Paul Woodhead, national leader of governance, describes the work of the Staffordshire Governance Forum, a peer-to-peer support network for governors.
In 2012 St Peter’s School had nosedived from good to being placed in special measures, through a series of factors relating to the lack of robust vigour in governance.
I took over the role of chair of governors at the time of inadequate judgement. Together with a new headteacher who has vision, tenacity and an understanding of outstanding, we brought the school back to good in February 2014.
For the governing body, the journey back to good was a steep learning experience. We spent a lot of time understanding how we could support and challenge the operational leadership of the school without interfering with day-to-day management. This allows the talented teaching professionals the freedom to excel.
As with many schools where governance has failed, at the beginning of our journey we ‘did not know what we did not know’. On reflection, it was clear that we had operated in isolation and would have benefited from the support and advice of other governing bodies - as governors we undertake our role with diligence and a professional attitude, but often without a developed network of peer support. It was this understanding that led directly to the formation of the Staffordshire Governance Forum.
How we work together
The SGA Forum offers peer-to-peer support for governors, principally chairs, to share experiences, good practice and common challenges. It is run by governors, for governors, and is aimed at all educational establishments in the county, not just maintained schools. All aspects of the Forum are provided free at the point of delivery to minimise any barriers to participation.
In a county the size of Staffordshire it is important to be geographically local enough to encourage participation, so each half-term 6 or 7 meetings are held in schools across the county. Meetings are regularly attended by around 100 different schools and academies, covering all phases and types.
The meetings give us the opportunity to collaborate with other schools in the district on matters of governance. We share experiences and discuss best practice, offer help and advice and develop strategies that will make a practical and positive impact to our school’s improvement priorities.
The Forum has extended beyond face-to-face meetings after governors asked for a platform open to the wider cohort of approximately 4000 governors working in schools across Staffordshire. To deliver this, we developed an online presence in the form of a new website and a Twitter feed.
Our Twitter feed delivers governance news from many sources as well as messages about the work of the Forum. Our website gives us a place to:
- highlight upcoming events
- promote detailed news and information, supporting the Twitter feed
- share documents developed by governing boards
- discuss issues in an online forum
The online forum provides an opportunity to ask questions and share comments on themes of interest to governors. It also promotes debate on the development of excellent governance and the evolving structures we need to help us deliver our role.
Running the Forum
Staffordshire County Council provide support with communications and administration, but the Forum is run by a steering group of volunteer governors. They assist and guide the development of the Forum on top of the time they dedicate to their own schools.
The steering group is also organising a workshop style conference aimed at supporting the practical aspects of the role. This will be with the support of Staffordshire County Council but is delivered by governors, based on the responses to an online survey which informed the types of workshops that would be of interest to delegates.
The impact of the Forum
The Forum offers support for the typical ebbs and flows of the working life of a governing board and compliments the more intensive and directed deployment of national leaders of governance or those interventions deemed required by a local authority or academy sponsor.
Examples of the positive impacts in schools include:
- A primary school in Stafford shared the draft examples of the remits of their committees through the Forum’s website. This was taken away by a fellow school in the area to build the committee structure at their school as part of their reconstitution process.
- Three schools shared the format of the skills audits they use so that other members could taking away the most important lessons from implementation to refine their own approach.
- A school in Tamworth sought advice around an induction process for new governors. Work between schools in South Staffordshire produced an exemplar pack, which has been used by the school in Tamworth, as well as schools in Burton-on-Trent, Newcastle-under-Lyme and the Staffordshire Moorlands, to ensure new governors are informed of the expectations of their role and mentored during the early days. This has improved the effectiveness of these new recruits more quickly.
Establishing a wide collaborative group infrastructure cannot be developed without the support and hard work of a team of already busy volunteers and I would like to give my sincere and heartfelt thanks to everyone who has given up their time to develop the concept and host meetings at their schools.
The governors of Staffordshire have picked up the challenge of establishing a collaborative peer-to-peer support network to improve our role of governance and positively impact the lives of so many young people. It is humbling to witness.
For more information or opportunities to get involved with our work, visit our pages on GOV.UK.