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Effective Challenge

Understanding how to hold Leaders to account and the associated boundaries can be a really emotive subject.

As Governors, our job is to hold our Leaders to account for the educational performance of our children and also to make sure money is well spent. But how can we do that without overstepping the mark and becoming too operational? If we ask too many questions, does that mean we don’t trust our Leaders? If we ask for more evidence and want to visit School to do our own check and balance exercise, what message does that give to our Leaders?

It is our job to ask questions, but to be effective and to foster a good working relationship, we need to do this respectfully. We are the strategic leaders of the School, but our headteachers are the operational leaders and so we need to respect their positions and that they understand the day to day struggles of School life.

A great starting point when considering how to ask questions is the 7 Principles of Public Life. As a reminder, these are:

·         Selflessness

·         Integrity

·         Objectivity

·         Accountability

·         Openness

·         Honesty

·         Leadership

It is worth keeping these in mind when considering how we challenge our Leaders and hold them to account; our tone of voice, our body language are all indicators of our relationship with our Headteachers. The relationship between Governors and the Headteacher is vital, even more so the relationship between the Chair of Governors and the Headteacher.

Think about the subjects that you want to ask about. The three core functions of governance should influence all your challenge-based questions. There is a thought process that says if Governors are asking questions that could not sit under one of the three core functions, then they should not be asking the questions. And remember about being strategic and not operational; governance is a thinking role and not a doing role.

There are two types of questions that Governors may be asking - questions for clarity and questions for evidence. We all need to ask questions for clarity, but these should not be recorded in minutes. The most important types of questions though, which are the basis of all effective challenge, are questions for evidence or to find out more information. These questions need to be fully minuted as Ofsted will be looking for evidence of effective challenge. They want to know if Governors are exploring forensically and asking probing questions or if they are accepting information at face value.

Governors need to consider the reasons why they are challenging their Headteacher. Is it because:

·         they want more information.

·         they are interested.

·         they don’t trust the information being given.

Governors need to understand their motivation for challenging their Headteacher. Some Headteachers may resent being constantly challenged. They do accept that it is the job of Governors to hold them to account but being constantly challenged and cross examined on every single piece of information is extremely draining. To repeat, remember to be strategic and not stray into the operational territory.

A final word, it is the right and the duty of Governors to ask questions and to challenge effectively and respectfully. It demonstrates effective governance and Governors in most situations act as the Employers in law, so have every right to challenge and ask questions. It is the manner in which the questions are asked which defines the open, transparent and trusting relationship.

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