Tag Archives: Parent Governors

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
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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.

Correcting the “Mumsnet misconception” matters

Few of us were having a discussion on Twitter and a Mumsnet thread was pointed out. The title of the thread “Is your governing body run by a little clique?” compelled me to write this post.

Let me say, right at the beginning, that I do know that not all governing bodies operate the way they should. There are some real horror stories out there BUT there are great governing bodies and great governors too. The danger of threads/discussions like the one on Mumsnet is that it may put off people from joining governing bodies. It also does little for the morale of those of us who work really hard and within rules. So, this is my attempt to present the other side of the coin.

A committee is not a clique!

Governing bodies, by and large, assign the work that has to be done to committees (though the circle model is being used by many governing bodies, by and large it is the committee model which is prevalent). Governing bodies form committees and draft terms of reference for these committees taking into account what works best for their school. Some go for a two committee model, some for three or more. The terms of reference of these committees as well as the scheme of delegation agreed by the governing body will determine what these committees are expected to do. These committees meet, usually once a term, and carry out the tasks which have been delegated to them. If decisions need to be made, then the committee will make them, voting on these if necessary. The committees then prepare a report which is presented to the full governing body. Some of the decisions can only be made at the full governing body level. In this case the committee would have discussed the issue and come up with a recommendation which is then presented to the governing body which then takes a decision. The thing to remember is that if the governing body has decided on a structure which has committees, then the majority of the work is done at the committee level and reported to the full governing body. If the full governing body were to debate each and every issue again, then that would just be duplication of the work done at the committee level and a waste of time. Delegating the work to committees leaves the governing body free to focus its attention on those matters which cannot be delegated.

All committees are created equal!

One of the criticisms concerns the committee membership. Some people think that governing bodies work as cliques with some governors responsible for what are perceived to be the more important areas, for example curriculum, achievement, progress and finance. This criticism proves that people have not understood how governors are assigned to committees. Governing bodies should conduct skill audits and use these audits to inform committee memberships. Every governor will not have every skill needed by the governing body. Governing bodies identify the skills each member of the governing body has and then make the best use of these skills by asking them to sit on relevant committees. The other misconception is that some committees are “more important” than other committees. Governing bodies which have decided on a committee structure would have decided to have those particular committees because that is how they decided to divide the work and that is the structure which works best for them. No committee is more or less important than the other committees. For the governing body to function well and be effective, ALL committees need to function well. When we converted we adopted the three committee structure. The three committees are Achievement and Curriculum, Resources and Students, Parents and Community (SPC). I became a member of the SPC Committee. At no point did I ever think that I was a member of a committee which was less important than the other two. If your governing body has decided to go with the committee model then these committees will perform different but equally important functions. It would be wrong to think that governors on, for example, the Finance or Curriculum committee are behaving like a clique just because they happen to be on those committees or that they are in any way more “important” than governors on other committees. It is also worth remembering that governors can attend meetings of other committees too although they won’t be able to vote on any matter. So, every governor has a chance to understand which decisions are being made and why, firstly by reading the minutes and papers of committees, asking for clarification at full governing body meetings and by requesting to attend meetings of committees other than the one they are members of.

Parent governors are different from union reps!

While reading this Mumsnet thread, I also came across something else which needs clarification. Parent governors are not elected to the governing body to represent the views of parents. They are representative parents not parent representatives. This is an important distinction which needs to be understood by the parents as well as the parent governors. People become governors via different routes but once appointed they are all of equal stature and their core purpose is to look out for the interests of ALL the students.

Some people reading this post will say that not all governing bodies behave in the way I’ve described above. This is true and these governors need good quality training but that’s another post! This post, however, is not about the bad or the ugly but about the good. If you are thinking of becoming a governor don’t let the horror stories put you off. There are excellent governing bodies out there that are nothing like the ones described on Mumsnet! Those of you who understand your duties and obligations and operate within statutory boundaries, rest assured that you are appreciated for the difference you make and the time and energy you devote to your schools.

Recruitment matters

Governing bodies are starting to get noticed and that is how it should be. This renewed focus on governing bodies can only be a good thing as it will lead to raising the profile of governors. For far too long governors have been working away in the background without anyone, or hardly anyone, noticing what an essential service they provide and what hard work that is. This renewed focus on governance also means an increased accountability, again a very good thing. The third thing which I hope this focus on governance will bring about is the recognition by governing bodies of the need to recruit the “right” governors to fill the empty places around the table.

I have previously written about some of the qualities which a person needs to possess in order to be considered a “right” governor. The next question is where and how do we find this person?! In order to recruit the right person you need to use all the resources at your disposal. Consider a “Recruitment Agency”. One example of this is SGOSS. Have you thought of using your Clerk as a head-hunter?! If you employ a professional clerk then he/she would be clerking other GBs too and would have firsthand experience of how good those governors are. Let your Clerk know that you would value his/her input and ask for feelers to be put out. The Clerk would probably know if a governor was interested in joining another GB. If you have a good clerk and that clerk recommends a governor, then don’t let that governor slip through your fingers! When appointing governors, if possible, seek feedback from people who know or work with the potential governor. Social media can be a powerful tool while searching for people to serve on your board. Consider using social media like Twitter to advertise the fact that you are looking for a new parent governor, for example.

When appointing governors try and make sure you don’t end up with the same type of people around the table. This means there needs to be mixture of skills and to achieve this you should think of conducting a skills’ review before you recruit new governors. The review would reveal which skills were available to you and which were lacking. You could then tailor your recruitment drive to ensure that you had a variety of skills around the table to call upon. Remember though that you are appointing people for their experience in various fields, not to use them as “cheap or free labour”!

It may be best to have a “job description” or a person specification. This should make it clear what the board expects from the successful applicant (such as the how many meetings will the governor be expected to attend, the need for training, etc.).

When thinking of appointing or recruiting new governors think about board diversity. Will someone looking around your table, describe your governors as being “male, pale and stale?” Are both genders represented equally or are most of your governors men? If the answer is no to the first half of the question and yes to the second half, then do you know why? Is there anything you can do while recruiting to change that? You may need to go out into the community and ask what you could do to attract more women. You may need to change the timings of some of your meetings or you may need to give some thought to providing child care while they are attending meetings. If you are a secondary school, you may have 6th Form students who may be willing to run a crèche once or twice a term. Changing the timing or providing a crèche may help attract those women who may not have applied otherwise.

Do your governors come from the various racial and ethnic groups which make up your community? When advertising for jobs we make sure we include a statement about being an equal opportunity employer. Maybe thought needs to be given to a similar statement when we are looking to appoint governors. This may help in attracting the underrepresented groups. What may also help in recruitment from these groups is if you were to make it clear how diversity in the board make up will help the students and the school.

What is the average age of your governors? Young people have a lot to offer. They may have skills the older members of the board lack and they can, therefore, contribute as much as the older governors. Clare Collins has recently written about an initiative she is involved with. She found the young governors she was working with to be energetic, enthusiastic and curious. She feels that boards should have governors who are “young enough to be able to really relate to the children now going through our schools”. Surely, this can only be a good thing. This is where using social media will be really useful. You will be able to reach your young audience more easily if you use social media to announce the fact that you are recruiting.

One important point to remember is that you must not let the above become a box ticking exercise. Recruiting people so that you are able to get the right people around the table with a diversity of skills, ethnic backgrounds, gender, and age will have many advantages. It reflects your school and local community, it will lead to healthier debate and hopefully it will make your board more capable of tackling issues.


Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Hopefully, with the right strategies the right people will be recruited so that governing bodies become more like the bright, happy picture just above rather than the grey and dull one at the top.