Nicky Morgan’s comments at the National Governors Association (NGA) summer conference and the new Ofsted inspection handbook both make clear that governors need to be at the vanguard of school improvement. Both the Department for Education (DfE) and Ofsted believe that it is the responsibility of governors to drive forward positive change in schools. Rather than being intimidated by this, governors must remember that with this great responsibility comes great power.
The Secretary of State told delegates at the NGA conference that she sees governors at the centre of a school and profession driven education system. She also laid a pretty hefty challenge at the feet of governors by calling us to “deliver a school system that allows every single young person to realise their dreams and deliver their potential” - a challenge that, I think, we are more than happy to accept. Her vision for how we achieve aim is grounded in a reorientation of governing boards towards skills rather than community representation, an approach that makes some people wary of her intentions.
It is understandable that some see this move as a challenge to the local power of the governing board and suspect that it puts their own positions at risk. But why would this be the case? Why would or should existing governors be removed from their positions? Such a worry implies that those serving on governing boards are unskilled and unfit for the position. Which for anyone who works with governors knows is demonstrably false. Governors need to have greater confidence in themselves and see the Secretary of State’s comments in a positive light. Rather than assuming that we lack the skills she talks about, we should see this as a call to arms.
A licence to use the creative power we already have to be the agents of the change we need.
A similarly positive outlook can and should be applied to the new, if somewhat intimidating, Ofsted's ‘School inspection handbook 2015’. The new Outstanding Leadership and Management descriptor mentions governors three times more than its previous iteration. It would be all too easy to assume that this means that Ofsted feels governance is a particularly concerning area, but this is not so. Ofsted is making the clear and direct point that in outstanding schools, governors are actively engaged in the strategy and direction of a school. Indeed this focus demonstrates that schools,where governors do not exercise their power, are not reaching their full potential.
Too often we governors place false limits on our power, assuming that we must wait for direction on exactly how and what change to make, rather than working within the mandate we have been given. Ofsted holds us responsible for the development of staff, for ensuring equality of outcomes, for the vision of the school, and at all times asks us to be uncompromising in our ambition for these areas. To live up to these responsibilities we must be the agents of change within the system rather than shying away from trying new ideas and ways of working. If we feel that old systems favouring short-term attainment driven targets prevent the development of deep understanding, then it is our responsibility to develop new ones. If we want to see teachers given the time and resources to carry out action research, then we must find space in the timetable and money in the budget. If we want to see an education system with the development of creative capacities at its heart, we must write it into the school development plan.
If governors are to live up to our responsibilities we must embrace the power that comes with it. We need to embrace the RSA’s power to create approach and remember that we already have the skills and the opportunity to make change, perhaps what we need is a little more confidence.
Fellowship in Action
At the NGA Summer conference the RSA and its North West Chair ran two troubleshooting workshops on the barriers facing creativity in the curriculum. The fantastic NGA delegates had no problem in embracing the power to create approach to tackle these challenges. Here’s just a taste of what they came up with:
Fear of failure
Micromanagement stifles creativity but sensible delegation of responsibility to designated governors and middle management not only distributes power but means more creative minds are available to tackle problems when they arise.
The feeling that innovation can lead to failure means that schools are loath to trial new ideas. But by limiting time scales and formalising research practices the risk can be minimised and the pay-off can be potentially invaluable.
Undervaluation of creative skills
When educators don’t share their ideas innovation is stifled. Governors can insist that schools build cross curricular collaboration into CPD calendars as well as including it in performance management criteria.
If creativity isn’t valued then people are unlikely to use it. Governors can recruit with creative skills in mind and build creativity into performance management systems.
Are you a governor? Take our Governor’s survey here and tell us what you do to make your school creative.