Tag Archives: Soft skills Stakeholder vs skill based model Staff governors Parent governors

Governance matters in Festival of Education Part 2

This year’s Festival of Education had sessions which would have been of interest to governors. I have previously written about my session with National Schools Commissioner, Dominic Herrington. Below is a short account of some other sessions I was able to attend.

Ruth Agnew’s session was on “Effective Governor Challenge”. Ruth started by making the point that welcoming and enabling effective challenge is an aspiration and asked how if people welcome challenge. Good, professional relationships are important in schools. Too much trust and friendly relationship can hinder challenge. Ruth then talked about why and how schools start to decline. She said that problems start when processes to ensure accountability start to falter (lack of skills and training, too trusting a relationship, misplaced loyalty, too reliant on head for information, governors not acting strategically, etc). Ruth said that she had not found a better resource of what effective governors do than the “Learning from the Best” Ofsted report. Ruth said none of the things mentioned in the report are rocket science! Ruth mentioned that sometimes heads model the questions governors should be asking. She thought this isn’t necessarily a problem but it must not become the default. Ruth also encouraged us to think how we frame our questions. “How did we do in SATs this year” is better if it’s framed as “What do these results tell us about us meeting our objectives for this cohort”. Ruth said challenge isn’t lobbing questions like tennis balls at the school leaders. We shouldn’t be using checklists. Instead, we need to look at things with fresh eyes and then if we find an issue Ruth wants us to be like a dog with a bone!

Dr Kate Chhatwal spoke about accountability and peer reviews. According to Kate, the advantages of a peer review system are:

  • We don’t need permission to take part in peer reviews
  • It works with top performing schools as well as those needing support
  • It allows identification and sharing of excellence

Kate talked about how Challenge Partners conduct peer review. The important point is that this is “doing with and not doing to”. Challenge Partners are also doing MAT reviews but they don’t have a strict framework for this as MATs are still in their infancy. They start with a simple question, “What is the MAT doing to ensure the children it serves achieve better than they might otherwise, and is it working?”. This was a very interesting session and I think as time passes peer reviews may become more important. I completely agreed with Kate when she said that you are a system leader only if you care for the children beyond your own institution.

The session by Katie Paxton-Dogget and Tara Paxton-Dogget was titled “Matchmaking for academies”. Katie started by saying that more and more schools are joining or forming multi-academy trusts (MATs). As Labour hasn’t said they will return schools to local authority control, even if there is an election and we have new inhabitants in Sanctuary Building, finding a good MAT will be important for many schools. Katie explained the difference between academies and maintained schools. She said when people say autonomy is lost upon joining a MAT, they should be asked about the level of autonomy maintained schools have. Katie went on to the discussions governors should have when they are considering joining a MAT.

  • Revisit your vision and ethos. You should be looking at MATs which share your ethos
  • Consider what type of MAT you want to join
  • Think about geographical location of your school and other schools in the MAT

Tara made the point that as in human relationships, even if partners have differences as long as they share values the relationship can thrive. Tara’s school had recently become part of a MAT. She said that as far as students were concerned they hadn’t noticed any striking changes. There was more contact between students now which she thought was a good thing to have come out of being part of the MAT. It was good to hear from a student too, especially one as articulate as Tara.

The other session I attended was by Andy Guest on, “Is our model of school governance broken?” Andy started by asking posing the question, “If you started with a blank page, would you design what we currently have?” Andy also made the case for simplifying things by

  • Committing to either academisation or reverting to LA as having both isn’t working
  • Creating a simpler quality/compliance/value for money framework
  • Committing to a capability model across the system and be honest about the role of stakeholder engagement

Andy was of the opinion that governance has to change if we want an equitable and sustainable school system

There was a lot to think about in this session and I’m sure these conversations will continue.

Links to Wakelets (collated tweets) from some of the sessions I attended are given below;

What if we were accountable to each other? Unlocking the power of school and MAT peer review (Dr Kate Chhatwal)

How can we balance trust, autonomy and accountability in the system? Panel discussion at Festival of Education 2019 (Becky Allen, Ben Newmark, Carolyn Roberts, Sean Harford, Naureen Khalid)

Lord Agnew’s Keynote at Festival of Education 2019

Keynote by Amanda Spielman HMCI at Festival of Education 2019

Ofsted’s new Education Inspection Framework (Sean Harford, Matthew Purves and Paul Joyce)

Doug Lemov at Festival of Education 2019

Driver Youth Trust at Festival of Education 2019

I would recommend governors attend the Festival in 2020. I am sure the organisers will have sessions around governance again. Other sessions are useful too as they are on various other aspects of education which governors may want to know more about. Dates for 2020 have been announced (18th -10th June 2020). The organisers are offering a 40% launch discount and there is a special rate for governors (£45 for a day ticket, £59 for both days).


