Category Archives: Governors

What governors think of the NAHT motion matters

Today scrolling through Twitter I came across the following tweet.

This was the NAHT debating a motion asking Ofsted to REDUCE emphasis on inspecting governance as part of Leadership and Management. I asked for comments from other governors. Almost all were surprised at this. We couldn’t understand the reasoning behind the motion. There were some light hearted comments such as “Isn’t it lovely that they are concerned about extra pressure on us. They are only looking out for us.” Another comment, in similar vein, was from me. I said that reading this gave me the impression that somewhere a conversation like the one below had taken place which led to the motion.

GB to Head, “Could you include x,y,z in your report, please?”

Head to GB,”Don’t worry about that. I’ve got it under control.”

GB to Head, “No, we really do need it. For one thing it’s our job. For another, we are due an Ofsted and we want to ensure we know our stuff.”

Head to GB, “Ah, Ofsted! Don’t worry about that. We’ll get them not to hold you to account. We’ll tell them you’ve got too much work to do.”

Other governors had also read the Schools Week tweet which led to more discussions. Numerous serious points were made in response to my question and question/comments by others. I’ve summarised discussions from different threads on Twitter and Facebook below.

  • This may indicate that heads don’t really understand governance
  • The role and responsibility has changed since I’ve been a governor. The workload means it’s like a job now
  • There are some heads who get frustrated by their governors and we must acknowledge this. On the other hand there are also heads who try and run the school as their personal fiefdom and try and exclude the GB. We have a duty to be as professional as we can and heads need to understand and respect what governance is and what we do
  • Not a straight forward debate. Looking at the framework, it is a part time job
  • Collaboration is key
  • Power grab?
  • We are volunteers which means that if the workload gets too much we can leave. “But I’m a volunteer” should not be used as an excuse
  • Unfortunate that those who may have had a poor experience of governance assume it’s typical in every institution
  • Are they are considering our health and wellbeing?
  • We have gone from “cup of tea, sticky bun and agree with the head” to a very different model. Some governors and heads have kept up and some haven’t
  • Getting paid may be a better route than downplaying the role in Ofsted inspections. But if you pay peanuts, you’ll get monkeys!
  • Some governing bodies create an unnecessary workload for themselves and do not distribute workload effectively.
  • Training of governors is an issue
  • Motion was proposed and passed at the conference. The reason for it needs to be heard
  • If governance goes wrong then everything will
  • Schools need good governance and governance needs to be accountable
  • Really disappointed to see this motion
  • Governance is essential in any organisation
  • My role as chair is far more stressful than my job (I’m saying this tongue-in-cheek)
  • If this happened, where is the incentive to fix bad governance? One role of god governance is to hold heads to account. How would that happen?
  • Perhaps they don’t want to be held to account
  • I feel passionately that strong governance remains
  • Personally I would prefer separate judgement for governance
  • I don’t agree the governance should be a separate judgement. We are part of leadership and management and this emphasises that
  • GBs are accountable in law. Reduce work load by discouraging unneeded hoop jumping? Yes. Make GBs less accountable? Absolutely not!
  • Train governors to understand role. That will help in reducing workload
  • I can see two sides to this. The possible impact of poor governance on a head and the inability of a head to control good governance
  • Ofsted don’t have the expertise to measure governance accurately
  • Inspectors shouldn’t be judging without full understanding
  • Can have good school leaders let down by poor governance. Opposite also happens
  • In some schools senior leaders have little or no contact with governors. Not great for headship preparation
  • Many heads do not do governance training and do not understand the role
  • In one GB meeting the head brought so many staff that they outnumbered the governors
  • Part of the issue is the paucity of governance subject content in many NPQH courses. Starting with a low knowledge base does not help

The debate wasn’t live streamed and the only other tweet I saw was one saying that the motion had been carried. So, we don’t know the context to the motion or how the debate went. Governors would like to know more about what was behind the motion but want to make it clear that we do not wish for reduced accountability or reduced emphasis on governance within the leadership and management judgement. If the motion had called for induction for new governors and CPD we too would have been behind the motion. 

@ICSA_News and House of Lords’ Select Committee report matters

ICSA: The Governance Institute is the professional body for governance with members in all sectors. They work with regulators and policy makers to champion high standards of governance and provide qualifications, training and guidance. Below is their article discussing the House of Lords’ Select Committee’s report concerning the revised Governance Code. I thought this article would be of interest to academy trustees too so I am reproducing it here with their permission. The original can be accessed using this link.

ICSA: The Governance Institute welcomes the supportive and helpful report that the House of Lords Select Committee on Charities has published today, especially its support for the revised Governance Code for Charities that aims to improve governance in the charity sector and ensure that charities and their stakeholders focus more effectively on the needs of beneficiaries.

