Tag Archives: Volunteer

Demystifying school governance matters

On 2nd March 2019 I did a session on governance at researchED Birmingham. I’m very thankful to Claire Stoneman and Tom Bennett for  giving me the chance to talk about governance to teachers. My slides from the session are below. I’m also adding a few lines of explanation so the slides make sense to those who weren’t there in person.

Slide 2:

For teachers who haven’t worked as or with governors, governance may appear to be something mysterious that happens behind closed doors in the evening when all the teachers have gone home. You may hear your head say governors want data on X or governors are coming in to monitor Y. And that’s about it. So today I’m going to try and lift the veil on who we are and what we do and hopefully by the end of the session you will know a bit more about what we do and what research tells us about who governors are.

Slide 3: 

There are about 250,000 governors in England. Legally people can’t be paid to be governors and hence we are all volunteers and this makes us one of the largest volunteer forces in the country.

Slide 5: 

One of our core functions is to ensure the clarity of vision and ethos. The GB appoints the head and this is perhaps the most important thing that governors will do. We appoint someone who we feel will help us deliver our vision. Yes, it is a partnership; it has to be for it to work well but ultimately it’s the governors must ensure there is clarity around the vision, culture and the ethos of the school.

Slide 6:

It’s the governing body which sets the strategic direction of the school and decides where the school will be in 3,5,10 years’ time.

Slide 7:

Our second core function is to hold the executive leaders of the school to account for the performance of the pupils and the school and the performance management of staff.

Slide 8:

Schools are funded by public money. We are custodians of this public money. Our third core function relates to this. We have to look after the financial performance of the school and ensure that money is well spent.

Slide 9:

So, irrespective of what type of school we are governing (maintained or academy) we have three core functions:

  • Ensuring clarity of vision, ethos and strategic direction
  • Holding the school leaders to account
  • Ensuring the money is well spent

Effective governance is of huge importance because governance is responsible for these core functions and also because effective governance can enable and provide a degree of protection to school leaders to try something different. Then there is the fact that although individual governors will come and go, the governing body stays and it’s the governing body which ensures that the vision and ethos of the school carry on long after individuals have departed. Ofsted also recognise the role of governance and it comes under Leadership and Management and will continue to do so under the new framework too.

Slide 10:

We’ve talked about the core functions of governing bodies and why effective governance is important. A question which is frequently asked is how governors bring about school improvement. Tony Breslin has written a report for RSA. He says there are 4 ways governors do this.

  • As they are custodians of the vision and the finances they can allocate resources where needed
  • They have to be aware of various targets. They are aware of floor targets and other national and internal data and use this to ask questions to drive improvements
  • They generally have individuals or committees whose brief is to look at various areas. For example the governing body may have individual governors linked to areas such as safeguarding, literacy, wellbeing, SEN. Or the governing body may have committees, for example a committee looking at teaching and learning and another one monitoring resources and finances. By assigning individuals or committees to these areas and monitoring these areas the GB helps to drive school improvement.
  • Finally, a good supportive GB and a good supportive chair will be able to retain good heads. Headship is a lonely place. If a head feels supported by the governing body and the chair in particular they are in a better position to do their job and stay on post to do the job, hence driving up school improvement.

Slide 11:

Now that we know about what governors do, it would be good to see what research tells us about the people who perform these roles.

There are no official statistics available which look at the demographics of those who govern our schools. National Governance Association, the NGA, is a membership organisation which represents governors.  Since 2012 NGA, in partnership with TES, has been surveying governors since 2012 and these surveys are the best source of data on this topic and I will be referring the results of the last two surveys today.

Slide 12:

If we first look at the age of the people who responded to the survey, then we find that in 2017 53% of the respondents were aged 40-59.

Slide 13:

This reduced slightly to 51% in 2018. The2018 survey compared the age of the respondents and the age of the general public. If you compare the figures nationally then 34% of the population falls into this age bracket. This shown we have some work to do to attract younger people to governance.

Slide 14:

Looking at ethnicity now. The 2018 survey showed that 93% of the respondents were white as compared to 86% of the population and 74% of primary and secondary students. This may r may not be a very bleak situation.

Slide 15:

The 2017 survey had looked at the age as well as ethnicity. This showed that in the younger age groups there were more governors who identified as BAME. Obviously, we mustn’t be complacent but if this trend continues and we are able to attract more governors in the younger age brackets then there is hope for the future.

Slide 16:

2018 was the first year NGA included a question on disability. 5% of the respondents said that they considered themselves to have a disability which is far lower than the 22% of people that reported a disability in the government’s Family Resources Survey 2016/17. This could be because responses were based on respondents’ own definitions of disability, which may not be aligned with that of the government. It may, however, also indicate that people with a disability experience more barriers to volunteering as school governors and trustees. Ensuring that school governance roles are accessible to people with disabilities is an area for future work.

