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”.