Emma Knights

Author: Emma Knights

19/03/2021 12:03:10

Image showing the front covers of selected Governing Matters magazines from 2009 to present

Last week we published March’s edition of Governing Matters: no big deal you say, a regular occurrence. But this edition was pause for thought for me: for 11 years I have been writing the welcome column – that’s a lot of columns, and in this month’s edition I have handed over the reins to its editor, Sam Henson, our Director of Policy and Information.

The magazine I inherited when I arrived at the NGA was called Matters Arising, and we have been through three redesigns. The name Governing Matters arrived in September 2011: change prompted by a chat with Professor Chris James from the University of Bath, who as one of the few academics working on school governance, wrote a few times for us, when he apologised for calling it Governing Matters.

We had to modernise five years later, but I did miss the pupils on the covers sent in by members: it was a visual link to why governors govern – it is all about the children and young people. But the latest change in January 2020 was the most momentous – we went naked: gone were the plastic wrappings, a very small contribution towards the planet. I fretted that I would be contacted by members as magazines arrived bruised and battered, and chewed by the dog after being squashed through the letter box. But Royal Mail has with very few exceptions delivered them without problems.

My favourite cover is still the Growing Governance one, the campaign we ran during our 10th anniversary year in 2016: to raise the profile of governance, calling on our members to join us at a local level. Sound familiar anyone: Visible Governance 2021?

Can the repetition of themes over the years be both extraordinary and deeply obvious at the same time? The important things for schools, their pupils and their governing boards don’t change. My very first column in March 2010 talked about governing bodies, as they were almost all then, being overlooked; I still use this phrase now. And I was concerned about the lack of a governor voice in education coverage; the advent of Schools Week (currently our media partner for our Outstanding Governance Awards) has helped a little with this.

The professionalisation of clerking is a theme throughout the decade, with our Clerking Matters campaign beginning formally in March 2013 and consistently since – right up the present with March being our Visible Governance month for clerking. The most notable achievement to-date was persuading Lord Nash, then schools systems minister, to introduce a funded clerks development programme in 2013 – which sadly has just come to an end – but only we hope a pause while the Department for Education reviews what the profession needs.

Leading a board has been a constant theme even since that first column promising to push for funding for chairs development and that too was successful very early on, and thousands of chairs will have benefited in the meantime. But this is a drum which still needs to be constantly banged – once again the latest iteration of the board development programmes -which includes NGA’s Leading Governance – came to an end, but in this January’s issue we covered the needs of those chairing board, along with our tips for sharing the tasks out.

Funding has been a huge topic – balancing the books is always high on governing boards’ lists of concern, and both the move towards the national funding formula, but also the size of the school funding cake featuring more and more. The topic of disadvantage – and improving the attainment of pupils with a range of challenges – has been another constant thread, one which is challenging you all now.

2013 was the year we published our first research report: the road to federation highlighted the advantages to pupils of being in a formal group governed by one board. Federations were a theme for several years, one we have just returned to, introducing a category for federations in the Outstanding Governance Awards 2021 as described in our last edition. We are still trying to persuade the DfE to simplify the restrictive constitutions of federations.

The passing of the Academies Act 2010 heralded many articles on school and trust structures, some covering the debates but most advising governing boards that were considering what is best for their school. There was so little information in the early days of multi academy trusts – even from the DfE – that we filled that gap right from the beginning. Lord Nash even responded to the House of Commons select committee that the reason why the DfE wasn’t doing more on this, was because NGA was producing such excellent guidance. Our MAT governance network was set up in September 2016 to help share experiences – and grown over the years: next week we are expecting hundreds of trustees at our virtual event.

The important topic of the board’s role in curriculum appeared very early on, and then only every year or so, often with an article on the place of arts and sport, and a couple of times Religious Education with which governing boards have a particular role. But this crucial topic of what our children are taught is rightly taking more of our attention and that of our members now than ever before.

Listening to pupils featured in July 2013, and will again later this year as our Visible Governance autumn terms plan includes activity aimed at informing pupils about their school’s governing board. 2014 was also the first time I think we majored on the board’s role in encouraging school improvement through good professional development (CPD) of staff – our cover story for this current edition and a theme for 2021. The focus on the duties of the employer has definitely increased in recent years.

Some things come round and round in that annual cycle – the annual survey reported every September, the AGM notice in the same issue – and twice a year the reports of our national conferences with such a range of subjects and tremendous speakers. In the May 2017 edition, we changed our name from the National Governors’ Association (it was a relief to get rid of that apostrophe):

“Our new name also emphasises the expertise of NGA; we remain the voice of those governing in state schools and continue first and foremost to provide information tailored to you: academy trustees as well as governors, and to clerks and other governance professionals”.

It was just after that I realised it also recognised NGA’s role providing governance support to headteachers and executives when they need it too.

A huge shout out to everyone who has written for the magazine – it wouldn’t be the success it is without you. And as always a plea for serving governors, trustees, and governance professionals, to share your experiences – we need you to write for Governing Matters. You all love to read each other’s stories. Your voice is important: that is one of NGA’s core values, although you won’t get rid of me that easily: I will be having the last word in future editions for things I really want to champion. Feel free to tell me what those should be: emma.knights@nga.org.uk.


Governing Matters magazine is produced five times a year, and is available as a benefit for NGA members. GOLD members receive a copy per individual and other members receive a select number. You can read Governing Matters online. If you currently receive Governing Matters in the post but would prefer a digital copy, let us know by updating your preferences in your membership profile.

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