Monday, 21 July 2008

On governor involvement...

Had an interesting discussion with our Business Manager a couple of days ago about the extent to which it was appropriate for governors to get involved in the running of the school. Now some of you will say 'never, governance is a strategic role", some will want to be involved in the detail of whether or not to spend £500 painting the toilets and some will be in between. It got me thinking about where the line is drawn between strategic governance and operational management and how many governors do stuff that is hugely supportive but not governance.

Let's take this latter idea. We have governors who help out with swimming sessions, read to the kids, occasionally help out in the playground, etc. To me, this is not governance even though it is governors doing the tasks; it is straightforward volunteering. OK, it does give the volunteers a particular insight that may help them in their role as governors but can we really argue that helping little Johhny get dried and back into his clothes after a swim is governance?

On the other hand there are governors who turn up for their termly meeting, say little and then disappear for a term. That's not governance either - they are so remote for the school that they can hardly have a local context within which to make their strategic decisions.

So where is the middle way? I recently facilitated the development of an HR Strategy for our school - I actually commented that I would have done this for any school that had asked me; it is using my professional capacity in a socially responsible (in the CSR sense) way. So was doing this for the school where I am a governor getting too involved or not? Especially as one reason I was in the group was to represent a key stakeholder, the governing body. What if I next get involved in taking the targets we are about to develop and converting them into projects - for me that crosses the boundary from the strategic 'what' into the operational 'how'.

In another role as a non-exec director, this distinction between what and how is much clearer than it can be in schools. Now the model does not exactly cross over but it seems to be a decent starting point. We need to know enough to be able to ask useful questions (the 'critical') and to be able to support the school publicly and the (senior?) staff privately if necessary (the 'friend') but neither of these roles demands that I know Juliet's latest SAT results or that Billy has been bullied by Susan.

So - any thoughts/examples of the boundary between governance and operations?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

God - what a good post. This is newbie26 from UKGovs, by the way. I've been thinking about this a lot recently. It's so hard to draw that line because as you say sometimes we rely on governors being involved in the micro-operations of the school (sports and arts activities that wouldn't happen otherwise, particular skills that the school benefits from and so on). However, it's not always appropriate to have a formal say in the management of a school.

Could it be something to do with GBs needing to develop a school ethos and a vision of the school's educational mission, then acting as "trustees" of that vision to some extent?

The charity I work for is hoping to start a School Governance network which will provide a series of spaces for governors to do some of this thinking with one another - online, face-to-face and any way they want. Would you care to take a look? It's an early draft but I'm working on a redo of it at the moment.