Category Archives: Elected Governors

Governance matters at Festival of Education. Part 1

Picture credit: Steve Penny

One of the most awaited educational events, The Festival of Education, took place on 20th and 21st June 2019. This year was the 10th anniversary of the Festival. We were treated to two days of inspirational speakers who presented on a whole range of topics. I’m delighted that governance was represented too, for which the organisers deserve our thanks.

I was very happy that my application to hold a governance session was successful. I’m also very grateful to Dominic Herrington, National Schools Commissioner (NSC), who accepted my invitation and joined me for a chat on the first day of the festival. Below is a short account of what we discussed in the 40 minutes available to us. Where I have added post-event comments, I have done so in pink.

Dominic started by thanking governors for their time and commitment to governance of our schools. He talked a bit about his role. As NSC, Dominic, working with Regional School Commissioners (RSC) and other educational leaders and

  • Helps develops multi-academy trust (MAT) improvement strategies
  • Supports MATs so that they are sustainable and strong, via constructive assistance and challenge
  • Encourages regional teams to share best practice and learn from one another to encourage closer

I started our discussion by asking Dominic what, in his opinion, is good governance and why is it important. Dominic replied that governance has vital role in our schools, particularly due to the degree of autonomy in English education system as compared to the rest of world. We need good governance because governance performance three important functions:

  • It act as a stimulus for improvement
  • It provides an ‘Insurance’ policy for school leaders
  • It is responsible for ensuring clarity of vision and strategic direction

We discussed features of effective governance. Dominic referred to the three core functions which, when performed well, lead to effective governance. These are:

  • Overseeing the financial performance of the school and making sure its money is well spent
  • Holding the headteacher to account for the educational performance of the school and its pupils
  • Ensuring clarity of vision, ethos and strategic direction

We went on to talk about the relationship between the executive leaders and governors. Dominic said that if there is strong executive leadership then we can usually assume that governance is strong too. There is a strong correlation between effective governance and strong executive leadership. This is why Ofsted consider governance under Leadership and Management (L&M). Ineffective governance invariably leads to ineffective leadership and this is not just education sector specific. [There is discussion in governance circles if governance should be considered under L&M. I personally think that it should. We are part of the Leadership and it’s only right that when Ofsted judge L&M, they comment on the effectiveness of governance.]

As we were discussing ineffective governance, I asked Dominic about the role played by NSC and RSC when ineffective governance is identified. Dominic started by emphasising that occurrences of inadequate governance are rare and that the vast majority of schools are not failing [This was good to hear]. We do, however, have to deal swiftly and proportionally where this has been identified. Inadequate governance doesn’t take long to be identified (via Education and Skills Funding agency, RSCs, LAs or parental complaints). Dominic said that prevention is always better than cure so it is important that we identify cases where governance isn’t as good as it could be and offer support before it becomes ineffective. He said he was interested in how we can best enable system leadership. The multi-academy trust model gives school leaders the flexibility to share resources across a number of schools. Dominic said we have seen best outcomes for children being delivered where there are school leaders working across several schools to support weaker schools. We have some excellent examples of where academy sponsorship has had a transformative impact on schools. We do need to ensure that schools are matched with a sponsor who fits the school and has the capacity to raise standards.

Dominic also stressed the importance of recruiting good people and mentioned Academy Ambassadors and Inspiring Governors who can help boards find suitable people. This led us to talk about governor CPD and I asked if training should be made mandatory. Dominic agreed that his was always a hot topic. Personally, he was not very keen on making it mandatory. He said he would be worried about the quality of CPD and would rather that we work from bottom up and offer support. He mentioned that there is training available, including Department for Education funded training. [My personal thoughts on this are that GBs/trusts should make it mandatory for their members to keep up to date and commit to CPD. They should also make induction training available to all new appointees and the expectation should be that this would be done within a reasonable time after appointment.]

