2014 was a year in which governance made the news rather frequently. Some of the headlines concerning governance were somewhat worrying and some not. Notably, the Trojan Horse galloped through schools in Birmingham, the echoes of which are still being heard! There was a great deal of talk about British values but no one could agree on one clear definition or even if “these” values were uniquely British.
Image courtesy of renjith krishnan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
The Wellcome Trust wrote to Chairs of Governors of secondary schools highlighting free resources for practical science education.
In January, DfE initiated a consultation on changes to School Governance Constitution Regulations and associated statutory guidance in a drive to increase the focus on skills of governors. The key change proposed was that governing bodies of maintained schools would be required to reconstitute by September 2015. Departmental advice on Governance (Roles, Procedures and Allowances) (England) Regulations 2013 was also published as was an updated version of the Governors’ Handbook. The Handbook would be revised again later in the year.
On 31st January Sir Michael Wilshaw announced the start of one day, unannounced Ofsted visits to schools where there were concerns regarding behaviour.
There was a great deal of discussion regarding the lack of female headteachers and whether this was because governing bodies were reluctant to employ women in these key positions.
Birmingham City Council announced it had received an anonymous letter alleging a plot (termed Operation Trojan Horse) by some hard-line Muslim groups to take over schools in the city. Park View Academy received a snap inspection and Dfe announced that it was investigating allegations that Operation Trojan Horse had targeted 12 schools.
Lord Nash, while speaking at the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Education Governance and Leadership on Monday 17 March, emphasised that, in his opinion, governing bodies were not different from Boards of Directors. As such the emphasis should be on skills which, in the past, had sometimes taken a back seat to stakeholder representation. During his address Professor Chris James (University of Bath) said, “The governing environment is a thoroughly enjoyable one as well as being challenging. People learn new skills to then take back into the workplace. This can be a virtuous cycle.”
March also saw the launch of the NGA/University of Bath survey into the state of school governance.
Sir Michael Wilshaw proposed light touch inspections for schools rated good (one day inspections, once every two years).
Former Education Secretary, Estelle Morris, called for mandatory training for governors to ensure effective governance, a view supported by 90% of governors in the annual TES/NGA survey. She emphasised the need to resolve the conflict between having a local voice on governing bodies and having governors with skills to provide strategic leadership. She also asked governing bodies to consider whether forming alliances with other governing bodies was a way to address capacity issues.
Birmingham City Council announced an investigation into 25 schools and appointed former headteacher Ian Kershaw to lead the investigation. Council leader Sir Albert Bore said he did not believe that there was a plot. DfE appointed Peter Clarke, the former national head of counter terrorism, to lead an inquiry. Sir Michael Wilshaw took charge of Ofsted’s investigation of these schools.
Lord Nash invited governors who had received national honours and representatives of governor organisations to the House of Lords.
NGA launched a pilot of a new resource, from Wellcome Trust for secondary school governors. This contained background information and questions governors could ask when monitoring science and maths at their schools.
The Report on the survey carried out by NGA and University of Bath was published. Over 7500 governors participated making it the largest survey of governors to date. The key findings were that overall governance is functioning well and is improving but is becoming more challenging. Governors contribute in excess of £ 1 billion in unpaid services. Governors need a range of skills. Recruitment is becoming a problem, especially in challenging schools.
May saw the launch of the Inspiring Governors Alliance, which alms to encourage more skilled people to volunteer as governors. Opening the event, Michael Gove encouraged people to become governors and said that as this would increase their happiness and make other people’s lives better “It is a shared enterprise and how could anyone possibly say no.” He told employers addressing employers, “There is no excuse: if you care about employability of young people you must get involved in governance.” However, the part of his speech which received the greatest attention and coverage was when he said ‘The thing about being a governor is that it’s not just a touchy feely, sherry pouring, cake slicing exercise in hugging each other and singing Kumbayah. The whole point of being a governor is that you ask tough questions.” This had governors up in arms! Emma Knights, Chief Executive, NGA wrote to Michael Gove saying, “Language which paints a ridiculous picture of current governance practice could also seriously undermine the alliance’s drive to attract new volunteers.”
DfE updated the Governors’ Handbook. There was a new section on changes to the School Governance, more information on the difference between strategic operational matters and updated information on external reviews of governance and careers advice. This updated version would be revised again!
Amendments to the School Governance Constitution and Federation Regulations were laid before Parliament. DfE published statutory guidance on the constitution of LA maintained schools. The amendments require all governing bodies of LA maintained schools to be constituted under the 2012 Constitution Regulations or the 2012 Federation Regulations, as appropriate, by 1 September 2015.
Prospects Academy Trust became the first trust to close.
Ofsted published reports on 21 Birmingham schools, placing five in special measures; a sixth one remained in special measures. Sir Michael Wilshaw wrote to SoS setting out his findings. He observed that some governors had “inappropriate influence on policy and the day-to-day running”. He made the following recommendations.
Mandatory training for governors be considered
Professional governors where governance was weak
Schools should be required to publish registers of governors’ interests.
EFA found serious issues with governance at Park View and Oldknow and that the funding agreements had been breached. Lord Nash wrote to Park View to inform them of the Secretary of State’s intention to terminate the agreement and to Oldknow to say that the agreement would be terminated unless the Trust implemented certain measures.
