Haringey Education Commission – how to achieve governance that is ‘Outstanding for All’

Haringey Council has just published the report of its independent “Outstanding for All” Education Commission report. It is extremely relevant for Haringey school governors and the Haringey Governors Association.
It concludes that, while things overall have been improving, there is still a lot to be done particularly to tackle unacceptable variations in school performance in Haringey.

As Chair of Governors at Highgate Wood School I read the report with interest – and it is uncomfortable reading not just for Haringey Council but for governing bodies and the HGA as well – challenging us to work better together to get the improvements our young people need and deserve.

A lot of it is familiar: Not enough governors with the “necessary skills, knowledge and dedication”; concern that LA governors in particular aren’t pulling their weight; not enough information (including comparative data) or support from the LA; not enough good-quality training; Chairs keeping information to themselves rather than passing it on…

The key finding is that, “while some governing bodies operate effectively, others do not provide sufficient challenge when levels of attainment are too low or where there are other shortcomings”.

So what to do to achieve the “the right balance between challenge and support for schools” and “maximise the influence of the most effective governors”?

The Commission recommends that the Council and the Haringey Governors Association should experiment, for example by:

o Combining governing bodies for more than one school
o Reducing the size of governing bodies
o Introducing competitive applications and payments for Chairs
o Providing job descriptions for governors
o Attracting governors from outside the field of education, including from business
o Adopting mandatory training, including joint sessions for heads and governors
o Helping governing bodies remove those who are not making an effective contribution

They also say that the LA should review the role of Local Authority governors and involve Headteachers in their selection, with the aim of providing high quality appointments for all schools, especially those with the greatest need for such support. The Commission recommends that Head teachers should be involved in the selection of Local Authority governors (which I take to mean to the ‘pool’ of potential LA governors, not to individual school GBs).

I agree with providing job descriptions and ‘mandatory’ training, although not quite sure how that could be enforced, and I’m well aware of issues around LA governors and others who aren’t really playing their part. And the Education Select Committee recently heard evidence that it was easier sometimes for frustrated governors to give up than to challenge a domineering or inadequate chair.

Initial feedback I’ve received suggested people are less happy with the idea of combining governing bodies – one school one governing body was one response – and with the idea of competitively appointed chairs. GB should appoint its chair, but the chair should be more accountable, I was told. How could this happen?

And for me there is some concern that increased “professionalisation” risks losing that sense of commitment, community and local accountability which I think is a strong part of the character of a good governing body.

Harnessing that commitment and getting it working in the right way seems the way forward to me, through GB to GB support, training, mentoring by experienced governors and so on, rather than telling keen and committed people they are not ‘professional’ enough.

Either way, there’s a lot of work here to address the report’s recommendations, from identifying governing bodies that need support, or additional members, to getting that support in place. Support from the council will be important, but a lot of this is down to us. Meeting regularly as governors in the network areas might be one way forward, but there’s a lot to discuss.

How can local governors and Haringey Governors Association make this happen?

What do you think?