How much time should a school governor spend on governance?

9 Dec

Michael Gove, former Secretary of State for Education, disparagingly spoke of some school governors who volunteer to serve so that they can attend meetings as social gatherings for tea and sympathy and to sing collectively Kumbayah.     This incensed many governors and governor groups, among others, the National Governors’ Association to whom he apologised.   Rightly so.

The work of governors has increased is profound – if done properly.  Duties and responsibilities which formerly were in the purview of the local authority have transferred to governing bodies so that two fundamental requirements for governors are that they

(i)            have skills to contribute to school governance – in areas such as the law, human resources, finance and, of course, the curriculum and pedagogy – and

(ii)           are prepared to give time and energy to the school.

Accordingly, before anyone decides to volunteer to become a school governor, she/he would be wise to reflect on the time that should be devoted to the role.

Firstly, the governing body of the school/academy meets at least thrice a year – generally for about two hours (if not more) for each meeting.

There is an expectation that every governor will serve on a committee.  Each committee also meets thrice a year.  The length of each meeting is generally about two hours if not more.

The responsibilities of school governors are many.  To discharge them well, governors are on a constant upward learning curve which requires them to attend training.  The local authority generally organises such training and charges the schools for it – through, more often than not, subscriptions.  More time needs to be invested in such events.

To be effective, governors have to offer the headteacher and senior management team challenge and support based on information they receive first-, second- and third-hand.   Governors are often inundated with second- and third-hand information – second-hand from the headteachers who report to them and third-hand from bodies such as Ofsted, the local authority and sometimes from the government.  However, for governors to validate judgements they also need first-hand information and this is best gleaned through school/academy visits during the course of a normal working/school day.  Governors, as a consequence, are expected to commit themselves to visiting the school – either for morning or afternoon sessions – at least twice annually.

If we tot up the time commitment, we discover that it is not unusual for a governor to spend up to five hours a week on school governance and for the chair of governors to spend 10 hours weekly on the role.   And all this is being offered – free of cost.  The service provided, therefore, in more ways than one is priceless.  What’s in it for governors?   I imagine the satisfaction of making a difference to the school community.  For those in paid employment, there may be spin-offs in the day-jobs in relation to the new skills and knowledge governors imbibe through school governance that help them become better at their work.

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