Nicky Morgan attended the NGA Summer Conference in Manchester on 27th June 2015. This was the first time a Secretary of State had addressed governors. For this we are grateful to her and to NGA for making it happen. During her speech (which can be read here) she talked about the importance of governors, financial management and coasting schools. The part of her speech I’m blogging about now is where she talked about moving away from the stakeholder model. This started a debate on Twitter with people either welcoming this or opposing this move. I, for one, think the present system does need to change and I’ll explain why.
Electing parent governors
Elections are usually a popularity contest, with the parent having the most social contacts winning the election. This, many say, is no different to how we elect MP’s. That may be so but it doesn’t make it right. Some people argue that doing away with elections is a nail in the coffin of democracy. I must make it clear that I have no problem with having parent governors on boards (I was one and I know many wonderful, highly effective governors who are/were parent governors). Nor do I think elections, per se, are a bad idea. My issue with electing them is that the board has to take what’s given and that may not be in the best interest of the board. An even bigger problem, for me, is that the elected governors can only be suspended, not removed. If a parent governor is not pulling his/her weight or undermines the board or brings the board into disrepute, the biggest sanction the board can apply is suspension. This means the board will be one governor short and will not be able to do anything about it. As the term of a governor is usually four years, the board could, potentially, be one governor short for four years and not able to do anything with it. If, on the other hand, an appointed governor were to breach the code/regulations in the same way, he/she could be removed from the board.
People who like the present system argue that changing it means we will lose parent voice or that the board would be composed of “people like us”. As I said I am not opposed to having parent governors and tweaking the system would still ensure that parents remain on governing boards. Some people oppose the idea of removing parent governors because they think that would lead to boards getting rid of dissenting voices. This is a disservice to the great majority of appointed governors who have only the best interest of the GB and the school at heart. If the system was changed to allow for removal of parent governors, then there will need to be a process which will have to be followed. The process will need to be clear, transparent and must stand up to scrutiny. It slightly annoys me that if you talk of an ineffective parent governor the argument put forward is that that is a very small minority but the same people are quite happy to think that appointed governors are all the same and all want to fill their boards with people “like them” or that they will pick “box ticking” governors.
There are two points we need to remember when debating this. Firstly, the majority of governing boards are doing a good job, as evidenced by the number of good and outstanding schools. It is wrong to assume that these boards would misuse the power to remove parent governors. Secondly, many of the appointed governors are still parents even though they are not parent governors. Many started off as parent governors and having come to the end of their term are appointed to the board as the board values their skills and expertise. These governors have the best interest of the students at heart and would not do anything to jeopardise that. Although they are now appointed governors, they still are stakeholders.
What I would like to see is for there to be an expectation that anyone standing parent governor election would talk with the Chair, Vice Chair and Head in order to understand the role and the commitment needed. I would also like the board to specify which skills the board is looking for. This would not mean that if you did not have these skills you were disqualified from putting your name forward. It would mean that the board may perhaps be able to attract people with the required skills. I would also like the candidates being required to write a statement detailing the skills they will bring to the board if elected. This would, hopefully, let the parents make an informed choice when voting. Parents standing for re-election should be required to include the contribution they made during their time on the board. I would also treat parent and appointed governors in the same way ensuring that any governor could be removed if it was in the best interest of the board to do so.
Heads as governors
In my opinion heads should not be governors. The board’s statutory duty is to hold the head to account. To me it seems strange that the head is part of the body which is holding him/her to account. School governing boards are more like the charity sector than the corporate one. In the charity sector the CEO is not a trustee.
This is a very interesting debate and one which we must have in order to ensure we get the best model of governance our students deserve.