We have an excellent and highly supportive Governing Body at Christ the Sower and whilst we are going through a time of transition with a new chair, it is worth reminding ourselves of the fact that OFSTED said the following about it 18 months ago:
The governing body is highly effective in its work. All governors are actively involved in systematically evaluating the school’s performance. They meet regularly with school leaders and ask searching questions of them. They have a clear and shared vision of what needs to be achieved. All governors are linked to individual classes and have first-hand knowledge of the quality of teaching. They ensure that the resources available to the school, including the pupil premium, are used to best effect to increase progress for all pupils. They ensure that teachers are suitably rewarded for their performance and the quality of their teaching and its impact on pupils’ achievement. The quality of the governors’ work has been recognised by the local authority who uses their model of governance as an example of good practice with other schools.
I mention this prinicpally out of thankfulness for their kindness and support for the changes we have made over the last couple of years, but also because over the last year there has been an increasing pressure on governing bodies to refer to themselves as governing boards in England, not just in “academies” which are supposed to have them, but in all schools.
I think that this should be resisted strongly and that we should continue to call ourselves a governing body. The NGA, in its Framework for Governance and on its website generally, has moved over to the new terminology, which is a pity. In responding to the Framework, the schools minister at the time with responsibility for governance, said this:
“Governing boards are crucial to the success of our schools. Setting strategic direction is one of their core functions, but recent research shows that many find this challenging. The Framework for Governance developed by the Wellcome Trust and the National Governors’ Association provides a powerful tool for helping boards formulate an ambitious strategy and monitor progress against it. Using the Framework will help boards maximise their effectiveness, and secure the best possible education for their pupils. Well informed, sector-led, guidance like this is exactly the sort of support governing bodies need.”
Note the possibly Freudian slip in the last phrase from the minister. He also said, as reported last year in the Telegraph:
“The best businesses have a skilful board of directors keeping them on the right path. I want to see the same approach in schools. Our proposals will ensure governing bodies in local authority-run schools have the people they need to drive up standards.”
This is not just semantics or the repetition of a Freudian slip. Following John Ruskin in Of Kings’ Treasuries, we need to respect each word we read and see that it has a power and meaning of its own. A Governing Body and a Governing Board conjure up different images, certainly in the mind of government. One is terribly parochial, they suspect, the other is efficient and business-like. But I would suggest some other differences, with different nuances.
- A body is alive and warm, a board is flat and cold.
- A body is corporate and inclusive, a board is monochrome and distant.
- A body knows that every member must play its part and must rely on each other to function properly; a board makes decisions and not everyone is necessarily consulted.
- A body bespeaks family; a board bespeaks commerce.
- A body brings to mind communal leadership and involvement; a board encourages managerialism.
- A body is, ultimately, a place of affection – amateur in the true sense of the word (a lover); a board is professional only.
- A body respects all members of necessity; a board can sideline those who do not agree with a majority or strongest decision.
- A body is something you join or can be part of; a board is something you attend.
The more I think about this, the more I sense that the semantic differences here are worth our consideration. In John 9, a man born blind is healed and is sent to the Sanhedrin (a board if ever there was one) to be questioned and eventually thrown out on his ear (not without making some very sarcastic remarks prior to ejection!). In Romans 12 and in 1 Corinthians 12, Paul uses the body analogy very effectively to discuss how a church supports each other. This is a much more useful image for schools that are trying (if they are) to inculcate the same level of communal belonging amongst their children and staff. If they are just focused on “pupil outcomes” then perhaps a school might welcome a “board”. We are focused on far more than that, and therefore a body, not a board, is what we need.