Monday, 11 April 2016

Governance: A Guide for the Perplexed

Anyone interested in becoming a governor at Matravers will be issued a copy of our Guide to the Perplexed, which serves as a introduction to the work of the Board of Governors. Perplexed about the role of governors in the school? Read on. 

People become governors for a number of reasons, but the common factor is a desire to make a difference in their local school. However, attendance at the first governors’ meeting plunges new recruits into a strange new world of educational jargon, policies for this, that and the other, detailed performance data reports, and so on. It can sometimes take a little while for new governors to begin to see the wood from the tress. At least that was my experience. Hence this ‘guide for the perplexed’. It should be read in conjunction with the ‘Role Description – Matravers School Governor’ and other documents referred to below. 

1. Purpose

The Board of Governors takes responsibility for the conduct of the school. It promotes high standards of educational achievement in order to ensure that every student exceeds their potential. Our ambition is for Matravers School to become a world class education facility at the heart of the Westbury area community for students aged 11-18. In addition the board has legal ownership of the school site (land and buildings) and acts as the employer of school staff.

2. Strategic Leadership and Accountability

The Core Functions of Governance are:

  • Ensuring clarity of vision, ethos and strategic direction
  • Holding the headteacher to account for the educational performance of the school and its pupils
  • Overseeing the financial performance of the school and making sure its money is well spent.
 Our main task is to provide the school with strategic leadership and accountability. If the school were a vehicle, the role of governors would be to punch the coordinates into the educational ‘SatNav’, setting direction travel. That done, the Headteacher and Senior Leaders collectively get behind the wheel, put their foot on the gas and drive the school to the required destination. Along the way Governors hold leaders to account to ensure that the school isn’t going off track.

Governors set the vision and underpinning values for the school, agree the ‘Route Map’ strategy for making our vision a reality, and measure progress by setting Key Performance Indicators.

Vision: For Matravers School to be a world-class centre for teaching and learning at the heart of the Westbury community. Achieving this involves ensuring that every Matravers student exceeds their expected potential in all aspects of their education.

Values: Our core values are Resilience, Creativity, Ambition, Happiness, Success and Dynamism.

Key Performance indicators: Governors set targets for school improvement in areas such as leadership and management, pupil achievement and attainment, the quality of teaching, student behaviour and attendance, and the best use of financial resources. See the Key Performance Indicators, Goals and Action Plan documents for this year’s targets.

The Board endeavours to make an objective analysis of school performance in order to recognise and support strengths, and identify and challenge weaknesses. To that end governors scrutinise both external performance data such as RAISEonline, FFT Governor Dashboard and Ofsted Data Dashboard, and the school’s internal self-evaluation reports. Governors also visit the school in order to gain first hand experience of what is happening on the ground.

3. Structure

The Full Governing Board meets once a term, as do most of the committees. The Steering Group is responsible for leadership and management, and strategic planning.
Full Governing Board

Educational Standards - Every Child Matters - Resources  

                      Steering Group

New governors will be asked to join a committee on the basis of their skill set. See the Scheme of Delegation for a full breakdown of the responsibilities of the different elements of the Governing Board. (Our Annual Report sets out the remit of the Full Governing Board and its Committees as of 2014/15. 

4. Scrutiny, support & challenge

Governors have access to a wide range of performance data. Some is produced externally, like RAISEonline. This is usually ‘historic’ data, based on the previous year’s exam results. We also have access to internally produced contemporary data that charts the progress of students during the course of the academic year. Reports should be received with three questions in mind: What? So what? Now what?

For example. The GCSE results for subject ‘x’ are below what is expected. The data reveals that they fall short of internally set predicted grades and the national average for that subject. That is the ‘What?’

Then governors will begin to ask, ‘So what?’ The obvious point is that students did not achieve as well as expected in subject ‘x’. That may narrow their options when it comes to future study, or work. It will also impact on how the school is measured on the national Performance Tables. Governors will therefore ask questions to try and get to the bottom of why the results were not as good as expected.  Was the issue with Higher, Middle, or Lower ability students, or with disadvantaged students in receipt of Pupil Premium funds as against those who are not? That is something of what can be gathered from interrogating the data and asking, ‘So what?’

