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H is for ... Holding Executive Leaders to Account

This is the second of the three core roles of a School Governor, and its a biggie!


It’s one of the areas that I cover for Governors when I run Shaping Governance sessions with them. Quite often this is a misunderstood area, and Governors are not aware of how they can hold Executive Leaders to account. To be honest, it’s usually an area that Governors are either really good at, or quite poor at!


Firstly, I think we need to explore just what accountability means.


Accountability is where someone is expected to explain their decisions and actions to others.


Whilst it is a core role of a School Governor to hold Executive Leaders to account, accountability for Governors has many forms. As Governors we:

  • Are accountable to parents, pupil and stakeholders (think Ofsted and the LA) for the performance of our school and ensuring it is compliant;

  • Are accountable for doing our best and committing to being active;

  • Demonstrate accountability through our actions and the way we govern;

  • Demonstrate accountability through the way we levy and record challenge;

  • Hold Executive Leaders to account for the educational performance, internal management and control of the school.

So accountability takes many forms, and I particularly like how Bob Proctor describes it


‘Accountability is the glue that ties commitment to results’


So accountability is the mechanism (glue / system) that helps an organisation move from an ambition and vision to achieving results. It’s about keeping focused on what you want for children and for the school, and ensuring that through good questioning, challenge and support - the school delivers.


Governing Boards set the strategic vision and direction of their school, and delegate the day to day delivery of this to executive leaders within school. Governors then hold executive leaders to account for how they put this into action on a day to day basis; how they exercise their professional judgement; how they spend the budget; has it achieved value for money; and how they lead the school and its staff.


Secondly, we need to understand, who Executive Leaders are.


Over the last few years, it’s evolved from Holding the Headteacher to Account, to Holding Executive Leaders to account. This is in recognition that there are now different leaders in different settings, since the emergence of Academies, for example, CEO, Executive Heads, Headteachers, Principals, Head of School etc.


But it’s not just Governors that hold Executive Leaders to account within a school. Accountability will also run through the school, with Executive Leaders, holding senior and middle leaders to account for their performance. It’s almost a ‘web of accountability’ recognising that sometimes, accountability isn’t linear, but with many layers and web-like.


Thirdly, it’s time to consider how Governors can hold Executive Leaders to account.


Whilst the responsibility for holding to account sits with the whole board, it is often delegated to either individual Governors or to the committees that the Board has. I like to think of it as distributed leadership, and how all Governors can play a key role in monitoring.


There are many ways that Governors hold Executive Leaders to account, and here is a visual of just some of the ways that you can carry this out. I haven’t gone into detail on how you can carry out each one, as I may be here all week, and some are covered through my other blogs in the A-Z series.


Or why not get in touch to see how we can support you in Shaping your Governance, as I do with 100s of schools every year. I can help you to create your own ‘web of accountability’.


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Our founder, Su Turner, has over 25 years of experience in senior governance roles in the public sector. With a proven track record for improvement, Su has successfully developed and delivered national and local programmes to improve governance, scrutiny, and outcomes.

She is an experienced public sector Governor; and is currently a Chair of a Secondary Academy and Pupil Referral Unit, and a Non-Executive for a large GP Federation in the North West.

Su has created a new National Governance Framework for the Department for Education and regularly speaks at national events, including the NAHT. She also is regularly called upon to work with multi-academy trusts to align their governance arrangements.

Su created Shaping Governance® using her experience as a governor in schools and other sectors. It uses appreciative techniques and a team development approach to learning, sharing, and improving governance within a school or organisation; and is now used by 100s of schools annually to enhance their effectiveness.