15th May 2014 was a busy day for governors following various announcements and news items concerning governance. One of the documents published today was the Statutory Guidance for governing bodies of maintained schools and LA’s. The guidance concerns the duties relating to the constitution of governing bodies (GB’s). The Guidance makes it clear that GB’s and LA’s “must have regard” to the guidance (emphasis by the DfE!).
So, the highlights (at least for me!)
1. Size of Governing Bodies
The Guidance states that GB’s should not be bigger than they need to be in order to carry out their roles and responsibilities. The Guidance makes the point that smaller IEB’s are cohesive and focused. The size of the GB should be such that all governors are able to contribute. This is an important point. When GB’s are larger, some members may not contribute but because it’s a large body someone or the other can do the work. A smaller GB will find it difficult to “carry” someone who does not do his/her fair share of the work. Some governors feel that smaller GB’s mean they will face difficulties if they need to form committees (especially those dealing with exclusions or disciplinary matters). The Guidance points out that this problem can be overcome in two ways. A GB can establish a new committee for this purpose and appoint associate members to this committee (in this case the associate governor may have a vote while attending their committee but not during GB meetings). Another possibility is to establish a joint committee with another GB. This is said to increase the strategic focus and creates robust accountability as governors are able to compare and contrast schools. I haven’t come across this. If you have, please comment on how that worked for you. The Guidance points out the benefits of a GB re-evaluating its constitution, especially if things are not as they should be (for example after an Ofsted inspection or an external review).
The GB must not be smaller than seven members and must include
- At least two parent governors
- The headteacher unless the headteacher resigns as a governor
- One, and only one staff governor (my emphasis)
- One and only one LA governor (my emphasis)
2. Membership of Governing Bodies
The Guidance states that a vacancy on the GB is a good time to see if someone who has a skill which is needed by the GB can be appointed
“Once appointed or elected, all governors must operate in the best interest of pupils, not as representatives to lobby on behalf of their constituency.”
This probably is my favourite sentence in the guidance! Too many times people think that because they are elected to the GB, they represent that particular constituency. Election is just a mechanism of appointment. Once appointed then the duty of the governor is to make sure that the interests of the pupils are what matter. The Guidance concedes that engagement with various stakeholders is important but makes the point that this is not guaranteed by having governors from various stakeholder groups on the GB. The first and foremost consideration has to be the skills that governors bring to the GB.
3. Election of Governors
The Guidance expects GB’s and LA’s to make clear expectations and credentials of prospective governors. This can be done by publishing recruitment literature which spells out
- Core purpose of the GB
- Roles and responsibilities of governors
- Term of office
- Frequency of meetings
- Training which is available
- Any specific skill which the GB needs
In order to make clear what the role is, prospective candidates can be asked to attend a GB meeting, meet with the Chair, other governors and the headteacher.
The Guidance also states that well run elections will allow candidates the opportunity to publish a statement of intent. It would seem that the GB can ask candidates for a statement which should address the following
- Evidence that the candidate possesses the skills and experience needed by the GB
- Commitment to skill up
- Those who are seeking re-election should write about their contribution to the GB to date
- How they will contribute in the future
The Guidance does make it clear that the above should not be considered as additional eligibility criteria as GB’s cannot change or add additional criteria. The purpose of publishing the above is to make it clear to the electorate the expectations and requirements of the GB. This will hopefully help the electorate in making an informed choice.
The Guidance makes it clear that once elected governors cannot be removed from the GB even if they are ineffective and are unable to develop skills. It is for this reason that the Guidance says that the role and expectations should be made clear beforehand and the candidates agreement to the code of practice secured. The Guidance also makes clear that role of the staff governors, like that of other governors, is to hold the headteacher to account. They need to be absolutely clear that they do not represent other staff members nor are they to stand alongside the headteacher in being held to account.
4. Importance of skills
Regulations emphasise the importance of having people on GB’s who have the requisite skills. The size of the GB should be such that it has all the available skills at its disposal
- The core functions of GB’s is to provide strategic leadership, holding the headteacher to account and making sure the finances are well spent. These are demanding tasks and therefore the GB needs to have on board people with the skills to carry out these functions
- The membership of the GB’s should focus on skills
- Current and prospective governors should be committed to CPD
- If there is a vacancy the GB should do all that it can to recruit someone with the skills the GB has determined it needs
- GB’s should carry out skills audits. This will identify which skills are present and which ones are lacking. This can help in recruitment of new governors as detailed above
The particular skills which are needed will depend on the particular challenges faced by GB’s. The Guidance lists some of the skills a GB may want its members to have. These are
- Good inter-personal skills
- Appropriate literacy skills
- Numeracy skills
- Data analysis skills
- Financial skills
- Skills to carry out performance management
- Skills to deal with employment issues, including grievances
This is what the Guidance has to say about governor training; the numbers in brackets refer to the para numbers of the Guidance,
- The guidance states that governors should develop appropriate skills which will let them carry out their core duties (10)
- All current and prospective governors should commit to CPD (12)
- GB’s may interpret the word skill to include the ability and willingness to learn new skills (16)
- It is the GB’s responsibility to identify and arrange training, including induction, for all governors. A budget should be set aside for this. Expectation that governors would attend training should be included in the code of practice and if a governor persistently violates the code, the GB can consider suspension as the governor may be potentially bringing the GB into disrepute. (19) I think this is the next best thing to making training mandatory. Now, the onus is on GB’s to make sure that the expectation to attend training is embedded in the code of conduct.
- The GB should make it clear to prospective candidates standing for election, the expectation that if elected they would be required to undertake training (20).
- The prospective candidates should be given an opportunity to set out their manifesto making it clear that they are committed to attend training (21)
I am pleased that this guidance has addressed some issues. It makes it clear that irrespective of the route used to get appointed to a governing body, once there all governors should ensure that whatever they do in the interest of students. After all, that is our one and only remit!