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Who’s Governing The Governors?

Who’s Governing The Governors?

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Wordle of the report Neil Carmichael MP has just published a report called “Who Governs the Governors?”. The introduction states:

“More than half a million people contribute in excess of 2 million working days to serving schools as unpaid governors across England, Scotland and Wales within the state sector alone. This report seeks to acknowledge that contribution and to assess how the role and responsibilities of governors will need to adapt to a changing context and to offer ways in which schools both individually and collectively may develop and enhance the quality of governance and the quality of experience for those who make a substantial and largely unacknowledged contribution to the UK’s education system.

The General Election of 2010 marked a watershed in the provision of secondary education in England. The formation of the Coalition Government, with its commitment to widening choice, expanding the academies programme, the creation of Free Schools and reducing the role of local authorities in administration and influence presents many welcome opportunities to improve opportunities for all concerned with the UK education system: teacher, pupils and parents.

At the same time both the removal of Local Education Authorities (LEAs) and changes to the inspection role of Ofsted will create potential risks and challenges which will place new powers in the hands of school governors and make their role of even greater importance in the future than at any time since the 1944 Education Act.

We will consider the implications of the 2010 White Paper, the immediate consequences which it creates and the longer term challenges and opportunities which may arise in terms of improving school performance and the overall standard of taxpayer funded education. And it sets out the importance and contribution which good school governance can make towards that objective.

Whatever your view of the Big Society, School Governors must surely be at the heart of it in terms of their commitment, number and dedication to ensuring schools fulfil their potential.

How boards should be structured and how they address the needs of parents, staff and pupils, will be a critical test of the current reforms and the success of the institutions themselves.

It is our contention that the importance of governing bodies in addressing such challenges will be greater than ever before. This should be a two way process: both to assess how schools should be governed and how they can secure the highest possible standard of governors to ensure that they provide the oversight and strategic direction to see schools through the rapidly changing environment.

Our report has been underpinned and informed by a series of meetings and interviews with Heads, Chairs and Chief Executives of education providers and institutions. Although focussed on the state sector, this report also combines an analysis of our findings with an assessment of some of the challenges facing independent schools and offers some areas where fresh thinking may be of benefit within the context of some difficult years ahead. We seek to see how improvements to governance can be a critical element in ensuring the raising standards and improving the quality of education. We hope that it will stimulate discussion, demonstrate the importance and appeal of serving on governing bodies and encourage schools to consider the fundamental challenges of structure, purpose and effectiveness during the years ahead.”

Neil’s office kindly emailed me a copy of the report, which you can view here: Who Governs the Governors?.


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4 Comments
  • Anonymous
    Posted at 21:45h, 17 June Reply

    Thoughts on Managing School Governors
    To start with there is a slight understatement in the report introduction you quote:
    “Half a million people give in excess of two million days”
    I presume this means four days per year per governor, if so this a gross understatement: This might have been so when I first became a governor 11 years ago; now I would suggest it is more like between 25 and fifty days. I, as chairman of governors, spend one day a week, and sometimes more working. It takes me 1 to 2 days to prepare for a Governing body meeting and at least half a day before a sub-committee meeting of which I am on two; All our committees meet three or four times per year and thus preparation for meetings alone can take up to ten days in total. Meetings themselves can take two or three hours.
    On top of this there are fortnightly meetings with the Head, working parties, social events, occasional classroom visits, assemblies, sports days, fetes, church services, pantomimes, recruitment interviews, personnel panels etc.
    In consequence, it is hard to find governors who can spare so much time, and for a proportion of them, have the right experience.
    When I first took over as chair, a year ago, it struck me that no-one was managing the governors as individuals as one would in any normal organisation. I did not know much about them, their experience, their skill, and indeed how much time they could spare for school work. School governing bodies are unique in that frequently they have no educational professionals on the board. Most of the time, GBs comprise those people you can persuade to take the job: they have a wide range of experience, some of which, if you are lucky, is relevant. There is, therefore, an even greater need than usual to find out about them and check that they are happy with what they are doing and that they are contributing as much as possible from their personal knowledge and experience
    Accordingly I have instituted a number of procedures and documents:
    • Expanded the induction process not only to cover the initial few weeks, but actions that governors should continue to take throughout their service. Examples are: Classroom visits, attending assemblies, sports events, church services etc. A governor mentor is also appointed to help them through the induction.
    • From the day they take office, I conduct progress meetings every few weeks during their induction period and thereafter at about six monthly intervals. These are no more than informal discussions where we discuss training, availability for meetings vis-a-vis their work commitment and whether their firm allows time off for GB duties. Worries on either side can also be discussed. A training plan is also prepared. This is, in some senses, a mini-appraisal although not sold as such! I usually keep brief notes on these meetings and give the ‘appraisee’ a copy. This outlines the discussion and in particular any actions agreed by either of us. It also serves as a starting point for the next meeting.
    • During the initial progress meetings they are asked to fill in a form which covers relevant skills and experience and availability described above.
    • All Governors will sit on one or two sub-committees where the Chairman is responsible for ensuring they are suitably trained for the role. Most of our work is delegated to these committees and thus all governors have significant specialist roles to play.
    • I am in the process of drafting a general document which explains the roles and duties of governors, the relationship with the Diocese and the Head Teacher, Code of Conduct for Governors etc. Annexes are attached with details of all governor related procedures such as:
    o The use of the regional website for handling documents and information
    o The procedures and timings for organising GB meetings and sub-committees.
    o A list of useful websites for governor training and information
    o How a school is financed and the budget set.
    o A list and brief description of the key management documents in place and their use

