Governor training. Yes, again because it really does matter

I was asked by @ParitorQuorum to write a piece on governor training. This was originally published by them under the title “Volunteer, not an amateur” and is reproduced below with their permission.

School governance is in the spotlight as never before. A main theme in the current discussion centres on schools having boards which act professionally in the best interests of the students. For a board to be truly effective, the board members need to understand and appreciate what is required of them. School governing boards have three statutory duties which are:

  • Ensuring the clarity of vision, ethos and strategic direction
  • Holding the headteacher to account for the performance of the students and the school
  • Ensuring that the money and resources are well spent

What is Expected of Governing Boards?

When appointing governors it is now expected that the board will take into consideration the skills that are lacking and make appointments which would address this. However, appointing governors with the needed skills is only half the story. Training is crucial if the board is to function as an effective board. In its Report on The Role of School Governing Bodies, The Education Select Committee stated:

“In order to improve the quality of governance in all schools, the Government must stress the importance of continuing professional development for all governors and headteachers. Our recommendation that the Government should introduce a requirement for schools to offer mandatory training to all new governors reflects the high priority attributed to training and development in the evidence we received.”

The guidance regarding training issued by the department has been made progressively tighter. In Jan 2014 the Governors’ Handbook stated:

“Good chairs of governors set out clearly what they expect of their governors, particularly when they first join the governing body Good governing bodies also carry out regular audits of governors’ skills in the light of the skills and competences they need, and actively seek to address any gaps they identify – either through recruitment or training.”

Governing bodies are responsible for approving the school budget and, within that, they should make provision for meeting their own training and clerking needs.

The May 2014 Handbook increased the emphasis yet again by stating:

“Good governing bodies set out clearly what they expect of their governors, particularly when they first join the governing body. The governing body’s code of conduct should set an ethos of professionalism and high expectations of governors’ role, including an expectation that they undertake whatever training or development activity is needed to fill any gaps in the skills they have to contribute to effective governance. If a governor fails persistently to do this, then they will be in breach of the code of conduct and may bring the governing body or the office of a governor into disrepute – and as such provide grounds for the governing body to consider suspension.

Good governing bodies also carry out regular audits of governors’ skills in the light of the skills and competences they need, and actively seek to address any gaps they identify – either through recruitment or training. They have succession plans in place and develop future leaders by identifying and nurturing talent and sharing responsibility. It is for governing bodies to identify training and development opportunities and select those that meet their needs.

Governing bodies are responsible for approving the school budget and, within that, they should make provision for meeting their own training and clerking needs.”

The latest version was issued in September 2014. This version introduced the concept of a “skills or training governor:

“Good governing bodies set out clearly what they expect of their governors, particularly when they first join the governing body. The governing body’s code of conduct should set an ethos of professionalism and high expectations of governors’ role, including an expectation that they undertake whatever training or development activity is needed to fill any gaps in the skills they have to contribute to effective governance. If a governor fails persistently to do this, then they will be in breach of the code of conduct and may bring the governing body or the office of a governor into disrepute – and as such provide grounds for the governing body to consider suspension.

Good governing bodies also carry out regular audits of governors’ skills in the light of the skills and competences they need, and actively seek to address any gaps they identify – through either recruitment or training. They have succession plans in place and develop future leaders by identifying and nurturing talent and sharing responsibility. It is for governing bodies to identify training and development opportunities and select those that meet their needs.

Governing bodies should consider giving the vice-chair or another governor a specific responsibility for ensuring every governor develops the skills they need to be effective. Rather than simply track governors’ attendance at training courses, with administrative support from the clerk, this governor would be responsible for ensuring that every new and existing governor develops their skills to make an active and valuable contribution to the work of the governing body. Any persistent skills gaps across the governing body or for individual governors should be brought to the attention of the chair.

Governing bodies are responsible for approving the school budget and, within that, they should make provision for meeting their own training and clerking needs.”

It is clear from the above, that greater emphasis is now being placed on training. In a letter that Lord Nash recently wrote to all chairs of governors, he reiterated the importance of training by noting:

“It is also important to make sure your governors and clerk undertake as necessary appropriate high quality induction and ongoing training and development. Most governors will recognise the need for and be willing to undertake suitable training. Some, however, may not. A misunderstanding of the nature of their role or lack of skills to deliver it effectively may lead to a governor bringing the governing body into disrepute or acting outside of the professional ethos I would expect you to maintain. Should this occur, the governor may be suspended from their duties while the situation is addressed.”

Why is training essential?

Leaving aside directives from above, governors must undertake training not because the Department expects it but because by doing so they will ensure they become effective members of the board. Training will enable governors to have a greater appreciation of what is expected of them and will equip them with the tools necessary to carry out their functions. New governors will find attending induction courses especially useful as it will help them understand the role of a “critical friend”. Training will also enable governors to understand that some of them wear two hats; ie a governor hat and a parent/staff hat. Training will help governors understand the importance of taking off the parent/staff hat when entering the board room or conducting board business.

Governors who serve on boards of academies have to follow company and charity laws. Training courses will help them understand their duties as directors and trustees.

Governors are responsible for strategic direction of the school and must leave the operational decisions to the head. This is an area which many governors, especially new governors, find hard to negotiate. Sometimes the boundaries are not clear. At other times what you might at first consider to be strategic is actually operational. Attending training makes it easier to understand and tell the difference.

Governors need to be able to understand data in order to be able to monitor progress students are making. Training courses will help governors understand this data and how to interpret it.

Governors carrying out specific duties, such as safeguarding and performance management of the head to name but two, should attend the appropriate courses which will allow them to carry out these duties.

There are courses which will help governors ensure that their board and committees are effective and efficient. These courses will help governors understand what makes an effective board and how to structure committees so that the board operates in the most effective and efficient way.

WHY ARE SOME GOVERNORS RELUCTANT TO ATTEND TRAINING SESSIONS?

As is clear from the above, it is essential that governors attend training. However, many do not, which is why boards are being advised of the steps they can take to encourage governors to do so and the possible sanctions which may be applied if they do not. At this point it may be worth noting that governors themselves and NGA would like training to be made mandatory. The Department to date has resisted these calls. It is therefore up to individual boards to make sure that their governors are trained to perform the job to the best of their abilities.

The reasons given by governors for not attending training are many and varied. Some governors see attending these courses as taking money away from the school and the students. Such governors must be made to realise that allocating some money from the budget for governor CPD actually benefits the students and school as it helps them become a better, more effective governor. Governor CPD is as important as staff CPD and both equally essential.

Some governors think that their day job means they already have the necessary skills and therefore do not need to attend training. Again, governors must realise that they are not appointed to the board to provide “cheap labour”. The skills they bring to the board will be useful in performing their duties but they do need training to understand the nature of school governing boards.

Many governors say that they find it difficult to attend courses due to time constrains. This argument is why it is essential that anyone thinking of joining a board first considers if he/she has the time to do the job properly; this includes attending training. There are online courses available which people can do at their convenience. The board, if it chooses, can also arrange for whole board training at the weekends.

The educational landscape is changing rapidly and governors need to be aware of these changes. Ofsted now do ask to look at governor training records. As Lord Nash once remarked, we are volunteers but that does not mean we should be amateurs. The only way we can stop being amateurs is by ensuring that every governor on our board attends training.

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2 thoughts on “Governor training. Yes, again because it really does matter

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

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