Good Governance: Watchdog, Mediator, Champion

The first half term is drawing to a close and we are all crawling to our first break. This only means one thing… the first meetings of governors and trustees are taking place up and down the country.

Let’s cut to the chase. Governors and trustees are an important and undervalued component in the education sector. We ask members of the community to be accountable and take responsibility for a sector that, apart from their own school days, many have no experience of.

For that, they should be applauded and supported. They should receive a pat on the back for doing what many other people avoid. They should get encouragement and help to enable them to do the best possible job.

One thing always strikes me, there might be a shortage of good governors…but there is no shortage of people willing to offer their opinions on governance.

Just look at the guidance that is given. The Nolan Principles, or the seven principles of public life, are always quoted in every training session. In an effort to top that, the United Nations believe that “good governance is measured by eight factors”. If you look at the advice that is given to American boards, they are told about the nine values of good governance! It starts to feel like governance Top Trumps.

So, I want to break with trend. Less is, after all, more. For me, three is the magic number when it comes to governance. Good governance is about having the ability to be a watchdog, a mediator and a champion.

What, however, does that mean in reality?

Being a watchdog

I am not talking about being an Doberman protecting a school. Nor am I talking about what some governors feel is the need to challenge every decision – even the right ones. That is not what a school always needs. What they do require is people to ensure that standards are set and that those standards are maintained. If things are starting to dip, they need to help identify it and address things as early as possible.

Being a mediator

SLTs, parent bodies and the governing body itself are all full of views and personalities. That is why there will always be disputes, discussions and debate.

Good governance allows for ideas to be debated and views to be shared but ensures that at the end of that discussion there is a clear outcome with a way forward.

Being a champion

We are the nation of the stiff upper lip. The country of the understated. A community where the grass is always greener.

We simply do not celebrate what we achieve enough. Governing bodies, in the main, reflect that. Governors should also be out there in their communities shouting from the roof tops about the successes and achievements of their schools. They are ambassadors.

I firmly believe that if governors and trustees see their roles in terms of being a watchdog, mediator and champion then many of the issues we face would be adverted. It provides a structure and framework to an area that all to often lacks focus.

There is an important footnote too.

You will note that at no point do I use the word “critical friend”. It is a phrase that is constantly being used – but why? It is limiting; it suggests that you just need to pat the Head on the back with one hand, while pointing a questioning finger with the other. Is an oxymoron like that really going to help our school leaders?

So, as part of our growth audits and MAT MOTs don’t look at how much of a critical friend governors and trustees are. Look at the systems, skillsets and evidence to see if school leaders are in the best place to be the best watchdogs, mediators and champions they can be!