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Are you confident and effective in your governance role?


The esteemed education journalist Laura McInerney wrote last week “the average person who takes on a school governor role is really being thrown into a massive deep cave and asked to map its insides using nothing but a lighter”. 

The fact it felt like that to Laura who is so knowledgeable made me sit up and take notice. Anyone would be delighted to recruit her to their board. As you would expect (after all it is my job) I continuously ponder how we can get useful information out to those that govern schools and how we can help our governors and trustees to develop their approach to governance.

There is no doubt that feeling confident as a governor can take time; our own members tell us that it can take more than a year before they feel comfortable in their role. In response to Laura’s blog, many commented with a similar experience. Governing is complex for new and existing governors, and as with everything, it takes practice and time to improve. But, you are not alone and you are doing a good job as you learn. There are plenty of resources out there to support you. We have induction guides and hundreds of pieces of guidance on our website that our members value highly, along with training and development offers that can provide ongoing support to chairs and boards whichever way you prefer to learn. There are others too, but NGA produces lots of information for those governing – I am not asking for praise here; it is what we are paid to do at GovernorHQ. 

Induction training should be mandatory and would go some way to giving every governor/trustee a confident and equal start in the role. This is one of NGA’s long standing asks of the Department for Education, supported by the huge majority of those governing. As much as I want to be optimistic, it is unlikely that 2019 will be the year we convince the Secretary of State to make this happen. So, how about we make 2019 the year that induction happens in each and every board? Some governing boards have their own programme, some use Local Authority services and others utilise NGA resources. However your board does it, please ensure you do because there is a significant long-term benefit in making your volunteers feel capable and effective. I absolutely don’t want anyone else to feel as Laura did – lost in a cave with very little light. Both Welcome to Governance and Learning Link, our e-learning with eight comprehensive induction modules, are part of a quality induction package and can help new governors understand their role better and quicker. Have a look and see what you think.

On that point, we realise that whilst we try and provide what our members ask for and what we think they need, we might not get it right all the time. We absolutely don’t want a monolith with only a single NGA voice heard: we seek out debate and we want to hear from you. So if you have an experience to share or you think governors and trustees should know more about a particular issue or there a particular resource could be useful, please get in contact.

The second point made by Laura is about the information boards receive. Laura is right that it’s hard to really hold people to account when you are relying on them for information; too many boards are reliant on information from their senior leaders alone. Questioning that information is the other side of the coin, asking good questions is possibly the most important governance. This is why knowing your schools has always been one of our eight elements of effective governance, not just from data or reports but from conversations with parents, staff and pupils, and monitoring visits. Good governance is to not rely only on what you are being told but to triangulate, a dreadful but important word. In 2019 it is rising to the top of our agenda of things we need to encourage governing boards to do better without increasing workload.  

We need senior leaders to care about the role of those governing their schools and that they are enabling them to be effective in their role of driving the progress of their school. Governance knowledge is as important for senior leaders as education knowledge is for those governing, and there is a shared responsibility to get governance right for the good of the pupils. This is not about them and us. If more senior leaders bought into the joint enterprise of improving governance, then the small amounts of money needed for CPD on governance would be seen as an investment in school improvement.

If you are a volunteer new to their role, do explore the wealth of information, resources, learning and networks that are out there and able to support you – and importantly, remember you are not alone. You are part of a quarter of a million strong group of volunteers doing this role and at some point, each of them have felt in your position. And for those of you leading your governing board, take this opportunity at the beginning of a new year to consider how you support all of your governors/ trustees to feel confident and what you could do to build on this throughout 2019. NGA is here to help you tap in to the collective wisdom of dedicated volunteers across England.

Emma Knights OBE
Emma Knights OBE

Co-Chief Executive

As NGA’s Co-Chief Executive, Emma promotes the interests of the school governance community nationally with legislators, policy makers, education sector organisations and the media. Emma is an accomplished writer and speaker on a range of school governance policy and practice topics.