Slide 17:

Now a look at the gender and some characteristics of chairs.

  • 59% of primary school chairs were female (62% governors were female) compared to 48% of secondary school chairs (53% governors were female). NGA 2018
  • I was also interested in looking at the age of the people who chair governing bodies. Prof Chris James of Bath University has researched governance extensively. He found that they were almost all over 40 years of age (94%). If we break this down further then we see 31% of chairs are between 40 and 49 years of age and 28% between 50 and 59. About a third were over 60 (34%). Chris James

Slide 18:

On average, they spend approximately five hours a week on governing matters and over one in 10 chairs spend more than 10 hours a week. Looking at the time   chairs reported spending on governance and the age at which they volunteer to chair governing bodies may indicate that as a fair degree of work is involved older people who may have more time to spare take up the chair’s position. Another thing to consider is whether the time is being spent on strategic stuff and how good are the chairs at delegation.

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What governors think of the NAHT motion matters

Today scrolling through Twitter I came across the following tweet.

This was the NAHT debating a motion asking Ofsted to REDUCE emphasis on inspecting governance as part of Leadership and Management. I asked for comments from other governors. Almost all were surprised at this. We couldn’t understand the reasoning behind the motion. There were some light hearted comments such as “Isn’t it lovely that they are concerned about extra pressure on us. They are only looking out for us.” Another comment, in similar vein, was from me. I said that reading this gave me the impression that somewhere a conversation like the one below had taken place which led to the motion.

GB to Head, “Could you include x,y,z in your report, please?”

Head to GB,”Don’t worry about that. I’ve got it under control.”

GB to Head, “No, we really do need it. For one thing it’s our job. For another, we are due an Ofsted and we want to ensure we know our stuff.”

Head to GB, “Ah, Ofsted! Don’t worry about that. We’ll get them not to hold you to account. We’ll tell them you’ve got too much work to do.”

Other governors had also read the Schools Week tweet which led to more discussions. Numerous serious points were made in response to my question and question/comments by others. I’ve summarised discussions from different threads on Twitter and Facebook below.

  • This may indicate that heads don’t really understand governance
  • The role and responsibility has changed since I’ve been a governor. The workload means it’s like a job now
  • There are some heads who get frustrated by their governors and we must acknowledge this. On the other hand there are also heads who try and run the school as their personal fiefdom and try and exclude the GB. We have a duty to be as professional as we can and heads need to understand and respect what governance is and what we do
  • Not a straight forward debate. Looking at the framework, it is a part time job
  • Collaboration is key
  • Power grab?
  • We are volunteers which means that if the workload gets too much we can leave. “But I’m a volunteer” should not be used as an excuse
  • Unfortunate that those who may have had a poor experience of governance assume it’s typical in every institution
  • Are they are considering our health and wellbeing?
  • We have gone from “cup of tea, sticky bun and agree with the head” to a very different model. Some governors and heads have kept up and some haven’t
  • Getting paid may be a better route than downplaying the role in Ofsted inspections. But if you pay peanuts, you’ll get monkeys!
  • Some governing bodies create an unnecessary workload for themselves and do not distribute workload effectively.
  • Training of governors is an issue
  • Motion was proposed and passed at the conference. The reason for it needs to be heard
  • If governance goes wrong then everything will
  • Schools need good governance and governance needs to be accountable
  • Really disappointed to see this motion
  • Governance is essential in any organisation
  • My role as chair is far more stressful than my job (I’m saying this tongue-in-cheek)
  • If this happened, where is the incentive to fix bad governance? One role of god governance is to hold heads to account. How would that happen?
  • Perhaps they don’t want to be held to account
  • I feel passionately that strong governance remains
  • Personally I would prefer separate judgement for governance
  • I don’t agree the governance should be a separate judgement. We are part of leadership and management and this emphasises that
  • GBs are accountable in law. Reduce work load by discouraging unneeded hoop jumping? Yes. Make GBs less accountable? Absolutely not!
  • Train governors to understand role. That will help in reducing workload
  • I can see two sides to this. The possible impact of poor governance on a head and the inability of a head to control good governance
  • Ofsted don’t have the expertise to measure governance accurately
  • Inspectors shouldn’t be judging without full understanding
  • Can have good school leaders let down by poor governance. Opposite also happens
  • In some schools senior leaders have little or no contact with governors. Not great for headship preparation
  • Many heads do not do governance training and do not understand the role
  • In one GB meeting the head brought so many staff that they outnumbered the governors
  • Part of the issue is the paucity of governance subject content in many NPQH courses. Starting with a low knowledge base does not help

The debate wasn’t live streamed and the only other tweet I saw was one saying that the motion had been carried. So, we don’t know the context to the motion or how the debate went. Governors would like to know more about what was behind the motion but want to make it clear that we do not wish for reduced accountability or reduced emphasis on governance within the leadership and management judgement. If the motion had called for induction for new governors and CPD we too would have been behind the motion. 