I was interested in getting Dominic’s opinion on whether MAT governance was complex. Dominic’s view was that it is not; rather it can be an opportunity as Local Governing Bodies and Trust Boards give us the option of different forms of governance. Dominic emphasised that most MATs are local MATs formed of six or less schools. He did stress the importance of Schemes of Delegation (SoD). Dominic said that SoD need to be clear and these must be explained to everyone. The lines of accountability need to be clearly defined too. We need to ensure that people understand their respective roles. [This is an important point. Good, clearly defined SoD, which are understood by all, are crucial. National Governance Association (NGA) has done some work on this which should help trustees who are reviewing their SoD.]

I was also interested in hearing Dominic’s opinions on how to increase governance literacy across the sector. Dominic started by saying that being a governor is a noble contribution to our communities. He said that governance has a higher profile now than it did five years ago when it was hardly talked about. We need to continue raising the profile of governance and encourage teachers, headteachers, retired teachers, and people from other sectors to join governing bodies. We should talk up governance which is why he was happy to come to the Festival and discuss governance with us. [I think that it is important that we talk up governance and do what we can to raise awareness of what governance is and its importance. Attending and presenting governance sessions at various events in one of the ways we can raise awareness. Taking part in twitter chats and blogging is another. Julia Skinner has been trying to get more of us blogging. If you are a blogger and write about governance, please do let Julia know and she may review your blog for Schools Week.]

Dominic is a governor too and my next question was related to this. I asked him if he was a governor on a governing body (GB) where governance wasn’t as effective as it could be, then what options were open to him. In other words, how could individual governors challenge an ineffective GB? Dominic said that the best course would be to try and find an ally in the GB, perhaps the chair and discuss concerns with them. If that doesn’t work then get in touch with the LA, RSC, etc. Dominic hoped that if ever a governor was faced with this situation, they wouldn’t give up and leave but try and change the GB practice so it does become effective.

The session also included questions from twitter and the floor.

  • In reply to a question about parent governors, Dominic said he was very keen on GBs having parent governors. He is one! At the same time he also emphasised the need to have a diverse board.
  • Asked why the Headteachers Boards are called that and why are there no places for governors on it, Dominic replied that the system allowed for co-option of someone with governance experience and he had co-opted members in the South East. The system is evolving and may change in the future.
  • The next question was about the options open to an academy committee (local governance) if they are unhappy with the MAT. Dominic said that he hoped that it could be solved at the local level but if the situation can’t be resolved then they should contact their RSC. He also made the point that this is not very usual and he had had dealt with only a few cases in his time as RSC.
  • The CEO of a MAT referenced research from NGA and asked if the time being put into governance by chairs was sustainable. Dominic said that some people put in a lot of time because they enjoy the role. The system is still young and developing and further down the line chairs may not need to put in as much time as they do now (MATs are growing slowly now. MATs are joining other MATs which is less demanding than setting up a new MAT).
  • A governor made the point that she worries that she can’t get into school and spend as much time there as she would like. Dominic replied that spending time in school isn’t the only way a governor adds value to their GB. Dominic said he cannot spend time in his school either. He adds value via other contributions. [This is an important point. A good board works as a team. Not everyone has to do everything and every contribution is valuable irrespective of the nature of the contribution.]
  • There was a question about mixed MATs/church schools. Dominic said that Church of England has been running schools for years and have a significant place in the educational landscape. Dominic reported that he had not come across any real issues with mixed MATs as yet.
  • In response to another question Dominic said that there are no plans at the present time to inspect MAT boards.

I am grateful to Dominic for taking time out of his busy schedule to come and talk to governors. I’m also grateful to everyone who attended the session. Dates for the 2020 Festival of Education have been announced (18th -10th June 2020). The organisers are offering a 40% launch discount and there is a special rate for governors (£45 for a day ticket, £59 for both days). I will be attending the Festival and hopefully will see many of you there.

