Tag Archives: Governor skills

Governance matters at the #EducationFest

One of the biggest events on the edu conference calendar is back. The Telegraph Festival of Education is being held on the 22nd and 23rd of June at Wellington College. This will be third year I will be attending the Festival and to say I’m very excited would be an understatement!

The two day programme is jam-packed with educational goodies. There’s something for everyone. For the first time this year there is a dedicated SEN strand curated by Jarlath O’Brien, Headteacher, Carwarden Community School. There will be a wonderful researchED all day event. Dr David James and Ian Warwick have curated a full day session on World Class: Tackling the ten most important challenges facing schools today” which promises to be amazing. WomenEd and BAMEed are also well represented. There will be a chance to hear from the likes of Sir Roger Scruton, Dr Becky Allen, Sean Harford, Prof Rob Coe, Christine Counsell, Tom Bennett, Martin Robinson, Katharine Birbalsingh, Sir David  Carter, Daisy Christodoulou, Tarjunder Gill, Vic Goddard, Stuart Lock, Tom Sherrington, Loic Menzies, Carl Hendrick and many, many more. However, the thing I’m most excited about is, obviously, the governance strand.

I’m grateful to the organisers that they have, again, given a platform to governors. I am very lucky that I will be taking part in one of these sessions. This is a panel discussion on “Governance in the 21st Century“. With more and more schools joining multi academy trusts governance looks very different than it did twenty or even ten years ago. Schools are expected to be outward facing and boards and schools are expected to collaborate. Boards are expected to be increasingly skilled based.  This session hopes to explore how governors continue to hold schools to account as well as provide support while facing these challenges themselves. To discuss these issues, I will be joined by the following people who bring a wealth of governance experience.

Pat Petch OBE has been a school governor for over 30 years – but not all that time was spent at the same school! Pat has extensive experience of school governance.  She has been a governor at a nursery school and an adult college and most descriptions of school in between. More recently Pat has chaired three Interim Executive Boards resulting in schools moving out of special measures and now flourishing. This experience proved to be both extremely challenging and very rewarding. Pat was a member of the steering group that set up the National Governors’ Council (now the NGA) and chaired it for four years. She was awarded an OBE in 1999 for services to education. She is now an independent education consultant and delivers support for schools and governor training courses in various London Boroughs.

Jo Penn has many years of experience as a school governor. She is currently Chair of a Local Authority Primary School Governing Body and on the Board of a Secondary Academy. She has also been a member of a Special School Interim Executive Board and Chair of a Foundation School/converter Academy for four years. Jo is an experienced National Leader of Governance offering support to other chairs and governing bodies. In 2013 Jo co-founded @UkGovchat on Twitter, bringing governors from around the country together in weekly chat sessions for mutual challenge, support and development. She is an occasional blogger at Challenge, Support and All That Jazz

Steve Penny has been a governor for some six years, and Chair for the last two, at a single convertor academy girls’ school, that admits boys into the Sixth Form.  Steve is an Engineering Ambassador and a STEM UCAS tutor for the Social Mobility Foundation having completed a further degree with the OU which included experience of teaching in secondary schools

Su Turner is an experienced parent and LA governor in both primary and secondary schools, and is currently chair of a secondary academy.  Su’s recent national work has allowed her to work with the National Schools Commissioner and other senior education leaders to debate topical issues such as local accountability for education, and the changing role of councils. Su is Founder and Director of Insight to Impact Consulting Ltd – a governance improvement consultancy. So, do come and join us and take part in the discussion.

The other governance sessions are:

Does size matter? The growth of multi academy trusts”. This panel discussion will look at the need for good governance in MATs of all sizes and different ways that this can be achieved. It will also consider how governance structures and processes need to be adapted depending on the size and needs of the MAT. The panel consists of Jon Coles, Chief Executive of United Learning, Emma Knights, CEO of NGA, Roger Inman, Head of Education Department at Stone King, and Liz Holmes, Vice Chair of the Board of Faringdon Academy of Schools (a community MAT in Oxfordshire). The panel will be chaired by Katie Paxton-Dogget who is a governance specialist and author of “How to run an Academy School”. 

Challanges of school governance in 2017 pesented by Emma Knights, CEO of National Governance Association. 

The programme for both the days can be viewed here. If this has whet your appetite then tickets are still available and can be booked using this link (there’s even a special rate for governors!).


@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?

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.