New governor induction matters


Governance is a huge responsibility. Yes, it is a voluntary role but that does not mean that it should not be done well. New governors need support to understand the role and their responsibilities. One way you can do this is by having a good induction programme in place. I’ve decided to jot down my thoughts on what this programme could look like.

  • Arrange for a tour of the school and show them where the meetings are held. (If you hold meetings in the evenings, do make sure new governors know how to gain access to the building)
  • Arrange for the new governor to meet the Chair of Governors (if they haven’t met before), the Head and the Clerk
  • Introduce them to all the governors at the next meeting
  • If your governing body has bought into a training package, make sure the new governor knows how to access it
  • Make sure they know if any induction training is available. If you have not bought into a training package, then do let the new governor know how to access the free online induction module put together by SGOSS, The Key, and Lloyds Bank
  • Assign an experienced governor to act as a mentor who can go through all the documents in the Induction Pack

Induction Pack

Below are some of the documents I think should be included in the Induction Pack.

  • Glossary of educational terms, acronyms, educational jargon (including school specific ones)
  • Articles of Association and Funding Agreement for academy governors (these should be on your website so you can provide a link rather than paper copies)
  • List of governors (include a photograph, role each governor has been assigned, contact details). In case of MATs, if the new governor is member of the LGB then the governor should know how to get in touch with the Trust Board
  • List of the members of the Senior Leadership Team (include details of the SBM, SENDCo, Safeguarding Lead)
  • Contact details of the clerk
  • Details of committees
  • Minutes of last year’s meetings
  • Any Standing orders or Terms of Reference the governing body has agreed
  • Dates of meetings
  • Nolan Principles
  • Code of Conduct (the mentor should go through this and the new governor should fill this and return to the clerk)
  • Business Interest form (to be filled and returned to the clerk)
  • Skills audit (to be filled and returned)
  • Details of any memberships that the governing body holds (such as NGA, The Key, Local governor association)
  • Document detailing expectations (see below)
  • School Development Plan
  • Self Evaluation Plan
  • List of useful websites (including @UKGovChat and School Governors UK Facebook page)
  • If the Governing Body is a member of the NGA then include their publication, Welcome to Governance
  • Governor expenses policy and claim form (if the governing body has agreed one)
  • If the school is part of a MAT a list of schools in the MAT
  • If there is an agreed schedule of governor visits then that should be included as well as the visit protocol and details of how the visit is reported
  • Contact details of the school
  • School calendar

Expectations

  • What new governors can expect from the governing body:
    • A mentor who will be able to offer support and answer questions
    • Meeting papers will be sent out at least one week in advance of the meeting
    • Training will be signposted
    • We will assign you a role/committee to make best use of the skills you bring to the governing body
    • Support from the Chair and Clerk
  • What the governing body expects from you:
    • Attend meetings and be on time
    • If for any reason you cannot attend a meeting then send apologies to the clerk as soon as possible
    • Read all the papers which have been sent to you in advance of the meeting
    • Do ask questions/clarifications. There are no naive questions which shouldn’t be asked. You will bring a new perspective and the other governors will appreciate and welcome it
    • Be responsible for your CPD
    • Try and keep up to date with developments in the field of education and especially governance

Is there anything you would add to the above (or omit?)

Governance; “voluntary” and “professional” matters.

Governors are probably the largest volunteer group in England. Although no exact figures are available, it is thought that there are around 300,000 governors serving in schools all over the country.

Governors are not paid for the service we perform. A large majority of us don’t claim expenses. In fact, I haven’t met anyone who does. We spend our own money for travelling to and fro from meetings, for printing papers and many of us don’t claim for attending conferences. In light of the above you may be surprised at what I’m going to say next.

Over the last few weeks and months I’ve been thinking that perhaps the time has come to refer to ourselves just as governors without referring to the fact that we are volunteers. My reasons for thinking this are as below.

Governors are not the only volunteers serving the community. Magistrates, Guide and Scout leaders, charity shop workers etc are volunteers too. I’ve never heard them making a point of emphasising that they are volunteers. I think we should follow their lead.