‘The report is particularly timely as it will form part of a trio of governance and regulatory recommendations coming from it, the code and the Law Commission review due in the summer,’ says Louise Thomson, Head of Policy (Not for Profit) at ICSA: The Governance Institute. ‘We particularly welcome the Committee’s positive comments on the draft governance code, which we have helped to author and which we believe will bring substantial benefits to the charity sector.’

Welcome recommendations in the Select Committee’s report include:

  • Support for the revised code and the Charity Commission’s decision to refer to it as the benchmark for governance in the charity sector
  • Regular skills audits of trustee boards. Annual audits for large charities
  • Greater emphasis on trustee induction
  • Board diversity
  • Time limits on trusteeships
  • Regular board reviews. For large charities, this should be annual
  • Good governance reporting, for example charities including a statement in their annual report that they follow the Governance Code for Charities, or a similar specialist governance code relevant to their work, and report any actions taken in light of the code
  • Stakeholder feedback: the provision of regular information to stakeholders that enables them to measure the charity’s success in achieving its purposes.

‘All of the above are important considerations and will help to strengthen governance within the sector. Regular skills audits are essential as they are the primary way that charities can ensure that trustees have the necessary capabilities to undertake their vital governance role. With specific regard to the Committee’s suggestion of a template for inductions and free access for smaller charities, we have guidance on this which smaller charities are welcome to access.

‘ICSA actively supports governance in the sector and welcomes opportunities to work with partners to further enhance understanding and the application of good governance in all sizes of charities,’ adds Louise.

SEND Governor matters

I was invited to the launch of the Driver Youth Trust report, Through the Looking Glass. There were interesting presentations followed by a panel discussion. During the panel discussion StarlightMcKinzie asked a very important question, “Shouldn’t all governors be governors of SEND?” The short answer is yes. All governors should be clear that their role is looking after the interests of ALL the children and hence they are all governors of SEND too. However, many governing bodies do have a designated SEND governor. The Department for Education’s SEND Code of Practice states

6.3 There should be a member of the governing body or a sub-committee with specific oversight of the school’s arrangements for SEN and disability. School leaders should regularly review how expertise and resources used to address SEN can be used to build the quality of whole-school provision as part of their approach to school improvement.

Legally there is no requirement for a particular governor to take on the role of SEND governor. What must happen is oversight, review and monitoring of the SEND provision. The governing body (GB) decides how best to do this. Many GBs decide to appoint a SEND governor who then reports back to the GB. This, in my view, is a good way to function. The advantages of having a named SEND governor are

  • One named person takes the lead and ownership and then reports back to the whole GB
  • There are many areas which the GB needs to monitor and for all of these areas school visits will form an integral part of the monitoring. Having named governors for these areas means that the
    • Work load is divided and few governors do not end up doing all the tasks. As governors are volunteers this is essential so that their time is utilised effectively
    • Having one governor “look after” SEND means that one governor is then “accountable” for monitoring. This ensures that SEND doesn’t get neglected because everyone assumed someone else would do it
  • The SEND governor would, as part of the monitoring visits, meet with the SENDCo. One named governor performing the role of SEND governor means that the SENDCo can develop a professional relationship with that person. This would be difficult if different governors came into school to have conversations with the SENDCo
  • Because these monitoring visits would be arranged between two people, the SEND governor and the SENDCo, it would be easier for them to schedule regular visits as only two diaries need to be consulted. Different people coming in to meet the SENDCo would be more difficult to arrange than just one governor visiting. Having more than one person coming in may also increase the workload of the SENDCo as different people may want to focus on different things and also lead to duplication
  • Governors should attend training which would help them to function effectively. Having one named governor taking on the role of SEND governor means that there are more chances of this governor attending relevant training/briefing.
  • Different governors bring different skills to the boardroom. The GB may be lucky enough to have someone with a good understanding of SEND issues or someone who is interested enough to attend training/briefings/read research so as to become well informed of SEND issues. Giving this governor the role of SEND governor means that the GB is utilising the skills available to it effectively

Though having one named governor is, in my opinion, a good way to monitor and evaluate the SEND provision, the GB must ensure that ALL governors are aware of the issues and take responsibility for the SEND children. This is done by ensuring there is regular reporting by the governor and SENDCo and that SEND is a regular item on the agenda. At the end of the day although having one named governor is an efficient way of performing the role, the GB is a corporate body and the responsibility is a corporate responsibility.

