pronouncing the benediction. Thus far I've managed to avoid confusing pulpit and chair.

When Ofsted came to call in February 2015 they found the GB in much better shape. The school was judged 'Good' with many outstanding features. We're forging ahead with our ambition to ensure that the school is a world class centre for teaching and learning at the heart of the local community. But there's still a lot to do and I'm going to need to be at the top of my game as chair to ensure that the governing board plays its part effectively. That's why the NGA's The Chair's Handbook is such a useful publication. For newbie chairs it is an invaluable guide to help you get a handle on a role that has in all likelihood been thrust upon you. For more experienced colleagues, the work offers an opportunity for us to review what we do against the models of best practice offered here. 

In crystal clear prose and with the help of user friendly diagrams the guide focuses on on seven crucial areas for chairs: 1. Leading governance in schools. 2. Leading and developing the team. 3. The chair, the headteacher and accountability. 4. Leading school improvement. 5. Leading governing board business. 6. Becoming the chair. 7. Leaving the chair. This edition is fully up-to-date, including when required, differentiated advice for chairs of governors in maintained schools, Academies and MAT boards. It really is a one stop shop for all things chairy.

Especially when you've been chair for a few years it's good to stand back, take stock of your work and consider what needs improving. With clinical accuracy authors Gillian Allcroft and Emma Knights expose chairing shortcomings that need correcting. I tend to be quite self-critical anyway so reading stuff like this can be quite painful. But there we are. I suppose it's worth triggering a bout of gloomy introspection if it makes me a better chair. There's certainly nowhere to hide for poor practitioners, from control freaks who can't delegate to inadequate numptys into whose heads a remotely strategic thought has never popped. Although they don't put it quite like that.

I once heard a fellow-chair say that his role was not to give the board leadership. That kind of thing was down to the headteacher. While it's true that the head is expected to lead the operational running of the school, it's not his/her job to lead the board to which they are accountable. That is very definitely the chair's role. As the headings listed above indicate, the guide has a welcome emphasis on the chair as leader of governance. The authors state,
The chair leads the governing board, ensuring it fulfills its functions well. The culture of the board is largely determined by the chair, for better or worse. A good chair will ensure its focus is on the strategic, and it is no exaggeration to say that the success or failure of the board depends heavily on the caliber of the chair. (p. 10)
No pressure, then.

Reading The Chairs Handbook may also serve to highlight issues that have been relegated to the back burner which need to be addressed with greater urgency. Succession planning is one thing. I don't want to leave the GB in a position where they are unable to appoint my successor from among our own number. By the time I'm done, who knows what help the LA may be able to offer? 

Being chair of governors is an immense privilege and is actually rather enjoyable. Especially as you see the board growing in strength, colleagues stepping up to take on new roles, and, above all the school you serve going forwards in leaps and bounds. It also helps if you like a challenge. But more is required of a chair than well-meaning enthusiasm. They need a clear understanding of their role and the qualities needed to make a success of it. The Chair's Handbook very definitely points us in the right direction. The guide should be mandatory reading for all current practitioners and wannabes.

Thanks, @NGAMedia. An electronic version for Gold members would make it easier to share some of the excellent material for board-level discussion.  

Now to that escape tunnel. Da da dah dah dah da da...

Monday, 18 April 2016

Improving School Governance by Nigel Gann

Improving School Governance: How better governors make better schools,
by Nigel Gann, Routledge, 2016 second edition, 249pp. 

The recently published white Ppaper, Educational Excellence Everywhere landed landed like a hand grenade in the playground of educationalists. Its shock waves are still reverberating around schools and their governing boards. That's the case even though many of its headline proposals had been long trailed by the DfE, especially governance-wise. But what makes the white paper explosive is the shift from persuasion to compulsion. HMG has argued for some time that schools would be better off as academies, preferably grouped together in Multi Academy Trusts, but most have remained stubbornly attached to their LAs. Now almost all must become academies by 2022. Similarly, none too subtle hints have been dropped that the days of stakeholder governance were drawing to an end, but now the requirement to have parent governor posts on boards will be removed. Skills alone matter. (See here for my take on the value of parent governors). 