Advertisements

Elected governors and removal from office matters

Earlier this year the Department for Education (DfE) launched a consultation into the proposal, “Enabling maintained school boards to remove elected governors”. The consultation posed three questions:

  • Do you agree that governing bodies should be able to remove an elected governor for such serious conduct that, for example, is contrary to fundamental British values, repeatedly brings the board into disrepute or in circumstances where a governor has already been suspended on multiple occasions?
  • Should being removed from office make the individual ineligible from being re-elected or appointed as a governor at the same school or other schools?
  • Do you think it is sufficient for specific examples/ expectations on the use of this power to be set out in statutory guidance rather than have the specific circumstances in which the power can be used fixed in regulations?

Following the consultation DfE published an amendment to the School Governance (Constitution and Federations) (England) Regulations 2012. This amendment applies to the constitutional arrangements of maintained school governing bodies, including federated governing bodies. According to these amendments

  • From 1st Sept 2017 governing bodies will be able to remove elected parent and staff governors in the same way as they can other governors (by a majority of governors voting in favour of the removal)
  • From 1st May 2017 any person who was an elected parent or staff governor and was removed during their term of office will be disqualified from becoming or continuing to serve as a governor for five years from the date of their removal.

The procedure for removal is as follows (Regulation 25)

  • The matter of removal of the governor must be specified as an item on the agenda
  • The governor(s) proposing the resolution to remove the governor must give reasons for removal at the meeting
  • The governing body must consider the reasons for removal and the governor whom it is proposed to remove must be given an opportunity to make a statement in response
  • A second meeting has to be held not less than fourteen days after the first meeting where the removal is confirmed by passing the resolution. Again, the removal has to be specified as an item on the agenda of this second meeting

This amendment removes two anomalies which existed as far as elected governors were concerned. Firstly, elected governors in maintained schools, unlike other categories of governors, could not be removed even if doing so was in the interest of the governing body and school. The only sanction available was suspension. Secondly, as academy governors (governors sitting on the trust board, not the local governing bodies) are company directors, they could be removed by Members under Company Law.

Things to consider:

  • Removal of any governor is a serious matter and should not be treated lightly. It must be the last resort and only done if it is in the best interest of the governing body
  • Removal of a governor may cause negative publicity or may bring the governing body into disrepute. Ideally, governors should be aware that there may be a potential problem and try and resolve it before the situation gets to a point where removal is necessary. The Chair needs to understand that he/she has a crucial role to play in this
  • Governing bodies should adopt a code of practice which should clearly lay out expectations of behaviour and conduct
  • The code of practice should not be a paper or box ticking exercise. Governors should review the code annually and re-affirm their commitment to upholding the code and the Nolan principles of public life
  • The code should also lay out the procedure which the governing body will use if the removal of a governor becomes necessary
  • When a vacancy arises then the governing body should ensure that the information which is sent out inviting people to stand for elections includes the fact that removal as a governor disqualifies a person from becoming a governor for five years after the date of his/her removal

Parent governor matters

The move to make governing boards skills based and move away from the stakeholder model has been on the cards for a long time. Lord Nash famously stated, “Volunteer, not amateur”. That comment was welcomed by governors as an indication that the government recognised the importance of governor training. Looking back now I think that was perhaps the first indication of the direction of travel.

The Governors handbook published in January 2015 said

The eligibility criteria for elected parent governors and staff governors remain the same; but when a vacancy becomes available, governing
bodies should make clear the skills they are looking for, to inform the electorate.
(Page 39. My emphasis).

Under Governor Elections, the Statutory guidance for governing bodies of maintained schools and local authorities in England (Aug 2015) stated

22….The best governing bodies set out clearly in published recruitment literature: ….any specific skills or experience that would be desirable in a new governor, such as the willingness to learn or skills that would help the governing body improve its effectiveness and address any specific challenges it may be facing. (Page 9. My emphasis).