But we can’t leave it there. Next, governors must ask, ‘Now what?’ When that happens scrutiny becomes challenge. Governors want to know what measures will be taken to ensure better exam results in subject ‘x’ next time around and for that reason may ask the subject leader to report to the Standards committee.

But it’s not all ‘challenge’. In many subjects Matravers students perform above the national average and when that happens, governors will express support and celebrate success. 

  5. The Strategic/Operational divide

Governing Boards need to ensure that they do not cross the Strategic/Operational divide. When that happens rather than setting the overall direction of the school and making sure that it is getting there, the Governing Board begins to meddle with its everyday running.

The dividing line is not always easy to discern, but as a rule of thumb, concerns about individual students or members of staff are operational matters. Concerns about groups of students or teachers are of strategic importance. For example, if one of the Special Interest Groups (SPIGs – boys, girls, Pupil Premium etc) is falling behind, governors will challenge Senior Leaders to address the matter. If the quality of teaching in a particular subject area is below that is expected, once more governors will raise a challenge.

The perceptions of Parent Governors, or governors who are parents are bound to be shaped in part by their children’s experiences of the school. Their perspective is a reminder that what governors decide has an impact on real flesh and blood children, not simply statistics on a page. But if governors who are parents have a concern about how their child is getting on at school, strictly speaking that is an operational matter and should be dealt with as a parent. The problem should be taken up with relevant person in the school; a teacher, tutor, head of subject, or Senior Leader as appropriate. Meetings of the Governing Board are not an extension of the school’s Complaints Policy by other means. After all, our task is to ensure that every student fulfils their educational potential, not just our own children.

In the case of governors who are parents, other mums or dads may sometimes ask for your help. Advise any concerned parent to speak to the appropriate person in the school. Do not offer to take up the cudgels yourself. Governors only come into play when all other means of redress have been exhausted. Even then, if the child in question is known to you, that would constitute a conflict of interest on your part. In that case you would be excluded from any formal process that involves the Governing Board.

When Governing Boards routinely transgress the Strategic/Operational divide they lose their focus and begin to major on minors.

6. Training

All new governors are strongly encouraged to attend the New Governors’ Course provided by Governor Services. In addition, governors will want to attend further training sessions to sharpen their expertise in areas of special interest. In-house training is provided to help governors get to grips with data reports such as the FFT Governor Dashboard and RAISEonline

7. Interviews & Panels

The Governing Board is the de facto employer of school staff. Governors participate in job interviews for senior management posts. In matters such as staff redundancy, discipline or capability; a panel of three non-staff governors will be convened. The panel will consider evidence presented by senior management before making a decision with the support of a HR advisor provided by the Local Authority.

8. Communications

Governors should not comment on any issues concerning the school, whether in a personal capacity or in connection with their school links via the media or any type of social network. The Headteacher and/or Chair of Governors alone are authorised to communicate with the media on behalf of the school. Others may do so only with express permission from either Head or Chair and with the contents of any communications having been duly authorised.

Any communication intended for the attention of whole Governing Board should be sent to the Clerk and will only be forwarded to colleagues with the authorisation of the Chair of Governors.

9. Safeguarding

We take the safety and welfare of our students extremely seriously.  By law all new governors must apply for a DBS (Disclosure & Barring Service) check within 21 days of their being appointed to the board. Only once a DBS certificate has been produced will governors be issued with a personalised lanyard for the purpose of visiting the school. Until then they will be treated as visitors and will need to be accompanied at all times. Whenever visiting the school governors must sign in and out at Main Reception. All new governors will be trained in the school’s safeguarding procedures as soon as possible on their joining the board.

10. Contact

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11. Confidentiality

All governor business is to be regarded as confidential.

* If this guide is of any use to colleagues from other GBs it may be 'borrowed' and adapted to suit with appropriate acknowledgements.