Thursday, 17 October 2013

The Perfect (Ofsted) School Governor by Tim Bartlett

Independent Thinking Press, 2013, Print Length, 217pp, Kindle e-book

No, I'm not commending my authorised biography. Hardly. Rather, this book is meant to tell us how to becomePerfect (Ofsted) School Governor. At least that's the idea. I suppose there's no harm in aiming high, but Perfect? Even Ofsted are only after Outstanding at best. Enough quibbling about the title, though. Perfection in governance might be asking a bit much, but following the advice contained in this book will certainly help governing bodies to do their job more effectively.

The book has six chapters:

1. Strategic leadership and how governors provide it
2. Good governance: the importance of self-evaluation and effective policies
3. Governor visits to the school
4. Holding the head teacher and the leadership team to account
5. Oftsed: inspections and governors
6. Appointing a new head teacher

And no less than eleven appendices. I'm not going to list them here. You can check out the book's 'Click to LOOK INSIDE' thing on Amazon if you're interested.

I wish I had read this book when I was first thinking about becoming a governor, or at least when I had just joined the governing body. It would have helped me to hit the ground running. Well, at least walking purposefully rather than wandering around looking a bit bewildered. The book explains the essentials of governance and suggests ways in which things can be done better for the good of the school.

As a new governor I often found it hard to see the wood for the trees. I suddenly found myself in an educational forest that was so densely populated with jargon-laden information that it was difficult to get a sense of perspective. To that end the book includes some useful jargon and acronym busting. Key concepts such as strategic leadership and accountability simply defined. Illustrations are given of how they work out in practice. You won't find all that you'll need to know here, but this systematic overview will bring a welcome clarity to the thinking of the most befuddled new gov.

There are lots of handy tips here on improving governance that I plan to try out on our Governing Body over the coming months. We especially need to do some work on self-evaluation, seeking feedback from governors on the usefulness or otherwise of our various meetings.

Not that I'll be implementing all of the author's suggestions. Having our longsuffering Clerk read out her minutes for governors' approval at the end of every agenda item would slow the pace of meetings unnecessary. Yes, the Chair may sometimes wish to check that a precisely worded statement has been accurately minuted. But usually the gist of what was said is sufficient and the record can be approved at the next meeting.

I'd certainly urge that all wannabe and newbie governors have a read of this book. Battle scarred veterans of many a Full Governing Body meeting might learn a thing or two as well. In addition, it wouldn't hurt for the Senior and Middle Leaders who attend our sessions so we can subject them to Paxmanesque interrogation to give the book a once over so they can familiarise themselves with the principles and processes of school governance.

To return to the book's somewhat misleading title, I doubt whether our or anyone else's governing body will ever achieve an idealised state of Platonic perfection, but that doesn't mean that we can't improve our practice. Governors expect the school they serve to be constantly making progress. As agents of reform, governing bodies need to be perpetually reforming themselves. Perfect? Never. Better? Absolutely. But then, had the title been, The Better (Oftsted) Governor, it probably wouldn't have caught my attention when browsing for something governory to read on Amazon.

A hardback edition is available for any without a newfangled e-reader device (see here).

Highly recommended.