The Governance handbook issued in November 2015 said

All boards, however many schools they govern, need people with skills appropriate to the scale and nature of their role; and no more people than they need to have all the necessary skills. (Page 5; Foreword by Lord Nash. My emphasis).

2….They include the importance of the board having: The right people with the necessary skills…. (Page 7. My emphasis).

3. All boards of maintained schools, academies and MATs should be tightly focused and no larger than they need to be to have all the necessary skills to carry out their functions effectively, with every member actively contributing relevant skills and experience. (Page 20. My emphasis).

5. The membership of the board should focus on skills, and the primary consideration in the appointment and election of new governors should be acquiring the skills and experience the board needs to be effective. Boards should therefore develop a skills-based set of criteria for governor selection and recruitment… (Page 20. My emphasis).

6. Meaningful and effective engagement with parents, staff and the wider community is vital, and not achieved by the presence of various categories of governor on the board. Governors must govern in the best interest of pupils; it is not their role to represent a stakeholder group. (Page 20)

8…Where governors are elected, every effort should be made to inform the electorate about the role of a governor and the specific skills the board requires and the extent to which candidates possess these. (Page 21. My emphasis).

Under present regulations, boards are required to have at least two parent governors (in a MAT they can be at the board level or on the LGB). Parent governors are appointed through elections. If no parent stands for election the board can appoint a parent to the position of the parent governor. Then came the White Paper, Educational Excellence Everywhere, which stated

3.30. We will expect all governing boards to focus on seeking people with the right skills for governance, and so we will no longer require academy trusts to reserve places for elected parents on governing boards. We will offer this freedom to all open and new academies, and as we move towards a system where every school is an academy, fully skills-based governance will become the norm across the education system.

The White Paper did not come as a surprise to me as reading the above extracts from the handbook etc I had been expecting this. It has led to people complaining that the government is planning to remove parent governors (they are not; they are just removing the requirement). As things stand at the moment academies are free to have LA governors if they want to. Some academies opt to have them; others drop that clause from their Articles. This is what I think the government wants to happen with parent governors too. If a trust wants to retain parent governors then they can. What the White Paper suggests is that if a trust decides not have parent governors, it will be given the freedom to do so.

Those opposing this say this reduces parental engagement. The government had already made it clear that they do not see parent governors as means of engaging with the community.

6. Meaningful and effective engagement with parents, staff and the wider community is vital, and not achieved by the presence of various categories of governor on the board. Governors must govern in the best interest of pupils; it is not their role to represent a stakeholder group (Governance handbook, Nov 2015; Page 20).

Others point out that this will reduce the role democracy plays in education. Jonathan Simons of the think tank Policy Exchange has written eloquently about the role democracy plays (or not!) in education. I started my governor journey as an elected parent governor in a secondary school with just over a 1,000 students. As each parent/carer is entitled to vote, I assume nearly 2,000 ballot papers were sent out. I won the election and though I can’t remember the exact number of votes, I think they were in the region of 150 votes. Not an overwhelming mandate, wouldn’t you agree?! I suspect this low turnout is true for many, if not most, parent governor elections. So, although I became a governor by standing for election, I’m not too worried about not appointing governors through elections. (I also think that in many cases parent governor elections are a popularity contest, which is my other worry about appointment of governors through elections.)

Some of the objections to the White Paper have been based on the fact that

  • The Conservatives won the election by getting only around 36% of the votes and hence don’t represent the country
  • The White Paper proposals were not in the manifesto and hence undemocratic.

Both of the above objections have been addressed by Tarjinder Gill in her blog. (Targinder’s website is being revamped so this link is currently unavailable).

Parent governors are not parent representatives. Once they enter the boardroom they need to think, discuss, ask and vote according to what they think is in the best interest of ALL the students. As must other governors! So, I am not too worried about removing the requirement of having elected parent governors but seeing the strength of feeling I think what the government should do is as amend the proposal so that it says:

We will expect all governing boards to focus on seeking people with the right skills for governance. Local governing bodies (LGBs) will have two, and only two, parent governors. LGBs will be free to appoint parent governors either through election or appointment. These parent governors (irrespective of whether they are elected or appointed) will be subject to the same rules and regulations as other appointed governors.

