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Building better boards – can we fix it?

Detail from the cover of Building Better Boards

Building better boards – can we fix it?

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In this week’s Schools Week, Gerard Kelly, former editor of the TES and contributor to the recent Building Better Boards report, writes an article entitled ‘It’s essential that governors are paid for their work’. A glance at the article’s URL in a web browser’s address bar shows that its original title might well have been ‘It’s essential that we are paid for our work’ but this was edited, quite possibly to change the focus of the article – it’s hard to imagine many people reading an article which opens “We should be paid for our voluntary role” with a sympathetic eye in financially-straightened times for education:

The cover of Building Better Boards

The cover of Building Better Boards – subtitled An Opportunity for Education

The Building Better Boards report which prompted the article was written by Wild Search consultancy’s Edward Wild with Neil Carmichael who, as well as being chair of the Commons Education Committee, is listed as being a member of Wild Search’s team and has previously co-authored two publications on governance published by the consultancy.  These are credited with having been influential on the government’s focus on professionalism and skills for governors. It’s fairly safe to assume that he writes this as a consultant, rather than as Chair of the Education Committee, but his multiple roles (he also leads the All Party Parliamentary Group on Education Governance & Leadership) means that it can also be assumed that this report will have some influence.

Gerard Kelly, who post-TES founded his GKP education communcications consultancy, contributes a chapter on (unsurprisingly) the importance of communications, while the director of education at the Academies Enterprise Trust (AET), Libby Nicholas, authors a section on governance in multi-academy trusts. The report itself is fairly short – 48 pages – and for anyone who follows issues around school governance it contains little which hasn’t been discussed or suggested before. The authors and contributors listed at the close of the report give some idea of the report’s view of the state of education – cited are “the success of pioneering multi-academy trusts, such as AET [and others]” and “the removal of Local Education Authorities” – though there are some interesting viewpoints and recommendations, many of which are more piquant given Neil Carmichael’s position as chair of the HoC Education Committee. The report advocates a subscription based service for prospective governors to find schools and vice versa, which is not surprising considering its parent organisation’s area of business – but by all accounts its authors didn’t approach SGOSS for an understanding of how governor recruitment works at present, which seems an oversight, or maybe simply expresses a view about the role of SGOSS.

Recommendations and assertions

In no particular order, the full report’s recommendation and assertions include:

  • larger academies and federations should take on a corporate model of executive and non-executive members sitting together on one board;
  • reducing numbers on boards to increase competition [for places] and interest and thus improve the overall quality of those serving as governors;
  • too often schools have sacrificed quality in order to ensure representation from parents;
  • boards should become self-regulatory with “an external eye”;
  • there should be a national recruitment database accessible (via a subscription fee) to schools
  • development of online training for governors accessible to schools of all types (and no, Modern Governor wasn’t asked by the authors if online CPD for governors is viable, but we’re not taking it personally)
  • the maintained sector should also be enticed down the route of bringing several schools together under one governing body;
  • annual appraisals by chairs of governors on their board;
  • remuneration for chairs and governors of larger institutions or MATs

The final point – payment for governors and the beginning of the end of governance as a voluntary role – is an issue around which the arguments for and against have been have been well-rehearsed – indeed Edward Wild himself contributed to a debate piece in 2011 The Times entitled Should school governors be paid?. Before you click that link, the article is behind the News International paywall, so it’s helpful that it’s included as Annex A to Building Better Boards. Well, partially helpful, as the part of the Times article where Edward Wild answers the question “Yes” in some detail is included – but the presumed counterpoint from someone answering “No” has been omitted, which leaves a concern that the report doesn’t have an answer for the objections to governors being paid, or if it does they aren’t fully formed yet beyond a piece in Schools Week.

Deeper thinking about payment vs. volunteering

Often, the question of whether governors are volunteers or paid is sometimes served up as a simplistic question with no nuances or pragmatic, some might say strategic questions being answered – or even asked. Often one’s response might be conditioned by one’s own background – whether that be a venture capitalist, someone with a history of work in the voluntary sector or soeone whose experience as a governor informs their take on the issue. That said, there is space for a simple question and the poll below is a simple two choice tool – if you use Twitter you can vote, but it would also be interesting to see your replies to the tweet explaining why you’ve picked the reason. The question is regarding payment across the board for governors in general – if you think only chairs should be paid, or governors of schools in an Ofsted category should be, then that might be explained in your reply.

What’s your opinion?

We’d be interested to see your response to this before around 3.40pm GMT on Saturday 31/10/2015 (Twitter polls are only open for a little under 24 hours after they’re published) – and there will be a follow-up post (edit: read that post here) asking some of the less-often raised questions about paid governors – and volunteer governors. Both approaches to governance will have some bearing on the future of education – so please get involved if you can. If you’re not yet a governor – would being paid make you more or less likely to consider it?

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