There is a national debate at the moment focusing on stakeholder versus skill based model for governing bodies. The skill based model is gaining favour with more and more people. The stakeholder model, however, still has its champions. So, what are my thoughts on this?
I started out as a stakeholder governor myself but I am rapidly going off this model of governance. Having stakeholders on the governing body for the sake of having stakeholders, to me, seems to be an inefficient way of governing. When we talk of stakeholders we usually mean parents and staff, but it does not follow that just because they have an interest in the school they will necessarily make good governors too. In fact, with both groups of governors there may be associated challenges specific to that group. Parent governors may be unable to take off the parent hat and put on the governor hat. They may know the school well, but that knowledge may be clouded by the experience their child has had. I get very worried when people say that parent governors know the school very well. They do, I admit, but how many of them know the WHOLE school rather than just the form/year their child is in? If you ask parent governors why they joined the governing body, one of the answers you get is “because I wanted to find out more about my child’s school”. Don’t you think the emphasis should be on “the school” rather than “my child’s” school? I have heard it said that the presence of parent governors sometimes turns the governing body into a PTA.
The next group of stakeholders are staff governors who face challenges of their own. They will have to watch out for conflicts of interest. They will have to be strong enough to go against the Head if that is what they felt was the right thing to do. They, too, will need to learn to leave the staff hat on the hat stand and pick up the governor hat. The fact that they know a lot about the school and education is a given, but do they know how to govern? I’ve heard people complain that staff governors do not attend induction training which many consider should be mandatory.
When we talk about stakeholders, we tend to forget about the biggest stakeholder, the students. I know that some governing bodies have students as associate governors while other invite student leaders to meetings. But not all! If you are an advocate of the stakeholder model then maybe you should make sure that your governing body has student representation. Some may argue that having parent governors is one way of giving voice to students but those of us who are parents will know that what parents think and want may be very different from what the children do!
Now, let’s turn to the skill based model. What do we mean by that? Do we want a governing body totally composed of lawyers, accountants, people from a business background? What we forget is that it may not be appropriate for the governing body to use the “day job” skills of these people. Are we looking for people to provide free legal advice or free financial advice? Absolutely not!
So, what IS it that we want and need? We actually need people who know when the governing body needs legal advice or when the governing body needs to seek financial advice. We need people with what Clare Collins has termed as soft skills. We need people to be able to read and understand basic data. We need people who are team players. We need people who have community awareness. We need people who are not afraid of asking questions. We need people who are not afraid of having challenging conversations. We need people who can link different types of information, make connections between these different types of information and then ask questions and draw conclusions. We need people who have the skill to see the trees for the forest. We need people who have good communications skills, including the skill to listen. We need people who know how to negotiate. We need people who know how to mediate. We need people who can mentor new governors and help them to realise their potential. A tall order, I hear you say as it will be well nigh impossible to get people who possess all these skills. The thing to remember is that the governing does need all these skills so when we appoint governors (be they stakeholders or not) we should do it in such a way that the governing body ends up as a body with all these skills.