Governance was one of the topics which came under discussion at the NAHT Conference on 3rd May 2015.
As far as training is concerned, NGA and governors have always emphasised the need for good and fit for purpose training. NGA and governors have been asking for induction training to be made mandatory. We are disappointed that this has not happened as yet. In fact there does not appear to be an appetite to go down this route. At the recent pre-election debate organised by TES Nicky Morgan, Tristram Hunt and David Laws all spoke against mandatory training. One of the reasons put forward is that making training mandatory will put off people joining boards. Firstly, there is no evidence that this would happen. Wales has mandatory training so a model exists. Secondly, in my opinion, even if it did would that be such a bad thing? If someone cannot commit to on the job training then perhaps the job isn’t for them.
There were calls for training for chairs to be made compulsory.
In my opinion traininng needs to be compulsory for all board members, not just chairs. I’m not advocating a prescribed course as such. Boards should determine the training their members need but it should be made clear to all board members that attending training is essential and that the impact of such training should be demonstrable.
When training is mentioned, what sometimes isn’t mentioned is that Heads (who are also members of boards) should attend training too. Heads are professional educators but they aren’t necessarily governance experts. Attending training will ensure that they understand the realationship which exists between Heads and boards which hold them to account.
Relationship between Heads and boards
There was a great deal of discussion around this. This is a crucial relationship and everyone involved needs to have a thorough understanding of their respective roles. Yes, there are governors who try and micro-manage and do not appreciate the difference between governance and management. Equally, there are Heads who do not appreciate the fact that boards have a role to play and one of the statutory duties of boards is to hold Heads to account. I am not defending the actions of the governors highlighted in the Clarke report but there are heads who think they have ownership of boards thereby disempowering the boards. We all know of cases where the Head does not give enough information to the board or bombards it with so much information that governors have trouble making sense of any of it. I have even heard of heads who do not let governors carry out monitoring visits. This is why I think Heads and governors both need to be trained in governance. NAHT/ASCL/NGA have published a joint paper on mutual expectations of governors and Heads. This should be essential reading for Heads and boards.
Post Trojan Horse governance
There was a great deal of discussion around this. Delegates expressed concern that recommendations of the Clarke report are yet to be implemented. Concern was also expressed that Heads continue to face problems. NGA has been doing a great deal of work to address this. Emma Knights (CEO, NGA) has spoken at various forums on this very topic. It is also worth noting investigations found no proof of a wide spread plot to take over schools. We all need to work together to make sure that the problems of Birmingham do not occur again.
Do we need governing boards?
I think we do need governing boards. The fact that volunteers are “in charge of professionals” is the strong point of this system. Having non-educators on the board brings a different perspective. Governors are volunteers but that doesn’t mean they have to be amateurs. The fact that most governors are not educators is the strength of the system. Heads/SLT and boards need to understand the difference between management and governance. Management is what we expect heads and SLT to do and governance is what the boards need to be doing. The board needs to allow space to the professional educators to run the school on a day-to-day basis and the educators need to understand that governors have statutory duties they need to fulfil. When both sides understand their respective roles then the relationship between them works and schools and students benefit. Again, this comes down to training. Training will ensure that governors do not overstep the mark and try and run schools and Heads realise that governors too have a job to perform. Also, remember that educators are represented on the board as each board will have staff governors (including the head).
Register of barred governors
Russell Hobby had earlier commented that the lack of a central record of governors is a “worrying gap”. I have previously written about this and why I think a central record would not work. The NAHT on 3rd May asked for a database of barred governors. Again, I think this would not work. Firstly, as far as I am aware there aren’t that many governors who have been removed from boards and barred from becoming governors. Those persons who are barred from becoming governors can be identified via the DBS check. There are also practical problems in maintaining such a database. Who will maintain this database? Whose responsibility will it be to populate this database? Will boards have to send names of the prospective appointees to be checked before the appointment can be authorised? How will this work with elected parent governors? Will the election be null and void if the name of the person is on the list or will the board have to send names to be checked against the list before holding elections? Does present legislation allow for either of these scenarios?
NGA and most governors do recognise the importance of independent, professional clerking. It is considered best practice not to have a member of the school staff (such as the Head’s PA) act as a clerk to the board in order to avoid any potential conflicts of interest. The board should also invest in CPD for clerks. Clerking school governing boards is much more than mere minute taking and this should be reflected in the qualifications, experience and remuneration when appointing clerks. I don’t think there are many boards where clerks work on a voluntary basis. If they do, then that should change!
Ruth Agnew has
- Storified tweets from the NAHT conference related to governance
- Written about how heads can support strong governance, and why should they?