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.

Schools White Paper 2016; governance matters

Schools White Paper 2016 (Educational Excellence Everywhere) was published on 17th March 2016. The governance related parts (Chapter 3) are as below. (text in bold is my emphasis).

Strategic leadership and oversight by skilled governing boards

3.27. As we move to a more autonomous school-led system, it is increasingly vital that schools operate under effective governing boards. As the key decision maker and accountable body for their school(s), governing boards have a vital strategic role, which they should deliver in a dynamic and professional manner: focusing strongly on their core functions of setting the vision and ethos for their school(s), holding school leaders to account and making sure money is well spent.

3.28. The growth of MATs will improve the quality of governance – meaning that the best governing boards will take responsibility for more schools. As fewer, more highly skilled boards take more strategic oversight of the trust’s schools, MAT boards will increasingly use professionals to hold individual school-level heads to account for educational standards and the professional management of the school, allowing school-level governing boards to focus on understanding and championing the needs of pupils, parents and the wider local community. This does not mean less accountability – MATs must publish a clear scheme of delegation to set out how their governance is organised, including any functions they choose to delegate to regional or school level.

3.29. In recent years we have given governing boards more freedom to appoint the best possible people with the skills the board needs to be effective.

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.

3.31. Parents often have these skills and many parents already play a valuable role in governance – and will always be encouraged to serve on governing boards. We will also expect every academy to put in place arrangements for meaningful engagement with all parents, to listen to their views and feedback.

3.32. To encourage everyone involved in governance to develop their skills, we will work with schools and MATs to develop a competency framework defining the core skills and knowledge needed for governance in different contexts. We will also set a new, stronger requirement on all governing boards to ensure that individuals are properly inducted, and receive the training or development they need to develop the skills set out in the competency framework. We have extended licensed delivery of NCTL training programmes for chairs and clerks until September 2017, and will review our approach to governance training programmes in light of the new competency framework.

3.33. Clear, high quality information about performance is essential for good governance, and so we will make it easier for members of governing boards to access high quality, objective data about their school’s educational and financial performance.

3.34. In March 2016 we launched a new, clearer website displaying school performance tables, making it easier for governing boards, parents and others to find key information and compare the results of schools (see more in chapter 7). We will continue to develop this in response to feedback to make it easier than ever to understand a school’s performance. Where data suggests that there may be an issue within a school or MAT, we will pilot a proactive approach to alert governing boards so that they can investigate and, if necessary, take action.

3.35. We have a long and rich tradition of voluntary trusteeship and we expect the vast majority of those involved in governance will continue to be unpaid, volunteering to serve their community and give their school(s) the benefit of their expertise and commitment. As the scale of the challenge in governing large and growing MATs increases, we may see more of them seeking Charity Commission authorisation to offer payment to attract the very best people into key positions such as the chair of the board.

We will establish a database of everyone involved in governance. We intend to legislate so we can bar unsuitable individuals from being governors of maintained schools (as we can already in academies and independent schools).

The crucial role of governance makes it more important than ever to ensure that only the right individuals are involved. So we will extend Edubase to establish a database of everyone involved in governance, requiring schools and MATs to start providing information from September 2016, and we intend to legislate so that we have the power to bar unsuitable individuals from being governors of maintained schools, to mirror the existing barring power for academies and independent schools.


Sir Michael Wilshaw’s views on governance matter

In his second monthly commentary, Sir Michael Wilshaw discussed the role governance plays in today’s complex educational landscape. The important points in his commentary, for me, are as below.

1. Importance of training: Sir M Wilshaw is of the opinion that people who do not have the right training and the understanding of the role have no place on boards. He is disappointed that there has been no progress on making training mandatory. He believes high quality training, especially for chairs and vice chairs is essential. He has asked inspectors to focus on training and the arrangement to schools make for this when they judge governance.

I agree with all of this and have previously written about it here and here . Governors themselves have been asking for training, at least induction training, to be made mandatory. This is especially important as governors in academies are company directors and charity trustees and need to understand what this entails.

