School governance seems to some a crusty, arcane and even nerdy business – some poring over reports, some “in my day..”, some hurrumphing and declaring from on high. Anyone closer to it knows differently – two things in particular: how onerous it is and how crucial governors are to the welfare of schools. Our termly full board meeting (Friday pm. and Saturday am.) and the publication of the Carlisle report into St Benedict’s, Ealing remind me of this. You only really notice poor governance when things go wrong – as they did terribly at that school. Lord Carlisle’s report makes some bold recommendations about the fitness of faith institutions to govern schools. His recommendations will be taken up by St Benedict’s whose press statement refers to the need for accountability and transparency in governance.
Good governance enables the teachers who lead schools to take their schools forward and to improve the opportunities for the students. “So what do the governors do?” goes the refrain. Well, they appoint the head and the bursar, provide the financial framework, have responsibility for the strategy and act as custodians of the school’s values. The mechanisms for doing this are necessarily complex – you can gain some sense of this by looking at our list of governors and their responsiblities, especially with the sub-committees: Education, Finance & General Purposes, Buildings and External Relations. In addtion, it is governors who make up review panels when a student or employee wants to appeal a decision made by the school. But perhaps most importantly, they act as a source of wise counsel, not only on educational matters but drawing on the broad range of professional expertise they represent. So, a complex and highly demanding set-up which, working closely with the school’s executive, makes for a powerful combination.
By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools