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Contributing to meetings: tips for new governors
How can a new governor contribute to meetings? Our associate experts explain the correct procedure for bringing issues to the governing body. They also suggest ways that new governors can make an effective contribution in meetings, and how they might overcome being intimidated by the headteacher.
- Making effective contributions in meetings: top tips
- How to bring up an issue for discussion
- Disagreeing with an agenda item
- Contributing when the headteacher is "intimidating"
Making effective contributions in meetings: top tips
We asked Kate Foale how a new governor can contribute to meetings. Kate is a national leader of governance (NLG).
Kate said there are three key areas of focus for new governors– preparing well for meetings, building good relationships with other governors and members of staff, and increasing their knowledge of the school.
We set out Kate's suggestions on how you can do this below.
Free governor induction from The Key
Governor Induction is a free e-learning module produced by The Key in partnership with Lloyds Banking Group and Governors for Schools. It is designed for new governors and trustees in maintained schools, academies and multi-academy trusts, and can also be used as a refresher for existing governors and trustees.
The module includes information, activities, videos and practical resources. It provides an overview of:
- Your role and responsibilities
- The impact you can make
- Learning about your school
- Attending your first meeting
- Your accountabilities
Governor Induction takes around an hour to complete. The module is free to access and can be completed on PCs, tablets and smartphones.
Training and induction
- Ask whether your governing body has a buddy system
- Ask whether your school has an induction programme that includes a meeting with the headteacher and chair of governors and a visit to school in the day to meet some staff and pupils. This will help you to increase your knowledge of the school. Asking about the strengths and weaknesses of the school is a good place to start
- Check out governor training opportunities. Induction courses are often offered by local authorities or other providers, and it is helpful to join a group of new governors who will share your anxieties and want to ask similar questions
Before the meeting
- Talk to more experienced governors before the meeting
- Don't feel you have to understand everything all at once. Read up on something you are interested in or feel passionately about, and offer to undertake some training to increase your knowledge. You will then have more confidence and be able to make more of a contribution
- Ask to see the school improvement plan, a recent headteacher's report, the school's latest Ofsted report and any other documents the school thinks would help, such as policy documents. Get to know the school improvement agenda in your school and more widely. Asking about the strengths and weaknesses of the school is a good place to start
During the meeting
- Don't be afraid to ask questions; you have a fresh perspective that is very valuable. If you don't want to ask questions in the meeting, ask them afterwards
- Take responsibility at times for translating your ideas into actions. A governor with skills or knowledge (such as in HR, health and safety, or environmental issues) that he/she is prepared to use for the good of the school will be very welcome
How to bring up an issue for discussion
A governor asked us about the best way to bring up issues for discussion with the governing body. We put this question to one of our associate education experts, Vicky Redding.
Ask for items to be added to the agenda
You should never bring an issue up at a meeting without first asking for it to be added to the agenda
Vicky explained that this will depend on what you want to discuss. She said that the usual procedure is to email the chair of governors and the clerk, and ask for an item to be added to the agenda for discussion at the next governing body meeting.
This gives the chair the opportunity to ask the governor any questions he/she might have. Also, if the governor is new, he/she may not be aware that this issue has been previously discussed by the governing body. The chair can then update the governor accordingly.
Vicky said that you should never bring an issue up at a meeting without first asking for it to be added to the agenda, as this does not give the chair or headteacher time to prepare the necessary information.
Separating the roles of parent and governor
Vicky also said that if you have a child at the school and you want to discuss an issue relating to him/her, you should make an appointment with his/her class teacher. These issues are not appropriate to discuss at governing body meetings.
If the issue is particularly serious or urgent (for example, a safeguarding issue or a problem with bullying), then you should arrange to speak to the headteacher as soon as possible, also in the capacity of parent rather than governor.
Parent governors may find The Key's article on separating the role of governor from the role of parent helpful when deciding how best to deal with a particular issue:
How can I be a more 'professional' governor?
