Visible Governance - the importance of public information

We are truly living in strange times and, I don't know about you, but my online presence and my tech skills have increased rapidly in the last couple of weeks. We are all getting used to virtual meetings, virtual parties with friends and family, online shopping and news.  Websites or social media pages are suddenly the front door to shops, schools and organisations of all kinds so what do the ones set up for our schools look like? 

Last month saw the launch of the National Governance Association's (NGA) campaign 'Visible Governance'. The aim is to encourage 'governors and trustees to be bold and be positive about sharing what they do and why they do it, highlight their contribution to the education system and shine a light on the difference that good governance makes to the success of their school/trust.' (1) Never more important than now in these difficult times.

Looking around the internet at school websites I am struck by how little information many schools have about this important role in education leadership; how little light is being shone on our contribution - governance is indeed almost invisible in some cases!  There is usually the basic list of who's who, and the declaration of interest proforma, but many schools are missing a trick by not telling the story that the governing board plays in leadership - that bit about 'the difference that good governance makes to the success of their school/trust.'  Indeed some schools have some outdated and, actually, just plain wrong information about what governors do!

The actual requirements for your school website are that you must publish up to date:
  • details of the structure and responsibilities of the governing body and its committees
  • information about each governor, including their:
    • full name, date of appointment, term of office, date they stepped down (where applicable) and who appointed them (in accordance with the governing body’s instrument of government)
    • business and financial interests
    • governance roles in other educational institutions
    • any material interests arising from relationships between governors or relationships between governors and school staff (including spouses, partners and close relatives)
    • attendance record at governing body and committee meetings over the last academic year (2)
However, we are surely missing a trick if we don't use this medium to shout out about what we do and the impact we have on the lives of the children in our care. So why not take some time in this enforced pause in normal life to review and, if necessary, to revamp your governance pages.  

A great way to begin is to think about how you would explain governance to a friend or colleague.  You might like to think about it as a series of questions - 

What do you do?  The 3 core functions of governance - clear and simple (or 4 if you want to add in the extra one that the NGA is promoting - Ensuring the voices of stakeholders are heard and taken account of)

Who is involved? You likely have this already but a list of governors with pen portraits maybe?

How do you do it? Useful to have a document about how the board organises in order to do its work. How often do you meet? What committees? How do you address safeguarding?

What difference has it made? This last question is one about which I am pretty passionate - get your board to create an annual 'Board Impact Statement' or some such document. The process of its creation - the reflection and discussion that go into it are a really good self evaluation exercise.  Make sure you add in next steps - so the work doesn't stop.  You can find examples online by Googling, or create your own unique version, but it is a really key document for the board.  Now while we never really want to think we do anything for inspection there are added benefits of having this document.  I know this to be true from first hand experience so when the inspector looks at the website (and they always do) they will first see what you have done and how well organised you are and, secondly, when they ask you what impact have you had - you know and so do they so they may not even ask! 

Whilst your website is perhaps the more formal face of your public information there are other ways of being visible too and many schools embrace social media to great effect.  Of course I can't look at school closed Facebook pages but I would urge you to think about how visible governance is in these online spaces too. Maybe an online profile as 'Our School Governor' for access and a short post after each board meeting, a welcome back message at the start of term and, in these testing times,  a message to show support to the staff and school community in its vital work?

When we undertook a communication survey with parents recently the school's use of social media was the thing they valued most.  In marketing terms it is going where the people are - no point sending out letters that get lost in children's school bags or thrown in the waste - put your message where there is most traffic.

So there we have it - my thoughts on visible governance and the importance of public information.  Go on take a look round some school websites then take a critical look at your own and raise your profile - shine a light on the difference that good governance makes to the success of your school/trust.


2. DfE, The constitution of governing bodies of maintained schools, August 2017, P11 


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