Tuesday, March 04, 2014


Our area hasn’t been affected by the seemingly endless rainfall as badly as some parts of the country. But there’s no getting away from the fact that it has been rather damp outside of late. For weeks the top news item has featured some welly-wearing politician or other trying to look as though they are in control as they visit flood affected towns and villages. Who’s to blame? Some point to global warming, others to poor planning decisions that allowed building on flood plains. Experts argue about whether or not dredging rivers would have made a difference. I don’t know.

The winter storms raise questions concerning some of our deeply held assumptions. We expect the government to be able to sort out many of the problems we face as a society. But recent events have exposed the limits of State power. As King Canute could not turn the tide at his command, so government ministers cannot order the Thames, Parrett, or Severn to return to the limits of their banks. ‘An Englishman’s home is his castle’, we say. But rising rivers are no respecters of the sanctity of property. People’s houses that once seemed to stand so firm and secure have been invaded by murky torrents that ruin everything in their wake.

Human power at its most organised is no match for the force of nature. Our achievements, writ large in property and possessions can be swept away in a moment. The Christian lives in this world, but does not live simply for what this world has to offer. Faith teaches us to ‘fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.’ Where are you setting your sights?  

* For News & Views, West Lavington Parish Magazine 

Monday, March 03, 2014

Being Strategic: a practical guide for school governors by David Marriott

Being Strategic: a practical guide for school governors by David Marriott,
third edition, Adamson Publishing Ltd, 2013, 47pp, £9.95. 

'Strategic' is one of those words that when slipped into conversation can give the speaker the impression that they know what they are talking about. Say, 'Now we really need to be strategic' and everyone will nod. Try it. But there's more to being strategic than repeated use of the word. The Governing Body is meant to be the school's strategic leadership team. However, some Governing Bodies seem to be so intent in meddling in the everyday running of their school that the strategic bit is sidelined. It is then left to others to develop a compelling vision of what the school could be like and work out how to get there. Or maybe the vision thing doesn't get done at all, and a school gets stuck in the Doldrums of ever requiring improvement, but never seeming to make much headway. 

It is to help try and avoid that kind of impasse that David Marriott penned this book. He describes step by step what it means for a Governing Body to be strategic. He shows how governors can get a handle on the where their school is currently and how to work out where they want it to be in the future. Guidance is given on how to devise Vision and Mission Statements that will give governors and the school they lead a strong sense of purpose. Words like 'vision', 'values', 'mission' and 'strategy' are much bandied about in governor circles. But Buzz Words don't buzz if they are devoid of content. Marriott clearly explains what they mean in the context of the school governance. 

Being strategic involves the whole Governing Body holding the school to account accurately and objectively, checking the schools strengths and weaknesses against a wide range of evidence. It means that governors and senior leaders own a shared vision of the future prospects of the school that is informed by their values and driven by a clear sense of mission. The Headteacher will play a key role in determining the direction of the school and Marriott stresses the importance of governors developing a good working relationship with the Head that involves both challenge and support. 

Being Strategic is a helpful tool for sharpening up the practice of governance. Following Marriott's suggestion we subjected a recent Head's report to the Full Governing Body to a SWOT analysis that enabled us to get to grips with the school's Strengths, Weakness, Opportunities and Threats. Again (almost literally) taking a leaf out of this book at the next FGB we'll be asking four questions:
  • What do we want that we don't have? (need to achieve)
  • What do we want that we already have? (need to preserve)
  • What don't we have that we don't want? (need to avoid)
  • What do we have now that we don't want? (need to eliminate)
The SWOT analysis was a useful exercise in understanding where we are now. Looking at the questions mentioned above will assist us in thinking critically about the school's future. The author also includes material on governor involvement in strategic planning, target setting, policy making and much more. He manages to pack quite a lot into a relatively brief book which is jam packed full of good advice and helpful tips.

All current or wannabe school governors would benefit from taking a look at Being Strategic. But I think it would be of particular value to Chairs, Vice-Chairs, Chairs of Committees and those who aspire to such roles in the future. The only drawback is that at £9.95 it's a bit pricey for a slim volume, weighing in at less than fifty pages. It's a helpful book, but not quite worth it's weight in gold. Perhaps the best thing would be for a Governing Body to invest in copy or two using money from their training budget so that the book can be lent out to interested colleagues. If our School Business Manager is reading this, that was a none too subtle hint.

Highly recommended.

I'm grateful to Adamson Publishing Ltd for sending me a complimentary review copy of the latest edition of this work.