We asked another of our associate experts, Murray Steele, to outline how new school governors can best take a 'professional' approach. Murray has thirty years of experience as a non-executive director on a diverse range of corporate boards.
He suggested that new governors challenge themselves with the following questions:
- Do I feel accountable to the public, and fully understand the purpose of what I am doing?
- Do I allow enough time to read and analyse papers before the meeting? Do I submit my questions before the meeting?
- Do I stick to the meeting's agenda, and raise any other business in the correct way?
- Do I respect requirements around the confidentiality of governing body proceedings?
- Do I allow the chair to take the lead, and indicate that I want to talk in the specified way?
- Where I disagree with another governor, do I do so courteously and respectfully?
Disagreeing with an agenda item
Another governor asked us how to register his/her disagreement with an item on the agenda.
Vicky said if you disagree that a topic should be on the agenda, you should speak to the chair and the clerk who may be able to explain why it is there.
If you want to disagree with a decision you should discuss your views with the rest of the governing body and vote against the decision.
All governing body decisions should be made by a vote and all categories of governor have equal voting rights.
Regulation 14(3) of the School Governance (Roles, Procedures and Allowances) Regulations 2013, for maintained schools, says:
Every question to be decided at a meeting of the governing body is to be determined by a majority of votes of the governors present and voting on the question.
Article 120 of the model articles of association for academies says:
Subject to these articles, every question to be decided at a meeting of the trustees shall be determined by a majority of the votes of the trustees present and voting on the question.
Every trustee shall have one vote.
Governors in academies should check their own articles of association, as these can vary from school to school and may vary from the model articles.
The model articles can be downloaded from the page linked to below.
Recording your disagreement in the minutes
If you want to show that you disagree with a decision the governing body has made, Vicky said you should ask the clerk to write this in the minutes.
Guidance from Gloucestershire County Council notes:
Details of any discussions, disputes or disagreement must remain confidential to those present at the meeting.
Contributing when the headteacher is "intimidating"
Asking the chair to intervene
We were asked how a new governor can contribute effectively to meetings when he/she finds the headteacher "intimidating".
Governors in this position may be hindered by low confidence due to a lack of knowledge
We asked one of our associate education experts, Harry James, for advice on this.
Harry said that if a new governor finds the headteacher intimidating, he/she could speak to the chair of governors to express this concern. The chair of governors may then want to speak to the headteacher to see if the headteacher can alter his/her conduct during meetings.
The chair of governors may also decide that he/she is going to ask governors directly for their questions or contributions after the headteacher has finished presenting to the meeting. This means that governors are prompted, and therefore do not have to feel they are interrupting the headteacher or being overly critical.
Increasing knowledge and confidence
Harry said that governors in this position may be hindered by low confidence due to a lack of knowledge. He suggested that such governors put time and effort into increasing their knowledge.
He noted a number of things that new governors can do to increase their knowledge, including:
- Carefully reading the documentation relating to an upcoming meeting
- Researching the school's data on ASP, looking at specific groups of pupils such as those eligible for free school meals (FSM) or those with English as an additional language (EAL)
- Arranging a school visit
He said that when reading documentation before a meeting or looking at the school's data, a new governor should think of specific questions to ask the headteacher. Preparing questions in advance could make contributing easier and may ease nerves, as the governor will know what he/she is going to say.
Vicky Redding is a governance trainer and consultant. She provides training, advice and support on effective school governance.
Kate Foale is an adult education lecturer with specialisms in effective communications, strategic planning and managing change. She has extensive experience as a primary and secondary school governor and is a national leader of governance.
Murray Steele has over 30 years' experience as a non-executive director on a diverse range of boards, from school governing bodies to FTSE plcs. In addition, he has been involved in the development of non-executive directors through his work with, among others, the Financial Times and Cranfield School of Management.
Harry James is a national leader of governance. He is currently chair of governors of a primary school in London, and is part of the steering group for an academic research project looking at school accountability and stakeholder education.
This article was updated in response to a question from a governor of a medium-size urban primary school in the north west.
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