Governor's Corner #4

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This space is about and for school governors, one of the most underrated sections of leadership in our schools today. It is here for you to share so please leave a comment with your views and any topics you might like to explore!


The White Paper

You cannot have missed the publication of ‘The Importance of Teaching’ the latest Schools White Paper. Much of its contents was already known so it posed few surprises. Now that we see it in all its glory, Governing Bodies will be looking at the implications for their school alongside the effects of the Comprehensive Spending Review.
There is mention of changes in the way teachers are trained, a review of the curriculum, extension to the Academies programme and a reading test for six year olds. Among the headlines which may be of particular interest to Governors, the White Paper removes the necessity for schools to have a School Improvement Partner (SIPs), an end to Contextual Valued Added data, an emphasis on the role of schools (including GBs) on setting their own priorities for improvement and an option to adopt a model of governance that is more suited to the individual school. This may result in smaller, more focused GBs. All of these are part of the wish to give schools more autonomy and choice.
A more robust strategic role of GBs will become more essential in my view and for some of us this will present problems.  Local Authorities have already been drawing up plans on how they can make savings and many of them have specifically targeted school improvement. These include support to schools on training and self evaluation. The National Strategies which have for a number of years provided training for classroom teachers will come to an end at the end of March 2011. Many streams of ring-fenced grants are also to be stopped giving the decision on where to spend the limited budget firmly back to the school. Whilst the HT and staff will be taking those organizational, management decisions, it will be for the GB to provide the challenge to ensure that their school continues to offer the best educational experience for pupils.
Whilst I do not adhere to the ‘dependency’ model where schools are totally reliant on the Local Authority or some other external body for their direction, many schools and GBs are not in a position to take advantage of this autonomy. The White Paper speaks a great deal about good schools knowing how to set appropriate targets and self evaluate, but it is for those schools that are still struggling that I have concerns. I suspect that a closer look at some of these schools would reveal a less that effective GB. In which case, the recommendations removing some of the support in terms of self evaluation will be a further nail in some of these coffins. If  LAs are to move more to traded services, the GB need to have the skill and understanding to know what support it needs otherwise precious funds will be wasted. At this point I’m not sure where that training for Governors will come from. There is going to be the offer of training for Chairs of GB (CoG) but it is not clear whether it will be statutory. Not all CoG will want to take this up and there will be a financial cost to it. The White Paper mentions support  for Governors in easier access to data but we know weighing the pig does not make it fatter! How do you know what questions to ask?
There is a suggested list of ten questions for GBs to ask. I’m not sure that they are the right ones to really challenge school improvement. You might like to engage with this is debate here and put forward your own questions.
 So….what will the White Paper mean to you as a Governor? Do you feel confident that you and your colleagues can take up the challenge and lead school improvement? Have you enough skills among you to offer that challenge?
By the way, I wonder what head teachers will think of that?!!!

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  • Anonymous

    Great post Julia and really interesting to think about this specifically from a governor’s point of view. As a governor in a couple of special schools, I’m wondering about the impact of removing CVA scores as our pupils usually show huge progress according to these scores which it can be hard to show via testing etc. It can be hugely encouraging for all involved to see the value added during the children’s time at school, even if it doesn’t result in 5 A to Cs.
    I highlighted your post in my Daily Digest of Education related blogs today as I thought other teachers would find it of interest. You can see it here: There are also links to a summary of the White Paper as well as some other responses.

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  • Mrsndavies

    I’m a new staff governor and I think I really need to go on some training about my role as soon as possible!

  • Fred Garnett

    I think the role of teachers is critical in responding to the opportunities that new technologies allow in developing new ways of teaching and learning, and transcending the limitations we are currently trapped in. Teachers need to develop ‘craft’ skills over time, with CPD being as important as ITT and developing the professional Communities of Practice critical for their professional survival. I recently discussed this in my blog post Heutagogy and the Craft of Teaching;

  • Thank you for raising the issue of governors, which isn’t pushed high enough up the politcal/school improvement agenda.
    I have been a governor for 18 years, ten as a chair and in the last two years chaired two governing bodies at the same time.
    I am very proud while I was chair at both schools, governance was either judged good or ourstanding by Ofsted. However a lot of blood sweat and tears went into those judgements, including governors having to take some very difficult decisions about the schools’ leadership.
    Personally I would favour compulsory training for all governors and particularly for chairs as the role of the chair is crucial but very different to that of an individual member of the GB. I could go on at length about this and probably don’t write about it as much as I should, although it does inform much of what I do write, and my other campaigning . Do see my blog here about my experience (if you haven’t already!)

    • Anonymous

      I totally agree about training Fiona. I think it would help raise the staus of GBs because they can make such a difference to a school. I shall go visit your blog now!

  • Dianne

    Hi Julia, very informative and a really useful summary of the White Paper. I am in the very lucky position of having a group of governors, 4 of whom are new governors who are very keen and wishing to fully complete their role. Next term they will be completing the Governor Self Evaluation Toolkit. This will enable them to self evaluate their strengths and needs and to Action Plan for the future. The role of the SIP does need to change. There are so many mixed messages about their work. Some LAs see the role as highly supportive for HTs who have a very challenging role. Sadly other LAs use it more as a monitoring tool so that HTs are more challenged than supported.
    Keep up the good work Julia!

    • Anonymous

      Many thanks for your comments Dianne! A self-evaluation is great to give GBs the steer on where to concentrate first! SIPs have always been a bit of a mystery I think!

  • These are exactly the questions any governing body should be asking itself about how to move forward into the scary new environment that we face. And it is scary. That doesn’t mean it is necessarily a bad thing but, as you point out, some governing bodies really are not equipped to deal with the new challenges. I’m a Chair of Govs at a small rural primary school. Our GB was rated Outstanding in our recent Ofsted and, you might think, well-equipped to take on the new responsibilities that greater autonomy will demand. But I have grave doubts about whether we really do have the range of skills, the time or even the appetite to manage a school without the support that we get from our pretty good local authority. We are going to have to give some serious consideration to federation with one or more other local primaries, or even a secondary school. Only by consolidating our experience, skills and finance will we be able to invest in the professional services that will help us keep our schools moving forwards. My big job this winter is to research a robust case for this plan – with a heavy heart.

    • Anonymous

      Many thanks for stopping by to comment. Schools will need good governors more & more as other support is removed. We do have to make sure that those ‘volunteers’ do have the right support themselves! We will have to wait & see what finally transpires from all of this change!

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