  • 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


Competency Framework matters; knowledge and skills needed by all

 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 everyone should have or develop with training. The next blog will deal with knowledge and skills needed by chairs and the third those needed by at least one  person on the board.


1. Strategic Leadership

  • Setting direction
    • Has knowledge of key themes of national education policy and the local education context
    • Knows about key features of effective governance
    • Knows about the strategic priorities (and where appropriate, charitable objects) for their organisation
    • Has tools and techniques for strategic planning
    • Knows about principles of effective change management
    • Knows about the difference between strategic and operational decisions
    • Thinks strategically and contributes to the development of the organisation’s strategy
    • Can articulate the organisation’s strategic priorities (and where appropriate, charitable objects) and explain how these inform goals
    • Can put in place plans for monitoring progress towards strategic goals
    • Supports strategic change having challenged as appropriate so that change is in the best interests of children, young people and the organisation (and aligned with charitable objects, where appropriate)
    • Is able to champion the reasons for, and benefits of, change to all
  • Culture, values and ethos
    • Knows about the values of the organisation and how these are reflected in strategy and improvement plans
    • Knows about the ethos of the organisation and, where appropriate, that of the foundation trust including in relation to any religious character
    • Knows about the code of conduct for the board and how this embodies the culture, values and ethos of the organisation
    • Can set and agree the distinctive characteristics and culture of the organisation or, in schools with a religious designation, preserve and develop the distinctive character set out in the organisation’s trust deed
    • Acts in a way that exemplifies and reinforces the organisation’s culture, values and ethos
    • Ensures that policy and practice align with the organisation’s culture, values and ethos
  • Decision-making
    • Identifies viable options and those most likely to achieve the organisation’s goals and objectives
    • Puts aside vested or personal interests to make decisions that are in the best interests of all pupils/students
    • Acts with honesty, frankness and objectivity taking decisions impartially, fairly and on merit using the best evidence and without discrimination or bias
    • Brings integrity, and considers a range of perspectives and diverse ways of thinking to challenge the status quo, reject assumptions and take nothing for granted
    • Identifies when to seek the advice of an independent clerk/governance professional for guidance on statutory and legal responsibilities and ethical aspects of the board’s decision-making
    • Abides by the principle of collective-decision making and stands by the decisions of the board, even where their own view differ
    • Encourages transparency in decision making and is willingly answerable to, and open to challenge from, those with an interest in decisions made
  • Collaborative working with stakeholders and partners
    • Knows about key stakeholders and their relationship with the organisation
    • Knows about principles of effective stakeholder management
    • Knows about ools and techniques for stakeholder engagement, particularly with regard to engaging parents and carers
    • Is proactive in consulting, and responding to, the views of a wide group of stakeholders when planning and making decisions
    • Anticipates, prepare for and welcome stakeholder questions and ensures that these are answered in a relevant, appropriate and timely manne
    • Works in partnership with outside bodies where this will contribute to achieving the goals of the organisation
    • Uses clear language and messaging to communicate to parents and carers, pupils/students, staff and the local community
    • Is credible, open, honest and appropriate when communicating with stakeholders and partners including clear and timely feedback on how their views have been taken into account
    • Considers the impact of the board’s decisions and the effect they will have on the key stakeholder groups and especially parents and carers and the local community
    • Acts as an ambassador for the organisation
    • Supports and challenges leaders to raise aspiration and community cohesion both within the wider community and with local employers
  • Risk management
    • Knows about the principles of risk management and how these apply to education and the organisation
    • Knows about the process for risk management in the organisation and especially how and when risks are escalated through the organisation for action
    • Knows about the risks or issues that can arise from conflicts of interest or a breach of confidentiality
    • Is able to identify and prioritise the organisational and key risks, their impact and appropriate countermeasures, contingencies and risk owners
    • Ensures risk management and internal control systems are robust enough to enable the organisation to deliver its strategy in the short- and long-term
    • Advises on how risks should be managed or mitigated to reduce the likelihood or impact of the risk and on how to achieve the right balance of risk
    • Ensures the risk management and internal control systems are monitored and reviewed and appropriate actions are taken
    • Actively avoids conflicts of interest or otherwise declares and manages them

