Governors – the unseen being that hovers over a school setting. The mystical people that come in after hours and make decisions that affect teachers day to day workload. That group that gets the reports and sits and takes everyone to task. Nothing could be further from the truth, in my experience anyway. Meetings are held in the evening out of necessity mostly and their role in strategic, not operational so you porbably won’t find them popping in and out of your classroom every week to find out how you are teaching the children. Governors can make or break a headteacher in many ways. They are there for support, challenge and accountability and the interaction between this group and the headteacher is key and this then trickles down to the rest of the staff and school. The people filling these roles are volunteers, giving time and effort to the school because they want to help, not because they want to hinder. They are dedicated, professional and committed to making the school a better place for the pupils.
But, there is one governor role that is also key. Staff governor. I am convinced, that if you are interested in leadership this is by far the best CPD on offer. It’s free, detailed and gives you an insight into the way schools are managed like nothing else. I became a staff governor in my third year of teaching and have been involved in governing bodies ever since. It was an absolute eye opener to me. So much goes on, that as a class teacher, you have no idea about. So where does it start?
Full Governing Body
These meetings are were everyone comes together and the agenda is very set. Mainly there will be things that are covered at every meeting and are always there. For example strategic management – the report of the headteacher, the SEF and the School development Plan. Just sitting in one of these opened my eyes hugely. It seemed to go past in a blur of topics and questions, each one for the headteacher to elaborate on. Through the headteacher’s report and the questions being asked I started thinking about things I had never considered before with the behind the scenes part of school life. This is the stuff the leadership get on with and no-one knows about. Mostly, teachers don’t need to know about it, but if you are interested in leadership yourself you are going to need knowledge in these areas. While the Full Governing Body meeting is usually just an overview of what has happened in the last term the committee meetings are where the detail happens.
These are made of a sub-section of all the governors and can vary in number and purpose based on the size of the school. They will look at specific areas of school life – Finance, Health and Safety, Pay, Curriculum, Communications, Resources. There are also commitees that don’t need unless they need to, like pupil and staff discipline and exclusions. These meetings go into much more detail about the finer points of running the school. Let’s take curriculum. Often a data report will be presented with the school’s current position in each year group and progress towards the targets set at the start of the year. If you feel like you haven’t got a great understanding of how assessment and reporting works in a Key Stage different to yours this is a great learning experience. The questionning can be thought provoking too. The governors come at it from a position of not knowing individuals and being a step away from school life. They can have a different view and teachers may not have thought of. Great learning experience.
Some committees you will have had no experience of whats involved as a teacher. If leadership is for you, get yourself on the finance commitee. This is like a whole other world, but key to being a leader within a school. I felt so much more comfortable going into headship with 8 years of finance committee behind me as I knew the systems, knew how the spreadsheets looked and where the money came in and out. Once I was a governor I was also able to shadow the headteacher more and offer to help in school. Budget setting coming up? Do you want a hand with that? As I had some knowledge I could be of help and learn about it at the same time. Health and Safety was the same. So many things I hadn’t thought about – legionella testing and reporting being just one of them.
It also gives you a chance to take on a project you might not normally get chance to. For example, when on a comms committee I was able to head up a new drive for online parental engagement – really great experience and helped the school out as well.
Yes, it takes time.
The evening meetings can be a drag, if that is how your school works. You do need to put the time into it to read the documentation properly. It will eat into your time and give you more work, but the amunt of professional development I got from it was absolutely huge. The value to effort ratio was incredibly high.
As a head having a staff governor alongside me is really helpful too. I get a lot of questions thrown at me every meeting and someone who can chip in and help out when I forget things is brilliant.
As well as lot of personal gain you are also getting to help shape the future of the school. Yes governors make decisions, but they are informed by the head and staff who present them. They will ask questions, they will challenge but it is our job to keep them as well informed as possible and this is another great learning experience. How do you communicate that vision and that idea to people who are not necessarily educationalists?
So, if you are interested in being a school leader and you want to take some first steps into finding out how it all works – governance is the only way to go. You’ll get to meet some great people, having great conversations, impact positively on the school and learn an awful lot along the way. No brainer.