The white paper's vision is for a post-LA 'school-led system' under the auspices of MATs. In these groupings all the powers of governance reside with the MAT board. The local governing boards of individual schools function as committees of the MAT board, with as much or little power delegated to them as the MAT board sees fit.  

To say the least Educational Excellence Everywhere hasn't exactly commanded universal support, even from Conservative local Councillors and backbench MPs.  The element of compulsion for schools to join MATs and the removal of the requirement of boards to reserve places for elected Parent Governors (as opposed to governors who just happen to be parents) are key sticking points for many. Nicky Morgan has signaled that she is not for u-turning, but it may be that Education Secretary will have to give some ground as the White Paper makes its passage through parliament. 

In some ways, the publication of the DfE's white paper renders Gann's work slightly out of date, even though it is an updated second edition brought out only this year. That in itself is a mark of how rapidly the educational landscape is changing. Which is not to say that the writer fails to give attention to new developments in education and how they may impact upon governance. The last two chapters 'Schools in uncertain times' and 'The future of governing schools' hint at future possibilities and challenges, and lay down some useful 'future proof' principles. But the publication of the white paper means that governors are in need of more detailed advice on joining or setting up a MAT and what that may involve for their governing board. At the very least governors considering joining a MAT should first read this book and weigh up the extent to which they will still be governing their school after they have signed on the dotted line. 

Little work has been done on producing model Schemes of Delegation that will allow local governing boards to retain a large element of their strategic powers within a MAT set up. The National Governors' Association talks about the need to get this right, but showing what that looks like in terms of a guidance document containing various adaptable Scheme of Delegation models is another thing. (Their Governing Groups of Schools is useful, but provides no model SofDs). The NGA are hoping to make good this lacuna soon and a good thing too. For GBs looking to join or set up a MAT that is one of the key factors to consider. No SofD is set in stone, however, and changes may be made to the founding document by the MAT board without LGBs having a say. Many have been enticed to enter the Promised MAT-Land, only to find themselves robbed of their powers with the MAT board imperiously calling the shots. Result; some seriously disgruntled local govs. (See here for my plea for a re-balancing of the powers of MAT boards in relation to LGBs). 

Gann commends a more collaborative model of school partnerships where 'power and control are dispersed rather than concentrated' and 'local stakeholders and staff can have a sense of belonging'. But in large MATs, or 'chains' such as E-ACT those are often the very things that are lacking. These 'stretchy MATs' that link together schools scattered across England operate less like governing boards responsible for a collection of schools and more like LA's. Sir Michael Wilshaw agrees, writing in a recent memo to the DfE, "many of the trusts manifested the same weaknesses as the worst performing local authorities and offered the same excuses."

Yet the role that governing boards are meant to fulfill needs doing, both at the individual school level and in terms of an overarching MAT board. It's got to be about vision, strategy, accountability, ensuring value for money, stakeholder engagement, and so on. When governance structures start looking more like dysfunctional local authorities something has gone badly wrong. Schools are best governed individually and collectively by properly skilled and empowered local stakeholders. 

Which is why it's still worth taking a look at this thought provoking and informative book. Most everything Nigel Gann has to say about school governance is excellent. I don't propose to rattle through what he discusses in detail, though. That would mean having to write a proper review as opposed to taking the opportunity to sound off about stuff. What would be the fun in that? Anyway, as you'll see from this low-down the book's coverage is pretty comprehensive. Attention is given to the history, role and functions of governance. Sound and sensible advice on best practice is offered. One of my favourite lines was on governor training, culled from an 1878 survey of school governors (they used to call them Managers back then):
There is no training...for Managers. Many, indeed, have by great pains and application overcome this difficulty...but some do not see their deficiency, or trust to the light of Nature to make up for it, without any special effort on their own part; and much mischief is the result. (p. 17)
Let that be a warning to us all. Makes any conscientious governor  want to sign up for Governor Services training on RAISEonline immediately, or break off reading this do to a Modern Governor online module on Health & Safety. Making do with the 'light of Nature' simply won't cut it. Governors, be they co-opted for their skills, or parents should be committed to ongoing training and development to enable them to fulfill their roles properly. At its best stakeholder governance involves being fired-up enough to make a difference, and also skilled-up enough to do the job effectively.