2. Accountability for educational standards and financial performance

  • Educational improvement
    • Knows about the importance and impact of high-quality teaching to improving outcomes and the systems, techniques and strategies used to measure teaching quality, pupil progress and attainment
    • Knows about the importance of a broad and balanced of the curriculum
    • Knows about the rationale for the chosen curriculum and how this both promotes the ethos of the organisation and meets the needs of the pupils/students
    • Knows about the relevant national standards for the phase and type of education and how these are used for accountability and benchmarking
    • Knows about the relevant statutory testing and assessment regime
    • Knows about the purposes and principles of assessment outlined in the final report of the Commission on Assessment Without Levels.
    • Knows about the rationale behind the assessment system being used to monitor and measure pupil progress in the organisation
    • Knows about the key principles, drivers and cycle of school improvement
    • Knows about the relevant indicators for monitoring behaviour and safety including information about admissions, exclusions, behaviour incidents, bullying and complaints
    • Knows about the role of behaviour in maintaining a safe environment and promoting learning
    • Establishes clear expectations for executive leaders in relation to the process of educational improvement and intended outcomes
    • Define the range and format of information and data they need in order to hold executive leaders to account
    • Seeks evidence from executive leaders to demonstrate the appropriateness and potential impact of proposed improvement initiatives
    • Questions leaders on how the in-school assessment system in use effectively supports the attainment and progress of all pupils, including those with a Special Educational Need or Disability (SEND)
  • Rigorous analysis of data
    • Knows about the DfE performance tables and school comparison tool
    • Knows about RAISEOnline for school and pupil data
    • Knows about the evidence base that data is derived from e.g. pupil attainment and progress data and how it is collected, quality assured and monitored across the organisation
    • Knows about the context of the school and in relation to other schools
    • Knows about information about attendance and exclusions in the school, local area and nationally
    • Knows about the importance of triangulating information about pupil progress and attainment with other evidence including information from, executive leaders (e.g. lesson observations, work scrutiny and learning walks), stakeholders including parents, pupils, staff) and external information (benchmarks, peer reviews, external experts)
    • Analyses and interprets data in order to evaluate performance of groups of pupils/students
    • Analyses and interprets progression and destination data to understand where young people are moving on to after leaving the organisation
    • Uses published data to understand better which areas of school performance need improvement and is able to identify any further data that is required
    • Questions leaders on whether they are collecting the right data to inform their assessment and challenges appropriately when data collection is not adding value.
    • Challenges senior leaders to ensure that the collection of assessment data is purposeful, efficient and valid.
  • Financial frameworks and accountability
    • Knows about the financial policies and procedures of the organisation, including its funding arrangements, funding streams and its mechanisms for ensuring financial accountability
    • Knows about the organisation’s internal control processes and how these are used to monitor spend and ensure propriety to secure value for public money
    • Knows about tthe financial health and efficiency of the organisation and how this compares with similar organisations locally and nationally
    • Has a basic understanding of financial management in order to ensure the integrity of financial information received by the board and to establish robust financial controls
    • Has confidence in the arrangements for the provision of accurate and timely financial information, and the financial systems used to generate such information
    • Interprets budget monitoring information and communicate this clearly to others
    • Participates in the organisation’s self-evaluation of activities relating to financial performance, efficiency and control
    • Is rigorous in their questioning to understand whether enough being done to drive financial efficiency and align budgets to priorities
  • Financial management and monitoring
    • Knows about the organisation’s process for resource allocation and the importance of focussing allocations on impact and outcomes
    • Knows about the importance of setting and agreeing a viable financial strategy and plan which ensure sustainability and solvency
    • Knows about how the organisation receives funding through the pupil premium and other grants e.g. primary sport funding, how these are spent and how spending has an impact on pupil outcomes
    • Knows about the budget setting, audit requirements and timescales for the organisation and checks that they are followed
    • Knows about the principles of budget management and how these are used in the organisation
    • Assimilates the financial implications of organisational priorities and use this knowledge to make decisions about allocating current and future funding
    • Interprets financial data and asks informed questions about income, expenditure and resource allocation and alignment with the strategic plan priorities
  • Staffing and performance management
    • Knows about the organisation’s annual expenditure on staff and resource and any data against which this can be benchmarked against
    • Knows about how staff are recruited to the organisation and how this compares to good recruitment and retention practice
    • Knows about how staff performance management is used throughout the organisation in line with strategic goals and priorities and how this links to the criteria for staff pay progression, objective setting and development planning
    • Knows about the remuneration system for staff across the organisation
    • Ensures that the staffing and leadership structures are fit for purpose
    • Takes full responsibility for maintaining, updating and implementing a robust and considered pay policy
    • Feels confident in approving and applying the system for performance management of executive leaders
    • Identifies and considers the budgetary implication of pay decisions and considers these in the context of the spending plan
    • Pays due regard to ensuring that leaders and teachers are able to have a satisfactory work life balance
  • External accountability
    • Knows about the purpose, nature and processes of formal accountability and scrutiny (e.g. DfE, Ofsted, EFA etc.) and what is required by way of evidence
    • Knows about the national performance measures used to monitor and report performance –including the minimum standards that trigger eligibility for intervention
    • Ensures appropriate structures, processes and professional development are in place to support the demands of internal and external scrutiny
    • Values the ownership that parents and carers and other stakeholders feel about ‘their school’ and ensures that the board makes itself accessible and answerable to them
    • Uses an understanding of relevant data and information to present verbal and written responses to external scrutiny (e.g. inspectors/RSCs/EFA)

