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School governor? I need a sense check...

(29 Posts)
Wigeon Sun 12-May-13 18:33:51

If you are a school governor, do you make specific suggestions about how the school might improve? Or do you just fulfil the "critical friend" role by just asking questions?

I am a parent governor, and at my suggestion the school recently surveyed current Reception parents to see how they found last year's induction process into the school (which personally I thought was pretty poor). I analysed the results of the questionnaire, came up with two main areas for improvement arising from the answers, and in a paper to the governing body I suggested a couple of ideas for discussion, for how the school might address each area. Pretty straightforward, practical things designed to include parents a bit more.

The Head and Deputy told the chair of governors that this was completely inappropriate, and that governors should not be suggesting things - they said it is for the teaching staff to decide what, if any, changes to make. Apparently they were very cross (I was not at this meeting).

AIBU to suggest some things? Or am I completely overstepping the mark, and as a governor I should not be suggesting specific things? I am genuinely worried whether I have got completely the wrong idea about being a governor.

I'd be very interested in hearing others' experiences.

numbum Sun 12-May-13 18:38:28

I stood down for this reason. I felt like I was just voting for things which had already been decided by the HT and/or chair and any suggestions by other governors just seemed to be put on the agenda but never actually followed up. Very frustrating as a parent governor when you can see it from the 'other side' and hear other parents slagging off certain things about the school which could easily be solved,

Wigeon Sun 12-May-13 19:32:41

Yes! That's exactly it! How long did you manage to last before standing down? How did the other governors feel?

Fuzzymum1 Sun 12-May-13 19:43:31

You would not have been treated in that way on our GB. Governors' opinions are not only sought but welcomed. Governors are not there to 'rubber stamp' decisions that have already been made but to be part of the process. They are right that ultimately the decision rests with the staff but governors should be able to make suggestions to them for consideration.

Wigeon Sun 12-May-13 19:46:28

Fuzzymum1 - even things which aren't, to be honest, hugely high level and strategic? (eg information about termly planning could be put on the website or in the window of the classroom so parents can see what the children are learning). Although personally I feel this does link into a strategic issue I think the school has, which is improving partnership with parents in order to improve outcomes and attainment...

Bunbaker Sun 12-May-13 19:54:29

"do you make specific suggestions about how the school might improve? Or do you just fulfil the "critical friend" role by just asking questions?"

I do both. I feel that DD's school doesn't communicate very well with the parents. I have a meeting with the business manager to discuss this.
(large secondary school)

Hassled Sun 12-May-13 19:56:28

No, I don't think you were overstepping the mark - an important part of your role is monitoring and evaluation - i.e. how is the school working towards improvement? If Ofsted came along, they'd want to see some evidence that the GB is monitoring the areas that the HT and the GB have agreed need improvement. They'd want to know that you know what the School Improvement Plan says, and they'd want to see what you're doing to facilitate that.

And in a lot of cases the only "evidence" you'll have is that you challenged, you asked the right questions at the right meetings - but in this you were proactive and constructive. The HT is right in that the GB delegates the day to day management of the school to the HT, but something like induction would clearly fall into your remit.

Does your LA Governor Services go into schools for training? One of our most useful sessions (I'm a former Chair) was when we had a new influx of governors and under that pretext I organised a quite basic "the monitoring role of the GB" session in place of one of our meetings. I think everyone, including the staff and the HT, benefitted - it clarified the who does what, if you see what I mean. Might be worth suggesting to your Chair.