If governing boards operated in line with Gann's guidance we would indeed have better governors making better schools. But it is possible that MATs may be set up in such a way that many of the powers of governance described by the author could be stripped altogether from local GBs. In that case they would end up as little more then 'focus groups' reporting to the MAT board, if the exist at all. A regrettable scenario to my mind. Maybe I am biased, but I believe that the rapid improvements seen at Matravers over the past few years are at least in some part due to the strength of the governing board in contributing to the school's strategic leadership. 

For our part, as a LA maintained Foundation School Matravers already has many of the freedoms associated with becoming an academy. The board of governors keeps the status of the school under constant review, however, and is considering how best to respond to the policy announcements set out in Educational Excellence Everywhere. Rest assured, we will seek to ensure that any decision the board takes with regard to academisation will be in the best interests of our students and staff, and will enable us to forge a strong alliance with other schools which share our vision and values.

* I am grateful to the publisher for a providing a complementary review copy. 

Monday, 11 April 2016

Governance: A Guide for the Perplexed


Anyone interested in becoming a governor at Matravers will be issued a copy of our Guide to the Perplexed, which serves as a introduction to the work of the Board of Governors. Perplexed about the role of governors in the school? Read on. 

People become governors for a number of reasons, but the common factor is a desire to make a difference in their local school. However, attendance at the first governors’ meeting plunges new recruits into a strange new world of educational jargon, policies for this, that and the other, detailed performance data reports, and so on. It can sometimes take a little while for new governors to begin to see the wood from the tress. At least that was my experience. Hence this ‘guide for the perplexed’. It should be read in conjunction with the ‘Role Description – Matravers School Governor’ and other documents referred to below. 

1. Purpose

The Board of Governors takes responsibility for the conduct of the school. It promotes high standards of educational achievement in order to ensure that every student exceeds their potential. Our ambition is for Matravers School to become a world class education facility at the heart of the Westbury area community for students aged 11-18. In addition the board has legal ownership of the school site (land and buildings) and acts as the employer of school staff.

2. Strategic Leadership and Accountability

The Core Functions of Governance are:

  • Ensuring clarity of vision, ethos and strategic direction
  • Holding the headteacher to account for the educational performance of the school and its pupils
  • Overseeing the financial performance of the school and making sure its money is well spent.
 Our main task is to provide the school with strategic leadership and accountability. If the school were a vehicle, the role of governors would be to punch the coordinates into the educational ‘SatNav’, setting direction travel. That done, the Headteacher and Senior Leaders collectively get behind the wheel, put their foot on the gas and drive the school to the required destination. Along the way Governors hold leaders to account to ensure that the school isn’t going off track.

Governors set the vision and underpinning values for the school, agree the ‘Route Map’ strategy for making our vision a reality, and measure progress by setting Key Performance Indicators.

Vision: For Matravers School to be a world-class centre for teaching and learning at the heart of the Westbury community. Achieving this involves ensuring that every Matravers student exceeds their expected potential in all aspects of their education.

Values: Our core values are Resilience, Creativity, Ambition, Happiness, Success and Dynamism.

Key Performance indicators: Governors set targets for school improvement in areas such as leadership and management, pupil achievement and attainment, the quality of teaching, student behaviour and attendance, and the best use of financial resources. See the Key Performance Indicators, Goals and Action Plan documents for this year’s targets.