Some governors, when asked to attend training say they are volunteers and don’t have time/shouldn’t be expected to attend training. This is completely the wrong attitude. No matter what your day job is, no matter what your qualifications are, governance is whole different ball game! Even if you have been a governor for a long period of time the educational landscape is changing very rapidly and we need to be able to keep up with it. This can only be done through continuous professional development. Take the example of Ofsted which is a different organisation now to what is was before. For one thing there’s the new framework. How would you know what that is if you don’t take steps to find out?

The fact that we are volunteers is also used as an excuse for not being prepared for meetings. We all know or have heard of governors who don’t read papers before the meeting, who don’t send in their papers on time or who are frequently late or absent from meetings. Again, the excuse is that they are busy with the day jobs and as they are volunteers, governance had to take second place. My view is that governance should be taken as seriously as the day job. Governors are professionals (or should be). Once we decide to “volunteer” we should act professionally. There will be times when some governors may find that they can’t devote time to governance. In such cases they should step aside and not use the “but I’m a volunteer” excuse.

Governance is voluntary but only so far as no one forces you to join a Board and as your mortgage doesn’t depend on staying on the Board, you can walk away if you want to. Governance has moved on from the tea and biscuit era. Yes, its voluntary to join a Board but once you have done so then let’s be professional and do the “job” to the best of our abilities.

(For avoidance of any doubt: I have not changed my mind on the issue of paying governors. I think as far as that is concerned, we should continue to be volunteers.)

A shorter version of this was posted here previously.

Money matters?

We’ve established that governing matters. We’ve also established that it matters that it is done well. Question is how do we ensure that our schools have the best governing bodies possible? One of the answers coming from Sir M Wilshaw is money. Yes, money! Sir M Wilshaw has been advocating paying governors. He seems to think that if we pay people then more people with the right skills will be prepared to become governors, especially in those schools which traditionally have trouble attracting people. According to him, “If we are serious about raising standards in schools with a legacy of underperformance, we shouldn’t rule out the notion of a small number of paid governors with the necessary expertise working alongside volunteer and community members.”

I will admit that this notion of paying people to govern our schools makes me uncomfortable. Firstly, the concept that if we pay people, we will have them queuing outside the doors of challenging schools is, in my opinion, wrong. We need to understand why these schools do not attract governors, but lack of money, I’m sure, is not one of the reasons. I had recently been speaking to someone who is a Governor in a school which serves a very mixed community. He said that the governors at his school came from professional backgrounds. Parents who were not professional did not put themselves forward for parent governor elections, thinking that all governors were “posh” and that they would not fit in. These parents did not necessarily earn less than the ones who did stand for election; they just thought that becoming a school governor was not for them. They failed to appreciate that they, too, may have much needed skills which they could bring to the governing body. Paying them, in my opinion, would not change their mindsets.

If you do pay governors, then it follows that there should be some sort of performance management for them. Who will do it and how will it be done? Is it not better to encourage every governing body to carry out routine skill audits, identify weaknesses and then remedy them? This could be done by training, mentoring and making sure that governing bodies do not have people on it who are there just to beef up their CV, who attend a few meetings and are never seen at any training sessions. (On a lighter note, if governors are paid, then the only advantage I can think of is that no one will be able to use “I’m only a volunteer” excuse for their shortcomings!).

Then there is the question of where exactly is this money going to come from. Will we pay governors out of school budgets? Schools struggle as it is; how will we justify taking money away from the school to pay people when we have so many willing to do it for free? Assuming we can find a pot of money from somewhere, how much will we pay them? If the idea is to attract highly skilled professionals then surely we must be prepared to pay them enough to make it worth their while. If we accept the argument that paying people will make them more willing to become governors, then we must also consider that they would want to be paid a sum which will be in line to what they earn in their day job.

If we do find a pot of money we to pay a small core of good governors, is it not better to use that money to train up those who are perhaps not as good as we would like them to be? This way we may end up with a governing body where all governors are good rather than just a small core. Recently governors on Twitter were debating if training should be made mandatory. Most of the governors taking part in this discussion were of the opinion that it should be. This discussion was facilitated by @UKGovChat, a relatively new presence on Twitter. As far as I can tell #UKGovChat have been on the Twitter scene for a few weeks and have already built up a following. They “get together” on Sunday evenings and talk about governing matters. As they are willing to give up part of their Sunday nights talking governance, I bet none of them want paying for serving on their governing bodies!

If payment was introduced, then considering how many times I’ve burnt the candle at both ends, my governing body couldn’t afford me!

To conclude, this governor does not think we should pay governors. I am happy to be a volunteer and if offered a stipend I will refuse payment. For me, being a volunteer is important, and money doesn’t matter!