When governors misunderstand their role

Monday 13 February 2017

Sometimes, governors can struggle to distinguish between day-to-day management and strategic oversight. As a result, governing body meetings can become dominated by discussions on irrelevant topics such as why the school football XI is underperforming or whether the IT department should order four or five new laptops.

The risks of this are numerous:

  • Governors are not fulfilling their duties and responsibilities.
  • There is no sufficient oversight on issues that affect long-term viability of the school.
  • The school’s progress stalls.
  • New governors do not feel engaged in the direction of the school.

Maintaining a balance between the day-to-day and longer-term strategy is a perennial challenge for all non-executive decision-making boards. While a keen interest in school life is to be encouraged and governors should be invited to attend events and undertake formal visits, they need to remember that they are not supposed to run the school.

Governors should monitor and appraise the performance of the senior leadership team (SLT), particularly the headteacher. You need to have clear lines of reporting between the SLT and the governing body so that governors are kept up-to-date.

One specific area where strategic input is often neglected is in finance. Governors can either get bogged down in the minutiae of budgets and accounts rather than the bigger picture or simply feel that financial planning is nothing to do with them. Training in basic finance skills can help, as can having a committee made up of individuals with skills and experience in financial matters.

You should have a clear delegation of duties. All new governors should be made fully aware of their roles and responsibilities. You also need a coherent and well-monitored strategic plan.

Make board meeting agendas clear and have set and significant amounts of time dedicated to strategic issues. Then brainstorm ideas for developing the school; strong chairing can stop discussions drifting into the trivial and mundane.

Engage governors on strategic issues by making board papers and presentations interesting and concise. Finally, provide governors with resources such as magazines and checklists, as well as induction and ongoing training, to keep them focused on what their role is. Ultimately, they will get more out of it if they feel they are making a real difference in taking the school forward.