The above modification retains the role of the parent governor at the local level (where they will be of most value) but removes the need to hold elections. This, I think, is a good compromise. It allows those LGBs who want to hold elections to continue to do so but as it frees those LGBs which may historically know they will not get anyone to stand for election, thus saving them time and money. It also allows LGBs to appoint a parent whose skill is needed but who may not want to stand for election or having stood, not win. This is not something which doesn’t happen under the present system. Many GBs co-opt parent governors who have come to the end of their term but whose skills are valued by the board. It will also allow the government to say, “You asked, we listened”.

Note 1: The Governance handbook when discussing federations states:

40. We have recently consulted on reducing the requirement for parent governors from one per school to two, and only two, with the proposed changes expected to come into force from September 2016.

I wonder if the above change will now come into effect or be quietly dropped while the government waits and sees how the White paper progresses.

Note 2: Jonathan Simons has also argued about retaining parent governors.

Note 3: Lord Nash explains the government’s thinking about parents and parent governors in the White Paper. School Week’s article discussed this here.

Feedback from Twitter:

Update: I have been asked if the number 2 refers to the number of governors in the “Parent governor” category or does it include governors who are appointed as governors in another category but happen to be parents too. My proposal is that number of governors in the “Parent Governor” category be limited to two and if other governors happen to be parents then they would not count towards the Parent Governor “quota”.

Schools White Paper 2016; governance matters

Schools White Paper 2016 (Educational Excellence Everywhere) was published on 17th March 2016. The governance related parts (Chapter 3) are as below. (text in bold is my emphasis).

Strategic leadership and oversight by skilled governing boards

3.27. As we move to a more autonomous school-led system, it is increasingly vital that schools operate under effective governing boards. As the key decision maker and accountable body for their school(s), governing boards have a vital strategic role, which they should deliver in a dynamic and professional manner: focusing strongly on their core functions of setting the vision and ethos for their school(s), holding school leaders to account and making sure money is well spent.

3.28. The growth of MATs will improve the quality of governance – meaning that the best governing boards will take responsibility for more schools. As fewer, more highly skilled boards take more strategic oversight of the trust’s schools, MAT boards will increasingly use professionals to hold individual school-level heads to account for educational standards and the professional management of the school, allowing school-level governing boards to focus on understanding and championing the needs of pupils, parents and the wider local community. This does not mean less accountability – MATs must publish a clear scheme of delegation to set out how their governance is organised, including any functions they choose to delegate to regional or school level.

3.29. In recent years we have given governing boards more freedom to appoint the best possible people with the skills the board needs to be effective.

3.30. We will expect all governing boards to focus on seeking people with the right skills for governance, and so we will no longer require academy trusts to reserve places for elected parents on governing boards. We will offer this freedom to all open and new academies, and as we move towards a system where every school is an academy, fully skills-based governance will become the norm across the education system.

3.31. Parents often have these skills and many parents already play a valuable role in governance – and will always be encouraged to serve on governing boards. We will also expect every academy to put in place arrangements for meaningful engagement with all parents, to listen to their views and feedback.

3.32. To encourage everyone involved in governance to develop their skills, we will work with schools and MATs to develop a competency framework defining the core skills and knowledge needed for governance in different contexts. We will also set a new, stronger requirement on all governing boards to ensure that individuals are properly inducted, and receive the training or development they need to develop the skills set out in the competency framework. We have extended licensed delivery of NCTL training programmes for chairs and clerks until September 2017, and will review our approach to governance training programmes in light of the new competency framework.

3.33. Clear, high quality information about performance is essential for good governance, and so we will make it easier for members of governing boards to access high quality, objective data about their school’s educational and financial performance.

