I've just finished my final draft of my new book on challenge - how governors can challenge school leaders effectively. I don't know when it will come out but probably in September.
It sets out how to define challenge and highlights the importance of the human dimension before offering some ideas on how to offer effective challenge. It explores opportunities for challenge during the school year and how to make use of data and information in order to ask relevant questions. It lists some key principles of effective challenge and looks at how to offer challenge in particular contexts, such as the small (village) school and the MAT. It finishes up with some thoughts on how to balance challenge with support.
To bring the issues to life, I've included a series of vignettes - scenes from governing body and committee meetings where governors do their best to challenge the head and other school leaders. They are based on situations I've experienced or heard about.
It made me conscious of some of the issues going on in political life at the moment. In my experience governors behave well. They don't always get everything right, but then neither do heads. They usually behave ethically, by, for example, abiding by a Code of Conduct and declaring their pecuniary interests.
I recently discovered that my local MP, for whom I did not vote, was one of 72 Tory MPs who are private landlords (though he has told me that he wasn't a landlord at the time, so I guess that's OK, then) and who voted last year against a Labour amendment which tried to ensure that privately rented properties are fit for human habitation. I think most governors would recognise that as a huge conflict of interest issue and not vote on it. But then, my MP is far too busy to be a school governor.
I find it astonishing that Michael Gove is not only still an MP but is back in the Cabinet. I've written extensively about Gove and his erstwhile buddy Dominic Cummings in earlier blogs but he really outdid himself only 12 months ago, betraying his supposed friend BoJo spectacularly in a failed attempt to take over the Tory party. I always enjoy Stewart Lee's skewering of him. This is from last week's Observer:
"Yes, even the Trump-rimming Murdoch fist-puppet Gove has been reinstated, despite the proved electoral toxicity of associations with the environment-loathing golf magnate and the failing public-opinion wrangler respectively. Was it only in January that Super Dick Gove, his pink bottom upon the old knee of an invisible Murdoch, flew to New York in a golden elevator to rub his horrid genital against Trump's chair leg? Gove then described as "warm" and "charismatic" a man whose British visit, it is tacitly accepted, would have caused civil disobedience on an unprecedented scale."
At the time, the media were full of condemnations of his outrageously appalling behaviour but now all seems to have been forgotten. I simply don't understand how this is possible. If a governor betrayed his fellow governors, I find it hard to believe that they would accept him back again in less than a year. If a governor behaves badly enough to be disqualified, the disqualification lasts for at least five years. Perhaps this suggests that MPs are more saintly than school governors. I'm not convinced that that's the correct way to read it. I think they just don't care. Their moral compasses have been ground beneath their (kitten) heels.
I can't believe that Theresa May is still in office. Any chair of governors demonstrating such a calamitous lack of judgement and absence of empathy coupled with a constipated public speaking style would surely be voted out at the earliest opportunity. If school children died in a horrific accident and the head and chair were nowhere to be seen for days, they wouldn't last five minutes. The parents would rip them to shreds if they got the chance.
And surely any governor making claims repeatedly proven to be false would be taken to task by at least the chair of governors: a quiet word to the wise in the hope that the idiot would learn from experience. Not so David Davis, the man who recently claimed that he would spend this summer arguing his EU opposite numbers into submission over Britain's "Brexit bill" only to accept everything the EU negotiators requested. On day 1 of the negotiations.
We can, perhaps, take comfort from some indicators that ordinary people have had enough. In her article in the Guardian today (20.6.17) headed "You messed with schools, Theresa May, so you messed with half the electorate", Laura McInerney argues convincingly that school budget cuts were key to the election result - the prime minister forgot teachers, parents and grandparents are all voters. So easy to overlook the fact that: "There are more than 8 million school-aged children. They have about 12 million parents and roughly the same number of grandparents. Half a million people work as state school teachers. Another half a million work in allied services. Messing with education isn't just messing with the youth, it's messing with half the electorate."
And a report later on today suggests that the axing of free school meals will be dropped from the Queen's Speech. Let's hope grammar schools go the same way. And then May and her egregious fellow travellers.
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