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Lord Nash outlines government’s focus for school governance

Lord Nash outlines government’s focus for school governance

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This week saw the launch of the guidance paper Forming or Joining a Group of Schools: staying in control of your school’s destiny – co-produced by the NGA, ASCL & Browne Jacobson and launched at the House of Commons under the banner of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Education Governance and Leadership. At its launch, NGA chief executive Emma Knights described the reason for the paper’s existence – namely that schools weren’t aware of the reasons for working more closely together in a more formal way than they might otherwise – in particular there was a dearth of reliable and accessible evidence about the benefits of such collaboration:

Setting the scene

Hosted by Neil Carmichael – chair of the Commons Education Committee,  who established and still chairs the APPG – the event focused on the paper being the first time that the evidence and explicit models of how schools might work together had been curated into a form which schools – in particular school leadership teams and governing boards – could easily access.

ASCL president Allan Foulds introduced the document as being related to the professional association’s theme – which their 2016 conference will also be based around:

It’s the nature of those relationships between schools – which of course in themselves depend on healthy, effective relationships across schools between leaders, and within schools among the leadership and governing board – which the guidance paper seeks to lay out in an accessible form. It’s an exhaustive document, understandably focused on multi-academy trusts (MATs) given the current climate – but also outlining the benefits of a hard federation for maintained schools who don’t wish to become academies.

Feedback from governing boards

When she spoke, Emma Knights was very straightforward in sharing with those assembled – including Lord Nash, who arrived just in time to hear it – comments regarding the government’s attitude to schools and education professionals. These weren’t comments from the NGA, but from those governors and trustees who responded to the NGA/TES survey  of governance (download the results here – PDF):

This feedback is fascinating in light of the contents of the document, and a policy climate in which, like the Sunday school-related joke about Jesus and the squirrel, the answer to any issue facing a school is almost always “academy conversion”. From the feedback – conveyed robustly by Emma Knights – governors already know that academisation is the government’s preferred and expected solution to any issue of underperformance, perceived or otherwise – but want the agency to decide that for themselves in their own timescales.

Lord Nash’s response

The Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Schools was equally robust in his response – which, among other things, restated the intention set out by the Secretary of State Nicky Morgan at the NGA conference in June:

This is confirmation, if any were needed, that the nature and model of governance is likely to change significantly in the course of this Parliament. Beyond quoting statistics on the relative performance of academies, Lord Nash was clear about the focus of the government  around governance – which, he said, will be on two things:

Implications for our governing boards

The skills agenda dovetails with the move away from a stakeholder model, but many will ask questions about why stakeholders can simply not become more skilled – after all, if one hopes that the governors might be the leading learners in an educational institution, then one would expect them to be hungry to develop professionally in areas in which they need improvement.

The focus on groups of schools being governed by a single board is similarly clear, but not without its unanswered questions – the inconsistent nature of Local Governing Body (LGB) implementation and range of options outlined in the guidance paper make it a far from simple process – especially if schools show the autonomy promised by the DfE and don’t choose one of its preferred options. The guidance does effectively exclude one method of working as a group of schools – that of the so-called soft federation – which might more accurately be referred to as ‘collaboration’ and the DfE explicitly encourages hard federations to become MATs – wth Regional Schools Commissioners having a role to play in this, which could positively affect one of their performance measures.

In terms of skills – this direction brings to the fore a focus on competencies and professionalism, suggesting that the expectations of governing and trust boards’ responsibilities will increase, which changes the picture of what governance looks like, which in turn circles back to the removal of the stakeholder model of governance. It would appear that this is a change on a similar level to the organisational changes to the school system – the move from maintained schools being the default to an academy-focused model supplanting this. The move from a stakeholder model to a skills-based model is likely to cause a period of upheaval – plus it’s not clear if the government expects those who are already skilled to become governors, or for suitable governors to become skilled while in the role – something further complicated by Nicky Morgan and Lord Nash’s assertion that training or CPD for governors – even at induction – is not compulsory.

Resources for governing boards
The NGA / ASCL / Browne Jacobson Guidance Paper

The NGA / ASCL / Browne Jacobson Guidance Paper

In terms of the issues around collaboration and partnerships between schools, then reading the guidance paper Forming or Joining a Group of Schools: staying in control of your school’s destiny  is an absolute must – it’s a download from the ASCL web site in PDF format.

If you’re looking to equip your governing board with access to the skills, knowledge and understanding to respond to Lord Nash’s direction for governance, then all Modern Governor subscribers can access the expanding range of Core Skills modules right now – with more to follow, and all newly-released modules are available to new subscribers as well. If you sign-up for a free trial from today you’ll have full access to one of the Core Skills modules, as well as full access to a selection of our modules on governance – all designed to work on your computer, tablet or smartphone.


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