It was recently reported that Russell Hobby of the National Association of Headteachers thinks that the fact that there is no central register of governors is a “worrying gap”. David Simmonds (chairman of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board) said the Trojan Horse affair showed that a “high degree of transparency” over who was serving on the board of governors of schools was needed (read the news report here).
How big is this “worrying gap”?
Actually, its not that big. Academies are required to register their governors at Companies House and that record is available for anyone to read/check. This information is also published in the Annual Accounts. Most local authorities hold records of maintained school governors.
Can the register stop a horse in its track?
While I agree that there should be complete transparency over board appointments, I don’t think a central register of governors is necessarily the way to do it. Will having names on a register prevent “radical” governors taking over boards? Could the Trojan Horse problems have been prevented if the names of governors of these schools were on a list somewhere in the Department for Education? I doubt it. How will putting names on a list prevent radical governors taking over schools? Will there be racial profiling of governors? Will governors whose names indicate they follow a particular religion be scrutinised more carefully? If not, then I can’t see how the Trojan Horse could have been stopped from galloping into schools just by having the names of governors on a list? I assume this register would not include questions on skills and governors would not be asked if they are skilled in horse riding (of the Trojan variety!).
Practical problems with maintaining the register
Then there are practical issues to be considered. For one thing, how is it proposed that this register be maintained? Who will foot the bill and where would the money be found for this? Who will be responsible for adding names to the list? Office admin staff are not paid to do governing body tasks. This, then, would fall to the clerk. As it is, I think many clerks are overworked and underpaid. Adding the updating of register of governor names to their duties would increase their workload.
In some areas there is a high turn over of governors. Maintaining an up to date and accurate register wold be an administrative nightmare. Would there be penalties for those boards who fail to update the register?
I also fear that once you say that by becoming a governor a person’s name would be held on a list in some DfE office, there will be many who would think twice about joining boards.
Need for transparency
Like I said before I do believe that complete transparency is needed. The way to accomplish this would be to require all governing bodies, not just academies, to publish names of governors and register of business interests (including how many boards each governor serves on) on school websites. It is not only names of governors which should be published. Boards should be required to publish their minutes on websites as well. Minutes (except confidential ones) are public documents and have to be made available, upon request, for anyone to read. If these were routinely published on the website that would mean the working of boards as well the composition would be known to all.
What other steps can be taken to improve board performance?
The one thing which would improve board performance and help support governors is training. Governors and NGA have been asking for some time for training to be made mandatory. In my opinion this, and not a central register, is what’s needed. If Russell Hobby were to put his weight behind this, that would make all governors (which includes headteachers) very happy.