The Board endeavours to make an objective analysis of school performance in order to recognise and support strengths, and identify and challenge weaknesses. To that end governors scrutinise both external performance data such as RAISEonline, FFT Governor Dashboard and Ofsted Data Dashboard, and the school’s internal self-evaluation reports. Governors also visit the school in order to gain first hand experience of what is happening on the ground.

3. Structure

The Full Governing Board meets once a term, as do most of the committees. The Steering Group is responsible for leadership and management, and strategic planning.
                   
Full Governing Board

Educational Standards - Every Child Matters - Resources  

                      Steering Group

New governors will be asked to join a committee on the basis of their skill set. See the Scheme of Delegation for a full breakdown of the responsibilities of the different elements of the Governing Board. (Our Annual Report sets out the remit of the Full Governing Board and its Committees as of 2014/15. 

4. Scrutiny, support & challenge

Governors have access to a wide range of performance data. Some is produced externally, like RAISEonline. This is usually ‘historic’ data, based on the previous year’s exam results. We also have access to internally produced contemporary data that charts the progress of students during the course of the academic year. Reports should be received with three questions in mind: What? So what? Now what?

For example. The GCSE results for subject ‘x’ are below what is expected. The data reveals that they fall short of internally set predicted grades and the national average for that subject. That is the ‘What?’

Then governors will begin to ask, ‘So what?’ The obvious point is that students did not achieve as well as expected in subject ‘x’. That may narrow their options when it comes to future study, or work. It will also impact on how the school is measured on the national Performance Tables. Governors will therefore ask questions to try and get to the bottom of why the results were not as good as expected.  Was the issue with Higher, Middle, or Lower ability students, or with disadvantaged students in receipt of Pupil Premium funds as against those who are not? That is something of what can be gathered from interrogating the data and asking, ‘So what?’

But we can’t leave it there. Next, governors must ask, ‘Now what?’ When that happens scrutiny becomes challenge. Governors want to know what measures will be taken to ensure better exam results in subject ‘x’ next time around and for that reason may ask the subject leader to report to the Standards committee.

But it’s not all ‘challenge’. In many subjects Matravers students perform above the national average and when that happens, governors will express support and celebrate success. 

  5. The Strategic/Operational divide

Governing Boards need to ensure that they do not cross the Strategic/Operational divide. When that happens rather than setting the overall direction of the school and making sure that it is getting there, the Governing Board begins to meddle with its everyday running.

The dividing line is not always easy to discern, but as a rule of thumb, concerns about individual students or members of staff are operational matters. Concerns about groups of students or teachers are of strategic importance. For example, if one of the Special Interest Groups (SPIGs – boys, girls, Pupil Premium etc) is falling behind, governors will challenge Senior Leaders to address the matter. If the quality of teaching in a particular subject area is below that is expected, once more governors will raise a challenge.

The perceptions of Parent Governors, or governors who are parents are bound to be shaped in part by their children’s experiences of the school. Their perspective is a reminder that what governors decide has an impact on real flesh and blood children, not simply statistics on a page. But if governors who are parents have a concern about how their child is getting on at school, strictly speaking that is an operational matter and should be dealt with as a parent. The problem should be taken up with relevant person in the school; a teacher, tutor, head of subject, or Senior Leader as appropriate. Meetings of the Governing Board are not an extension of the school’s Complaints Policy by other means. After all, our task is to ensure that every student fulfils their educational potential, not just our own children.

In the case of governors who are parents, other mums or dads may sometimes ask for your help. Advise any concerned parent to speak to the appropriate person in the school. Do not offer to take up the cudgels yourself. Governors only come into play when all other means of redress have been exhausted. Even then, if the child in question is known to you, that would constitute a conflict of interest on your part. In that case you would be excluded from any formal process that involves the Governing Board.

When Governing Boards routinely transgress the Strategic/Operational divide they lose their focus and begin to major on minors.