3.34. In March 2016 we launched a new, clearer website displaying school performance tables, making it easier for governing boards, parents and others to find key information and compare the results of schools (see more in chapter 7). We will continue to develop this in response to feedback to make it easier than ever to understand a school’s performance. Where data suggests that there may be an issue within a school or MAT, we will pilot a proactive approach to alert governing boards so that they can investigate and, if necessary, take action.

3.35. We have a long and rich tradition of voluntary trusteeship and we expect the vast majority of those involved in governance will continue to be unpaid, volunteering to serve their community and give their school(s) the benefit of their expertise and commitment. As the scale of the challenge in governing large and growing MATs increases, we may see more of them seeking Charity Commission authorisation to offer payment to attract the very best people into key positions such as the chair of the board.

We will establish a database of everyone involved in governance. We intend to legislate so we can bar unsuitable individuals from being governors of maintained schools (as we can already in academies and independent schools).

The crucial role of governance makes it more important than ever to ensure that only the right individuals are involved. So we will extend Edubase to establish a database of everyone involved in governance, requiring schools and MATs to start providing information from September 2016, and we intend to legislate so that we have the power to bar unsuitable individuals from being governors of maintained schools, to mirror the existing barring power for academies and independent schools.

 

Sir Michael Wilshaw’s views on governance matter

In his second monthly commentary, Sir Michael Wilshaw discussed the role governance plays in today’s complex educational landscape. The important points in his commentary, for me, are as below.

1. Importance of training: Sir M Wilshaw is of the opinion that people who do not have the right training and the understanding of the role have no place on boards. He is disappointed that there has been no progress on making training mandatory. He believes high quality training, especially for chairs and vice chairs is essential. He has asked inspectors to focus on training and the arrangement to schools make for this when they judge governance.

I agree with all of this and have previously written about it here and here . Governors themselves have been asking for training, at least induction training, to be made mandatory. This is especially important as governors in academies are company directors and charity trustees and need to understand what this entails.

2. Payment: He asks once again if the time has come to think of paying governors, at least the chair and vice chair, in order to recruit the most able people to serve on boards of schools in difficult circumstances.

Nothing I have read so far convinces me that paying would help raise governance standards. I have written in more detail about this here.

3. Board constitution: Sir M Wilshaw discusses “representative governors”, in particular parent governors. He agrees with the Department’s view that governance should be about the level of knowledge people bring to the board rather than how many people represent particular groups.

I have expressed my views on this here and here.

Sir M Wilshaw goes on to say that commitment to the role is essential and there is no place for people who serve on boards just to enhance their CV’s (I am reminded of Gove’s “local worthies”!).

4. In depth survey into board effectiveness: Ofsted will carry out an “in-depth and far-reaching survey” into effectiveness of governance. The report will be published next year and will be looking into

  • Do boards have enough professional skills and experience?
  • Paying governors
  • Do LA’s and Regional Commissioners intervene soon enough?
  • Are there provisions for training?
  • Support received for appointments of heads and the board’s role in succession planning
  • Role of NLG’s
  • Are external reviews of governance an effective tool to bring about improvement?
  • Challenges of governing stand alone academies
  • Relationship between MAT boards and their local governing bodies

This seems like it will be an extensive piece of work. I’m interested in finding out how it will be done. Will governors of schools being inspected between now and when the report is published be used to inform Ofsted’s views on the above matters? I think governors of schools due to be inspected should be ready to answer questions on at least some of the above (training will definitely be asked about, I think).

One concern is whether Ofsted has the governance expertise to undertake this task. 

As part of this survey he is calling for evidence from anyone who has a view to express. I hope governors and trustees will take part in this survey so that our views are expressed and hopefully inform the report.

It has been pointed out that clerks are conspicous by their absence in this commentary.

