Sunday, 28 February 2010

What makes an "excellent" Governing Body?

Around the country Governors of Independent Schools are having to raise their game to meet the new exacting standards of the new Independent Schools Inspectorate [ISI] inspection regime. ISI3, itself, has not placed any new responsibilities on Governing bodies, but it has put their role into a much sharper focus. There is nothing new about Governing Bodies having ultimate responsibility for teaching and learning, budgeting, Health and Safety, and Child Protection issues, but ISI3's evidential approach requires that schools demonstrate this. Questions are being asked of Governors as they have never before.

Let's be honest, the Government via OFSTED and ISI are pulling the strings here. It is they who are defining what is an "excellent" governing body. According to the ISI3 School Self-evaluation Form there are eight indicators of excellence:
  1. The governing body has a valuable range of expertise, with comprehensive induction arrangements and well-chosen training.
  2. The governors have a perceptive long-term strategic plan for the school’s future and work closely with the head, bursar and members of the senior management team.
  3. They have a clear insight into the school and seek to ensure that its aims are fulfilled through the school development plan.
  4. They are well known at the school both at formal occasions and also to sample the pupils’ curricular experience.
  5. They monitor school policies carefully and exercise constructive oversight of academic standards and pastoral matters, including welfare, health and safety.
  6. They are committed to financial planning for the maintenance and development of accommodation, resources and the recruitment of high quality staff.
  7. They ensure that questions of suitability are scrupulously checked and that the central register is thoroughly maintained.
  8. They are a strong source of advice and support to the head.
Being an "excellent" Governor under ISI3 means a lot of work. No longer does it just entail reading the termly reports and attending Governors' meetings, it involves research, on-going training, giving up time to be in and around school, not to mention asking awkward questions of the SMT. No wonder people aren't queuing up for the job!

But there are dangers here too. The ISI3 criteria are redefining the lines between Governance and Management. Take the role of monitoring Health and Safety for example. There is a fine but important line between ensuring that a school SMT is monitoring risk assessments, and Governors being involved in that monitoring process themselves. There is a danger that the new ISI3 criteria will encourage Governors to trespass on the realm of the executive.

However, my greatest concern is that the Government through ISI3 is taking independence away from our school Governing Bodies. The ISI Handbook outlines the latest regulatory requirements. These dictate not only which policies a school must have, but also what detail must be included. Whilst, on the one hand, this does provide a useful checklist and a guide to national norms; on the other, it takes away the ability of a school Governing body to frame a policy in a way that it sees fit. Perhaps the greatest danger in ISI3's top-down approach to policies is that schools end up with policies and procedures that comply with ISI regulations, but have no real validity or meaning on the ground in our schools.

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