6. Training

All new governors are strongly encouraged to attend the New Governors’ Course provided by Governor Services. In addition, governors will want to attend further training sessions to sharpen their expertise in areas of special interest. In-house training is provided to help governors get to grips with data reports such as the FFT Governor Dashboard and RAISEonline

7. Interviews & Panels

The Governing Board is the de facto employer of school staff. Governors participate in job interviews for senior management posts. In matters such as staff redundancy, discipline or capability; a panel of three non-staff governors will be convened. The panel will consider evidence presented by senior management before making a decision with the support of a HR advisor provided by the Local Authority.

8. Communications

Governors should not comment on any issues concerning the school, whether in a personal capacity or in connection with their school links via the media or any type of social network. The Headteacher and/or Chair of Governors alone are authorised to communicate with the media on behalf of the school. Others may do so only with express permission from either Head or Chair and with the contents of any communications having been duly authorised.

Any communication intended for the attention of whole Governing Board should be sent to the Clerk and will only be forwarded to colleagues with the authorisation of the Chair of Governors.

9. Safeguarding

We take the safety and welfare of our students extremely seriously.  By law all new governors must apply for a DBS (Disclosure & Barring Service) check within 21 days of their being appointed to the board. Only once a DBS certificate has been produced will governors be issued with a personalised lanyard for the purpose of visiting the school. Until then they will be treated as visitors and will need to be accompanied at all times. Whenever visiting the school governors must sign in and out at Main Reception. All new governors will be trained in the school’s safeguarding procedures as soon as possible on their joining the board.

10. Contact

(Clerk): @@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@

(Chair): @@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@

11. Confidentiality

All governor business is to be regarded as confidential.

* If this guide is of any use to colleagues from other GBs it may be 'borrowed' and adapted to suit with appropriate acknowledgements. 

Thursday, 28 January 2016

A new vision for Matravers School


 

At a recent meeting of the full governing board we adopted a new Vision Statement that sets out our highly aspirational vision for the school. You will notice that student outcomes in terms of character development and academic achievement are at the heart of our vision. 

For the governing board our Vision Statement isn't just a bunch of fine sounding words posted on the school website. It is a statement of intent. We will work with the Headteacher, Dr. Riding as he leads the school forwards to ensure our vision becomes a reality. We will monitor progress against a set of demanding criteria in our quest to be 'world class' in every area of school life.  

Here it is:
Our Vision is for Matravers School to be a world-class centre for teaching and learning at the heart of the Westbury Community, the secondary school of choice for young people in the area aged 11-18. 
Achieving this involves ensuring that every Matravers student exceeds their expected potential in all aspects of their education. We will enable our students to gain the highest possible qualifications and equip them with skills and values that they need to achieve their ambitions on leaving school, in terms of vocational training, academic study and employment. We will provide the outstanding teaching, learning and leadership needed to fulfil this goal.
Our students will demonstrate outstanding attitudes towards learning supported through a wide-range of opportunities to represent their school with pride. 
Our extensive range of curriculum opportunity ensures that every student is well-equipped to progress successfully in life. 
Our outreach and support of others ensures that we are working at the cutting-edge of education as a system leader.

Monday, 18 January 2016

Governing Matters: Fire and Skill

Embedded image permalink

An article on Matravers governance featured in the National Governors' Association's Governing Matters magazine, January/February 2016. 

In it I explained how our school went from requires improvementto the cusp of outstanding in just two years. 

We were never a good school. At least according to Ofsted. From the time they first inspected us we were judged satisfactoryin old money or requires improvementas it is now.

When they visited in February 2013 the inspectors picked up on a number of weaknesses and identified governance as part of the problem. The governing board was often too busy firefighting in a struggling school to concentrate on purely strategic matters. Our headteacher had taken early retirement and an interim head was in place in the wake of an unsuccessful recruitment process.

