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School & trust leaders

Governance for trust and school leaders: filling the gap


Does your trust chief executive or headteacher value governance? Year in year out chairs of boards have raised the question of trust and school leaders’ commitment to and knowledge of governance.  Their understanding and willingness to invest time in developing relationships with the board is crucial to the good governance of schools and trusts. Yet candidates for roles tend not to bring with them the requisite governance experience.  

And on the other hand we hear from our leadership association colleagues that often when trust and school leaders face problems or are struggling, governance is in the mix.  Together we’ve laid out the basic expectations of each other, but this is just a starter. Leaders need to know how to navigate these situations well and capitalise on the benefits that good governance brings to their organisation – and indeed to their own role. When governance is not what it should be, it is not that all the problems reside with the volunteers who govern; it can be that executives do not understand the relative roles and responsibilities. Or in a few cases they do not want to accept the roles and act to thwart the governing board’s ability to do its job.  Trusting, respectful relationships are at the heart of good governance, but both the board and the executive need to establish themselves as trustworthy. 

Over the years NGA has been involved in three reviews of the NPQs (the national professional qualifications) which currently constitute a substantial investment by the Department for Education in leadership development. We argued tenaciously – I think I probably bored other members of the review group with my persistence – that there should be more expectation of governance knowledge in the frameworks, especially for NLQH and NPQEL. And each time we are offered assurances that although the framework doesn’t include much detail, we will see that the delivery will be different this time.   

I have been asking questions and there appears to be no way of knowing and no quality assurance built in. So I am not holding my breath. It depends significantly on who is developing and delivering them. Claiming to be a governance expert doesn’t make you one, nor does having served as trust or school leader given you the full view. We try to ensure our secondary school pupils are taught by subject specialists: why does this go out of the window when it come to leaders learning about governance? 

School and trust leaders have a tough job and most of them are former teachers: they may well be great at the all important development of teaching and learning. But understanding governance is also fundamental to leading an institution well. Yet it has been much overlooked for far too long and this needs to stop. We need as a sector to increase the expectations on governance literacy. Yes, there has been lip service, but no real action, no real change. 

So, at NGA we have adopted another road: instead of shouting from the sidelines into the wind, we have stepped into that gap, aiming to solve the current problem. It is actually hard for education leaders, business leaders and future leaders to find a session from governance experts firmly focused on their role.  

We know how hard-pressed leaders are and so we have developed a set of knowledge packed 90 minute induction sessions, one bespoke to each different setting: 

If your governing board has recently recruited a new executive leader – would this be useful for them? What other bespoke governance training have they ever been on? What were the credentials of the person who led the training session?  Do you have future leaders who would benefit? This will provide the grounding they need to participate fully and appropriately in governance. 

Likewise, if you are an executive or school leader, have you ever had first class training on governance? Might this be the starting point for re-setting your contribution to governance? The value will outstrip the small investment of time and cash.   

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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.