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School effectiveness

Co-chair case study: Kingsbridge Community Primary School

Kingsbridge Community Primary School

Jo Matson and Vikki Matthews share their experiences as co-chairs at Kingsbridge . The idea came about because the chair of governors at the time had to step down and there was no one else who either wanted to, or who felt they had the capacity to, take on the role of chair. They say:

Vikki and I both work in professional jobs. We work long hours, often away from home and we both have young children at the school. The demands on our time are therefore many and varied, but we were keen to ensure that governance continued to be effective. Vikki initially suggested the idea of co-chairing and we realised this could be a good way to manage the role for us as individuals and we hoped also for the school.
The fact that we were (and luckily still are!) good friends before we took on the role has helped enormously, but that is by no means a pre-requisite to co-chairing. Being able to get on with your co-chair and have an excellent working relationship is critical however, as is an understanding of each other’s key skills, strengths and weaknesses.
Our primary recommendation to anyone considering co-chairing would be to ensure you define your roles clearly at the start. It is very important that each of you, along with your headteacher, clerk and other governors know which of you is responsible for different areas. This is where we fell down slightly at the start; people didn’t know which of us to contact and there was duplication in our workloads – something the whole idea of co-chairing was trying to avoid! There will always be a slight overlap – that can’t really be avoided in this role – but by defining which area each of us would be responsible for and clearly communicating this has helped to deal with the issue, at least in part. As friends, we already had a good understanding of each other’s skills and knowledge; what each of us were good (and not so good) at! This helped enormously in allocating our roles and responsibilities. If you do not know each other well, we would recommend a ‘mini skills audit’ of each other, to ensure you are assigning the correct areas to the most appropriate co-chair.
The next tip for effective co-chairing probably sounds an obvious one but it is essential – good communication between the two of you. All of us are volunteers with busy lives, but touching base with your co-chair at least once a week either by phone or in person has been vital in having a complete picture of what is going on. We also communicate by e-mail regularly and copy each other into relevant e-mails we send or receive. It is important not to copy your co-chair into everything, because some things do not come under their ‘remit’ and again it would defeat the object of the co-chair model if your co-chair is asked to have a view on everything. If there are things the other co-chair needs to know, we give each other a précis when we meet/talk.
It can be quite daunting for a headteacher to have two chairs to deal with instead of one. Our recommendation would be to try not to ‘bombard’ the head with communications from you both. Perhaps this is something that, on reflection, we could have improved upon from the start and communication with our head is something that we are still learning and improving as we go. We have fortnightly meetings with our headteacher; we try to both attend, so the head doesn’t have the additional burden of a separate meeting with each of us. If only one of us is able to attend, the other will later update their co-chair.
Due to our work commitments, we are not always both able to attend all governor meetings. At Kingsbridge we have two committees in addition to the full governing board (FGB) meetings; generally Vikki attends the Resources committee and Jo the Teaching and Learning. We tend to take it in turns to chair the FGB meetings and do not always both attend.
Our experience of co-chairing is that it has worked very well; it has enabled each of us to devote appropriate time to the role, without being overwhelmed. Given the increasing demands upon chairs of governors, we would certainly recommend it as a way forward for those who would like to be chair but worry they don’t have sufficient time to commit. As we see it, there have been many pros but very few cons to co-chairing. It’s a lot more fun and we think less stressful to do it together!