All Church Voluntary schools have Foundation Governors. These are normally appointed by the Diocesan Board of Education (DBE) in consultation with the local PCC. One of these Foundation Governors is always identified as the ex-officio governor. There is a legal and ecclesiastical expectation that the parish priest should assume this role unless there are particular reasons against. Occasionally, when a school serves a number of small parishes, there may be more than one ex-officio place on the governing body, relating to the two benefices served.
The Foundation Governors of a Voluntary Aided school form a majority group; their number must always exceed the total of the other governors. This is because of the nature of the legal ownership of the Aided school. The foundation governors are responsible for ensuring that the school lives up to its original purposes as set out in its Trust Deed. They are also responsible for ensuring that religious education and worship take place in accordance with ‘the doctrines and principles of the Church of England’. These responsibilities are scrutinised every five years through the Section 48 Statutory Inspection of Anglican and Methodist Schools (SIAMS), which looks specifically at the ways in which the Voluntary school fulfils its distinctive role.
In a Voluntary Controlled school, the Foundation Governors form a minority group, but they have similar responsibilities to those outlined above in regard to worship and the ex-officio governor can be a crucial figure in enabling the foundation governors to influence school development. The Voluntary Controlled schools are also inspected under SIAMS, as are all Church academies.
The distinctive role of the ex-officio governor
By virtue of being the parish priest, the ex-officio governor has a particular leadership role within the foundation group:
- As priest, in their person and approach they set the framework within which the school and church will work together in the community as a whole, not just on the governing body. They will be responsible for developing the parish’s relationship with its school, and helping both groups towards a fuller understanding of how church and school can form a powerful Christian partnership.
- As priest, leading acts of worship for the school, both in church and in school, forms a strong basis to the key relationship between school and church. It also is a visual expression of the parish’s Christian commitment to the school.
- As lead foundation governor, they have a role, working with the other foundation governors, in monitoring and supporting the school’s distinctive Christian ethos (to ensure that it fulfils the expectations of its foundation). (This includes specific responsibilities relating to SIAMS.)
- As the person who would normally open each meeting of the Governing Body with prayer, they set the tone for that meeting and for the way in which the governors as a whole are reminded of their school’s Christian foundation and all that that means in the deliberations that follow.
- As pastor and theologian, their relationship with the Headteacher can be pivotal to the school’s development as a Christian community and in supporting the headteacher’s ministry as spiritual leader of the school.
- As leader of the local Christian community, they are instrumental in calling out and supporting lay vocations in governorship, classroom support and teaching.
The gift of time
The school will readily absorb as much of their priest’s ministry time as they are prepared to give! The Church believes the Church schools should ‘stand at the centre of the Church’s mission to the nation’ (Dearing Review). Individual circumstances will dictate how much time can be given to school ministry, and this will certainly be affected by the number of schools in a benefice to which a priest relates. Issues to bear in mind as decisions about time are made include:
- Becoming Chair of Governors can be a difficult role for the parish priest to perform as it is extremely time-consuming.
- If at all possible, priests should not sit on more than one Governing Body. This can be difficult in multi-parish benefices where there is more than one Church school and therefore more than one ex-officio seat. Priests may also be invited to sit upon the governing bodies of community schools in their benefice (which may even be in the village where the rectory is located). When hard decisions have to be made, it is important that ex- officio places on Church school governing bodies are filled by an Archdeacon’s appointment, so as not to leave a school unsupported. (Here clergy on ministry teams can support each other by sharing ex-officio duties, but this may require an adjustment to the school’s Instrument of Government – please contact the Diocesan Office if necessary.)
- Governors’ meetings, especially committee work, are likely to average out to at least one hour per week in term time. To be a full and effective governor the ex-officio needs to commit to committees.
As the ex-officio governor, there are certain, perhaps obvious, additional areas of school life with which a priest will be asked to be involved:
- Being prepared to act as a member of any Appeals or Grievance panel, where one’s natural pastoral role will be seen as a strength.
- Being involved in staff appointments, especially in ensuring that the school is concerned to maintain its Christian ethos through the staff it appoints. The appointment of a new Headteacher will be a time of particular importance for the future of the school and the links between school and parish.
- Also, all the “unplanned” aspects of pastoral ministry will be present in the school e.g. bereavement; personal crisis; controversy; accident; celebration. If the school is seen as an integral part of the parish they will expect their priest to be alongside them at such times, just as they would be for any other family in the community.
Many ex-officio governors see their strength to be in a chaplaincy role in the school, rather than in the increasingly technical role of governor, although this should not be thought of as an “either / or” decision. The following suggestions may help cement the idea that the ex-officio role is “more than a governor”:
- Establishing a clear pattern of visits, perhaps based around times of leading collective worship,+ which can incorporate a pastoral meeting with the staff over coffee, a chat with the Head, or a classroom visit, thus fulfilling both the pastoral and monitoring roles appropriately.
- Making sure that the school understands the priest’s pastoral role with them is an important part of the parish community’s commitment to them.
- Encouraging fellow foundation governors to also visit and involve themselves with the school in the name of the church.
- Using one’s network of contacts to engage other members of the ministry team, and of other denominations, with the school, without losing the important sense of identification of parish priest and school.
All schools within a parish or benefice rightly form a part of a parochial ministry. Although it should be easier to establish a working relationship with Church schools, there is much excellent work going on within community schools through local ministry teams. This is especially true of the local high school, which is unlikely to be a Church foundation but which should welcome support for its work with young people from the clergy whose parish schools feed into the secondary school.