To be or not to be an NLG?

To be an NLG


For some unknown reason, when I retired as a headteacher &  became a governor, I aspired to be an NLG – National Leader of Governance. No idea why. Perhaps it was because it was unattainable for me as my work was always with schools that were struggling & one of the main criteria was that you had to chair an outstanding or at least good school.

Perhaps it was because I’ve always loved a sticker or a badge. As a headteacher, the children could rely on me having a sticker for all occasions. Even the parents liked to receive them when they had been earnt of course!

The change of a letter

So I’ve never worked out why those 3 letters meant so much. As a stop was put onto any more NLGs being created a few years ago, while a review of system leadership was undertaken,  I thought my chance had been lost. In a way it had but living in the South West I had the chance to acquire other letters that flagged up my commitment to improving governance. Applications for Local Leaders of Governance were issued & although there was no grant, we still went through a rigorous interview & application process & I have to say that I was proud to be an LLG.

Gradually, as time passed, within the region we were referred to as Leaders of Governance together with our NLG colleagues & our schools didn’t really know the difference. We undertook the same training & roles as NLGs so for me I am a designated leader of governance.

So imagine my excitement when I read the publicity surrounding the announcement that a system review had been undertaken on how governance was to be supported & that NLGs were once again to be designated.

I began to think of potential referees I could approach to support my application because I was confident that I would now meet the criteria.

A dream no more?

On close inspection, however, the NLG I had always wanted to be is now going to be assigned to the past. The main role of the new cadre is to carry out External Reviews of Governance (ERGs) for those schools ‘where governance is identified as a weakness’ (NLG advisory group 2020)

Obviously, if schools are struggling they will need support but the efficiency & effectiveness of boards is improved by a formal & rigorous annual evaluation of their performance & impact & certainly corporate boards would expect to have an external review every 3 years or so. The work of an NLG now feels like a deficit model with schools needing to fail to get support & I have realised that is not my bag.

Yes, I understand that where inspections & reviews highlight a lack of understanding & skills of the board an external review will provide the agenda for rapid change. It will need a particular strength of tone with which I am not particularly comfortable. Much of my work is not the big-hitting ERGs but the quiet call with a stressed chair or the chance to talk through a process that is not quite working well. It might be attending a meeting to give some input on the agenda or minutes or it may be creating a workshop presentation on a particular topic like link roles or asking questions. The majority of this work is pro bono & I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The decision

With that in mind, I have decided not to apply to become an NLG. It’s just not for me. I enjoy the work that I do. My schools tell me I am helping them in all aspects & that’s what it is all about. This post is in no way criticizing this new role. It is just about my decision which I hope unlike Hamlet, has a happy ending!


Do get in touch if you’d like a chat about support for your board!

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  • Gus Grimshaw

    Thanks Julia. Very interesting take. I was considering applying and am down for info session on Friday. Given our background still feel that supporting schools with “failing” governance is an honourable thing to do.
    Am I missing the point?

    • Hi Gus, Yes, sort of missing the point that it will be a far more ‘inspectorial’ approach than the one you & I know works with struggling schools. I will continue to support schools that need me but in a coaching/mentoring way.

      Good to hear from you!

  • Brendan Hollyer

    I will need to be convinced. I feel that much of what we have done to date is to “do with” GB’s that need support. Yes, we do the ERG, but part of that is a return after an agreed period, to review the progress and to see if anything more needs tweaking. I need to know that this follow-up will still be part and it is not just part of the process to academisation.

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