Skilled stakeholder governing body matters

Those of you who have read my previous posts or follow me on Twitter may know I place great importance on having highly skilled governors on the governing body. I have previously written about qualities which make a person the “right governor” and the skills which these people possess. Over the past few months I have been thinking about how we could get a governing board which has the governors with the requisite skills. In other words, how do we ensure that every person on the board is someone with the skill, knowledge and ability necessary to be the “right governor”? I keep coming up with the same answer which is that for a board to have the “right” governors we need to appoint people who have these skills or who are willing to attend training and “skill up”.

Image courtesy of PinkBlue / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

My problem with the stakeholder model is that we have to keep our fingers crossed that the stakeholder we get will be the “right governor. I don’t doubt that the stakeholders have an interest in the school. The problem is that sometimes this interest is not in the interest of the governing board! Staff governors may feel that they cannot go against the will of the Head, especially an autocratic Head. The parent governors may feel that for the sake of their children they cannot rock the boat.

My second problem with this model is that if things go wrong then there is practically nothing the governing board can do to remove the elected stakeholders. These governors can, if they so wish, stay on for the entire four year term. In days of old when governing bodies were large, many having more than 20 governors, it may have been possible to function with a governor who really should not have been there. Nowadays, the governing board is a smaller body and therefore cannot afford to carry a governor who is not fully on board! Four years is a lifetime as far as governing boards are concerned and certainly as far as the education of our children is concerned. Before anyone thinks I’m against parent or staff governors, let me make it clear that I’m not. I, after all, started as a parent governor.

My third problem is that the discussion of the stakeholder versus skill based model of governance ignores one fact. A stakeholder is defined as

A person with an interest or concern in something, especially a business

denoting a type of organization or system in which all the members or participants are seen as having an interest in its success:

As far as I’m concerned everyone who decides to become a governor has a stake in that school and  is a stakeholder, so they should all be treated in the same way.  I feel that if we are to move to a more “business like governing board” we must treat all governors as board members who are equally accountable, irrespective of the route by which they entered the board room.

So, how do we achieve this? Well, by moving away from the stakeholder model and adopting the “skilled stakeholder” model. In practical terms this would mean that governors should be appointed but each  of the categories would still remain. When a vacancy arises, be it for a LA governor, staff governor or parent governor, the board would invite applications from that particular constituency making it clear what type of person they are looking for. The board would interview and then appoint the applicant who, in its opinion, is best suited to be appointed. As part of the process, the newly appointed governor would be expected to undertake training with the induction training to be completed within an agreed time frame. (This would apply to the Head too as many a times Heads think they do not need governance training.)

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This way the board would still have stakeholder governors but they would now be appointed rather than elected and all governors would be treated equally. Academies already have this freedom as far as staff governors are concerned. The Trust is at liberty to decide how staff governors join the board, through election or through appointment by the Trust. So, in academies one type of stakeholder governor (the staff governor) may be treated differently to the other type of stakeholder governor (parent governor). This also happens for parent governors in non-academy schools under certain conditions. If, at the time of election, there are no candidates, then the governing body can appoint a parent to the position. So, the practice of appointing stakeholder governors isn’t an alien or novel one.

Some people think that this method would result in people not coming forward. The way I see it, it would be better to “run light” than to chance having a governor who should not be on the board. One more thing I should make clear is that not everyone has the skills when they join the board. The important thing is to appoint people who have the commitment to become the “right” governor through training and to have the ability to be able to remove those who don’t.

We will then be able to ensure we get a highly skilled board and not leave it to chance!

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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