I share these concerns. Clerks can make or break a governing board. For a board to be truly effective it needs to have the services of a good, independent, well paid, professional clerk. Maybe the survey Ofsted will carry out needs to look at this too.
Update: 

Emma Knights of NGA responds

Martin Mathews responds

Sir John Dunford comments

Does it matter if the current stakeholder governance model has had its day?

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.

Knowing how to avoid influenced company status matters

There was a fascinating discussion on Twitter the other day regarding Local Authority Associated Person (LAAP) and Governing Boards of academies. As this restriction on memberships of Governing Boards is not very well known, I thought I should blog the highlights.

Definition of LAAP

A Local authority associated person is defined in the Local Government and Housing Act 1989 Section 69 as follows.

For the purposes of this section, a person is at any time associated with a local authority if—

(a) he is at that time a member of the authority;

(b) he is at that time an officer of the authority;

(c) he is at that time both an employee and either a director, manager, secretary or other similar officer of a company which is under the control of the authority; or

(d) at any time within the preceding four years he has been associated with the authority by virtue of paragraph (a) above.

The definition of a local authority is a very wide one. Section 67(3) of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989 defines a local authority to include District councils, county councils, London Borough councils, parish councils and community councils.

Reason for the restriction

The whole idea behind schools converting to academy status was to allow schools to be free of local authority control. It therefore follows that processes had to be put in place so LAAP do not gain control of Boards. This has been done by restricting the number of LAAP that a Board can have at any given time. The maximum aggregate number of votes exercisable by LAAP cannot exceed 19.9%. As soon as it exceeds 19.9% then the person who took it over the limit is deemed to have resigned. In legal terms this means that it is not up to the Governor to decide whether or he/she resigns. The resignation is considered to have happened as soon as the limit was exceeded. The rules also state that any LAAP thinking of joining a board needs to seek approval of his LA before he/she can be appointed.

Implications of this restriction

1. This restriction applies to both Directors and Members.

2. When Directors or Members are appointed steps need to be taken to ensure that the votes exercisable by LAAP’s remain below 20% at all times.

3. The person seeking to be appointed to a Board needs to seek permission from the LA he/she is associated with.

4. Boards cannot stop anyone from putting their names forward during parent governor elections. However, if the person polling the most votes is an LAAP and the appointment of this person will take the LAAP share of votes to above 19.9% then that person cannot be appointed as a parent governor.

5. When considering if a person is a LAAP, the Board has to see whether the person is associated with a local authority as described in section 69 of the Local Government and Housing Act. As you can see from the above it is quite a wide definition and it does not matter which authority the person is associated with. In other words, the percentage can be made up of LAAPs who are all associated with different LAs and ones which the school would  not normally have any connection or dealing with – they will all still count.

6. If at any stage the number of LAAP exceed 19.9% then sufficient number of LAAP are deemed to have resigned to bring the number below 19.9%. Resignations are on the basis of last in, first out. In other words the persons appointed last are deemed to be the first to have resigned.

7. A fascinating scenario would arise if there were, for example, two parent governor vacancies. The two who are elected are both LAAP and the way the numbers work out having both of them on the Board would mean LAAP are 20% of the total which cannot be allowed. In this case I think the first past the post rule may have to apply. In other words the first person of the two to get enough votes is appointed to the board and the second person is effectively out of the process.

What are the consequences of an Academy becoming an influenced company?

If an Academy were to become an influenced company it would have to undertake various additional tasks such as

  • Change its stationery to reflect the fact that it is an influenced company
  • It will need to remove any director who is barred from becoming a member of a local authority
  • It may need to provide information to the local authority auditors
  • It will not be able to publish anything which can affect public support for a political party
  • It may need to provide information to councillors
  • It will have to seek the Audit Commission’s consent before appointing auditors
  • It may face problems with DfE/EFA

It is, therefore, vital that Academies take all necessary steps to avoid becoming an influenced company.

P.S. Thank you to Katie Paxton-Dogget, Matt Lake and Shena Lewington for the fascinating twitter discussion and to Katie for reading and commenting on this before it went “live”.