This article discusses the importance of a strong governing board, to act as a check and a balance on executive decision making.
While aimed at academy trusts, the same principles apply to all schools, and indeed other organisations too.
Research released last year suggests that headteachers with the most successful records of turning round failing schools are challenged by between 30% and 60% of their governing body on key decisions.
This reinforces the importance of a robust board, which has the knowledge and confidence to ask the right questions of headteachers and other senior employees.
As a reminder, the governing board is responsible for establishing the vision, mission and values of the school, and setting the strategy and structure to implement that vision. The executive staff team are responsible for the day-to-day operation of the school or schools, under the direction and supervision of the board.
The board should have a clear idea of its role, and what has been delegated to staff members. These terms of delegation should be set out in writing and the board should ask for regular updates to ensure they are monitoring and reviewing performance.
This doesn't mean that the board should undermine staff members – they must be allowed to get on with their day jobs – but it does mean the board should take a 'helicopter view' of the organisation to ensure staff are fulfilling the strategy of the organisation which they have set.
If executive staff are regularly having to come to the board for decisions then there is something wrong with the strategic vision setting or delegation of authority and its implementation at an operational level.
Asking headteachers and other senior employees to provide reports to the board can be a useful way of monitoring performance. Where possible, written reports should be circulated in advance of any discussions, to allow board members to read them thoroughly. That does mean that board members should come to a meeting briefed and prepared. It can be a good idea to invite staff members to a meeting (or part of a meeting), to give the board chance to ask questions and to challenge any assumptions made in the reports. This is essential to verify key information and test its integrity.
This underlines the need to recruit the right people to the board. Board members need to have the right skills to understand the various aspects of how a school is run, so that they have the confidence and ability to ask the right questions. Such skills might include finance, human resources, legal and of course education.