Governance – If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional to do the job, wait until you hire an amateur.

The quote above is attributed the Red Adair.  He was in the firefighting business……not unlike leadership in education me thinks.

Dear old Mr Gove has been up to his tricks again.  He had the audacity to speak at the 20th birthday of FASNA who are a group of heads essentially standing for Freedom and Autonomy for Schools.  They claim to seek Academy Autonomy for all schools, by raising standards through Autonomy with Accountability.    Their history is of interest.  They began 20 years ago with a different name:

“FASNA can trace its origins back to 1992 when the Association of Head Teachers of Grant Maintained Schools (AHGMS) was formed. Subsequent mergers with AFVAS, AHFAS and FAVASA1 led to the emergence of FASNA in 2004.” (Gareth Cornwall)  Grant Maintained Schools were a first Conservative attempt at breaking Local Authority control and probably a last attempt to reinvigorate selective grammar schools.  What is clear, is that this group has at its roots school leaders who want freedom and autonomy to do it their way.

Gove took this opportunity to condemn school governors as “local worthies” who become school governors because it is a “badge of status” and fail to hold head teachers to account.  (Daily Telegraph) The BBC reported the response of Emma Knight, the Chair of the National Governors Association of Governors, who hit back at the education secretary’s claims that they can be “local worthies” who view their post as a “badge of status not of work”.

I heard about this in the “echo chamber” that is Twitter, as people once again launched into full moral indignation mode and rage at Gove for having cast a slur upon the good character of all school governors.

This is profoundly depressing.  He didn’t criticise the fine people tweeting here.  He criticised the inevitable 25% of passengers on the governing bodies around the country.  The ones who don’t read the paperwork before the meetings, the ones who never say a word in meetings, who have never even considered themselves a “critical friend”.  These people exist and should resign, to deny it, devalues all our arguments.  If this does not describe you, Gove was not talking about you. 

This led me to do what seems normal. I went to the DFE website to check what Mikey actually said, the DFE weenies are very good at getting his speeches up online very quickly, it’s as if they expect him to be misquoted!  So people, please react to the facts, not the reported facts. Get a bit of rigour!

Summary of content of Mikey’s speech:

FASNA is very good blah blah.

Autonomy drives Excellence ( Seems reasonable).

We need to accelerate the pace of change ( nice for some – not others).

Free Schools are good – more freedom (hardly a shock).

Summary of “improvements” achieved so far by the coalition.

Funding – transparent, consistent, national funding per child.

Governance:

There are good governors, there are bad governors.

We need an improved system of Governance.

Teachers are now represented at every level of Education System, below the elected tier.

We need people to act professionally at every level of the Education System. (possible hint at a role for professional governors).

We need high aspirations.

GCSEs are bad.

And that’s your lot.

The commentary on Governance says:

Good:

“Smaller governing bodies, where people are there because they have a skill, not because they represent some political constituency. They concentrate on the essentials such as leadership, standards, teaching and behaviour. Their meetings are brief and focused; the papers they need to read are short, fact-packed and prepared in a timely way; they challenge the school leadership on results, and hold the leadership and themselves responsible for securing higher standards year on year – every year.”

Bad:

“A sprawling committee and proliferating sub-committees. Local worthies who see being a governor as a badge of status not a job of work. Discussions that ramble on about peripheral issues, influenced by fads and anecdote, not facts and analysis. A failure to be rigorous about performance. A failure to challenge heads forensically and also, when heads are doing a good job, support them authoritatively.

We cannot have a 21st century education system with governance structures designed to suit 19th century parochial church councils.

Ofsted, in their new inspection framework, will now be asking searching questions on governance – including assessing how well governors hold the head and senior leader to account. 

When it is our children’s future at stake, we cannot afford the archaic amateurism of old-fashioned committee protocols – we have to be more professional.”

So what do we know about what he wants:

Well informed, authoritative governors, prepared and able to take a head teacher to task.

A reduced size of a governing body…well anyone who has tried to run a committee of 17 will know its pretty difficult to make things happen, so why not reduce it to 6 + the head teacher?

Would it be so bad if we rolled up the roll of SIP with that of Chair of Governors and paid them to do a job that is frankly impossible to do well and hold down another full time job?  People do do it, and do it well. But one way or another, their life is compromised by late nights and extra worry.  This was certainly the case for the 2 years I was Chair of Governors (and when I served as Church Warden on a PCC).

Forensic challenge of a head teacher on their data can’t be done by an enthusiastic amateur, it requires inside knowledge.  It needs to be done by someone who has been “in the business”.

If we wrap up the roll of SIP, Chair of Governors and OFSTED, then we can spend some of the £220million per annum on these professional chairs and actually support school improvement constructively.

So I leave you with this thought:

Wanted:

Agile Professional Chair of Governors:

Act as product owner for 5 Schools. Liaise with the Headteacher who acts as Scrum master for the school.

Required to attend product backlog (strategic planning) meetings in each school, 1 morning per fortnight (1 week on, 1 week off)

Required to attend stand up committee meetings run as Sprint Planning Meetings in each school.

Previous experience at Senior Leadership Level in School Required, and you can’t work for your mates.

Pay: £25k per annum gross for a 0.7FTE post term time only.

Applications on the blog below…….

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7 thoughts on “Governance – If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional to do the job, wait until you hire an amateur.

  1. it’s about time heads were held more accountable to the governors, especially in Academies – I know cos I work in one where we only ever see one Governor – the chair and she’s as bad as the head at covering up what’s really going on – bring on the Ofsted inspection!

  2. I agree that smaller, focused GB are the answer. HTs need to understand that an efficient, effective GB can make a huge difference to the progress a school makes. They can also carry some of the burden. My question is where do we get the skilled folks from? I’ve been trying for nearly a year to get finance / HR / project management skills in but with no luck!

  3. The agile process doesn’t quite fit the governance model, fixed things are not being delivered in short timescales, the governors are not the process owner.

    That aside, I agree with some of what is said although I’m not sure paid governance is the way forward as payment will usually confer some vested interest which is not always in the best interest of the school.

    I also don’t agree that prior knowledge of the education system makes for a better governor, it helps but is not essential and can be overcome by some training. More important is the ability to ask questions & challenge the head teacher, even if the school is doing OK

    • Thanks for your comments – I agree – it doesn’t fit what governance IS. Could it fit what it should be?

      Who would you say the product owner is? In a school the buck stops with the governors – not the head.

  4. I have been a school governor and a church warden. I agree with nearly everything you suggest. I found I was investing a lot of time into the school, faced with a huge legal responsibility, very little actual influence and all voluntary. I feel heads, SLT and staff governors would take other governors more seriously, and follow up on advice and deadlines more rigorously if the governors were seen as professional.

  5. One of the recommendations from a recent report to Gove et al on the role of LAs in education (the LAAR project), advocated something like professional governors acting as knowledge brokers across schools. I am happy to provide advice on such a role to anyone, having never been a school governor but having had a good insight at national and now local level on the key education issues and being a firm believer in the power of evidence-based scrutiny.

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