Good governance is about far more than a checklist: it is about supporting and developing an institution to enhance opportunity and success, says Dr Paul Phillips

I have to hand it to chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw. He is a man on a mission, turning his attention to governance.

At face value, he seems to want to hold governors to account and to ensure that they robustly challenge the performance of an institution.

He suggests the creation of a ‘score card’, that some governors should be paid and that key businesses should encourage their staff to become governors.

From my perspective, he does not go far enough; good governance is invaluable and, in my own career, in both the school and college sector, governing bodies have ranged from the abysmal to the brilliant.

I always see a fine line between governance and management, and some governors do try to cross that line at times. I don’t know if it is a ‘power thing’ or an unfulfilled aspiration, but too many times I have seen unjustified interference break down good relations between governors and heads of institutes.

When a school or college gets a bad inspection report, governing bodies usually say it’s about what managers failed to deliver.  But isn’t it also about how governors failed in their judgments of a situation?

Then we have the issue of strategy versus management. How often do I hear that governors set the strategy but managers deliver, to it? Governance is about supporting and developing an institution, and challenging and then endorsing a strategy for an organisation.

It still returns us, however, to the question of what is good governance and how this impacts upon an organisation. I’ll bet many can remember when governance was a checklist rather than a source of challenge to sound leadership.

But let’s support this initiative, while making sure that it is comprehensive and can be interrogated. From the perspective of the FE college sector, a three-pronged approach is needed to look at accountability and responsibility, meeting the needs of the community and checking that the learner gets the best opportunity to succeed and progress. Isn’t that common sense? Yes, you say, but I believe that it is rarely put into action.

Unjustified interference breaks down good relations between governors and heads of institutes”

Let’s take a traditional 11 to 18 school or academy, and look at the young people at age 15. Can the governing body and the head of the institution justifiably confirm that each of them is shown the merits of both academic education and vocational learning, including apprenticeships? I do not believe it to be the case. Similarly in an FE college, do the governing body and senior management deliver everything the community needs or consider how, in doing so, success rates may be damaged?

Am I maligning Sir Michael’s moves? Far from it. Governors need to be able to assess the initial advice and guidance concepts within their institution and the ‘score card’ is the first step. It is crucial to advance governance in the sector.

Do you remember the famous Morecambe and Wise sketch with Andre Previn where Eric says: “I am playing the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order.”

A witty line that resonates within education today. The main ingredients for much needed success are there, but how they are ordered and prioritised is often not clear. Governance also varies according to an institution’s environment. Brilliant governance is about completing that jigsaw to enhance opportunity and success.

Paid governance? There are times when a governor or a group of governors should be paid but it should relate to need and how such work will guarantee positive and measured transformation.

I may regret these words, but I am generally a fan of Ofsted because it does make us focus on learner success, the learner journey and inspirational teaching. So what is inspirational governance? Now that’s another story.

Dr Paul Phillips, principal and chief executive, Weston College, North Somerset