Fuzzymum1 Sun 12-May-13 20:20:04

Yes, I think that suggestions of that nature would be welcomed by the staff - they may not agree or act on them but they would welcome ideas and feedback especially on areas like that.

numbum Sun 12-May-13 20:47:15

wigeon I left after 18 months. The other parent governors were equally as frustrated but holding on in there in case they managed to get through to them.

admission Sun 12-May-13 21:19:36

Carrying out the survey, analysing the results and coming up with the salient points that seem to need discussion is absolutely within the realms of what a GB should be doing if the GB initiated the survey. The area that is some what greyer is whether you should then be making recommendations as to how to change things, which are clearly operational.
We are talking about semantics here, but my feeling is that the report should have been asking the SLT to now consider the findings of the report, the possible ways forward which presumably were also coming from what the parents said and for the SLT to make recommendations for action to the GB.
The mistake that has been made here is one made when the decision was taken to carry out the survey. I wonder what level of discussion took place at that time as to how to progress this once the survey had been carried out. Assuming that this survey resulted from a GB meeting, the fault is not with you as a governor it is with the Chair and the head teacher for not realising a potential problem in what was being suggested.
My suspicion is that the head and deputy are annoyed because you have jumped onto the operational side of the line, rather than be strategic, which clearly establishing how parents felt induction went would be. It is quite worrying that the head and deputy have such thin skins and cannot see the value in the report or is it a case of parent governors not being welcome?
I would at the moment put it down to mis-communication, not your ability to be a governor or their role.

Wigeon Sun 12-May-13 21:44:39

Thank you everyone for further thoughts.

admission - I think your analysis is probably spot on. There is immense frustration amongst the governors that the SLT never make any changes, or agree to any change at all about anything. Most of us feel that we add absolutely no value whatsoever. So my intention in putting suggested actions in my paper was to force a discussion about specifics. But I can see that this has probably been perceived as stepping over into operational matters.

There was some discussion about the survey at the GB meeting, but nothing about how it would be taken forward. Tbh, since Sept (when I became a governor), I have been trying to encourage the GB, and specifically the Chair, to adopt as a strategic issue "improving partnership with parents" (in order to improve attainment!), but the Chair is so nervous about suggesting anything at all to the SLT (because of the reaction here!) that my idea of the Reception parent questionnaire was the way he thought we could take this forward.

The Head and Deputy have reacted completely disproportionately to the issue though. They are incredibly defensive about any idea for change from any governor (or all of us!). And this recent skirmish has been conducted through the Chair (and then to me) rather than to me directly, athough I have emailed them (Head and Deputy) directly asking to meet to discuss, and received no reply...

We have also recently conducted a governor "team health check" and I also wrote a paper analysing those results and suggesting areas for improvement; discussion to be had at the next GB meeting. I think there are some fairly serious issues we need to address as a GB, the relationship with the SLT being one of the top ones...

BoundandRebound Sun 12-May-13 21:47:26

Sounds familiar

Could not wait until my 4 years were up

Governorship is a waste of time if you ask me

WouldBeHarrietVane Sun 12-May-13 21:52:43

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Wigeon Sun 12-May-13 21:58:37

I have spoken to the Chair! On several occasions! He shares the frustration of the rest of us, but his approach is 1) softly-softly so as not to alienate the Head 2) making the Head think ideas are hers even if they are ours 3) making very small incremental changes and being pleased if we achieve even small changes.

Needless to say I think the pace of change is too slow...

I absolutely don't mind if the Head / SLT say that any of my ideas are impractical for reasons x, y and z. But at the moment I am finding it very frustrating that they just react with anger, rather than reasonableness. I am guessing that it's to do with feeling that I've overstepped the operational line (as admission suggests), but if that's the case, I wish they'd just say so, rather than get angry to the Chair (not even to me!)!

neolara Sun 12-May-13 22:03:51

Hmmm. Doesn't sound a healthy relationship. Governors are meant to challenge. If we don't do that, we're not doing our job. I think admission may be right though, and you may have strayed inadvertently into operational stuff and away from strategic. In this instance, I might ask for your report to be brought back to the relevant committee. Stress that obviously it is up to the head to decide how he is going to deal with the issues that your report has highlighted. (Apologise, if you feel it would smooth things over, for making suggestions.) Ask the head for his views on whether the issues are founded or not. Then ask for a specific plan about what he is going to do to address the issues in the next 6 weeks / term. With timescales. Review the "plan" at the next governors meeting. Decide as a governing body about how you are going to assess the impact of the plan. E.g. another questionnaire next year.

