14th August saw the publication of the statutory guidance relating to the constitution of governing bodies (GB’s) of maintained schools. As the guidance is statutory GB’s and local authorities MUST have regard to it. The guidance was last published in March 2015. Changes to the March version are indicated below in red and my comments are in green.
E. Anyone appointing governors to the governing body must appoint someone they believe has the skills to contribute to effective governance and the success of the school. Their decisions should be informed by interviews and references.
K. Governing bodies should publish on their websites information about their governors, including relevant business and pecuniary interests.
Priorities in deciding the membership of the governing body
13. A skills audit, such as that produced by the National Governors’ Association, should be used to identify the skills, knowledge and experience of current governors and any additional specific skills or experience that the governing body ideally requires. The outcome of the audit will help the governing body or other appointing persons3 to formulate their opinion as to whether prospective governors have the skills to contribute to effective governance and the success of the school. To make an informed decision on the matter an interview or detailed discussion will need to take place with each prospective candidate, with references (oral or written) taken as necessary and appropriate. The skills audit will also help to inform governor elections as discussed below. [This, I think, is a good move. It will allow the GB to spell out the needs of the GB and also make clear the commitment needed. GB’s sometimes do not make it clear that governance is much more than attending a few meetings a year. It is in everyone’s interest if the nature of the job and the commitment needed is made clear right from the start.]
15. Governing bodies and others responsible for nominating or appointing governors should make use of all available channels to identify suitable governors. This includes the services of SGOSS and Inspiring the Future which are funded by the Department to provide a free service to governing bodies, local authorities and diocese to help them find new governors with the skills they require.
17. We recognise that there are people who have the skill and the time to serve effectively on a number of governing bodies, and we do not want to restrict their ability to do so. However, where a prospective governor is already a governor of another school, the chair of governors should speak to the chair of the other governing body to discuss both the skills of the individual and, where appropriate, their capacity to serve effectively on an additional governing body. It is likely that only in exceptional circumstances will it be practical and beneficial for an individual to serve on more than two governing bodies – but this is rightly a matter for the appointing body to decide. [Gemma raised an interesting question on Twitter regarding this; what would happen if the Chair of Governors decided to join another GB. Would the Vice Chair be contacted or would the fact that the prospective candidate is a Chair mean that the new GB does not need to check his/her skills and ability to serve on two GB’s?]
Publication of Governor’s Details and the Register of Interests
25. Governors hold an important public office and their identity should be known to their school and wider communities. In the interests of transparency, a governing body should publish on its website up-to-date details of its governance arrangements in a readily accessible form (Readily accessible means that the information should be on a webpage without the need to download or open a separate document.).
This should include:
• the structure and remit of the governing body and any committees, and the full names of the chair of each;
• for each governor who has served at any point over the past 12 months:
• their full names, date of appointment, term of office, date they stepped down (where applicable), who appointed them (in accordance with the governing body’s instrument of government),
• relevant business and pecuniary interests (as recorded in the register of interests) including:
• governance roles in other educational institutions;
• any material interests arising from relationships between governors or relationships between governors and school staff (including spouses, partners and close relatives); and
• their attendance record at governing body and committee meetings over the last academic year.
[Academies already publish the above information about their governors. Now GB’s of maintained schools will also need to publish this information. Although this may be in response to certain events such as the Trojan Horse, it does mean that GB’s will have to be transparent about their members, their interests, appointment routes, etc. I also like the idea of publicising attendance records.]
27. Governing bodies should make it clear in their code of conduct that this information will be published on their governors and any associate members. Any governor failing to provide information to enable the governing body to fulfil their responsibilities may be in breach of the code of conduct and as a result be bringing the governing body into disrepute. In such cases the governing body should consider suspending the governor.
As GB’s will have had to reconstitute by 1st Sept 2015, the following paragraphs which were present in the March guidance are no longer in the August guidance.
Transition from 2007 constitution (federation) regulations
28. All governing bodies must be constituted under the 2012 Constitution Regulations or 2012 Federations Regulations, as appropriate by 1 September 2015. This will create consistency across the country under a single more flexible regulatory framework. Governing bodies may reconstitute on any date up to 1 September 2015 and are invited to consider the most effective and suitable date for reconstitution. Where governing bodies expect to follow the regulatory procedure for removing surplus governors, they will want to ensure that the date of their reconstitution falls before the end of the term of office of their most effective governors.
29. Governing bodies currently constituted under the School Governance (Constitution) (England) Regulations 2007 or the School Governance (Federations) (England) Regulations 2007 are invited to use the process of transition to take stock of whether their size, structure and membership are fit for purpose to deliver their core functions and other duties. While some may make minimal changes, others may identify the need and opportunity for a fundamental re-fresh. Many governing bodies have already benefited significantly from this process with the help of a skills audit and other self-evaluation tools such as the All Party Parliamentary Group’s ‘20 Questions’ and the criteria for effective governance in Ofsted’s Inspection Handbook.
30. Governors remaining within the new structure in their current category will continue to serve out their term of office. For those newly appointed or re-appointed to a different category, a new term of office will start. Particularly where there has been significant change, it is likely to be appropriate to hold new elections for a chair and vice-chair of governors. Any change to the number of foundation governors will need to be first negotiated and agreed with the relevant appointing body.
So, the important points, in my opinion are:
- While appointing new governors interviews, references should be used. Someone who already serves on one GB can expect his/her Chair to be asked to comment on the person’s skills and the ability to serve on more than one GB.
- Details of the GB, committees (including names of governors and their terms of office, appointment routes, business and pecuniary interests, names of committee chairs and attendance records have to be published on websites.
- GB’s will need to make sure that the above information is on their websites in “easily accessible format”. In practical terms this would mean that either the clerk will need to be able to make changes to the website as and when needed or send the information to the person who can do so. This is yet another example of the important role played by clerks and the need for GB’s to employ professional clerks
- Having a code of conduct is becoming more and more important. The code should include a clause relating to the publication of governor details on the website and it should be made clear that failure to provide these details can constitute a breach of the code which may lead to suspension.
- Skill audits are also increasingly important as they can inform training needs and identify gaps which may be filled by appointing governors with requisite skills.