Competency Framework matters; knowledge and skills needed by chairs

The Competency Framework was published last week alongside the revised Governance handbook.  DfE have identified six features of effective governance in the handbook. The framework lists 16 competencies for these six features. It has tried to “define more clearly the knowledge, skills and behaviours needed for governance to play its full part in this [enough good school places for every child] vision.” The framework has been organised so that it first details the knowledge and skills needed by everyone and then explains what’s needed by chairs and finally the skills and knowledge which at least someone on the board must have. The framework lists some of the ways boards can make use of it (how to carry out a skills audit (NGA are revising their skills audit in light of this framework), define training needs, self evaluation etc). Sir David Carter pointed out on Twitter that the framework should not be used a checklist but as a tool. Also remember that, depending upon your context, parts of this may not apply to you.

There have been some comments that the framework is over burdensome. I had a read and decided to split it into three sections; applicable to all, applicable to chairs and finally competencies which at least someone should have. When you split it this way and then read it, I don’t think anyone can argue that this is what we should be aiming for. In fact I would argue that all “good” boards are already doing this and it would help others on their  journey to becoming the type of board each and every school deserves. Again, this is not a checklist. Use it to inform your training needs, for example, or to drive your recruitment.

This blog lists the knowledge and skills which chairs should have or develop with training. The previous  blog dealt with knowledge and skills needed by everyone  and the third will deal with skills and knowledge needed by at least one  person on the board.


  • Setting the direction
    • Knows about national and regional educational priorities and the implications of these for the board and the organisation
    • Knows about leadership and management processes and tools that support organisational change
    • Thinks strategically
    • Leads the board and executive leaders in ensuring operational decisions contribute to strategic priorities
    • Adopts and strategically leads a systematic approach to change management
    • Provides effective leadership of organisational change even when this is difficult
  • Culture, values and ethos
    • Is able to recognise when the board or an individual member is not behaving as expected and take appropriate action to address this
    • Leads board meetings in a way which embodies the culture, values and ethos of the organisation
  • Decision-making
    • Ensures the board understands the scope of issues in question and is clear about decisions they need to make
    • Summarises the position in order to support the board to reach consensus where there are diverging views
    • Ensures that different perspectives, viewpoints and dissenting voices are properly taken into account and recorded
    • Facilitates decision-making even if difficult and manages the expectations of executive leaders when doing so
    • Recognises the limits of any discretionary chair’s powers and uses them under due guidance and consideration and with a view to limiting such use
    • Ensures the board seeks guidance from executive leaders or others in the senior leadership team and from the clerk/governance professional  before the board  commits to significant or controversial courses of action
  • Collaborative working with stakeholders and partners
    • Knows about the links that the organisation needs to make with the wider community
    • Knows about the impact and influence that a leader in the community has particularly on educational issues
    • Communicates clearly with colleagues, parents and carers, partners and other agencies and checks that their message has been heard and understood
    • Consider how to tailor their communications style in order to build rapport and confidence with stakeholders
    • Is proactive in seeking and maximising opportunities for partnership working where these are conducive to achieving the agreed strategic goals
    • Is proactive in sharing good practice and lessons learned where these can benefit others and the organisation
    • Demonstrates how stakeholder concerns and questions have shaped board discussions if not necessarily the final decision
    • When appropriate, seeks external professional advice, knowing where this advice is available from and how to go about requesting it
  • Risk management
    • Leads the board and challenges leaders appropriately in setting risk appetite and tolerance
    • Ensures that the board has sight of, and understands, organisational risks and undertakes scrutiny of risk management plans
    • Leads by example to avoid, declare and manage conflicts of interes
    • Knows when the board needs external expert advice on risk management

2. Accountability for educational standards and financial performance

  • Educational improvement
    • Works with the clerk, to ensure the right data is provided by executive leaders, which is accessible to board and open to scrutiny
    • Promotes the importance of data interrogation to hold executive leaders to account
  • Financial frameworks and accountability
    • Ensures the board holds executive leaders to account for financial and business management, as much as educational outcomes
    • Leads the board to identify when specialist skills and experience in audit, fraud or human resources is required either to undertake a specific task or more regularly to lead committees of the board
  • Financial management and monitoring
    • Knows about the process and documentation needed to make decisions related to leadership appraisal
    • Is confident and prepared in undertaking leadership appraisal
    • Is able to explain to the board their proposals on leadership pay awards for approval
  • External accountability
    • Is confident in providing strategic leadership to the board during periods of scrutiny
    • Ensures the board is aware of, and prepared for, formal external scrutiny

3. People

  • Building an effective team
    • Knows about the importance of succession planning to the ongoing effectiveness of both the board and the organisation
    • Ensure that everyone understands why they have been recruited and what role they play in the governance structure
    • Ensures new people are helped to understand their non-executive leadership role, the role of the board and the vision and strategy of the organisation enabling them to make a full contribution
    • Sets high expectations for conduct and behaviour for all those in governance and is an exemplary role model in demonstrating these
    • Creates an atmosphere of open, honest discussion where it is safe to challenge conventional wisdom
    • Creates a sense of inclusiveness where each member understands their individual contribution to the collective work of the board
    • Promotes and fosters a supportive working relationship between the: board, clerk/governance professional, executive leaders, staff of the organisation and external stakeholders
    • Identifies and cultivates leadership within the board
    • Recognises individual and group achievements, not just in relation to the board but in the wider organisation
    • Takes a strategic view of the skills that the board needs, identifies gaps and takes action to ensure these are filled
    • Develops the competence of the vice-chair to act as chair should the need arise.
    • Builds a close, open and supportive working relationship with the vice-chair which respects the differences in their roles
    • Values the importance of the clerk/governance professional and their assistance in the coordination of leadership and governance requirements of the organisation
    • Listens to the clerk/governance professional and takes direction from them on issues of compliance and other matters

4. Structures

  • Roles and responsibilities
    • Knows about the importance of their non-executive leadership role, not just in their current position but in terms of their contribution to local and, where appropriate, national educational improvement priorities
    • Leads discussions and decisions about what functions to delegate

5. Compliance

  • Statutory and contractual requirements
    • Sets sufficiently high expectations of the clerk governance professional, as applicable, ensuring the board is compliant with the regulatory framework for governance and, where appropriate, Charity and Company La
    • Ensures the board receives appropriate training or development where required on issues of compliance

6. Evaluation

  • Managing self-review and development
    • Actively invites feedback on their own performance as chair
    • Puts the needs of the board and organisation ahead of their own personal ambition and is willing to step down or move on at the appropriate time
  • Managing and developing the board’s effectiveness
    • Different leadership styles and applies these appropriately to enhance their personal effectiveness
    • Sets challenging development goals and works effectively with the board to meet them
    • Leads performance review of the board and its committees
    • Undertakes open and honest conversations with board members about their performance and development needs, and if appropriate, commitment or tenure
    • Recognises and develops talent in board members and ensures they are provided with opportunities to realise their potential
    • Creates a culture in which board members are encouraged to take ownership of their own development
    • Promotes and facilitates coaching, development, mentoring and support for all members of the board
    • Is open to providing peer support to other chairs and takes opportunities to share good practice and learning

2 thoughts on “Competency Framework matters; knowledge and skills needed by chairs

  1. Pingback: Competency Framework Matters- The Slides! | Governing Matters

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