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Developing the Relationship: Advice for new Heads and Chairs

The dynamic between an independent school head and board chair arguably shapes the most important relationship within an independent school. In our work with school leaders and governors, we witness wonderful examples of complementary support that provides a safe space for schools to grow and innovate. Sometimes, however, the relationship can turn, suppressing any momentum and energy that may have previously existed.


As heads and chairs change and new incumbents learn the ropes of school and board leadership, what may be the most important advice they should consider together? The following may help new heads and chairs set up their relationship for success:


  1. Learn together. Effective governance is a team sport where success can only occur when the players have a clear understanding of the distinctions, significance, and interdependencies of their respective roles. Such an understanding does not necessarily come naturally, and enacting it requires some preparation. Good governance training will stimulate important proactive discussions about common scenarios that chairs and heads (and all governors) should engage in before they occur. How will we deal with parent complaints, or the push-back after the dismissal of a much-loved teacher, or appointing current parents as board members? What does it mean to be on the balcony and not on the dance floor; for the head to have appropriate autonomy while the board retains appropriate oversight? These are no trivial matters. Chairs and heads that learn and discuss these scenarios will be better prepared when they inadvertently occur.
  2. Dream together. The nature of their roles causes chairs and heads to apprehend their schools with different eyes. Heads experience a daily visceral immersion into the triumphs and challenges of school life. A chair's perception relies upon quantitatively and qualitatively different information channels. This distinctness in viewpoints is a strength of the head/chair partnership as it stimulates a diverse consideration of the matters before them. However, it also means that time needs to be invested in arriving at a shared understanding of the current strategic position of the school and in allowing a joint vision for the future of the school to emerge. The head/chair relationship is at its best when it is based on a common assessment of the school's current reality and future direction, and grounded on attentive listening.
  3. Lead together. Both school heads and chairs engage in leadership; one leads the school, and the other leads the board. Leadership can be lonely, and it can be stressful. As a team that leads, heads and chairs work at their best when they share a mutual respect for the distinct leadership contributions they are making, when they understand what drives each other, when they know what the other loses sleep over, and when they recognise the other's stress response. As with any successful team, such dynamics create outcomes beyond the sum of their parts.

Leading a school is a hugely rewarding vocation, and for many chairs, leading a school board is one of the most personally satisfying tasks they engage in. Chairs and heads that learn, dream, and lead together create the right conditions to experience this satisfaction themselves.

The monitoring role of the Board

To effectively monitor a school’s performance, board members need a line of sight into the operations of the school. While reports in board papers can be a valuable monitoring tool, these are often prepared based on information gathered by board committees or the senior leadership team.

There are many other ways that boards can gather information for monitoring, and these may provide them with valuable, additional insights into school operations. In doing so, they materially improve a board’s ability to monitor the school’s performance.

Following are suggestions for boards to review their monitoring activities and develop a monitoring system that is enduring, with the view to establishing a more effective line of sight into the operations of their school.

1. Work out what your board needs to know
Make a list of all the indicators of success relevant to your school by:

  • reviewing the board’s previous agendas, papers and minutes for indicators of success
  • read about current trends for success in the education industry
  • look at your registers for risk, compliance and complaints
  • talk to staff, parents, students and past students.

Examples may include indicators about educational outcomes, staff culture and customer satisfaction.

2. Prioritise the indicators based on importance to success

This will assist the board to determine how to monitor each indicator and how often to monitor them. For instance, critical indicators should be reported at every board meeting while less important indicators may be reviewed quarterly or annually.

3. Determine how the board will gather information about the indicators

  • Deep dives:
    • Ask members of the leadership team to present in-depth information on the indicators at a board meeting.
    • Arrange presentations from other employees, where appropriate, to allow the board to connect with employees outside of the senior leadership team.
  • School visits – the board could undertake quarterly or annual tours while the school is in operation, assisting the board to gain an understanding of the culture of the school or specific processes that are strategically relevant.
  • Internal reviews – ask about and assess key indicators, for example, how well do staff at all levels of the school know about risk management?
  • External reviews – for bigger projects like the assessment of staff culture, risk frameworks or teaching and learning effectiveness, engage external consultants to assess whether the school’s stated processes and values match the expectations of stakeholders.
  • Surveys – use surveying tools to gather feedback from stakeholders on indicators such as school culture.
  • Workshops or focus groups – commission internal staff or external advisors to gather small groups of stakeholders, asking key questions to gather information needed for monitoring indicators.
  • Review the board agenda – are all indicators included as part of a report or as a standalone item?
  • Upgrade board papers – use templates to ensure information about indicators is included as per agreed schedules.
  • Include culture indicators (including trend graphs) in board papers such as employee feedback, customer complaints, progress on employee culture training. Assess how these change over time.
  • Attestations – ask relevant staff for regular (often annual) statements confirming compliance and risk obligations have been met.

Appendix 1 provides an example of a board monitoring activity register. Boards can use the register to record the type and frequency of monitoring activities they plan to undertake for each indicator.

