Transforming Governing is collecting YOUR stories.
With names and locations changed to protect confidentiality these stories will inspire, encourage, challenge and provide possible solutions to the circumstances and opportunities governors have to transform the work of the governing body and therefore the school.
When is a motto a Christian one?
Opening a new Church of England and Methodist Voluntary Aided Primary School was a huge challenge. The governing body had developed the vision and ethos, the head teacher appointed and the building work well underway.
At a number of meetings the discussion had been focused on what it meant to be a Christian school. Notably, one governor had been unusually quiet. At one she quietly contributed “surely what we are actually saying is that God is in all we do”?
It was a turning point in the discussion. Sally had been inspired – maybe God had revealed it to her. It was to become the school motto! But, the Bishop was not so sure! He did not think ‘God in all we do” was uniquely Christian. And he was right.
After more discussion it was however agreed by the governors to keep the motto. Reception and Year 1 children (with whom the school would open) would find it easy to learn and unpacking it was going to provide a great opportunity for the head, the teachers and governors.
A significant phone call
As Vice Chair of Governors Rachel, a Christian, knew that she would one day she would become Chair. But she hadn’t counted on Simon, the current Chair, refusing to meet with the HMI Inspector during a Local Authority inspection. Suddenly she was in a place where her input could seriously impact the Report. The governors had not been as proactive as they might have been and could let the school down badly, especially if her lack of knowledge was a factor.
Immediately she phoned Russell, a local governor trainer and a member of her church. Just one word summed up her need, “Help!” An hour later and having made copious notes she was ready to do some investigation. At the next available opportunity Rachel poured over past Minutes, Heads Reports and data. Armed with her new found knowledge she sought some clarity from the head and felt as prepared as she could be for the meeting.
The day arrived. She prayed. Friends prayed. The meeting began and the Inspector soon put her at ease. In fact he seemed to be asking all the questions she had prepared. She was honest about the failings of the governing body when needing to be but was able to point out what the school itself had been doing.
Where did that come from?
Over the years I have sat in many governing body meetings listening to the discussion. One time, as Chair, I apologised for something I had not really done in response to a rather angry, caustic remark by another governor. It was a turning point in the meeting and the relationship I had with governors. In fact someone of them commented on my graciousness!
I also remember being mystified by the data that was being presented (actually it happens a lot). On one occasion I asked what might have been considered a pretty daft, simple question. I expected everyone to laugh. But, actually it brought clarity that even the Deputy Head presenting the data hadn’t quite seen before!
Often I have read the papers, thought through my questions or position on a matter only to have a new and nagging question strike me during the discussion around the table. Should I ask it, would my contribution be helpful and did I really think that the obvious answer to my open ended question was something I’d ultimately agree with? I asked it. The decision that followed was significant in the life of the school.
Am I a person full of grace and natural wisdom, likely to come up with life-changing, agenda setting pearls of wisdom? No, but I have proved what would seem to be a prompting of God by the Holy Spirit in governing body meetings.
Michelle (Retired), Primary School Governor
A Listening Ear
Randolph was an upstanding member of the community and a Church Warden. Attached to the Church was a thriving village school. When a vacancy arose for a Foundation Governor he was the obvious one to whom the Vicar turned for help.
The first meeting Randolph attended happed to be a whole governing body training session. The theme was ‘Preparing for Ofsted’. Having listened to the introduction the governors were split into three groups carefully ensuring that each group had one of the three new governors. The discussion was to centre on the distinctive Christian ethos of a church School.
Eavesdropping on the hesitant way each group was starting the discussion, Amy who was the local authority governor trainer leading the session, heard Randolph say quite clearly that all three groups must have heard, “I think we need to improve the link between the Church and school because it’s almost non-existent.”.
More quietly, the head, who happened to be in the same group began to list the ways in which the church and school linked together including several visits to the church every year. This did not satisfy Randolph, if in fact he was listening. He made a long statement about how the children need to go to the Church because it is only there that they would develop spiritually and that surely what makes a Church School distinctive is, Church.
By now other governors in the group began to chip in with short stories of how the children had been in the church, and how various things had been seen during classroom visits that were clearly developing them spiritually. They were clearly beginning to get annoyed with this new, rather arrogant sounding governor.
It turned out that Randolph had only recently retired and had no idea what links there already were between church and school. As Amy said privately to the head before she left that evening, “he clearly has a lot to learn about the school and what spiritual development is all about. Let’s hope he develops a listening ear”
A relational relationship!
As the new Chair of Governors I knew that it was really important to build a strong working relationship with the head. We planned our regular meetings and she appeared to be opening up to me. I felt able to ask some fairly difficult questions and spent a lot of time affirming the good practice that seemed to be taking the school in the right direction.
So far so good. Our meetings were business like, friendly and efficient. But, I wasn’t really satisfied. I have long believed that we get the best out of all relationship by building just that, a relationship. I realised that what I wanted to know was Jane, the person – not just Jane, the head teacher.
One afternoon I had been working in my garden weeding and planting and just forgot the time. I didn’t have many opportunities like this in the week – usually I was at work. Suddenly I looked at my watch and realised that I was already 10 minutes late for my meeting with the head, Jane. I brushed myself down and hurried off to school. As I entered her office I began to make my apologies – but I needn’t have. We spent the next hour talking gardens – we had found the thing we had in common. We did do the school business as well.
Now we had begun a relationship as equals that served us well in our ‘working relationship’. We even had a day out together visiting an RHS garden some four months later. I had a found a friend who was not afraid of me being her ‘critical friend’ either. And, if by the things and time we share together she becomes more interested in my best friend that will be icing on the cake!
Closing the pool
It was an unpopular decision. The outdoor swimming pool was used for just a few days each summer when the water was warm enough and IF it hadn’t suffered some vandalism at the critical time. The cost to the school budget was prohibitive. The brand new indoor Leisure Pool just a few hundred yards from the school was able to offer cost effective lessons for the relevant year group throughout one whole term each year. It seemed a no brainer when the decision was made by the governing body.
As Chair I was soon on the receiving end of some sharp criticism. Years before well meaning people in the community and involved with the school had raised the money to open the pool. They were dismayed and not easily persuaded. Annabel was the school crossing lady whom I saw most days taking my children to school and she simply refused to talk to me. Was my witness shot to smithereens?
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