No, this is not a misquoting of that famous scene in The Karate Kid where the sagely Mr Miyagi instructs “Daniel-san” how to wash his car.  In that scene, the Karate master was instilling the importance of practice and repetition through the “wax on, wax off” command. 

My theme for this latest blog is school governance – something else that is improved through practice and repetition of the correct techniques.

The concept of “eyes on, hands off” is straightforward enough.  Our governance, not just in schools, but in hospital trusts, police and prison services, and many other public and private bodies, should be driven by effective scrutiny (“eyes on”) and yet clear delineation from the executive function (“hands off”).  For “eyes on”, governors need to be knowledgeable – not only about the organisation but also the communities and stakeholders it comprises, the statutory framework within which it operates, and what its vision, ambition, strengths and weaknesses are.  They need to then be able to tap into that knowledge to help leaders at all levels make better decisions, through effective questioning and by bringing their own experience and insights to the decision-making process.  The best decisions, and the most robust strategy, is that which is forged in the crucible of challenging debate. 

With regard to effective questioning, I have seen the power of a great question transform a strategy from one which may well have encountered either challenge from stakeholders, problems in its implementation, or both.  As a headteacher with a governing body, and now as a CEO with a Trust Board, I am incredibly grateful to the governor and director colleagues respectively who, through their effective challenge, have ensured we move forward as seamlessly as possible – and in the right direction. 

Questions such as “what alternatives were there, and why were they rejected?”, “have we the capacity to give this the time and energy it needs?”, “what happens if we do nothing?” and “how will you know what success looks like – and how will we know?” are the questions that school leaders should relish. 

With reference to “hands off”, the message is fairly simple: individuals cannot be held accountable for decisions they have not made.  We sometimes hear in political circles, particularly in the United States, reference to “overreach” where typically an individual or group has strayed beyond its remit.  Such over-reach blurs lines of accountability and can be both de-stabilising and demoralising.  Like many social interactions, and governance is essentially a social interaction, such straying can be inadvertent, gradual and sporadic.  Yet, over time, it is corrosive.  I have been fortunate to work with governors and directors who understand and appreciate such risks and take every step necessary to ensure they do not manifest.  Through my networks, I am aware that not all leaders in the sector and beyond are so fortunate.

From NGA’s “What governing boards and headteachers should expect from each other.”

I want to close with a huge “thank you” to those governors and directors who are generous with their time, their insights and their expertise.  School governance is the single biggest act of volunteering in this country and without it our schools and their communities would be much the poorer.  I know that many governors find the experience rewarding and engaging, and certainly my own experience as an infant school governor for ten years was something I remember with great fondness and positivity. 

Our Trust thrives in no small part due to the work of its governors – individually and collectively – and this blog is in a small way recognition of that.

As always, thanks for reading.