Ofsted announced that it would bring inspections in-house, giving it more control over the training of inspectors and quality assurance.
DfE launched a consultation on strengthening powers to intervene in independent schools failing to promote British values.
Michael Gove replied to Emma Knights’ letter (see above) saying governing bodies had his respect and admiration.
Sir Michael Wilshaw in giving evidence to the Education Select Committee said while there was no evidence of extremism there was promotion of a culture which, if left unchecked, could give rise to extremism. He also called for governing bodies to have professional governors saying that “we have relied on amateurish governance to do a professional job.”
Francis Maude talking about how to keep schools open during teachers’ strike said, “For example, governors, who will all be vetted and have clearance, could go in and act as volunteers to supervise and just to enable the school to stay open.”
July saw Gove being replaced by Nicky Morgan in the cabinet reshuffle. Nick Gibb returned while Lord Nash, David Laws and Edward Timpson stayed in their posts.
Trustees of Park View Education Trust resigned.
I met Mike Cladingbowl and discussed governance with him. This was a series of meetings Mike and Sean Harford have been having with a view to encouraging a two way dialogue between Ofsted and people in education.
Ofsted published new guidance on school inspections.
Education Select Committee heard evidence from Ian Kershaw, Peter Clarke, Councillor Brigid Jones and Mark Rogers (Chief Executive Birmingham Council).
Ian Kershaw: Due to stretched resources the council ignored schools which were good or outstanding. A professional clerk was important. LA governors should be given the task of auditing and risk assessment. Graham Stuart disagreed, saying from his experience this is the last thing he would want LA governors to do. NGA agrees as this would undermine collective accountability.
Peter Clarke: Academy conversion was an “opaque” process. MATS quickly became multi million pound enterprises and needed people with requisite skills.
Mark Rogers: Balance of accountability needed to be correct. A poorly performing head when challenged by governors may feel bullied. Governors were usually right and needed to be able to challenge. A knee jerk reaction may miss this distinction.
Lord Nash wrote to Chairs of governing bodies emphasising the need for recruiting for skills, importance of training and the benefits of academy status.
The Governors’ Handbook was revised again. The updated version has a more detailed explanation of governors’ duties, in light of Trojan Horse inquiries, in setting the ethos for their schools keeping in mind fundamental ‘British values’.
Research published by the Committee suggested that tighter control was needed to manage conflicts of interests in academy trusts.
Ofsted launched a consultation on proposals to change the way it inspects various institutions.
Lord Nash wrote to Directors of Children’s Services stating that reconstitution should not be treated as a paper exercise. When reconstituting governing bodies the priority should be to ensure that they are no bigger than they need to be and that governors are appointed for their skills. He also made the point that LA governors, too, should be appointed for skills and that to link the right to nominate LA governors to the local balance of political power was an “unacceptable practice“.
Sir Michael Wilshaw wrote to Nicky Morgan after the first monitoring visits to the schools in special measures in Birmingham. He recommended that DfE
should consider how governors and trustees in these schools could be changed quickly
should review responsibilities to draw up effective improvement plans in those cases where governance was inadequate
ensure that local authorities and the Department for Education consistently carry out their statutory responsibilities for safeguarding children in schools
ensure that the local authority promptly shares its single integrated plan with Ofsted.
Lord Nash wrote to diocesan directors of education about reconstitution of governing bodies. He told them that expectations of foundation governors should be set high and they should be recruited on the basis of skills. He said, “I believe governing bodies cannot function fully effectively if they carry passengers” and added, “the watchword should be children before adults.”
Nicky Morgan appeared before the Education Select Committee during the session on extremism. She emphasised the importance of skills but, in response to question about Sir Michael Wilashaw’s suggestion that more governors should come from an educational background, she said she was happy with the status quo. She said she would not allow the inspection of chains as Ofsted had the powers it needed to inspect governance and that DfE had no plans to change the law on collective worship. She appeared again before the Committee during its inquiry into Academies and Free schools. There was discussion about the role of Regional School Commissioners and Headteacher Boards. She said again that Ofsted did not need more powers to examine chains.
The National Audit Office published its report on EFA’s oversight of related party transactions at Durand Academy. It found instances of undisclosed conflicts of interests. The Public Accounts Committee heard evidence from, amongst others, Emma Knights. She said that the autonomous nature of academies meant that the oversight role of governance became more important. She said the speed of conversion in some cases meant that the governance structures weren’t looked at properly. The rapidity of expansion of some MATs also meant that governance arrangements and schemes of delegations had not been properly considered.
NCTL published a survey report into the effectiveness of NLG’s. The survey found that 85% of chairs/headteachers felt that the NLG support met their needs.
Ofsted announced that no-notice inspections would not become routine.
The APPG Chair, Neil Carmichael MP, during a meeting of the group, explained his new bill on school governor appointments.
Ofsted published its Annual Report raising concerns about behaviour and performance of secondary schools.
And with this 2014 drew to a close. I think it would be fitting to end by quoting Graham Stuart MP, Chair of the Education Select Committee. While speaking at the “A New World of School Governance”, a joint NGA/BELMAS Conference in Birmingham, he said, “Governance is now almost sexy”!!