    This has all only been in place for a year so far, but has proved popular and reduced misunderstandings due to ignorance considerably. The delegation of work to sub-committees gives all a sense of purpose and avoids ‘floating’ governors who just sit at meetings and criticise!
    Hope this might be helpful.

  • Anonymous
    Posted at 22:18h, 17 June Reply

    Good evening,

    I have been a governor at a primary and secondary school for over 8 years. I am in the process of relinquishing my post at the secondary school as my children no longer attend the school. I would like to resign from the primary school which my last child left over 7 years ago however I don’t feel I can.

    The reason for this is that there is a vast difference between the funding and personnel that are available in schools. The primary school struggles with extremely tight finances and other than 2 personnel to support administrative and finance tasks, there are no staff other than the Head teacher to ensure all non-teaching functions are implemented. We are fortunate to have a number of Governors who have a range of occupational and life skills and who have served for over 10 years as Governors. Unfortunately we seem to have made ourselves indispensable and we are all aware of added value we bring to the school and so feel duty bound to continue.

    Schools in our area have been cash strapped for many years and Governors have plugged the gaps.

    The question I would like you to ask of our political leaders is, do they truly appreciate how dependent some of our schools are on the occupational expertise of governors to provide basic back room functions and therefore keep our children safe?

  • Anonymous
    Posted at 09:52h, 20 June Reply

    I have just read the report and so would like to comment on some specifics areas within the report.

    1) I understand the need for fresh thoughts and ideas but I think there should be caution when implementing the ‘9 year term’ rule. Removal of the 4 Governors with 9+ years from our GB would seriously destabilize the board and remove valuable skills that are vital to the functioning of the school.

    2) I am keen to better understand the importance of ensuring that one of the Governors needs to be an Alumni. I understand that a different perspective of the education system and/or having a representative of an influential Higher Education Institution would be an asset. In reality the skills that prove most valuable are those within the practical aspects of organisations such as health and safety, HR etc, and must not be underestimated at a time when education budgets are being squeezed tighter and these skills are not employed within schools.

    3) Corporate models are identified within the report as the way forward. Those with the occupational skills mentioned above work with corporate models as employees and currently share that knowledge within the GB. The report presumes the capability is not there currently whereas it most probably is.

    4) Governors become governors because of their passion and loyalty to the school they are serving. The time is right for appropriate remuneration. The person spec for Governor roles must clearly identify this element of altruism. Whilst there is personal gain in the form of development and knowledge, the focus must be wanting to improve education for our children.

    5) The report recognises the national shortage of applications to become Governors. This is not representative of the voluntary aided schools that I have been involved with and so there may be learning from these areas.

    6) A ‘national database’ has been identified as a mechanism for recruiting governors. Many electronic tools require funding from the individual organisations. To be truly national this would need to be funded and governed centrally.

    7) As remuneration is considered in more detail there may be an expectation that Governors in schools with larger budgets would receive larger remuneration. In my experience Governors in smaller schools wth smaller budgets have less dedicated employed personnel and so have tobe as much, if not more flexible and involved in supporting the governance of the school, as those in larger institutions.

    8 ) The majority of children are schooled within the comprehensive system. I am not familiar with education establishments in the south but I could only see one contributor who may currently work in that system. I apologise if this is not the case. The report talks about appropriate representation. Does the contributors list provide the same assurance?
    I welcome and thank you for the report. This area is long overdue. There are many Governors who are hugely loyal to our schools and go way beyond the obligatory attendance at meetings. As with the response above, I provide a set of skills that is not freely available elsewhere. These include running Parent Forums to get feedback from parents, providing training days to staff on roles and Customer Care, and writing policies, that interestingly support Corporate models more than LA model policies do currently.

    Future appointments need to ensure that the primary reason for becoming a Governor is the desire to serve and that status is not confused with ability to govern.

  • Elaine Walton
    Posted at 09:55h, 20 June Reply

    @all Thank you for all your comments so far – do keem them coming.

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