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Defining the relationship with staff

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We’ve been taken by surprise at how often members of The Key for School Governors are using our website for information on school staffing. They’ve viewed more articles in this area of the site than any other over the past 12 months.

We’ve also answered more questions on these topics than expected, meaning this area now has 233 articles, up from 76 just 18 months ago.

And it isn’t just the number of questions that’s surprising.

Governors are asking us about subjects as diverse as carrying out lesson observations, appraising support staff, evaluating middle leaders and planning training. My colleague Heather is now looking at how we can categorise these articles so members can find their way around more easily.

When the service started in 2011, we thought that this area of the website would be small. Not least because the role of governing bodies in decisions on staffing has traditionally been downplayed. Aside from headteacher recruitment and appraisal, and the odd disciplinary panel, responsibility for staffing is left to the headteacher. But to me it seems governors are devoting more and more of their time to thinking about the broader development of the school workforce.

Based on my own experience of governing, it’s staffing issues (concerning individuals or the workforce as a whole) that are the most challenging for governors, creating the most questions and taking up most time.

A recent report from the National Governors' Association acknowledges that time spent on staffing matters can quickly stack up. But it only refers to “unusual” and “intermittent” tasks, like headteacher appraisal and disciplinary panels. It doesn’t capture the broader sense of responsibility governors are feeling, and the wider questions they’re asking.

To me, it’s clear that changes are leaving governors feeling more accountable for their staff than ever. Important drivers include the decline of the local authority’s role as employer, difficulties in retention and recruitment, the trend towards smaller governing bodies, and greater responsibility on pay and performance management for all staff.

[caption id="attachment_1012" align="alignnone" width="500"] This graph shows relative popularity of articles in named areas of our school governor website. Questions answered in other areas website may also include information related to the three core functions set out in the Governors' Handbook[/caption]

Isn't it time governors' broader responsibility towards staff was better recognised? The Governors’ Handbook says the three core functions of governing bodies are setting the ethos and vision, holding the headteacher to account, and ensuring financial resources are well spent. Is there now a fourth core function – a responsibility for staffing, based on ideas of partnership, development, support and fairness?

Some might feel this would give governors the green light to 'manage' staff. But for me, the way we currently define the relationship doesn't focus enough attention on governors' role in building an effective, developing, well-supported workforce.

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