Beyond Conflict: Achieving Dynamic School Boards
When we speak of boards we usually have in mind the boards of large organisations which have come to public attention since the financial crisis of 2008.
But there are many boards in every sector, each with their unique sets of roles and responsibilities. This thought piece is devoted to school boards because:
they have special importance in over-seeing our primary and secondary educational systems across the country;
the public hears so little about them because their crises do not hit the headlines in the same way that banks do; and
they operate on a smaller scale and are less visible, they receive different training and support.
Most school boards do a splendid job of leading, mentoring and guiding their schools’ executive teams. Many boards benefit from good leadership; they are clear about their roles and responsibilities and they manage well their internal dynamics.
At the conscious level of their work, most school boards ensure clarity of vision, ethos and strategic direction; they hold the head teacher and the executive team to account for the educational performance of the school and its pupils, and the performance management of the staff; they oversee the financial performance of the school, making sure its money is well spent. They understand that the role of the board is largely a thinking and questioning role, not an operational role.
But we sometimes hear of school governors busying themselves with writing school policies, undertaking audits, spending time directly with pupils, fundraising and generally doing the job of the school staff. When these things happen, it is a sign that the board has lost its way and is getting itself into conflict with the head teacher and the executive team.
Such boards need guidance and help to re-establish optimum board functioning and their governance roles. Difficulties of getting back in role may be the result of dominant or weak personalities on the board, internal rivalry and competition, and envy of the staff relationships with pupils. The meetings of such boards may be aggressive, stuck in apathy, indecisive and generally be less effective than they should be.
Membership of a well-functioning board is a delight – in such cases, the board knows the reach of its aims, the boundaries of its task, the extent of its role and the limitations of its authority. Good chairing ensures that everyone’s voice is heard, that the dynamics of gender, age and race are deeply understood and can be worked with constructively, that the board is knowledgeable about the organisation-as-a-whole dynamics and about the social and environmental context it is in.
If you are a school governor or involved in any kind of educational governance, university or college, and you are interested in further development in any of the above skills areas, then the Tavistock Institute’s Dynamics @ Board-Level programme is for you.
We are now inviting applications for the next cohort beginning in June next year. For a brochure with full details including an outline, venue details, module dates and fee etc and/or if you’d like a no-obligation conversation with the programme directors, contact Rachel Kelly, Professional Development Coordinator: firstname.lastname@example.org