I’ve given a lot of thought to succession planning for chairs since I became aware of the NGA’s policy that no chair of governors should remain in post continuously in the same school for more than six years. (Why six? I’ve not yet had a satisfactory answer to that). It’s over two years since I wrote a blog post arguing in favour of chairs’ terms of office being limited, though I’ve yet to be convinced that six years is the magic number.
In any case I was getting to a time when it had to become personal and, at the end of the summer term, I left the governing body of my children’s former primary school after 12 ½ years as a governor and 7 years as chair. I have to be honest I’ve shed a few tears. It’s been a huge wrench to leave a school that I love and am enormously proud of – so why did I do it…?
For all the reasons I’ve argued in theory of course. I do believe you can get too close, you can get to a point where you’re no longer able to bring fresh eyes and be objective, that there’s a danger in boards relying too heavily on one person, that new perspectives and approaches are needed. None of that made it any easier to walk out of the door though.
I’m not sure I could have done it, when the time came, if I hadn’t made it impossible for myself to change my mind. I gave four terms’ notice to the governing body. I encouraged someone to step up as co-chair for twelve months to work alongside me. That person started chairing meetings and I took less of an active role. All that was left at the end was to walk sadly away, knowing I was leaving the governing body in good hands.
I haven’t walked away from governance of course. Two years ago I joined a new governing body of a school that was in requires improvement, where I’m now very proud to be chair, and proud to say we came out of RI recently. I love my new school, and am enormously proud of it, and the fantastic staff and governors there. And perhaps I’m able to bring a little more emotional detachment, having never had children of my own there. Then last term I joined a secondary school governing body, to widen my experience further, and am quickly learning to love my new school. The end of term celebrations showcased amazing talent, and I wait Thursday’s results with bated breath…
But I’m a system leader. I committed to that when I was designated a National Leader of Governance in 2012. And my professional life is providing support to other governors and governing bodies and boards in all sectors. That helped me overcome the emotional connection to ‘my’ school, but I can equally understand why lots of governors have made a commitment to a particular school because it’s part of their own local community, and wouldn’t be interested in governing in another school. If that’s where you’re coming from I would urge you to think again. The excitement of getting to know a new school and feeling you’re making a difference in a new way is fantastic, and it’s re-energised my enthusiasm for my own governing role.
As we’re starting a new academic year, why not think about what your next governance challenge could be? Perhaps it will be taking up more of a leadership role on your current governing body, or maybe it’s time to think about sharing your experience elsewhere? As Lord Nash says: “Chairs can sometimes stay in post too long and, because everyone’s too polite to put the interests of children first, can, themselves, become the barrier to change and progress. Which is why I think governors should think really hard about appointing a chair for, say, no more than 2 terms of office [eight years]. And if, at that point, the chair is still doing a great job, governors could consider encouraging the chair to take up the mantle of a system leader and train up their vice-chair, so they, themselves, can move on and help another school.”