I spend a lot of time talking about Old Boys and what they do to help the school, but I rarely mention another group of people who are integral to the success of any school – and that is the governors. I wonder if any of you know who the governors are and what they do? I’ll bet not many. So I thought I would spend a few moments today talking about them, as they are a group of remarkable people. This school has 15 full governors and they all work completely free of charge on behalf of us. They come from a range of backgrounds, and most are, or have been, extremely distinguished in their field. The Chairman, for instance, is a knight of the realm (i.e. a ‘Sir’) and was Air Chief Marshal and Commander in Chief of Air Command – in other words, he ran the RAF. The rest of the governing body includes incredibly talented and well-respected people from the worlds of banking, law, medicine, education and business. It has formidable brain power. Its role is several-fold. Firstly, it exists to determine the overall direction of the school through clear strategic planning, for which it takes responsibility. That is not to say that the Head Master and others do not get involved in strategic planning – far from it. But a Head Master may come up with a plan to develop a Moldavian Church into a Quarry Theatre, but such a large project will not happen without the governors’ support. Secondly, the governing body exists to ensure that the aims of the school are being met. This involves providing both support and challenge to the Head Master and leadership team. In other words, they hold us to account. This, if you think about it, is a pretty fundamental structure in most major organisations: the House of Lords holds Parliament to account; a Board of Directors in Manchester holds Pep Guardiola to account; and non-executive directors exist to hold executive boards of companies in check. In schools, it is the governors who hold me, and others, to account. To do so, they need to know and understand the school, to set aside bias, and to come from a range of different skills sets – for instance, an accountant can best judge whether we are financially solvent; a lawyer can judge if we are dealing with difficult issues appropriately.
Each governor attends at least two, long meetings per term, and on Saturday we had our main Board meeting of the term. So what do they talk about? Well, every meeting reminds itself of the strategic aims of the school (you can see these yourself on our website) and examines the risks of these not being achieved. In practice, most meetings are designed to ensure that the school is in good health and that the proposed future direction will keep it that way. So on Saturday, we discussed some of the measures of this – how many people want to come to the school; what are the finances like; how is the academic side of life faring; what about all the sport, music, drama and so on. Much of this involves governor scrutiny of figures and ensuring that policies are up to date and being adhered to; are we compliant with the laws of the land and the expectations on independent schools? But what is interesting about our governors is the amount of time they spend on ensuring that everybody at the school is safe, healthy and in a good frame of mind – both staff and pupils. I am happy to say, not least in Movember, that they care about this every bit as much as all the harder measures of school success. So on Saturday, we spent a lot of time talking about the safeguarding of boys and about ensuring a good workplace for staff. It is interesting to hear how their own businesses work in this regard. One particular thing which stuck in my mind about all businesses from this conversation, but particularly for schools, is that they will all have something called a whistleblowing policy, which is designed to help keep the business safe. This is a policy for staff, who are required to make a report if they feel that another staff member has done something or is likely to do something which is not quite right in accordance with the rules and ethos of the business. Whistleblowing, in most companies, is a requirement rather than a voluntary act. It involves, quite literally, going to your boss to tell them about any wrong actions of your own colleagues. Many of you would consider this as snitching, yet, in many adult environments, this is a requirement. It is not at all easy to do, of course. However, if you think about it carefully enough, such policies are designed to keep places safer and happier. I mention this because you, too, will sometime have some difficult decisions to make on this front – just saying that snitching is wrong is lazy thinking and potentially dangerous. If you feel that somebody else is likely to receive harm from a friend’s actions, then you have to think very carefully whether or not to report that person – extremely difficult, but often the consequences of not doing so are worse. In an adult environment, it can be compulsory, so it is worth thought. This is an example of the sort of thing that we spoke about on Saturday.
I hope you get some idea from this what governance is about. It involves many hours, given free of charge and through a desire to do something for the general good, and significant responsibility for people who already often have significant careers of their own. Schools cannot exist without them. Therefore, if you meet, or know of any of our governors, do make sure you show your gratitude to them for all they do.