2. Payment: He asks once again if the time has come to think of paying governors, at least the chair and vice chair, in order to recruit the most able people to serve on boards of schools in difficult circumstances.

Nothing I have read so far convinces me that paying would help raise governance standards. I have written in more detail about this here.

3. Board constitution: Sir M Wilshaw discusses “representative governors”, in particular parent governors. He agrees with the Department’s view that governance should be about the level of knowledge people bring to the board rather than how many people represent particular groups.

I have expressed my views on this here and here.

Sir M Wilshaw goes on to say that commitment to the role is essential and there is no place for people who serve on boards just to enhance their CV’s (I am reminded of Gove’s “local worthies”!).

4. In depth survey into board effectiveness: Ofsted will carry out an “in-depth and far-reaching survey” into effectiveness of governance. The report will be published next year and will be looking into

  • Do boards have enough professional skills and experience?
  • Paying governors
  • Do LA’s and Regional Commissioners intervene soon enough?
  • Are there provisions for training?
  • Support received for appointments of heads and the board’s role in succession planning
  • Role of NLG’s
  • Are external reviews of governance an effective tool to bring about improvement?
  • Challenges of governing stand alone academies
  • Relationship between MAT boards and their local governing bodies

This seems like it will be an extensive piece of work. I’m interested in finding out how it will be done. Will governors of schools being inspected between now and when the report is published be used to inform Ofsted’s views on the above matters? I think governors of schools due to be inspected should be ready to answer questions on at least some of the above (training will definitely be asked about, I think).

One concern is whether Ofsted has the governance expertise to undertake this task. 

As part of this survey he is calling for evidence from anyone who has a view to express. I hope governors and trustees will take part in this survey so that our views are expressed and hopefully inform the report.

It has been pointed out that clerks are conspicous by their absence in this commentary.

I share these concerns. Clerks can make or break a governing board. For a board to be truly effective it needs to have the services of a good, independent, well paid, professional clerk. Maybe the survey Ofsted will carry out needs to look at this too.

Emma Knights of NGA responds

Martin Mathews responds

Sir John Dunford comments

Skilled stakeholder governing body matters

Those of you who have read my previous posts or follow me on Twitter may know I place great importance on having highly skilled governors on the governing body. I have previously written about qualities which make a person the “right governor” and the skills which these people possess. Over the past few months I have been thinking about how we could get a governing board which has the governors with the requisite skills. In other words, how do we ensure that every person on the board is someone with the skill, knowledge and ability necessary to be the “right governor”? I keep coming up with the same answer which is that for a board to have the “right” governors we need to appoint people who have these skills or who are willing to attend training and “skill up”.

Image courtesy of PinkBlue / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

My problem with the stakeholder model is that we have to keep our fingers crossed that the stakeholder we get will be the “right governor. I don’t doubt that the stakeholders have an interest in the school. The problem is that sometimes this interest is not in the interest of the governing board! Staff governors may feel that they cannot go against the will of the Head, especially an autocratic Head. The parent governors may feel that for the sake of their children they cannot rock the boat.

My second problem with this model is that if things go wrong then there is practically nothing the governing board can do to remove the elected stakeholders. These governors can, if they so wish, stay on for the entire four year term. In days of old when governing bodies were large, many having more than 20 governors, it may have been possible to function with a governor who really should not have been there. Nowadays, the governing board is a smaller body and therefore cannot afford to carry a governor who is not fully on board! Four years is a lifetime as far as governing boards are concerned and certainly as far as the education of our children is concerned. Before anyone thinks I’m against parent or staff governors, let me make it clear that I’m not. I, after all, started as a parent governor.

My third problem is that the discussion of the stakeholder versus skill based model of governance ignores one fact. A stakeholder is defined as

A person with an interest or concern in something, especially a business

denoting a type of organization or system in which all the members or participants are seen as having an interest in its success:

As far as I’m concerned everyone who decides to become a governor has a stake in that school and  is a stakeholder, so they should all be treated in the same way.  I feel that if we are to move to a more “business like governing board” we must treat all governors as board members who are equally accountable, irrespective of the route by which they entered the board room.

