Governors, often working out of the sight and consciousness of many of the staff and parents, are an absolutely hidden gem. Badminton is very lucky in having a strong set of committed governors with a wide skills base and a range of associations with the school that enable them to have a broad and balanced perspective. A wonderful example of that perspective is that of Badminton’s current chair of governors, Alison Bernays, who has been involved for many years – as a pupil all through the school, via her father who was governor and chairman, and she has been chair for the last eight years (having been vice-chair before that).
A governing body’s key role is to motivate and focus at a strategic level; their input is fundamental to the school’s vision. Arriving in my first headship at Badminton, the first and most important task for me was to understand “the plan” and how it was being taken forward. The governors devoted contact and planning time to this, resulting in a really clear development plan. The committed members of a governing body often straddle the reign of successive heads and leadership teams, providing continuity for the long-term vision. I benefitted from the in-depth understanding that Badminton’s governors shared with me, not just at meetings, but also when they attended events, visited me, wrote to me and connected me with other people who could facilitate what I needed to understand or do. At Badminton, just as at other similar schools, many governors also have a longstanding connection with the school – maybe as a former pupil or parent – which gives them not just a passion for taking their school forward, but also a deep understanding of its ethos and direction.
Oversight of financial matters and financial planning are absolutely vital. Governors play a significant role in scrutinizing financial affairs, ensuring that the future is planned for and assessing risks to secure a robust future. Ultimately, the governors are accountable for ensuring that compliance is upheld and its policies are not only effective, but are also put into practice. For people who have volunteered and freely given their time, this is a huge undertaking. Governors not only have to understand the policies in place (and their relationship to the regulations that govern them), but also undertake quality assurance to reassure themselves of the implementation. As Alison Bernays testifies, this has certainly become an increasing responsibility. The number of regulations have grown and ensuing inspection regimes have moved the emphasis increasingly onto governors’ hands-on verification of them. In our current handover meetings with Bill Ray (our chair designate, former parent and husband of an Old Badmintonian, as well as highly regarded international businessman), the discussion of regulations governing independent schools and the governors’ role in evidencing that they are satisfied has been an important topic, alongside the key handover of explaining the workings of the school and the dynamic of the senior team.
In addition, the skills that the individual governors bring to both strategic processes and specific activities are invaluable. Many governors bring expertise from their professional life, perhaps in law, accounting, finance, property and business, as well as broad managerial skills. These support and supplement the skills of the team in school, which are often very strong in the spheres of education and leadership. Currently, we are benefitting hugely from the expertise of our governors as we plan a major new building project – not just those with specific skills in the field of construction or project management, but also those who can give a slightly more impartial and strategic view to help everyone spot the next steps or even a potential pitfall!
For a head, the encouragement, guidance and wisdom of the governors, particularly the chair, is vital and much appreciated. Matters that arise in the head’s work cannot be shared widely and so having the opportunity to reflect is a huge support. In addition, the chair’s “longer view” ensures that issues such as succession planning are not overlooked and also that matters generally remain in proportion.