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School effectiveness

Co-chair case study: Bovey Tracey Primary School

Bovey Tracey Primary School

Rebecca Cosgrave and Katie Honnor became co-chairs at the school in January 2015, when the previous chair stood down. There wasn’t a queue of people ready and willing to step into the role and no obvious candidate who might step up with some appropriate persuasion. Rebecca and Katie agreed that as an interim measure they would act as co-chairs for a period of a year, a suggestion which was warmly received by the governing board and duly put into place. They share their experience with us:

From the outset we agreed that we would share everything, rather than having defined areas of responsibility. Emails are copied to us both, so that we each have the full picture of what is happening within the governing board and in school. A natural division has evolved, which has led to Katie doing more of the face to face school time visits and meetings, including being part of the headteacher performance panel. Rebecca has taken on the oversight for particular projects, such as the reconstitution of the governing board, which do not require a daytime school visit.
We had a newly appointed headteacher, which meant we could explore the co-chair model together, defining and developing what worked in our setting. We feel it provides the head with an additional ‘sounding board’ by having two people to bounce ideas off, rather than one. It also potentially gives the head greater access to the chair, as if one of us is not available through work or family commitments, the other often is. As co-chairs we have a great deal of trust in each other, we are sure that the same consistent messages will be given whichever co-chair someone talks to.
Communication between us is paramount to making it work. We meet face to face regularly, talk on the phone and exchange emails. Being a co-chair means that someone has always ‘got your back’; we seem to get more done as a unit than we would individually. It helps to give different perspectives on things, different ways of tackling issues; we can give each other support and confidence and drive momentum.
Our Ofsted inspection was certainly easier to face as co-chairs and resulted in a ‘good’ judgement, with some very favourable comments being made about the governance of the school.
Co-chairing has also led to a greater devolvement and distribution of tasks amongst the individual members of the governing board. For example, we agreed that neither co-chair would act as a committee chair although we both attend the meetings of the two committees. Clear expectations are in place that individual governors volunteer to take ownership for actions which arise through meetings and follow through on these actions, which is working really well.
At full governing board meetings we share the agenda for each meeting between us, giving each of us a chance to fully contribute ‘as a governor’ rather than chairing that section of the agenda. Prior to each full governing board meeting we meet up to decide who will lead on each section, playing to our differing strengths and skills, and we ensure that each is fully aware of what the other has been doing between meetings.’
Having reached the end of the ‘interim’ year of co-chairing the model proved so successful that the board wished to continue to structure the governing board in this way.