So, how do we achieve this? Well, by moving away from the stakeholder model and adopting the “skilled stakeholder” model. In practical terms this would mean that governors should be appointed but each  of the categories would still remain. When a vacancy arises, be it for a LA governor, staff governor or parent governor, the board would invite applications from that particular constituency making it clear what type of person they are looking for. The board would interview and then appoint the applicant who, in its opinion, is best suited to be appointed. As part of the process, the newly appointed governor would be expected to undertake training with the induction training to be completed within an agreed time frame. (This would apply to the Head too as many a times Heads think they do not need governance training.)

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This way the board would still have stakeholder governors but they would now be appointed rather than elected and all governors would be treated equally. Academies already have this freedom as far as staff governors are concerned. The Trust is at liberty to decide how staff governors join the board, through election or through appointment by the Trust. So, in academies one type of stakeholder governor (the staff governor) may be treated differently to the other type of stakeholder governor (parent governor). This also happens for parent governors in non-academy schools under certain conditions. If, at the time of election, there are no candidates, then the governing body can appoint a parent to the position. So, the practice of appointing stakeholder governors isn’t an alien or novel one.

Some people think that this method would result in people not coming forward. The way I see it, it would be better to “run light” than to chance having a governor who should not be on the board. One more thing I should make clear is that not everyone has the skills when they join the board. The important thing is to appoint people who have the commitment to become the “right” governor through training and to have the ability to be able to remove those who don’t.

We will then be able to ensure we get a highly skilled board and not leave it to chance!

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Skill matters

There is a national debate at the moment focusing on stakeholder versus skill based model for governing bodies. The skill based model is gaining favour with more and more people. The stakeholder model, however, still has its champions. So, what are my thoughts on this?

I started out as a stakeholder governor myself but I am rapidly going off this model of governance. Having stakeholders on the governing body for the sake of having stakeholders, to me, seems to be an inefficient way of governing. When we talk of stakeholders we usually mean parents and staff, but it does not follow that just because they have an interest in the school they will necessarily make good governors too. In fact, with both groups of governors there may be associated challenges specific to that group. Parent governors may be unable to take off the parent hat and put on the governor hat. They may know the school well, but that knowledge may be clouded by the experience their child has had. I get very worried when people say that parent governors know the school very well. They do, I admit, but how many of them know the WHOLE school rather than just the form/year their child is in? If you ask parent governors why they joined the governing body, one of the answers you get is “because I wanted to find out more about my child’s school”. Don’t you think the emphasis should be on “the school” rather than “my child’s” school? I have heard it said that the presence of parent governors sometimes turns the governing body into a PTA.

The next group of stakeholders are staff governors who face challenges of their own. They will have to watch out for conflicts of interest. They will have to be strong enough to go against the Head if that is what they felt was the right thing to do. They, too, will need to learn to leave the staff hat on the hat stand and pick up the governor hat. The fact that they know a lot about the school and education is a given, but do they know how to govern? I’ve heard people complain that staff governors do not attend induction training which many consider should be mandatory.

When we talk about stakeholders, we tend to forget about the biggest stakeholder, the students. I know that some governing bodies have students as associate governors while other invite student leaders to meetings. But not all! If you are an advocate of the stakeholder model then maybe you should make sure that your governing body has student representation. Some may argue that having parent governors is one way of giving voice to students but those of us who are parents will know that what parents think and want may be very different from what the children do!

Now, let’s turn to the skill based model. What do we mean by that? Do we want a governing body totally composed of lawyers, accountants, people from a business background? What we forget is that it may not be appropriate for the governing body to use the “day job” skills of these people. Are we looking for people to provide free legal advice or free financial advice? Absolutely not!

So, what IS it that we want and need? We actually need people who know when the governing body needs legal advice or when the governing body needs to seek financial advice. We need people with what Clare Collins has termed as soft skills. We need people to be able to read and understand basic data. We need people who are team players. We need people who have community awareness. We need people who are not afraid of asking questions. We need people who are not afraid of having challenging conversations. We need people who can link different types of information, make connections between these different types of information and then ask questions and draw conclusions. We need people who have the skill to see the trees for the forest. We need people who have good communications skills, including the skill to listen. We need people who know how to negotiate. We need people who know how to mediate. We need people who can mentor new governors and help them to realise their potential. A tall order, I hear you say as it will be well nigh impossible to get people who possess all these skills. The thing to remember is that the governing does need all these skills so when we appoint governors (be they stakeholders or not) we should do it in such a way that the governing body ends up as a body with all these skills.