Among the many factors that help to determine successful educational outcomes for young people, one of the most important is the provision of strong leadership and governance for schools. Evidence suggests that pupils achieve the best results when strong governing
bodies provide effective support for high quality school leaders. However, at present many governing bodies are struggling to fulfill their duties properly, particularly in primary schools where effective governance is particularly linked to pupil attainment.
It’s therefore vital to strengthen our existing governing bodies in addition to promoting school leaders that have the right combination of experience and capabilities. By developing and supporting both these areas, we can ensure that young people leave school
with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in a rapidly changing world.
Improving Standards of Governance
The school standards body, Ofsted, reported in the 2011-12 academic year that one-third of all maintained schools had quality of leadership and management that was either “inadequate” or merely “satisfactory”. At the same time, Ofsted found governance to be
“good” or “outstanding” in just 55% of primary schools and 64% of secondary schools. Those levels are clearly not good enough and undoubtedly lead to educational outcomes for young people which are lower than where they should be. A two-stage process is required
to raise standards within poorly led schools while increasing the quality of leadership and governance across the entire school system.
Increased decentralisation certainly provides scope for improving standards. With more autonomy and greater freedom to manage, headteachers can more easily assume the mantle of senior professionals. When their enhanced authority is correctly exercised, headteachers
can provide classroom teachers with increased support and guidance and recent research from the OECD shows that when schools have more say in what is taught and in how students are assessed, then their pupils achieve better results.
However, as the requirements and responsibilities of school leaders increase, so too does the need to monitor standards carefully and provide the best level of support.
The Role of School Governors
The importance of school governors in promoting positive change should not be underestimated here. While raising educational standards within a school is a key responsibility of the school’s leadership team, it is also a key role of the governors to ensure
that the leadership team fulfills that responsibility effectively. And while school leaders may determine the school’s day-to-day running, governing bodies are responsible for contributing to broader strategic leadership. As well as holding headteachers to
account for pupil performance and checking that money is well spent, governing bodies should ensure that their schools have clear overall vision, direction and ethos.
For governing bodies to carry out their duties effectively, they must be composed of individuals with a wide range of complementary skills. As many of these skills – such as strategic thinking, understanding balance sheets and having management and human resources
expertise – are already in abundance in the business sector, stronger links and greater cooperation between industry and educational bodies can serve to strengthen the role of governing bodies for the benefit of all.
Recruiting Capable Governors
Governing bodies can be strengthened through proactive recruitment of individuals with the right mix of skills and knowledge. In the past, governing bodies were often composed according to specific roles or numbers of members, but regulations now allow for
more flexible arrangements. In particular, the reduction in the minimum number of governors required will allow governing bodies more freedom to determine their own composition, based upon the individual skill sets of volunteers rather than representational
requirements. A cap on the maximum number of governors that may be appointed will also help to keep bodies more manageable. Evidence suggests that smaller governing bodies are usually more effective at decision-making, as well as maintaining strategic focus.
Support and guidance for governors is also important to help strengthen governing bodies nationwide. Relevant governor training will ensure that individuals have the necessary knowledge and understanding of what is required of them. Despite being volunteers
– the largest such force with over 300,000 volunteers – governors have substantial responsibilities and must be ready and willing to perform their duties to a high standard. Wider public recognition of the invaluable contribution made by these volunteers will
help to boost recruitment of suitable candidates and ensure that empty posts – estimated at over 10% at any given time – are quickly filled.
While the government must take the lead in raising the profile of school governance, businesses can also play a vital role by encouraging and supporting employees to take up governor positions. With more businesspeople serving as governors, governing bodies
will in turn become more business-like. This will lead to improved performance for school governing bodies and with this will come major benefits for schools, young people and the future of British business.
Look out for Part 3 of Berg’s Leadership and Governance in Education Series. Don’t forget we’re teaming up with Dame Kathy August DBE to host an exclusive event on the future of Leadership and Governance in Schools. If you’re interested in a free place,
click here to sign up. This exclusive event is supported by TheSchoolBus and HCSS Education.
Read Part 1: Education and Industry Working Together
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(The information and opinions contained in this article are not intended to be comprehensive, nor to provide legal advice. No responsibility for its accuracy or correctness is assumed by Berg or any of its partners or employees. Professional legal advice should
be obtained before taking, or refraining from taking, any action as a result of this article.)