In a special interview I quiz David Marriott on what it means to be a governor and the challenges that they face in the current educational climate.
GD: Hello David Marriott and welcome to the Matravers Governor Blog. Please tell us a little about yourself.
DM: I am an education consultant specialising in governance and school leadership. I served as Head of Governor Services for Wiltshire Council between 1995 and 2011. Prior to that role I was a teacher (English and Drama) for 21 years in 5 different secondary schools, including deputy headship in the city of Bristol.
In recent years I was a governor at Rose Hill primary school in Oxford and while my children attended Priory secondary school in Weston super Mare in the 1990s I served as a parent governor for four years. I recently served as chair of the Interim Executive Board (IEB) of a primary school in Special Measures and steered it to become a sponsored academy.
I was a member of NCOGS (National Co-coordinators of Governor Services) for many years, was Vice Chair between 2006 and 2009, becoming its Chair in 2009.
I’ve written 4 books on different aspects of governance, including The Effective School Governor, 1998; Monitoring and Evaluation, 2004, revised 2009 and 2011, and Being Strategic, first published in 2005 and revised 2011. Most recently I wrote Getting to grips with performance-related pay (e-book) and Outstanding governance for academies for Optimus Publishing, both 2013. He contributes to the School Governor’s Yearbook annually.
As an independent consultant he has provided a wide range of services in ten different local authorities and for various other organisations.
I run a website (www.thegovernor.org.uk) offering a growing library of free downloadable resources and information for governors, regular opinion pieces and my consultancy services. Contact me via firstname.lastname@example.org or on 01793 323780 or 0770 3367451.
GD: What should be the main purpose of the Board of Governors?
DM: I’m very comfortable with the DfE’s definition:
to ‘conduct the school with a view to promoting high standards of educational achievement at the school’
GD: How does that work out in practice?
DM: It means we have to focus on the children and their educational outcomes – everything else is less important, but can contribute to achieving the end result we seek.
GD: What do you think lies behind the Department of Education’s suggested change in nomenclature from ‘Governing Body’ to ‘Board of Governors’?
DM: Two things, I think. The first is an understandable desire by the DfE to iron out some of the practical differences between academies and maintained schools. In academies, especially those in a chain or sponsored academies the governing body can be more like the board of directors in a company – and, of course, academies are companies. The second is to emphasise that although governance remains a voluntary activity it needs to be done in a professional way.
GD: How does the role of Chair of Governors differ to that of Head Teacher?
DM: The chair is the head’s line manager and the head is accountable to the governors, mainly through the chair. The head’s job is to lead and manage the school on a day-to-day basis. The chair should keep out of the way most of the time but good and regular communication between the two is essential.
GD: What would be your most useful piece of advice for a new or aspiring Chair of Governors?
DM: In theory, if you get it right, you should have less to do than any other governor! Delegation is the key to success. Don’t try to do it all yourself.
GD: How may a Board of Governors best prepare for an Ofsted inspection?
DM: Share knowledge and understanding of the school between all the governors. It’s reasonable for some to specialise in particular areas but don’t allow any one governor to have a monopoly of knowledge of anything. Make sure your minutes reflect the challenge you present to the head and leadership team. Prepare simple summaries logging your impact as a governing body.
GD: What are the advantages and disadvantages of a school becoming an Academy from the perspective of governance?
DM: It depends on the kind of academy you become. The vast majority are converter academies where governance remains similar to that in maintained schools, with a sharper accountability for school finances. In sponsored academies and especially those in a chain, the “local governing body” in each school may have significantly reduced responsibilities. This can be good news if it enables a sharper focus on school performance with fewer distractions of other responsibilities but it can also feel like an emasculation.
The key thing is that an academy is a trust and the trustees rather than the governors are ultimately responsible for what goes on – though trustees are nearly always governors, too!
GD: You are Secretary of State for Education for the day. What single reform would you make in order to raise standards in schools?
DM: Instigate a five year moratorium - or maybe 10-year moratorium - on all school reforms to allow schools to breathe and find their own way forward.
GD: What have you found most enjoyable about governance?
DM: I’m a democrat and I believe that public institutions should be accountable to the people they serve. School governing bodies are a living example of how that can work in practice. My enjoyment comes from seeing a really good governing body doing its job well.
GD: What have you found most frustrating about governance?
DM: Governors who don’t pull their weight or abuse the position, damaging the reputation of governance as an institution.
GD: If you could recommend only one book on school governance, what would it be?
DM: People have stopped writing books about governance as everything’s online these days. I think that’s a real shame but - and I declare an interest at this point – “The School Governor’s Yearbook” is essential reading. I contribute to it but I find I use it regularly each year to remind myself of the key issues, governors’ statutory responsibilities and things like that.
GD: You maintain a blog, ‘The Governor’. What role may blogging play in improving governance?
DM: Hard to say! I sometimes use mine simply to blow off steam! The more governors share their experiences, though, the better. Governance can be an isolated activity and the more we share the stronger we get.
GD: Which governor blogs do you specially recommend and why?
DM: I don’t really look at many. My friend Ruth Agnew writes a good one. I tend to look at websites dealing with education in general and the Guardian online is where I start. Warwick Mansell and Peter Wilby are both excellent commentators. I was very sad when Mike Baker died last year. His website was the best.
GD: That just about wraps things up. Thanks, David.
GD: That just about wraps things up. Thanks, David.