Does your governing body (GB) do an annual audit of it's working practices? Our local authority send the chair one each year. You can also find them online. This can be a good way to generate discussion and draw up an action plan for the GB to make them more effective. Also, now is absolutely the time to be drawing attention to "improving partnership with parents" for inclusion in the school's development plan for next year. Is it already mentioned on the SDP? Do you have a longer term strategic plan? And if so, is this mentioned on that? Do you have an advisory team run by your local authority that can give you advice? I ring up mine all the time. I wish I'd rung them up more when I first became a governor.

WouldBeHarrietVane Sun 12-May-13 22:06:56

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Wigeon Sun 12-May-13 22:14:46

Yes, that's all really sensible advice, neolara, thank you.

We did just do this team health check thingie, where each governor filled in a questionnaire about various aspects of how the GB functions, which threw up some really useful results I though (although ironically the only governor not to fill in the questionnaire was the Head...). We'll be discussing the results at the next GB meeting (imminent).

I have tried to get "parent partnership" on the last GB agenda but the Chair is very reluctant to let me have a proper discussion at a full GB meeting about it because he fears the (negative) reaction from the Head & Deputy, hence this Reception questionnaire (as a small step towards achieving greater parent partnership). So I am very frustrated about that too! It's certainly not on the SDP.

We do have a "school improvement partner" at county level - that's a great idea to give them a call (once I find out who they are!).

Right, going to bed, but thank you all for your input and I'd welcome any further thoughts. smile thanks

lougle Sun 12-May-13 22:22:05

I agree with admission. The hardest thing to grasp as a Governor is, in my view, the line between strategy and operation.

So, your idea to survey the parents was good. The fact that you analysed the surveys was good. The fact that you identified areas for improvement was good.

Then, your role is simply to raise that at the FGB meeting. From there, the Chair could ask the HT to consider any action that may be taken to improve parent perceptions.

You stepped into operation when you said 'you should do this'.

It's also important to remember that Parent Governors aren't there to communicate the views of parents (necessarily). If parents have issues, they should go to the school with those issues. If the issues are serious enough that it warrants it, and the school refuses to deal with it, then the Governors get involved.

neolara Sun 12-May-13 22:26:00

Your "school improvement partner" is probably not the person to speak to, at least not initially. Try to speak to the people in the LEA who are there to support governors. In our LEA they are called "Governor Services" and can be found via a quick google.

googlenut Sun 12-May-13 22:30:05

I think the info you have gathered is very useful to the school but I'm surprised the HT and DHT didn't know about the questionnaire before it went out. I would have done this in consultation with them. Maybe that's whats happened - you've put their backs up by the way you have done it??

lljkk Mon 13-May-13 07:45:07

I know a local story that is rather similar, although I got the impression at the time that some governors were welcome to make suggestions and others were ignored if they tried to suggest anything. Very unpleasant & distasteful.

ThePendant Mon 13-May-13 11:04:56

I think you have overstepped, but I can see why you did it.

The key with questionnaires is that they should only be used where there is an intention to make changes. If nothing is done then it just increases the level of frustration. So a questionnaire should only be used in agreement with the SLT to act on the results. Our GB has recently set up and analysed a large scale questionnaire and made recommendations to the SLT, but all of this was with their agreement and co-operation.

To play devil's advocate for a moment, I can imagine a scenario in which an excellent HT who is usually open to GB suggestions would be justifyably furious at what you have done because they are dealing with other bigger issues at this moment in time and did not want you to open this can of worms at this time. You are within your role to suggest a survey of this type, but the HT is within their rights to say 'no' and convince you that this is not the right time/approach to deal with this issue.