4. Structure the process to make the monitoring of the indicators sustainable

  • Develop or update a board calendar with annual monitoring activities mapped out over the year.
  • Ensure there is a person responsible for the calendar, for example, the company secretary.
  • Review the board monitoring activity register at the end of each year. Was information gathered sufficient? What changes should be made?
  • Update your board calendar annually with monitoring activities for the upcoming year.

Appendix 2 provides an example of a monitoring board calendar, which can be added to your existing board calendar to show when monitoring activities for each indicator will be undertaken throughout the year.

What are deep dives?

Deep dives are like a health check in a particular area of the board’s responsibility. Each deep dive should focus on one issue and have limited terms of reference to ensure a balance is struck between fulfilling the board’s monitoring role and avoiding delving too deeply into operational management.

To facilitate a suite of board deep dives, the board should develop their board monitoring activity register and board calendar, with areas chosen for the deep dives. Once the topics are identified, the board should outline the terms of reference for each deep dive, for example:

Provide an immersion into <<the topic>> to assist the board to gain a better understanding of it. Include a description of any associated policies, processes and procedures; case studies showing its operation at the school; and the inhibitors, challenges and opportunities related to <<the topic>>.

A range of techniques are available to gather information for board monitoring and using a variety of these can be useful for boards to gain in-depth insight and an understanding of the operations of the school. This may lead to new ideas and the identification of problems, ultimately assisting board members to monitor more effectively.

Do you need a Director ID?

A Director ID is a requirement for anyone looking to become a company director or those who are already in director roles. Previously known as a Director Identification Number (DIN), this is a unique 15-digit identifier that company directors apply for once and keep forever.

You need a Director ID if you are a director of a:

  • company under the Corporations Act 2001(Corporations Act)
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander corporation registered under the Corporations (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) Act 2006 (CATSI Act)
  • corporate trustee
  • charity or not-for-profit organisation that is a company or Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander corporation
  • registered Australian body that trades outside the state or territory in which it is incorporated
  • foreign company registered with ASIC and carrying on business in Australia.

You do not need a Director ID if you are:

  • a company secretary but not a director
  • acting as an external administrator of a company
  • running a business as a sole trader or partnership
  • have not been appointed as a director under the Corporations Act or the CATSI Act
  • a director of a registered charity with an organisation type that is not registered with ASIC or ORIC
  • an officer of an unincorporated association, cooperative or incorporated association established under state or territory legislation.

The deadline for applying for a Director ID is dependent on the date company directors are appointed, and under which Act they were appointed. It is a criminal offence if directors do not apply on time. If directors can’t apply by the due date, they can apply for an extension.

Director under

Date you became a director

Date you must apply

Corporations Act

On or before 31 October 2021

By 30 November 2022

Corporations Act

Between 1 November 2021 and 4 April 2022

Within 28 days of appointment

Corporations Act

From 5 April 2022

Before appointment


On or before 31 October 2022

By 30 November 2023


from 1 November 2022

Before appointment


Directors can apply for a Director ID online using a myGovID. They will need to apply themselves, so their identity can be verified.

For more information, visit

Board Chair Interview: 

Ken Watson 
Chair, Sunshine Coast Grammar School 

What excites you about your school?

My school is situated in a serene rainforest setting. Even when the students are out on the campus the serenity remains. School pick-up and drop-off sometimes challenge that serenity but for most of the school day, the campus is a sanctuary of tranquillity. We have a new Principal this year and we are excited about new perspectives and strategic/governance renewal. The school is also enrolling record numbers of students.

What prompted you to become a council member?

I was alarmed at the increasing anti-faith dialogue in the political arena and media space. I wanted my daughter to be educated in a culture that encouraged her Christian faith and contrasted Christianity against other religious practices and ideologies. I wished to support an institution under increasing societal pressure to abandon a faith-based ethos in favour of popular secular social edicts. An important principle lost in current social/education debates and core to the remit of the ISQ is one of parental choice.

How can boards/councils add maximum value to their school?

Assisting the school Executive to maintain their focus on what the school wants to ‘Be’ in a ‘Be, Do, Have’ paradigm when the Executive are necessarily immersed in the day to day ‘Do’ of that paradigm can be important. The Governance function is vital. Resisting accountability outside of ourselves is inherent in human and by extension, corporate nature. Boards/councils play the necessary role of ensuring legislative and compliance requirements are met and strategic aims are realised.

What is your advice for leading a board/council?

Immerse yourself in the environment as much as your situation allows. Read widely, question and listen. Seek to understand what benchmarks for performance might be available or in play. ISQ has an excellent suite of learning available to assist, take full advantage of the resources available to you, you can always learn more.

Which strategic issues should be on school board agendas in 2022?

The pending Religious Discrimination Bill is a great strategic concern. The Bill could seriously curtail parental freedom of choice for their children’s faith-based education. The pandemic has raised the issue of modes of education delivery. Schools might consider how they may deliver a suite of online learning for both core and elective subjects. Immersive Virtual reality (incorporating both Augmented and Mixed Reality) open really exciting opportunities and allow a decoupling from expensive ‘bricks and mortar’ models with their inherent constraints on enrolment numbers.

Appendix 1: Example Board Monitoring Activity Register







Appendix 2: Example Board Calendar Excerpt

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