The 2010 White Paper on Education, “The Importance of Teaching” recognised governors as “the unsung heroes of our education system” . It outlined a range of measures to ensure they are “better respected and deployed” and more focused on “strategic direction” . These measures included better information and training as well structural reforms. The White Paper pledged to:
“legislate in the forthcoming Education Bill so that all schools can establish smaller governing bodies with appointments primarily focused on skills.” (ibid).
What sort of “skills” these are is unclear but the policy paper “Who Governs the Governors?” continues this theme:
“Too often schools have sacrificed quality in order to ensure proportional representation from parents, local politicians and particular professions to the detriment of other groups or individuals who may not easily fall into a specific category. … we believe that governors should be appointed on the breadth of skills and experience they would bring”
Wider changes in education such as the move towards academies, the marketisation of the school system, pledges to enhance school and teacher autonomy and the reduced support from LAs and SIPs also raise questions as to how the role of governors might change.
Our research showed that the ideal governor is able to offer sensitive, well communicated and informed challenge based on good relationships and an understanding of the school’s social and educational context, applying relevant expertise where appropriate. We argue that the term “skills based” governance is too broad and unspecific and instead present a typology of four types of governors. We call them ‘The Forensic’, ‘The Local’, ‘The Expert’ and ‘The Educationalist.’ Different schools need and want different types of governors and all can be appropriate in different circumstances.
We also present ‘7 Policy Lessons’ relating to topical policy controversies such as the role of Chairs and Clerks and the impact of school autonomy.
One of the findings was that the ability to understand and question pupil data was crucial. We have recently been working with governors to help them with this – and you can read how here. Our particular focus has been on ‘in-school variation in attainment and progress’.
The report focused on the needs of school in challenging circumstances and is based on a series of 21 in depth interviews with Heads, Clerks, Chairs, Governors and experts as well as analysis of 512 requests for school governors received by SGOSS and a survey of Teach First Ambassador governors.