Some other points to consider:

  • It may be better not to take on this role in the school your child attends if you are the parent of a SEND child
  • The SEND governor should have frequent meetings with the SENDCo (perhaps termly so that the GB has reports to consider at every meeting).
  • It would also help if the SEND governor could also meet with the pastoral team in order to get acquainted with the complete picture of the support available to SEND children

Are there any other points which should be added to the above?

Principles and personal attributes which individuals bring to the board matter

Governance is coming under increasing scrutiny and rightly so. Every school deserves to have a good governing body and a governing body can only be as effective as the people serving on it. Below are some of the attributes that people serving on trust boards and local governing bodies (LGBs) should have.

Seven principles of public life; Nolan Principles

It is essential that school leaders (be they trustees, heads, SLT, people serving on LGBs) live by the seven Nolan Principles of Public Life.

  • Selflessness

    People serving on public bodies should act only in the interest of the public. In the case of people involved in governance they should ensure that they serve the interest of the school, students and the school community.

  • Integrity

    They must not place themselves under obligation to anyone who may influence them. They must act in the interest of the school and not take decisions in order to gain personal benefit.

  • Objectivity

    They must act fairly, without bias, not discriminate, and must base decisions on evidence.

  • Accountable

    They must understand that they are accountable for the decisions they take. Trustees and people serving on LGBs in MATs should understand that the trust board is the accountable body.

  • Openness

    They should act in an open and transparent manner. They should not withhold information from the public unless there are sound and lawful reasons to do so.

  • Honesty

    Honesty and truthfulness are essential characteristics for anyone involved in governance.

  • Leadership

    They should lead by example and challenge poor behaviour.

Seven “C”s from the Competency Framework for Governance

The recently published Competency Framework for Governance lists the following attributes which those involved in governance should have.

  • Committed

    They should be committed to doing the best that they can. They need to be committed to their development. The need to commit time and energy to the role. This will involve attending meetings well prepared and carrying out that they’ve been asked to do.

  • Confident

    They need to be confident enough to act independently, have courageous conversations and take part in discussions by expressing their opinions.

  • Curious

    They should be able to ask questions and be analytical.

  • Challenging

    They should not accept data at face value. They should be able to ask challenging questions in order to bring about school improvement.

  • Collaborative

    They should be able to work in a collaborative manner with the rest of the members of the governance team, head, senior teachers, parents, students and community.

  • Critical

    They should understand their role of a critical friend. They should be endeavour to improve their own performance as well as the performance of the whole team

  • Creative

    They should be able to be creative while solving problems, try new approaches and be innovative thinkers.

Other attributes

  • Provide challenge and support

    They should understand what is meant by support as well as challenge and be prepared to provide both. Many people find the challenge bit of the job hard, but that is the most important bit! Many people think that the word challenge means you have to be confrontational. That is not the case. Challenge just means asking the right questions to get all the information you need to perform your job.

  • Pull their own weight

    Governance is a huge and complex undertaking. Every member of the board should do his/her fair share of the work. The right governor will volunteer to do some of the tasks that have to be done. This may be monitoring visits, learning walks, attending school events and taking up a specific role (such as the SEN Governor).

  • Understand difference between strategic and operational

    They should understand the difference between being strategic and operational. The right governor is one who can be described as “eyes on, hands off” or “strategically engaged, operationally disengaged”.

  • Team player
    The governing body is a corporate body and each and every member needs to understand this. Governors should understand that

    (a) They cannot do anything they have not be delegated to do
    (b) Once a decision has been made, then that is the corporate decision and governors need to abide by it. They are allowed to express their opinion (and should!) during the discussion stage. Once a decision is reached, even if that wasn’t their preferred option, they have to abide by it and carry it through.

  • Not afraid to speak up

    They should be able to speak their mind. They should be able to bring up a difficult topic during a meeting and only during a meeting! This goes hand in hand with the point (b) I made above. If they feel strongly about something they should be able to speak up at the meeting. If the other members don’t agree then they should accept it and not carry on the conversation outside the boardroom.

  • Manage conflicts of interest

    They should be able to recognise and manage conflict of interests. There will be times when there will be conflicts of interests. The right governor is one who can recognise when these situations arise and knows what to do when this happens.

  • Understand duties

    They should understand and fulfil their statutory duties. They should understand their responsibilities under equality legislation. Academy Trustees should understand that they have duties under the Company Law and Charity Law.

The above is by no means an exhaustive list. I’m sure you can add more to the list so please do because for good governance getting the right people around the table matters. It is also important to remember that it’s not necessary that everyone will have these skills when they join. As long as you are willing to learn and develop these skills, you will be an effective governor.

I’ve made a Powerpoint presentation based on the above.

