It’s a well-worn adage that not all superheroes wear capes but as we come to the end of another unrelenting year for school governors it’s clear you are the unsung heroes who work voluntarily and tirelessly for your schools and are as stretched as any other profession as you grapple with all the challenges schools are faced with.
Let’s consider the range of roles governors are obliged to take on; Chair, Vice Chair, Committee Chair, committee member, link role, panel member, governor, trustee - on top of this we have training, reading, directives, reports, plans, minutes, emails to factor into our lives where we may be working, caring, parents, grandparents, retired or otherwise. This in itself, in my opinion, qualifies all governors and trustees as heroes but we should then consider what ‘superpowers’ are required to carry out the role. I make no apology for the ‘superpower’ label for those skills given the range required and the audience to which they play out to – we need to be present, articulate and confident when dealing with CEO’s, Headteachers, Senior leaders, teachers, non-teaching staff, Ofsted, HIPs, pupils, parents and the wider community – in what other volunteer role would so many audiences need to be embraced, nurtured and understood? So, to those superpowers:
Listening, empathy, understanding, supportive, critical friend, challenging, being inquisitive, persistence, willingness to compromise, risk awareness, sense of purpose, visionary, deal maker, conflict resolver, peacemaker, trusting, clear communicator, public speaker, confident leader…..
Now we may not as a board have all those skills individually but collectively, we need each and every one of the above to be a skill of at least one board member or more, how we then harness these ‘superpowers’ for the greater good of our school, ensuring that all the right energies are applied in all the right places and with the right people begins to explain the almighty challenge faced by governors and their boards.
It is the accumulation of all the requirements above that lead me to the serious point of who is looking out for the wellbeing of board members. It’s not possible that all the above can be accomplished in a voluntary role without cracks appearing. The Chair may be able to offload to the Headteacher but more often it will be the other way round and who do other board members turn to when things just frankly overwhelm them? I think it’s vital that we find ways to express our feelings and frustrations in such a way as to support each other whilst not identifying individuals if they wish to remain anonymous. Setting aside 15 minutes at an FGB meeting to allow governors to discuss concerns they may have, how they could be resolved, and maybe advance suggestions could be channelled via the clerk to create a virtual notice board of anonymised points to discuss. In this way individuals can be reassured they are not alone, I am sure most frustrations felt by governors are common to all governors and will hopefully instil a sense of joint purpose and support and reflect a healthy and open approach to life as a governor.
By way of conclusion can I suggest we take a moment to recognise what we individually, and collectively as a board, bring to the table – the abundance of quietly delivered good governance that supports our schools on a day to day basis but equally recognise we need to look out for ourselves, and our governor colleagues, and not be afraid to speak out if we aren’t coping. At Herts for learning we have the Helpdesk, Chairs Service, Clerks Service and advisors to be that helping hand and catch you when you may be wavering about what’s best to do – contact details are at the end of this blog.
One superpower we don’t have is to reverse the effect of climate change or the impact of the cost of living crisis, but we can make steps to ‘do our bit’ regarding the strategic challenges of reducing our school’s carbon footprint and understanding the consequences both for schools and pupils of the cost of living crisis.
We surveyed Chairs at our June strategic briefing and just under 50% had started discussions on the climate challenge, including 7% having concrete action plans in place but with 50% saying they had not had any board discussion to date. Clearly with so many more ‘immediate’ pressures facing schools this may have moved down the agenda but given that we know many schools in Hertfordshire are taking positive steps towards reducing their carbon footprint maybe the time is right to get this on your next agenda. We did some number crunching and if all boards in Herts stored their minutes electronically on Governor Hub, with Chairs electronically signing them rather than printing a set to be stored onsite, that would save approximately 36,000 printed pages of paper and 4500 signatures – one small step maybe but evidence of leading by example! All Herts schools have been sent a wonderful document called Hertfordshire Schools Going Green with schools sharing examples of the work they have done on going green – use this as a catalyst for starting the conversation at your next board meeting!
HfL will be delivering a funded Environment Conference next year where schools across Herts will showcase the great work in place…..save the date 28th March 2023 (more details to follow)
Cost of living
With Utility bills soaring by £10,000’s for many schools plus food and general supply costs on the rise school budgets are going to be under more scrutiny than usual with limited resources having to be stretched thinner than ever. Equally there is the impact on school staff with the cost of travel to work plus pressures on the home budget all coming at once. For pupils’ school may be the only place of warmth they have and school dinners the only hot meal they will eat, together with family budgets being stretched when it comes to uniform, clubs and school trips. Parents and carers will be making difficult choices of where they cut back with all the additional wellbeing and mental (and physical) health consequences. As governors we need to be asking about the support that is being offered, how are we reaching the hardest hit families, how can we reduce the impact on pupils learning in-school and at home?
It’s never truer than now that your school needs you, please know that you are admired and appreciated by many for the service you give, but as with many others involved in the governance of our public institutions it can at times seem an uphill task. The reward is, as with so much of public service, knowing that you ARE making a difference to the lives and outcomes of those that lack a voice and rely on you to be their advocate and to champion their cause. Take pride in your school’s successes and stand together to face and deal with challenges and critically remain united when things aren’t going to plan.
Finally good luck to all schools with their SATs and exam results, when they come qualified comparisons can be made against 2019 but maybe better to view as a benchmark going forward. Nevertheless, it’s time for some data crunching!!
Wishing all involved in school governance a lovely summer break and look forward to getting together again in September for the new academic year.
To contact us please use the following:
Governance Helpdesk – 01438 544487
Governance Training – 01438 544478
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