Review by Steven Penny

20 Mar 2016, 19:00

Welcome to Governance (eighth edition) and The Chair’s Handbook (fifth edition)

In his second online monthly commentary in November last year, chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw looked at the role that governance plays in our education system noting that:
1. The issue of governance is fundamental to the success of our education system in England and to whether we can sustain and build on the improvements in school standards of recent years.
2. The trend towards an increasingly autonomous education system over the past five years, including the rapid growth of academies and free schools, has placed more power into the hands of governing boards than ever before. However, thousands of schools are unable to fill vacancies on their governing bodies, as potential candidates are intimidated by their responsibilities.

These latest editions of the National Governors’ Association (NGA) guides fill a gap in the market and provide a comprehensive source of information to those undertaking these important roles.

Each has some 70-odd pages in A4 format so, not really pocket reference material. However, the structure is easy on the eye, with subject matter logically and clearly laid out. Appropriate diagrams are a help and each publication contains a useful glossary and a host of references (online and otherwise) for further reading/reference. Information relevant to either academies or state schools is highlighted to make that important distinction.

Both publications would have benefited from a detailed contents’ page for specific reference look-ups and I’m not really a great fan of the “test your knowledge” questions at the end of each section.

But the £10 price tag (£5 for NGA members) means the cost will not be overly onerous on school or personal budgets – and, perhaps, another reason to consider NGA membership as noted in the introductory preamble to both publications!

The Welcome to Governance guide covers all you should or, indeed, need to know about how a governor fits in with others in a school, as well as the specific responsibilities of the governing body and governors, through to the format of governing body meetings and school funding. All have references to both national policy and local considerations.

In general, the level of detail is just about right – as is the RAISEonline section – but is perhaps a little light on collaboration in the widest sense, such as federations and multi-academy trusts, etc. And there is no mention of Prevent. But, there again, given the rate of change in all things education, any such document can never be totally up to date.

All in all, perhaps, a useful template on which to base a new governors’ induction course?

The Chair’s Handbook is equally well presented and comprehensive, with topics ranging from the relationship between the chair and the headteacher, leading school improvement through to conducting board business. Having read through 70-odd pages and become aware of your responsibilities as chair, it concludes with handy (?) advice on “resigning” and “removing the chair mid-term”!

Again, the book contains a useful section on further resources linked specifically to topics covered in the various chapters.

If you fancy snuggling up under the duvet with a mug of hot chocolate, and are looking for a good read full of romanticism and intrigue, these books aren’t for you. However, wherever you are on the path between aspiring governor and experienced chair, or in any way involved with school leadership and management, then these offerings from the NGA are a must read for any governing body library.

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