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Gaining skills, growing confidence and making an impact with NGA's governance development programme


Completing NGA’s Leading Governance Development for Chairs programme last year brought significant benefits for Simon Watson, Chair of Governors at St John the Evangelist CE VA Primary School in Carterton, Oxfordshire. In this blog, Simon shares his experience of the programme and the impact on his chairing role.

I took over as Chair of Governors at a two-form entry large primary school in West Oxfordshire at the end of the last academic year. Having spent two years as vice chair, I still had big shoes to fill as my predecessor is a former Director of Governance. Our senior leadership team and governing board are highly motivated and committed, and the opportunity to take the Leading Governance course was instrumental in me agreeing to put myself forward for the role as, if I was going to do it, I was going to do it properly!

The Development for Chairs programme was excellent, and I can’t speak highly enough of the NGA facilitator and National Leader of Governance who delivered it. I had previously committed countless hours to the Oxford Diocesan Board of Education’s Excellence in Governance programme over the prior 24 months, which had given me a really good grounding in governance, however the NGA course was specifically aimed at chairs rather than governors in general which was exactly what I needed next for my continued professional development.

The three face-to-face workshops were extremely useful, and a great chance to network with other chairs/prospective chairs. I found the mutual board observations particularly beneficial, as this not only provided an external skills audit, but also highlighted several learning opportunities to share with our own boards. Following the reciprocal visits, myself and my course buddy have stayed in touch and supported each other well after the course had finished.

Participants are required to split into cluster groups which meet outside of the formal face-to-face sessions. These were also really useful, and this is something we as a group have subsequently continued every three months. I, like others in the group, have had some very difficult challenges to deal with since becoming chair, and this group has been instrumental in providing not only moral support, but high-quality impartial advice and guidance where we have been able to pool our collective knowledge to support each other in a confidential manner.

When I asked my course buddy Claire Gilbert, Chair of Governors at St Swithun's CE Primary School in nearby Kennington whether she wanted to add anything to this blog, she wrote “It's hard for me to overstate the benefits of attending the course. I particularly found the course beneficial in giving me a deep understanding of our key strategic role plus the tools to lead strategic development. The relationships built on the course have been absolutely critical to my ongoing support and development. Being a chair can be lonely at times and having a trusted group of people who know exactly what you are going through and can offer help and support makes a massive difference to me. I have no doubt that my ability to chair has been transformed by the course, which will lead to improved outcomes for the children at my school - the reason for doing what we do”.

Though the level of work involved to complete the course should not be underestimated, it has given me the skills to deal with challenging situations calmly, professionally and with confidence. I have used these to make the best of the governing board’s collective strengths, identifying through a skills audit where we are at risk – either through a training requirement or from specialist knowledge leaving in the future – and what we are looking for in our next governor appointment.

The course has upskilled me to be able to redefine (with the headteacher) the governing board work programme, to ensure the time we are asking for from them is targeted in the right places, and there is no unnecessary reporting. This has also led to a trusted relationship with the SLT, where we are able to have open and honest conversations. We have also retargeted our governance visits to align with our school development plan (SDP) and integrated our Governing Board Improvement Plan into the SDP, so we are all working off one document and everyone is aware of our goals. Clear guidelines have been developed by governors about what is expected from our link role visits, how we can measure that our Improvement Priorities are successful and, where there are challenges these are identified early on to ensure our planned outcomes are achievable.

At our most recent inspection in January 2020, we were rated by Ofsted as an ‘Outstanding’ school, putting us (at the time of publication) in the top 5% of all primary schools in the UK inspected under the new framework. This was a result of the momentous efforts over many years of the whole team, and for me personally the support of the Development for Chairs programme allowed me to present in front of the inspection team as Chair, with confidence and gravitas. Indeed, the lead inspector was quite interested to hear that ‘continued professional development’ was a whole school approach for teachers, senior leaders and governors.

If you are thinking of taking the Development for Chairs course, stop thinking and act now. There is government funding available to support the vast majority of the cost, and you and your school will no doubt benefit hugely. Best of luck!

Join the new Summer 2020 cohort of both our chairs and clerks programme – you can access our e-learning and online evaluation tools straightaway, with the option of joining face-to-face workshops when it is safe to do so or accessing this component of the programme through virtual sessions. Once you have applied for your place, you will receive access to all course materials and online learning to begin your governance development journey. 

Find out more about Leading Governance