It is difficult to imagine a world without the World Wide Web, yet it is a mere 25 years since it emerged into our daily lives. It is also difficult for myself as a governor to imagine governance without this powerful resource – but is it all good? or can it be a double edged sword?
Let’s start with the positives. With the emergence of the Web school governors have much greater access to information that they can use to track their schools progress and compare it to other schools with a similar demographic, which has contributed to improved standards and achievment in schools nationally. Governors can benchmark financial information to ensure they are getting best value for money and to undertake research.
The Web also enables governors to be able to share best practice, learn about other governing bodies best practice and search for information to problem solve. Training for governors has become much more accessible and with the development of e-learning and info-sites governors have greater flexibility of how to develop themselves and in a way that suits them.
The Web has given governors a platform to engage more effectively with their key stakeholders through websites and social media and also raised accountability as information to measure their and the schools performance is now under greater scrutiny as polices and procedures, and performance data is required to be published in a way that is accessible to all. Governance is now more transparent and open with many governing bodies choosing to publish their minutes on the school website. Governors now have a visible presence on the school website, increasing their accessibility to the school community.
The Web has also brought an opportunity for governors to have a sense of belonging and team. Social media in more recent years has become a vital tool for governors to interact with each other, share challenges, their experience, and expertise. The popularity of #UKGOVCHAT on Twitter is testament to this. Every Sunday evening governors from across the UK come together for 30 minutes of governor chat, this on-line forum has hosted healthy debate but also provided a genuine and incredibly useful support network for some governors who may at times feel overwhelmed by their roles. There is also a closed Facebook page, School Governors UK, which enables governors to engage with and help each other – volunteers who keep on giving!
Undoubtedly the Web has given the children in our schools greater opportunity to learn in diverse and ways, individual to their own learning needs. This enables governors to develop an ethos, vision and strategy that demands the raising of standards and achievement and an inclusive approach to education.
So those are some of the positives, what about the challenges? Most governors have embraced technological advances but there are also those who have struggled with the new world of Internet based governance. There are many governors who having grown up with new and developing web based technology struggle to work within it, so does the reliance and popularity of the Web mean they are excluded from learning and development? This may cause division within governing bodies if an individual and inclusive approach to developing governor’s knowledge is not embraced.
As well as the benefits of social media there have also been challenges to governing bodies in the rise and popularity of on-line social media forums. The popularity of Facebook and Twitter as platforms for discussion and debate have changed how complaints or concerns are sometimes voiced. Conversations that may have once taken place in huddles in school playgrounds or behind closed doors are now taking place on public on-line forums, leaving the school with little opportunity for reply or balance – therefore risk increases and opportunity for control decreases. This can be damaging for a schools reputation and can also affect the Governors ability to ensure the health and safety of teaching staff if they are individually targeted or abused publically on social media forums.
The Web has also brought new Safeguarding challenges for governing bodies. Although governors can and often do delegate safeguarding responsibility to the Headteacher, they still hold the overall responsibility to ensure that the school has policies and structures in place to support the safeguarding of pupils at the school. They must ensure that children are in a safe and secure environment and that all school activities ensure and promote this. The emergence of the Web has made this a much more challenging and serious issue as children are increasingly exposed to greater risks on-line yet as schools we also encourage greater use and promote access to that platform, governors must ensure that there are controls in place to protect children as well as good quality teaching to help them have a good awareness of maintaining their own safety.
So as we wish the World Wide Web a Happy 25th Birthday we can thank it for contributing to many improvements in how we govern schools and the challenges it brings to us are ultimately based on how this powerful tool is used by others.