Tag Archives: “Right” governor

Choosing the right board matters

I have previously written about what may make a person the “right” person to have on your board. I think it is equally important for people to consider if the board they are thinking of joining is the right one for them and conducting own due diligence. Below are some things you may want to consider when you are thinking of joining a board/governing body.

Values, ethos and culture

This is perhaps the most important. Make sure that the board and the school leadership share your values and ethos. It would be very difficult, if not impossible, to work as an effective member of the team if you have different values. Visit the school, talk to the chair, vice chair, other governors and the head and other staff and try and see if they share your hopes for the young people under their care. Think about what your goals for the children of that community are and how closely are they aligned with the goals the rest of the board has.

Skills and experience

Every board member brings their unique skills and experience to the board.

  • Ask the chair/vice chair how they see the board benefitting from your skills and experience. They should be clear that your skills and experience will be used by the board to carry out strategic functions and not operational ones. Some boards can make the mistake of thinking that appointing someone with particular skills means the school can get someone who can do pro bono work for the school/board.
  • Ask them if a skill audit has been done and are there other governors with skills similar to yours. A board should be made up of people with diverse skills and experiences. Having too many people with the same skills will not help the board.
  • Try and determine if and why the board needs your skill and perspective. You can then decide if you will make a valuable contribution or not.

Instrument of Governance

You should read this carefully. If you are thinking of joining the trust board of a single or multi-academy trust then you should read the Articles of Association. If it is a local governing body (LGB) you are thinking of joining then read the Scheme of Delegation.

Culture of the board

It would be very beneficial to meet the chair and talk about the culture of the board.

  • How does the chair approach their role?
  • What is the relationship between the board members and the board and the executive?
  • Do board members meet outside of the boardroom?
  • How do the board members communicate with each other, with the executive and with the parents and the community?
  • Do you get the feeling the board challenges as well as supports the executive?

The way the board operates

After having read the instrument of governance, try and form an idea of what should a board which has to carry out those functions look like.

  • Is the board too big/small to carry out all those functions?
  • If it is too small/big then how would that affect your work as a board member? Will it mean that you have too much/too little to do?
  • Try and get hold of minutes of few past meetings. They should give you an idea of the workings of the board and the challenges it faces.
  • Do the minutes tell you how good the board is at asking challenging questions and the executive at providing answers?
  • The role of the board is to govern and not to manage. Do the minutes give you the impression that the board is focused on strategic issues or does it have the tendency to stray into the operational?
  • Do the minutes read like the minutes of a governing body or a PTA?
  • Ask if the board has committees and if it does which one would you be expected to sit on.
  • Would you be expected to do monitoring visits? How are these planned and structured?
  • Does the board employ an independent clerk? A qualified, professional and independent clerk is very important and will support good governance.
  • Do also ask if there is a possibility of observing a meeting before you finally decide. This is beneficial for both you and the board.
  • How does the board help a new member settle in and get to grips with the work of the board? Is there a mentor scheme for new members?

Expectations of the board

You will need to find out how often the board meets and at what time. You should also ask

  • How long do meetings normally last?
  • What type of training are you expected to undertake?
  • Does the board help you source this training?

Chairing

Although all governors are equal, the chair does have additional responsibilities and can set the tone for how the board functions. The way the chair operates will give you an idea about how the board operates. Before deciding to join the board you should ask to meet the chair.

  • Do you get the feeling that the chair is knowledgeable, approachable and open to new ideas?
  • Do you think the chair is great at building a team and getting the best from the team members?
  • Does the chair think strategically and with an eye on the long term future of the school?

The head/CEO

Prospective new board members should be offered an opportunity to meet with the head/CEO. This meeting is for the benefit of the new member and gives them an opportunity of ask questions. The head/CEO should not view this as an opportunity for them to interview the prospective candidate. The appointment of new members is not their job.

Conflicts of interest

Try and determine if you will have any conflicts of interest. These do not necessarily rule you out but you and the board should be aware of these so they can be managed. If there is a chance of a related party transaction then serious consideration should be given to whether it is in everyone’s interest that you join the board.

Expenses Policy

Do ask the chair if the board has a governor expenses policy. Good boards will have something in place or will be willing to put one in place. Although this is a voluntary role and you are not legally allowed to be paid you should be able to claim expenses incurred during the performance of your role. You should not have to decide that governance is not for you because of the reasonable expenses you may incur.

To join or not to join

At the end of your due diligence you will get an idea if the board and you are a good match or not, whether you have the right expertise and the time to make valuable contributions and if there is a good fit as far as the culture and ethos is concerned. If you decide that, for whatever reason, this is not the board for you but you still want to help the school then there are other avenues you can explore. If you feel your skills are perhaps not needed by this particular board then do keep looking for one where your skills will be useful. If time is an issue, then perhaps look for a board where the timings work for you or leave it for a while and try again later when you have more time to devote to governance. Deciding to walk away because it is not the right board/time is the right thing to do because joining a board where you have these reservations won’t help you or the board.

 

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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.

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.

Identifying what makes a person the “right” governor matters

There has been a lot of discussion about the importance of having the “right” people around the governing body table. The governing body will only be as good as the people who serve on it. Question is, how do you recognise, identify or define a “right” governor. Here are my thoughts on the qualities a person needs to possess in order to be considered the right board member.

1. They should be able to understand what is meant by support as well as challenge and be prepared to provide both. This is not to say that as soon as you join the board you will know how to do this. Some people instinctively know while others need to learn. As long as you are willing to learn you are the right governor. 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. I use the word “job” deliberately. The nature of governance has moved on. You will be held to account for the students and the school you are responsible for. The days when you could say, “I’m just a volunteer” have long gone. Lord Nash brought this to home when he said, “Volunteer does not mean amateur”. If you consider being a governor as a job then you will realise how important it is that you have the right skills to do the job effectively. You will appreciate that this job, like any other, needs you to keep up to date and get trained in those aspects when you fell you lack the required degree of knowledge.

2. They should be committed to doing the best that he can. This will involve many things. Training is one, as I mentioned above. The other is regular attendance at meetings. This does not  mean just turning up! Governors need to be much more than, to use a crude expression, bums on seats! You need to prepare for the meeting. You need to have read all the papers beforehand. You need to have actioned whatever you were asked to do at previous meetings.

3. They should pull their weight! Governance is a huge and complex undertaking. Every member of the board should do his 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).

4. 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”.

5. They will be a team player. The governing body is a corporate body and each and every member needs to understand this. They

(a) Cannot do anything they have not be delegated to do

(b) Once a decision has been made, then that is the corporate decision and they 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.

6. They should be able to speak his 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 others don’t agree then they should accept it and not carry on the conversation outside the boardroom.

7. 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.

8. They must be a person of the highest integrity.

9. They must understand principles of accountability, probity and confidentiality.

10. If they are a board member in an Academy they must understand that they have statutory duties as a Director under Companies Act and duties as a trustee under Charity Law.

So, to summarise the “right” governor is one who

  • Provides support and challenge
  • Has high levels of commitment
  • Pulls their weight
  • Is strategic and not operational
  • Is a team player
  • Speaks their mind
  • Recognises when there may be conflicts of interest and knows what to do when they occur
  • Understands integrity, probity, confidentiality and accountability
  • Understands statutory duties

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.

Neil Yates (@neilayates) commented on Twitter and said, “I’m beginning to think that commitment & involvement are far more important than transferable expertise from other sectors”.