3. People

  • Building an effective team
    • Demonstrates commitment to their role and to active participation in governance
    • Ability to acquire the basic knowledge that they need to be effective in their role
    • Uses active listening effectively to build rapport and strong collaborative relationships
    • Welcomes constructive challenge and is respectful when challenging others
    • Provides timely feedback and is positive about receiving feedback in return
    • Seeks to resolve misunderstanding at the earliest stage in order to prevent conflict
    • Raises doubts and encourages the expression of differences of opinion
    • Is honest, reflective and self-critical about mistakes made and lessons learned
    • Influences others and builds consensus using persuasion and clear presentation of their views
    • Demonstrates professional ethics, values and sound judgement
    • Recognises the importance of, and values the advice provided by, the clerk/governance professional role in supporting the board.

4. Structures

  • Roles and responsibilities
    • Knows about the role, responsibilities and accountabilities of the board, and its three core functions
    • Knows about the strategic nature of the board’s role and how this differs from the role of executive leaders and what is expected of each other
    • In academy trusts, knows about the role and powers of Members and how these relate to those of the board
    • Knows about the governance structure of the organisation and particularly how governance functions are organised and delegated, including where decisions are made
    • Knows how the board and any committees (including local governing bodies in a MAT)are constituted
    • Is able to contribute to the design of governance and committee structures that are fit for purpose and appropriate to the scale and complexity of the organisation
    • Is able to adapt existing committee structures as necessary in light of learning/experience including evaluation of impact

5. Compliance

  • Statutory and contractual requirements
    • Knows about the legal, regulatory and financial requirements on the board
    • Knows about the need to have regard to any statutory guidance and government advice including the Governance Handbook
    • Knows about the duties placed upon them under education and employment legislation, and, for academy trusts, the Academies Financial Handbook and their funding agreement(s)
    • Knows about the articles of association or instrument of government and where applicable, the Trust Deeds
    • Knows about the Ofsted inspection/regulatory framework
    • Where applicable, knows about the denominational inspection carried in accordance with s. 48 of the Education Act 2005
    • Knows about the board’s responsibilities in regard to Equalities and Health and Safety legislation
    • Knows about duties relating to safeguarding, including the Prevent Duty; duties related to special education needs and disabilities (SEND); and duties related to information, including in the Data Protection Act 1998 and the Freedom of Information Act 2000
    • Knows about the school’s whistleblowing policy and procedures and any responsibilities of the board within it
    • Knows about the importance of adhering to organisation policies e.g. on parental complaints or staff discipline issues
    • Is able to speak up when concerned about non-compliance where it has not been picked-up by the board or where they feel it is not being taken seriously
    • Is able to explain the board’s legal responsibilities and accountabilities
    • Is able to identify when specialist advice may be required

6. Evaluation

  • Managing self-review and development
    • Recognises their own strengths and areas for development and seeks support and training to improve knowledge and skills where necessary
    • Is outward facing and focused on learning from others to improve practice
    • Maintains a personal development plan to improve his/her effectiveness and links this to the strategic aims of the organisation
    • Is open to taking-up opportunities, when appropriate, to attend training and any other opportunities to develop knowledge, skills and behaviours
    • Obtains feedback from a diverse range of colleagues and stakeholders to inform their own development
    • Undertakes self-review, reflecting on their personal contributions to the board, demonstrating and developing their commitment to improvement, identifying areas for development and building on existing knowledge and skills
  • Managing and developing the board’s effectiveness
    • Evaluates the impact of the board’s decisions on pupil/student outcomes
    • Utilises inspection feedback fully to inform decisions about board development
    • Contributes to self-evaluation processes to identify strengths and areas for board development

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”.

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.