But the fact that your SLT were not willing to listen to the GB on this, suggests that there are real underlying problems here. and I don't think that your approach will solve these problems. If you are seen to overstep your role, then this gives the HT (in their mind) a license to ignore you, which is the last thing you want.
TBH as long as your chair is advocating the 'softly softly' approach, then i can't see you making much progress.

Can you ask for some GB training on the role of the GB? Or the 'preparing for an ofsted' training course might help to emphasise the importance of an active GB from ofsted's perspective.

IME Governors can have a huge impact in schools where the SLT are open to their contribution, but if the HT/SLT is not open to their help then there is little they can do to improve the school.

Wigeon Mon 13-May-13 12:04:05

Thank you for the further comments - they are all very useful.

lougle - I didn't say "you should do this". In my paper to the GB, I titled that (small) section "ideas for improvement", said the school "could consider" x, y and z, and that these ideas "might" be a way to address the issues. The idea being to put some ideas on the table for discussion at the GB meeting. But I absolutely take on board the suggestions that even suggesting ideas on the operational side of things was inappropriate and has put the HT / DHT's backs up.

googlenut and ThePendant - no, don't worry, the questionnaire had the full engagement of the SLT - we got agreement that I'd draft it at a GB meeting (at which the HT and DHT were present and seemed happy for it to happen), I drew up the questionnaire together with another parent governor, I sent the Chair the draft questionnaire, the HT and DHT made several substantial changes (which they didn't have the courtesy of communicating directly to me - they mentioned they'd made changes to the Chair and he told me) and circulated it to parents themselves. I don't mind the fact of them wanting to have an input - I wanted to do it in partnership - but again I feel that it would have been more helpful to do it with me, rather than to me.

I am hopeful that our recent "GB team health check" questionnaire will be the trigger for some actions to start to addressing the dysfunctional relationship - the "preparing for Ofsted" course is a good idea as we know we won't be having one for 18 months or so, so a good time to identify what we need to do before then.

I think I am coming to the conclusion that the HT / DHT are just very very sensitive about governors overstepping the mark, and I need to be very conscious of this if I am to make any impact at all. I just wish they'd acted like normal human beings and called me / emailed me to say "thanks so much for all your work on this, just one thing, we don't think it's appropriate for you to make suggestions about how to improve partnership with parents as that's a bit operational". Rather than having a big go at the Chair (not even at me!).

Actually, I've been thinking that I don't think they could articulate the reason behind their frustration with the governors (not just me I think) - I think they just get really cross that some of us are interfering old busy bodies, but possibly haven't realised that a simple discussion about getting a shared understanding of the remit of the SLT vs governors would probably help...

DewDr0p Mon 13-May-13 12:16:02

I do think you have probably strayed a little too far into operational stuff. I don't know you so have no idea about how you operate but I do think sometimes it's about how you deliver the message as well. I often make suggestions which probably also stray into operational stuff but I tend to mention it offline to the Head in a very "we could think about this" kind of way - and then leave it to them to decide whether it's appropriate or not - sometimes there are very valid reasons why something isn't practical that aren't immediately obvious to me.

There is another governor on the GB who also strays into operational issues but is quite confrontational and does it in front of everyone and not surprisingly the HT gets defensive and prickly with him.

Also I think you have to bear in mind that you can't fix everything at once. There is stuff at our school that I know winds parents up and at some point we will need to address it but at the moment there are more pressing priorities.

admission Mon 13-May-13 12:39:58

The big question here is whether or not the head teacher and the deputy are actually wanting to work with the GB on anything or whether they would much rather the GB not exist. Wigeon's posts would tend to suggest the latter is the real position and it is incredibly difficult to resolve, certainly without a major bust-up.
It probably is not something that needs to be discussed in detail on open posts but a lot depends on how the school is viewed by Ofsted and the LA. If there has been a recent Ofsted and the school is considered good then that is going to be very difficult. If however you are due an Ofsted visit then I would suggest that the current GB which are not doing their job is likely to end in tears for the school, given the current inspection framework. Widgeon if you want to PM please feel free to do so, I will help where I can.

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