On 15 November I attended the National Governors’ Association (NGA) annual conference at the International Conference Centre, Birmingham, where just a few weeks before the Conservative Party had gathered for its own.
While the governors didn’t manage the same level of news coverage as the government, we don’t need reminding that 2014 has been a significant year. The Trojan Horse episode saw governors very much in the spotlight.
Of course, the conference couldn’t pass without mention of this. We heard a passionate appeal from Emma Knights, NGA chief executive, for us to challenge other governors’ behaviour where it raises concerns, actively uphold a democratic and inclusive ethos for our schools, and champion the development of the whole child.
It served as a timely (if sobering) reminder that, more than ever, schools are in the hands of their governing boards, with central and local governments unable to do much to prevent these kinds of incidents happening in the future.
Elsewhere, the conference continued its focus on the wider aspects of the role of governors. It does feel like some of these have taken a back seat in recent years, when much of the talk has been about ensuring governors are data-literate and Ofsted-ready. It was a refreshing change to hear something different.
Matthew Taylor of the Royal Society for the Arts called for us to think more about our co-operative functions: supporting community, developing character and establishing an open and democratic institutional culture. He argued that this should carry as much weight as compliance with government strictures and competition with other schools.
We heard too from the Wellcome Trust about its new framework for school governance, and how it can help governing bodies to judge school performance on a broad basis, taking into account more than just attainment data.
Michael Cladingbowl, head of inspection reform at Ofsted, also spoke about the new inspection framework (currently undergoing consultation), and how it will place more emphasis on values and ethos, the development of the whole child, and the breadth and depth of the curriculum.
Of course, none of this was intended as a green light for governing bodies to abandon their data-analysis and sharp focus on standards. And nor is it to suggest that governing bodies have entirely forgotten to focus on vision and values these past few years.
But the message of the conference seemed to be this: as governors become more accountable, we need to ensure we balance our responsibilities well – however much these can feel in contest with one another.