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The Hamilton Academy Governors
Our Governing team is made up of 4 parent governors, 8 appointed governors and 3 staff governors (including the school’s Headteacher)
To contact our governors, please email the Clerk to the governing body at email@example.com
Schools are complex and fast-changing institutions, and it is easy for those engaged with them to get absorbed in day-to-day problems. It is important that someone can stand apart and observe the overall picture, which is where a governing body comes in. To maintain that position it is necessary to have a clear concept of what it is you are meant to be doing. Concentrating on the principles keeps things simple and focused.
The work of a governing body has usually been defined as revolving around three key functions. The three core roles apply equally to academies and maintained schools. However, in academies the responsibilities belong first to the trust which may delegate them in part or full to the local governing body. Even where they remain with the trust, the three functions should still provide the framework within which the local governing body operates.
What are the three core functions?
The School Governance (Roles, Procedures and Allowances) (England) Regulations 2013 states that they are:
- ensuring that the vision, ethos and strategic direction of the school are clearly defined;
- ensuring that the head teacher performs his or her responsibilities for the educational performance of the school; and
- ensuring the sound, proper and effective use of the school's financial resources.
The DfE's Governance Handbook (October 2020) describes them as:
- Ensuring clarity of vision, ethos and strategic direction;
- Holding executive leaders to account for the educational performance of the organisation and its pupils, and the effective and efficient performance management of staff; and
- Overseeing the financial performance of the organisation and making sure its money is well spent.
Effective governance is based on six key features:
- Strategic leadership that sets and champions vision, ethos and strategy.
- Accountability that drives up educational standards and financial performance.
- People with the right skills, experience, qualities and capacity.
- Structures that reinforce clearly defined roles and responsibilities.
- Compliance with statutory and contractual requirements.
- Evaluation to monitor and improve the quality and impact of governance.
What the roles mean
Ensuring clarity of vision, ethos and strategic direction - like any other institution, a school should have a clear idea of where it is going and what it wants to achieve. At the centre are the educational standards of the school: identifying what subjects or skills need prioritising, and/or addressing the needs of particular groups of pupils. Priorities should be shaped by a vision for the school that stems from its values and ethos. All of these are things for the governing body to explore and establish.
The business of the governing body is making strategic decisions, underpinned by the agreed values and vision. The alternative to being strategic is to be operational, but this is territory that belongs to the school's staff's. The distinction is between deciding where to go and undertaking how to get there. For example, a governing body should agree which subjects a school teaches, but not how they are taught, whether to divert funds into buying new IT equipment, but not the make and size of the computers, what the overall priorities are in improving results or pupil behaviour, but not the appraisal objectives for an individual teacher.
Holding the head teacher to account for the educational performance of the school and its pupils -A school's purpose is to educate its children. While the governing body must entrust how this is done to the headteacher, it should not then lose interest in the effectiveness of the process. On the contrary, it should regularly request reports from him or her on progress, including what is being shown by pupil assessment. If a school's children perform poorly it is the responsibility of the staff and ultimately the head, but it is also the governing body's in that it should have been monitoring and providing challenge. (What "poorly" means is not a straightforward matter of headline results in SATs or public exams, but is related to the pupils' starting points and will vary from group to group.) This role is not separate from the strategic one but is its partner. Holding the head to account consists of looking at how well strategic decisions are being implemented and what impact they are having.
Overseeing the financial performance of the school and making sure that its money is well spent - Schools are funded by public money. The public has a right to expect that it is being spent well and not wasted. If the governing body of a maintained school does not do this, the local authority may "de-delegate" its budget and take control of the finances itself.
The job does not require particular financial expertise or professional training, but it does require governors to decide how the budget will be spent. This too follows from their strategic role as resources should be allocated according to the school's priorities. In practice, this means linking the budget to the school's development plan. Governors are then responsible for looking regularly at expenditure and querying with the headteacher instances where money has not been spent as expected, and agreeing what to do if the investment has not produced the results anticipated.
Cases of fraud in schools are rare, but they do happen. It is more likely if governors do not exercise careful oversight. Prevention being better than cure, it is up to the governing body to ensure that sound financial practices are in place in its school not just so as to ensure as far as possible against fraud, but also so as to produce efficiency.
What do governors need to do?
The strategic role - Keep the strategic role in the back of your mind all the time when acting as a governor. If in doubt when about to get involved in something, ask yourselves whether the task is strategic. If not, let the staff do it. It is important for governors to avoid moving out of role for two reasons: to act operationally creates confusion, and it also prevents the governors fulfilling their essential role. If you do a job that rightly belongs to the school's staff, nobody is then held accountable for that task because you cannot hold yourself to account.
There is no substitute for training in helping you get to grips with the role, and it will feature prominently in induction training for new governors. Whole governing body training is particularly advisable as it creates a common understanding.