The role of school governors is becoming ever more onerous. Nevertheless, I would never advocate paying them for a number of reasons: it would take money out of school budgets, change the motives of people who choose to be governors, and devalue the whole culture of ‘volunteering’.
Payment would also create yet more bureaucracy – the bane of most of our lives . Having a register of governors is more than enough, and I can only hope that it won’t generate a whole new industry for various questionable sales organisations bombarding us with ‘special offers’!
Having just spent a sunny Saturday morning at a School Governors Forum conference, the one key message which all the speakers emphasised is that, without strong leadership, schools cannot achieve good or outstanding. Obvious, we’d all say, but what does leadership actually mean?
It means good communication and organisational skills, combined with a ruthless focus on doing the best for the children, and a willingness to sacrifice one’s own popularity in the process if that is the only way to succeed. It means having a strategy and clear timelines agreed with, and monitored by, governors and the school’s top team.
Ofsted’s representative pointed out that 70 per cent of good schools remain good, whilst 20 per cent go down, and 10 per cent up. Hence the government’s concern about ‘coasting’ schools. So, we need that ruthless focus.
Focus on constant improvement, especially on disadvantaged pupils (and the talented), raising expectations and aspiration, always striving to be even better, and never giving up on those difficult children.
However, as more local authorities reduce their support services for maintained schools, all too often Heads have their attention diverted from education. They are glorified social workers, managing data, and complex HR issues, finance and every aspect of the properties their schools occupy. But they are not qualified accountants or surveyors, having learnt on the job with a few hours’ training at best, which is hardly an endorsement and simply adds to their stress levels.
What about the bursars, you ask; most of them have also learnt on the job and many are promoted well beyond their abilities.
Small wonder, then, that there is a shortage of Head Teachers (not to mention governors), with the NGA noting that some governing bodies are now using recruitment agencies to find them. No thanks; that is a total waste of money.
Sharing Heads is one option, and combining back office functions across a consortium of schools (or multi-academy trusts) can increase efficiency and significantly reduce costs, especially for small and medium sized schools. With businesses largely reluctant to become academy sponsors, perhaps they could instead be persuaded to provide ‘in kind’ expertise for the back office functions? In my experience, this rarely happens, given the pressures on their own profitability, although some do offer informal advice and may encourage staff to be school governors.
All of which leaves governors with a dilemma. With Heads reluctant to admit to any personal shortcomings, are governors even aware of what’s going on beyond the official statistics and, when serious issues (e.g. on building maintenance, safety compliance, HR) do come to light, should they take control of these additional responsibilities, themselves? And what are the implications if they do? Do they have the skills/time/resources to do any better?
Their role is supposed to be supervisory and supportive, not hands-on, although many of us have to be, if only temporarily.
What we should be doing is recognising that, in the 21st century, schools are multi-faceted businesses, with large budgets, which cannot afford to be managed by amateurs, so my preferred option would be to create Executive Heads.
In the larger schools, where few Heads actually teach, and deputies also spend most of their time on administration too, this valuable resource is consequently wasted, so having an experienced administrator with strong leadership skills, would restore teaching as the priority.
He/she could project manage all aspects of the school, including budgets and planned maintenance, implementing a rigorous education development plan meeting Ofsted requirements, ensuring accountability, and liaising with parents/carers/governors/the local authority. Whilst also overseeing security and safeguarding, they would enable teachers to teach and – yes – focus on the children’s progress in pursuit of the prized Outstanding.
With something like 20,000 ex-military personnel across all ranks coming onto the jobs market each year, there is huge potential to recruit people with the capacity, commitment and intelligence to undertake such a role. Leadership and people management are in their DNA, as are organisational and negotiation skills as well as detailed planning and accountability. Many already have degrees, whilst their experience dictates that they are quick learners and can easily absorb all the technicalities associated with school life.
Instinctively, they are disciplined and have authority, with no fear of making decisions which, in turn, attracts respect from all quarters. They would also be role models for our young people, many of whom lack an authority figure at home whom they can look up to and emulate.
Of course there would be resistance from all those people who automatically resist any change on principle, especially those who complain about ‘unqualified teachers’ (whilst overlooking the fact that TAs are unqualified) and – albeit unintentionally – are content to see schools coasting or failing because some existing Heads are, frankly, inadequate, unable to cope with the additional burdens of leadership and management. It’s called protectionism.
But, since a growing number of councils are doomed as education authorities because their results are so poor, it’s overdue for schools to cut the umbilical cord (what’s left of it) and take control.
The difference with my proposal is that ex-military recruits are used to delivering, without all the bureaucratic baggage associated with the modern public sector. In other words, they can cut through the crap, and make things happen with the minimum of fuss. I have no doubt that educational standards would soar as a result.