The Department of Education issued advice for school leaders and governing bodies of maintained schools and management committees of PRUs on 13th January 2014. This non-statutory advice replaces Statutory Guidance on the School Governance (Procedures) (England) Regulations 2003. (It also replaces the non-statutory guidance: Paying Allowances to School Governors 2003).
Board of Governors
The Guidance uses the term “Board of Governors”. The term “Board of Governors” is gradually replacing the term “governing body”. The idea behind this change is that the governing body is the non-executive leadership of the school. It operates in a way which is similar to that of a board of directors of a company or a board of trustees of a charity and therefore should be referred to as the “Board”. Read what Clare Collins has to say about this here. I personally do like the idea of serving on a Board than on a body.
Relationship between the Head and the Board
The role of the Board and the Head and the relationship between the two is, or should be, clear. I particularly like the following sentence.
Having advised the board, the headteacher must comply with any reasonable direction given by it. (My emphasis)
Some Heads need reminding of the above!
Although it has been mentioned in The Governors’ Handbook, I’m glad that the guidance also makes the point that governors should not just rely on the headteacher to provide them with information. They must go through the data themselves (the advice is to do this at least annually) and use school visits to verify information.
Governing Boards are accountable to Ofsted. Governors are now part of the Leadership and Management and the judgement on governance affects the Leadership and Management judgement, which is the way it should be. If we are to hold the school leadership to account we must be prepared for this ourselves. The guidance states that it is good practice for Governing Boards to publish an annual governance statement in the same way as Academy Trusts are required to do. What I particularly like is the fact that guidance states that such a statement should talk about the effectiveness and impact of the Board and include a statement about the attendance of governors at Board and Committee meetings. We all know or have heard of governors who regularly miss meetings. If Boards were required to publish attendance data, it may go some way in rectifying this. This is something I wish would become statutory!
The Guidance also states that it good practice for Boards to carry out some form of self evaluation. This can be done in various ways, such as the APPG’s 20 questions or the Ofsted framework. Self evaluation will either reassure you that you are functioning as you should be or it will highlight shortcomings which can then be dealt with. I would also advice Boards to consider external reviews of governance, especially if there is a danger that Ofsted may ask for it to be done.
The advice to devise a scheme of delegation is a very good one. It helps everybody understand if responsibility for a particular action rests with the whole Board, committee or individual. It may also be a way to ensure everyone’s involvement.
Role of Chair/Vice Chair
The advice states that it may be possible to appoint more than one person as Chair or Vice Chair. In other words you could have, for example, two people, “job sharing”. Regulations, however, talk about “a” Chair. I am hoping that DfE would clarify this at some point. (Read what Clerk to Governors has to say about this. I’m not a great fan of this idea. I can see many problems with this. How will you decide who will be Chair when? Why stop at two, why not have three or four or more people as Chair?!
The advice does, however, make few good points. It says the emphasis should be on skills and not willingness to stand for election. It also points out the need for good succession planning. It also advices Boards to consider how many times will they allow a person to stand as Chair. The advice goes on to say that the Board may like to consider advertising the position and appointing someone from outside the Board. If a Board finds that none of the current members are willing to serve as Chair or lack the skills to do so, then this may be a way to solve the problem. Obviously, it will need for everyone to be “on board”! You will have to first agree that this is what you want to do. Then comes the advertising and selection process. The successful person will then need to be appointed to the Board before they could be elected as Chair. (Note that you will still need to hold an election).
Role of Clerk
The departmental advice states what governors know and have always maintained; a good professional clerk is essential. The advice points out that Boards should be prepared to pay professional clerks an appropriate salary. There are still some Boards that either do not employ a professional clerk or employ someone only for full board meetings only. This, in my opinion, is a false economy. A good clerk is more than just a minute taker. A good clerk will be able to advice the governors about their roles, responsibilities and points of law. The majority of the work should be happening at committee level so committees need to be clerked professionally too.
Academy Boards of Directors are allowed, by virtue of Articles, to participate in meetings via conference calls or other similar methods. This has now been allowed for other Boards as well. The advice makes it clear that proxy voting or voting in advance is not permitted. A governor will need to be present “virtually” in order to cast a vote. I’m glad that the guidance has made this clear.
Clerk to Governors on what Chairs of Governors could learn from Board Chairs.
Ruth Agnew’s blog on virtual governance.