By Emma Knights
Writing this on a grey March day it does bring a skip and a jump to my heart to think of the Outstanding Governance Awards ceremony at the House of Commons terrace on a sunny September afternoon – yes, it is always sunny when the Government minister hands over the awards to the governing boards or their governance professional. It is such a wonderful event with much laughter and taking of photos.
"Stories of improvement – and yes, excellence, but not perfection – are vital so that the sector doesn’t only talk about governance when things go wrong"
As leaders, we need to find ways to celebrate our people and our organisations positively. It is so simple to focus on the challenges – and I hear myself do it, especially at present. I have recently been asked to speak on the current challenges for governing boards in 2023 for keynotes at governance conferences and I worried I would send people who are doing such an important voluntary role home with an overwhelming list of things they need to be better or do more on or pay more attention to. I am not going to repeat that list here – those of you involved in leadership and governance would be able to construct it anyway.
I’m very conscious that NGA needs to be doing more to help governing boards fine-tune the demands upon them and prioritise not just the absolutely essential but also the important without drowning in data and detail. We are currently scoping this topic and will be talking to our members at our next round of governance leadership forums.
So, although today’s plea requires a little work, I hope it will be seen as a worthwhile investment. I want all those leaders, trustees, governors and governance professionals to consider: is our governing board good at what we do? How did you fare in your last self-review?
The governors and trustees I meet are understandably focused on doing better; that’s why they have turned up for professional development. They don’t tend to pause and just say actually, we are doing a grand job. There are so many really impressive people in the governance community doing such great work, but they don’t necessarily think of themselves as such.
Recently I was in the Bi-borough of Kensington and Chelsea with Westminster, and the volunteers were inspiring in their knowledge, their skills and their passion for doing the best for their pupils. But I don’t think that is how they saw themselves. Humility – in the sense of a lack of arrogance - is a fabulous trait, but where it springs from a lack of self-worth, it’s debilitating.
So let me plain – governance community, you are undertaking such an important role – there is no need for undue humility. Be proud of what you collectively have offered and achieved. Consider putting yourselves forward for an Outstanding Governance Award. Help us shine a light on success.
Stories of improvement – and yes, excellence, but not perfection – are vital so that the sector doesn’t only talk about governance when things go wrong; they help underline that governance truly contributes to the performance and sustainability of our schools. They can also encourage other boards to continue to make the changes they need to be the best they possibly can be.
Those governing work voluntarily, tirelessly and relentlessly to oversee schools and trusts for the benefit of pupils, staff and their communities, supported by a governance professional. I say tirelessly – but actually, it can all be very tiring too. So, in these times of greyness, please help us to recognise those responsibilities and celebrate that commitment, raising the visibility of governance. Put your board forward: show that you value them. You have just over a fortnight left and counting down.
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.
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For more information about the awards and why it's important you nominate your board or governance professional, watch our previous webinars on Excelling as a Governance Professional and Outstanding Governing Boards