We didnt even have a settled chair so the local authority parachuted in a recently retired headteacher to fill the gap on a temporary basis. Things slowly began to take shape. We commissioned an external review of governance and started implementing its recommendations. We appointed a substantive head and having settled the ship the temporary chair managed to persuade me to stand as her successor.

In February 2015 Ofsted came to call once more. For the very first time we were judged good, with many outstanding features. As far as governance was concerned the weaknesses highlighted in 2013 had been rectified. The 2015 report noted that the governing body now provides good strategic direction for the schooland governors accurately monitor the work of the school and hold senior leaders to account well. The inspectors acknowledged our commitment to governor training and that new members were appointed according to their skills.

Common vision
The arrival of our new headteacher had a lot to do with it. As both he and I were new to post we worked hard to forge a constructive working relationship. Together we ensured that senior managers and governors shared a common vision and strategy that was communicated to stakeholders.

A culture of open dialogue was fostered between school leaders and governors concerning the challenges we faced in turning the school around. Expectations were raised of what it means to be a governor. We have a saying that governors are not conscripts, but volunteers. No one is forced to join the board, but those who do should be prepared to commit themselves fully in order to secure the best possible outcomes for our students. The clerk is now subject to annual appraisal against a set of professional standards criteria to help ensure that the board is supported by efficient clerking.

There had been a tendency on the part of governors to be overly concerned about operational matters. But now we were clear that it was not our role to run the school, but to tell the school where to run by setting its vision and strategy, and making sure we were on track to get there by holding the headteacher to account.

Each year we agree a fresh set of key performance indicators and review the schools performance against targets for pupil achievement, improvements in the quality of teaching, and so on. Headteacher performance management goals are aligned with our strategic priorities.

Stakeholders
Pupil outcomes have improved significantly and the school is a vibrant centre of teaching and learning at the heart of the local community. Our students have heightened aspirations for themselves, signalled by their request for a blazer and tie-based school uniform.

Governance-wise this has been achieved by a board comprised of local stakeholders, parents, staff and members of the community. It seems that this model of governance is currently out of favour with the education establishment. Both Ofsted and the DfE have signalled that they would like parent governor posts phased out. Skills-based governing boards are the order of the day.

But we are living proof that you can have the best of both worlds. We have a team of skilled-up stakeholders who are committed to sharpening the expertise of the board through ongoing training and development. We are also fired up about providing our school with the strategic leadership required to help ensure it offers the outstanding education our students deserve. Expertise without passion will lack motivation. Passion without expertise will lack direction. We need governing boards with both fire and skill. Thats what makes a difference.

NGA members can download a copy of the Jan/Feb mag here

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Building Better Boards: An Opportunity for Education


Published by Wild Search

This report seeks to assess the state of school governance today and makes proposals that are intended to enable governors to respond to the challenges presented by a rapidly changing educational landscape. Governance used to be the Cinderella of schooling, receiving little attention from government ministers and policy wonks. That has now changed. The much discussed Trojan Horse affair has shown up the damage than can be done when governance goes awry. The move towards academisation, and with it the diminishing power of Local Education Authorities has placed an increasing burden on governors to monitor the performance of their school or group of schools in the case of Multi Academy Trusts. The preface by Lord Nash highlights the work of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Education Governance and Leadership. He recognises the importance of governance as an agent for  change in a school-led system. 

By 'school-led system' Nash means schools working together under the auspices of an Academy Chain or Multi-Academy Trust. The jury is out on whether academies perform better than maintained schools, especially when it comes to raising standards for disadvantaged students. But with David Cameron wanting all schools to have the 'opportunity' to become an academy by the end of the current parliament, it looks as though the drive towards academisation remains a key plank in the government's education policy. 

