Friday, 15 November 2013

The parental perspective on governance

If anything is bound to induce me into an advanced state of hiraeth (Welsh for homesickness, with a slice of added misery thrown in for good measure), it's the old film How Green Was My Valley? There are some problems with the movie. For starters, the scriptwriters didn't quite get the dialogue right. South Walians don't in fact end virtually every sentence with the words, 'is it?' But the film's depiction of Wales as a land of coal-black miners, close harmony singing, pit disasters and Chapels is calculated to pull on my heart strings. 

Maybe it says something about my own less than happy school days, but one of my favourite moments in the movie is when  Dia Bando, the local pugilist teaches the sadistic School Master, Mr Jonas a thing or two. Reflecting on that scene now I'm thinking that if only the governors had ensured that the school's discipline policy was being implemented properly, a tricky situation might have been avoided. Funny how your role in life alters your perspective on things. One perspective that is especially important to the Governing Body is that of parents, which is why the school conducts parental surveys and has a number of Parent Governors. 

Governors rightly focus on providing the school with strategic leadership and accountability. We familiarise ourselves with the strengths and weaknesses of the school by scrutinising performance data and challenging senior leaders to take steps to overcome barriers to school improvement. We pay attention to stuff like Sats scores, levels of pupil progress, closing the achievement gap, exam results, league tables, quality of teaching ratings, behaviour, attendance, buildings and finance, all the while trying to keep up with the latest government wheezes initiatives. 

The pupil data we crunch is carefully anonymised, as governors aren't entitled to know how individual students are doing. We chart the progress of cohorts, Special Interest Groups, year groups, faculties, departments and subjects. All well and good. That's our job. But operating at that level it is sometimes difficult to remember that what we're talking about is real children with their own problems and challenges, hopes and aspirations. 

That's why the point of view of Parent Governors and Governors who are parents is so vital. They help to keep it real. Of course parents serving on the Governing Body don't get involved simply for the sake of their own children. That would turn our meetings into glorified Parents' Evenings. Governors whether parents or otherwise need to keep the big strategic picture in mind and get to grips with the finer points of school performance data. But in the end all that we do should help ensure that individual students fulfil their educational potential.

Earlier this week I visited the school not as a blue lanyard-wearing Chair of Govs for some high powered meeting, but as a dad for our daughter's Parents' Evening. The experience brought home to me afresh that beyond statistics and targets being a governor is about making sure that your child and mine gets the very best out of their time at Matravers. As a character from How Green Was My Valley? might say, 'That's the parental perspective for you, now, is it?'

Thankfully Dai Bando was nowhere to be seen. Neither was Mr Jonas.