Supporting your governing body’s clerk matters

A good clerk is pivotal in ensuring that the governing body is as effective as it can be. It is true that good schools will have good governing bodies. It is, I think, equally true that good governing bodies have good clerks. For the purpose of this blog, I will assume that your governing body has an independent and professional clerk. What follows are some ideas on how you can support your clerk in order to help the clerk support you.

  • Write a good job description so that everyone is clear about the roles and responsibilities of your clerk. A clear job description also supports the clerk’s effectiveness.
  • Your clerk will be responsible for writing the agendas (in consultation with he Chair and Head) and circulating the agenda and papers. The Chair should make sure they make time to discuss the agenda with the clerk well before the meeting.
  • If you are responsible for a preparing a paper for the next meeting, do send it to the clerk in time for the clerk to include it in the meeting pack.
  • If you had some actions from the last meeting let the clerk know where you are with them. It will make the clerk’s job less stressful if they don’t have to chase you for papers or updates on actions.
  • As the Chair do ensure that when the clerk sends you the draft minutes you turn them around as quickly as possible. Consider using track changes which will help your clerk.
  • Support your clerk by ensuring they have access to good CPD.
  • Chairs should do a low stakes annual appraisal of clerks. This should be an opportunity for both to discuss how they think the governors and clerk worked together, what went well and what could be improved and how.
  • Ensure that your clerk feels like a valued member of the team. Ask for and listen to their advice when you are unsure.
  • Being introduced to and meeting the clerk should be part of your induction process for new governors.
  • There should also be an induction for a new clerk. They should be shown around the school, especially the room where you normally meet, introduced to the Head/SLT and any other member of the school staff they may need to contact and introduced to all the governors.
  • It may be helpful to agree a routine for regular communication between the Chair and the clerk which may contribute to effective use of both the chair’s and the clerk’s time.
  • It may be helpful to have a school email address for your clerk. This can be communicated to everyone via your website. This has various advantages
    • It will help parents and others know how to get in touch
    • It’s preferable than having the clerk’s personal email address in the public domain
    • If your clerk works for other governing bodies then this will help them in organising paperwork for the different governing bodies
  • Can your school provide a pigeon hole for your clerk? There may be instances where people will write to the clerk/GB/Chair. This correspondence should go to a dedicated pigeonhole which the clerk can access easily.
  • Encourage your clerk to keep up with the latest legislation/developments. If your governing body is a member of NGA (and I highly recommend that they are) then see that your clerk knows this and has signed up for the weekly newsletter.
  • Any governor can ask for an item to be put on the agenda. It would be helpful if the Chair would remind governors how to do this and how much notice is required. Clerks shouldn’t have to deal with last minute requests. (If there is a really urgent matter that can be dealt with under AOB and the governors should have an agreed process for this).
  • Make sure the clerk’s pay reflects what they do.
  • Lastly, and very importantly, in all your dealings with your clerk do consider their life/work balance. The chair should not hesitate to intercede if they feel that unfair demands are being made of the clerk.

Is there anything you would add to the above list?

Competency framework matters; personal attributes of effective governors

The Competency Framework lists personal attributes which governors should bring to the board in order to ensure effective governance. I have previously posted slides which detail the competencies needed by all governors, by chairs and by at least one person on the board. Below are slides dealing with the personal attributes of effective governors.

 

Competency matters; knowledge and skills needed by at least one person

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 those 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 at least one person on the board should have or develop with training. The previous blogs dealt with knowledge and skills needed by everyone and those needed by chairs.

2.ACCOUNTABILITY FOR EDUCATIONAL STANDARDS AND FINANCIAL PERFORMANCE

  • Educational improvement
    • Has knowledge of the requirements relating to the education of children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND)
    • Has knowledge of the requirements relating to the safeguarding of children in education including the Prevent duty, th e duties and responsibilities in relation to health and safety in education
    • Is confident in their challenge to executive leaders on strategies for monitoring and improving the behaviour and safety of pupils/students
  • Rigorous analysis of data
    • Reviews and analyses a broad range of information and data in order to spot trends and patterns
  • Financial frameworks and accountability
    • Has knowledge of the organisations’ current financial health and efficiency and how this compares with similar organisations both locally and nationally
    • Uses their detailed financial knowledge and experience, which is appropriate for the scale of the organisation, to provide advice and guidance to the board
  • Staffing and performance management
    • Has knowledge of human resource (HR) education policy and the organisation’s processes in relation to teachers’ pay and conditions and the role of governance in staffing reviews, restructuring and due diligence
    • Monitors the outcome of pay decisions, including the extent to which different groups of teachers may progress at different rates and checks processes operate fairly