But if governors are going to help fill the vacuum left by the decline of LEAs they are going to have to sharpen up their act. The report emphasises the need for governors to be appointed on the basis of their skills and for existing governors to engage in high quality training and professional development. The authors are rather sniffy about Parent Governors. They would like to see a shift from the stakeholder model towards skills-based governance, as if it's a case of either the one or the other. I disagree. It is rather patronising to suggest that Parent Governors don't necessarily have the skills needed to govern. At Matravers our Parent Governors are a highly skilled bunch, but they are also passionate about seeing the school attended by their children continuing to make rapid progress. A concern about Parent Governors only being interested in the welfare and progress of their own darling children can be resolved by effective induction and training so that they understand the strategic nature of the role. The answer to the tendency for governor meetings to be sidetracked by parents raising issues to do with their children is good chairing, not getting rid of Parent Governors altogether.

The core functions of governance are: 1. Setting the Vision, Ethos and Strategy of the school. 2. Holding the Headteacher to account for the educational progress of the school. 3. Ensuring value for money. In all those areas parents have a role to play, as well as school leaders, staff,  members of the local community and governors appointed simply on account of their skills. In any case, when Parent Governor vacancies become available it is good practice for the role advertisement to include a description of the desired set of skills that a parent might bring to the table to complement the existing team. Do we really want a situation where Governing Boards are almost exclusively comprised of accountants, lawyers and high-powered business men and women? With all due respect to the good people of those professions, that would represent a considerable narrowing of the range of interests and backgrounds represented at board level. 

Attention is given to the challenges of governance in  Multi-Academy Trusts, especially in the light of the Education and Adoption Bill 2015-16. The bill will legislate to make it harder for maintained schools judged 'Inadequate' or 'coasting' by Ofsted to resist being forced to join an Academy Chain or MAT. However, recent Ofsted reports arising from the inspection of Chains and MATs suggest a mixed picture when it comes to these 'school-led systems' being able to turn around failing schools. Often the problem with poorly performing schools is not their maintained status, but ineffective leadership and weak governance. Forcing a struggling school to join a group that may share those characteristics isn't going to help anyone. Far better for a successful local school to offer school-to-school support at leadership and governance level to an underperforming neighbour. But where is the funding to facilitate that kind of thing? If MATs are the way to go, let them at least be area-wide set-ups that are the product of a shared vision, ethos and strategy, not 'marriages of convenience' with several schools in one part of the country and a few dotted elsewhere, having little in common save a bit of branding. 

The aspect of this report that garnered media interest was the proposal that governors, notably Chairs should be remunerated for their work. While reasonable expenses should be paid so that no one is left out of pocket for their efforts, I'm not sure that I would want governors to be paid. That does not make us dilettante amateurs, but 'unpaid professionals', who seek to serve as governors in local schools for the common good of the communities in which we live. Even when it comes to Chairs, either they would be offered little more than an insulting pittance for their work, or be paid so much as to change the nature of the role in a detrimental way. Chairs might be reluctant to do anything that might deprive them of 'a nice little earner' and fail to upset apple carts that sometimes need upsetting.

One area that did not receive sufficient reflection here was the professionalisation of clerking. If more is going to be expected of governors and they are to remain unpaid for their services, then governing boards are going to need the support of highly effective clerks. The role of the clerk is to offer the board procedural and legal advice and guidance, organise and prepare for meetings, take minutes and so on. Too often clerks are regarded as semi-professionals who routinely work well over their contracted hours. They are not always subject to regular performance management to help ensure their continued professional development. This needs to change. Effective clerking is essential for efficient, sharply focused and properly functioning school governance.  

I don't want to sound too negative about this report, though. That fact that governance is being given attention in a document like this is welcome in itself. There are some good things here, such as arguing the case for governors to engage in rigorous self-evaluation. The emphasis on skills and training is welcome. The pieces on The Importance of Communications and Promoting the Role of Governors are helpful enough. The findings of Building Better Boards should stimulate discussion among governors as to how we may best respond to the challenges that we face in the current educational climate. Boards would do well to review their practices in the light of the report's recommendations. While not all of the proposals found here may command agreement, they at least deserve serious thought and consideration.