Having skilled stakeholders on the board matters

Governance is undergoing quite significant changes. How governing bodies perform is under scrutiny as never before. There is also a shift to making governing bodies (and the preferred term is now governing boards) more skilled based bodies. Advocates of the stakeholder model are dismayed by this. They see this as reducing stakeholder engagement, accountability, democracy and local representation. I, personally, think the stakeholder model has had its day and I am quite happy to move towards a skill based model. (By the way I consider every governor to be a stakeholder. We wouldn’t agree to be appointed as governors if we didn’t feel we had a “stake” in the success of the school). My biggest problem with the stakeholder model is the fact that the elected governors are by and large untouchable! The Governing Board cannot remove an elected governor; the most that can be done is suspension. (In Academies you can use Company Law to remove a Director but this is quite draconian and should only be used as a last resort). If an elected governor does not perform his/her statutory duties there is almost nothing the board can do except wait for the governor’s term of office to end. As most governors are elected for four years this means the board will have to carry an ineffective governor for four years which is a long time (more than half the time a student will spend in a primary or secondary school!). The Department has been trying to make it clear that “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 is a very important statement and it is because of this I think that the stakeholder model should be replaced by a different model. The model I propose can be termed as the “Skilled stakeholder model”. So, what would this board look like?

Size

I think in the past governing bodies have been too large and unwieldy. A board of 7-12 governors, I think would be ideal. It is not too small or too big.

Parent Governors

In my model there would still be two parent governors but these would be appointed governors. This would ensure that there is parental engagement but the board does not have to keep its fingers crossed that people with the needed skills will get elected! This also means that the board will not have to wait for the term to end in four years for an ineffective governor to leave. I have heard many colleagues say that they find it very hard to recruit parent governors as no one puts themselves forward for election. Appointing parent governors this way may help solve the problem as people usually find it hard to say no when approached directly. As far as democracy and parent voice is concerned, the turnout in every parent governor election I know of has been very poor. Taking into consideration the fact that not all schools are able to find parents willing to stand for election and the low turnout isn’t it better to appoint rather than elect parent governors?

Staff Governors

Maintained schools will now have only one staff governor. I would keep this as is but again this category would change from an elected governor to an appointed one which would ensure that the governor with the needed skills is appointed. Academies already have the freedom to appoint staff governors using a procedure of their choice and do not necessarily have to hold elections. I would extend this freedom to all schools. It may also be a way of making sure that support staff become governors too if they have the needed skills.

LA Governors

The Department has now given governing bodies the right to wait till they have the candidate they require before appointing the LA Governor. The nomination is still by the LA but the governing body can set the eligibility criteria. My skilled stakeholder model will use the same procedure when appointing LA governors.

Foundation Governors

In my model governors in this category would also be appointed by the board in the same way as LA governors..

Partnership and co-opted governors

These are currently appointed and in my model would continue to be so.

Headteacher as governor

My view is the same as that of the NGA’s. One of the functions of the Board is to hold the Head to account. It therefore follows that the Head should not be part of the body which is holding him/her to account. The Board would expect the Head to attend all meetings.

Appointment Procedure

The Board would advertise the vacancy making clear what the Board is looking for, a person specification and job description, if you like. The prospective candidates would be asked to meet with the Chair/Vice Chair and Head (not for staff governors). From September my Local Authority is offering a course for prospective governors. This is one of the best things they could have done. In an ideal world this course would be available to everyone. Candidates would be expected to attend this before applying. Till this happen, a meting with the Chair/Vice Chair/Head will be used to make the prospective candidate aware of what is involved. In maintained schools the governing body will be appointing authority and in Academies the Members, as is the case at the present.

And there you have it, my recipe for the dream team of governors! This model, I think, will mean there is no weak link in the chain which can only be a good thing!

UPDATE:

Following the publication of this post, I had a Twitter discussion with Andrew Wilkins which is reproduced below.

 

https://twitter.com/5N_Afzal/status/487145827396485120 wa

The other thing which happened soon after was Sir Michael Wilshaw’s statement before the Education Select Committee in which he said he would like two “professionals” on boards of “amateur” governors. He said he would like ex-Heads and HMI’s to sit on these boards and be paid to do so. That’s a whole different blog!

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11 thoughts on “Having skilled stakeholders on the board matters

    1. governingmatters Post author

      Thanks for the reblog. I think the present day model of the stakeholder has had its day. Whether we keep some form of stakeholder representation (as in my model) remains to be seen. It is interesting that the number of staff governors has been reduced to “one and only one”!! Sign of things to come?

      Reply
  1. The Green Clerk

    Schools are already recruiting for skills on the GB and schools are taking more care over elections to ensure prospective governors know what is expected and what the school’s needs are.

    Reply
    1. governingmatters Post author

      Thanks for the comment. What is happening now is a step in the right direction. My problem with this is that you can’t recruit for skills you need as far as elected governors are concerned. You can specify the skills you need, you can even invite prospective candidates to meet with the GB before election but you can’t make that a pre-requisite. My second problem is you can’t remove ineffective elected governors as you can appointed ones.

      Reply
  2. Parent Governor, elected

    I am a Parent Governor who was unlawfully suspended. The GB was operating in a highly dysfunctional manner and had been without a clerk for some time. Consequently, I believe the suspension was because I challenged the status quo of the board. If my colleagues could have removed me using their unlawful process, I have no doubt that they would have done!

    I am reluctant to support the appointment, rather than election, of Parent and Staff governors because the process of appointing presupposes “cherry picking”. A board is hardly likely to appoint a parent or staff governor who is known to have an opposing view to the majority. Yet it is often only that opposing view that can break up complacency and effect positive change. And cherry picking of Parent Governors already occurs far too often. It certainly has in my governance school.

    I do realise that your concern is with “lazy” elected members who are not pulling their weight. In my experience, it has been the appointed members, Community and LA governors, who have been put in place to “make up the numbers”, who do not do their fair share of the work, rather than the Parent or Staff governors who were nominated and gave their willing consent for such. Similarly it has been those former categories who do not attend training or fulfill other responsibilities associated with their delegated duties.

    Reply
    1. governingmatters Post author

      Thank you for your comment. It is good to have a debate around these issues. I have no problem with electing governors per se. What worries me is that there is no way to remove elected governors if that is in the best interest of the students, school and board.

      Reply
  3. Parent Governor, elected

    Yes, I do understand your point. Suspension would temporarily remove a disruptive governor but that still does not solve the problem of a lazy governor who does not pull their weight because the position cannot be filled while they continue to serve their tenure. As I said, in my experience at least, that is a rare situation. A chat from the Chair might secure a voluntary resignation? It may also reveal that the Governor needs further support to fulfill their role effectively.

    What concerns me far more pertinently, I feel, is that, by the process of appointment, a very one-sided view point can result which is detrimental to pupils, the school and the board in the long run. If a Governor cannot express an opposing view for fear of being removed then constructive debate is stifled and the nodding donkey model prevails. Or worse, the mushroom method… keep them in the dark and feed them manure!

    Reply
    1. governingmatters Post author

      I see where you are coming from but if the board will not tolerate opposing views then there are bigger problems there which would not be solved by having elected governors.

      Reply
  4. Pingback: Sir Michael Wilshaw’s views on governance matter | Governing Matters

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