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NGA Summer Conference week – five questions for governors

Nicky Morgan MP addressing the 2015 NGA summer conference.

NGA Summer Conference week – five questions for governors

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Last Saturday, at the National Governors’ Association’s Summer conference, there was a first for the NGA:

as this was the first time a current Secretary of State for Education had addressed an NGA gathering. You can read the full ext of Mrs Morgan’s speech on the web site or if you can make sense of it, here’s a word cloud of the text of her speech:

Word Cloud of Nicky Morgan's speech to the NGA.

Word Cloud of Nicky Morgan’s speech to the NGA. Created by Jason Davies’ Word Cloud Generator.

It was as if the Secretary of State’s speech was the opening shot in a salvo of proclamations, changes and policy announcements which all have potential to affect the work of school governors and academy trustees. For all recent Modern Governor blog posts we like to finish off with questions for your governing board – what does my board need to think or do about what’s covered in this post? However, in the current climate, it feels right that the afterword becomes the main body, As ever, there are more questions than answers, but here are five it’s worth wrestling with – even if only to find out that, at the moment, we just don’t know:

1. What would the end of the stakeholder model mean for your governing board?

With the Secretary of State implying that the stakeholder model may have had its day, there are myriad issues which such a move would imply. Naureen Khalid is strongly in favour – one critical point that elected governors cannot be removed, only suspended, leading to the possibility of governing boards operating below capacity for the length of time a suspension runs (up to the four year term of an elected governor). In contrast to this an appointed governor can be removed – but how might your governing board deal with this? One pragmatic answer might be simply to co-opt the existing parent and LA governors – assuming their skills can support the governing board, but if a further reconstitution became necessary, this would be no small thing. The drive

2. Does everyone on your governing board appreciate the difference between management and oversight in terms of school finance?

It’s hard to believe that in a significant speech – as mentioned the first time that a serving Secretary of State has ever addressed the NGA – isn’t scrutinised by those informing, writing and delivering it in intense detail before  it’s presented and published. With that in mind, this section: made fascinating listening and subsequent reading in a did I hear that right fashion:

“I’ve been particularly grateful to the support of organisations like the CBI and especially its president, Mike Rake, for lending their support to the Academy Ambassadors programme – a programme which has helped introduce over 60 exceptional business leaders to the boards of multi-academy trusts over the last 2 years.

“Over the next 5 years we’ll go further down this path, because we passionately believe that the best run schools are those with the highly skilled governors who can both hold schools to account and direct their future path.

Almost nowhere is this more important than in the field of financial management – a core function of governing bodies – and it’s here that I expect them to play a key role. Every governing body and every individual governor should take seriously their role in ensuring that schools remain financially healthy with robust management systems in place.” [source, emphasis added]

Now, this could simply be a slip of the word processor, or some very deliberate wording. On his blog Mike Cameron thinks that there’s a reason for this, and makes a connection with the de-stakeholdering of school governance. Wherever the truth lies, it’s clear that our governing boards will need the skills to carry out the oversight – and to be able to communicate where strategic oversight ends and operational management begins, even if the person at the helm has trouble finding the correct words.

3. Does your governing board know the name/responsibility/ways of your school’s Regional School Commissioner?

Paul Smith, RSC for Lancashire and West Yorkshire. Photography by

Paul Smith, the regional school commissioner (RSC) for Lancashire and West Yorkshire followed Nicky Morgan at the NGA conference on a panel with Emma Knights and Andy Kent, chair of NCOGS. Co-incidentally or not,  yesterday (the 1st July 2015) was the day on which the  (RSCs) acquire more powers over maintained schools, in particular sponsored academy arrangements outlined in Lord Nash’s letter last month to directors of children’s services in local authorities. Power and influence over academies are among the core capabilities of the RSCs and the gradual take over from the “middle-tier” role previously played by local authorities continues to seep into new areas. . If there was any sense that this could lead to a scenario of two sets of hands trying to direct the steering wheel, then on the panel Andy Kent was quite unequivocal about who had the driver’s seat:

With this in mind, it might well be worth our governing bodies assessing where our relationships stand with RSCs – this might be difficult in practice, since RSCs cover huge geographical areas with typical a staff numbered in single figures, which the Education Select Committee pointed out would not allow them “to be sufficiently in touch with local information, given the number of schools potentially involved”. Bearing this in mind, a more pragmatic way of engaging with RSCs might be through a local governors’ association (see the list on the NGA web site to find where yours is if you’re not already involved) or your local authority’s governor support service. For an introduction to all of the RSCs, then Schools Week’s collection of interviews with all eight is a good starting point.

4. Has your governing board considered the changes to schools’ responsibilities around radicalisation yet?

The 1st of July wasn’t just a day on which the role of RSCs changed, it was also the date after which changes to the government’s Prevent programme in the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 mean that there are new responsibilities on schools in this area (see the first directly relevant page but also ensure that you read the wider document). It can sound like a stuck record, and the Prevent strategy has plenty of detractors, but it remains the case that the schools in which we serve are increasingly seen as key battlegrounds environments in combating dealing with violent extremism. In a piece in the Guardian, Owen Jones expressed concern that Prevent could make it harder to deal with extremism:

“Once again, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that British state policy is helping to build the sort of extremism it is publicly committed to combating. The former Tory minister Lady Warsi has warned that a policy of disengagement with Muslim organisations has had exactly this counter-productive consequence.”

Whether or not this is the case in every school, in every community and therefore needs addressing by every governing body is almost a moot point – as governing boards we’re expected to have the professional capacity to be outward looking enough to be able to see our local school environment through those lenses used by others. Read yesterday’s post on What should schools do about radicalisation? and watch out for a forthcoming post over the weekend in a series around the Prevent strategy for more thoughts on this area – you can simply subscribe to blog posts by email to receive this when it’s published.

 5. What information do you share publicly about your governors?

Whatever it is, whether a brief description of your governing board, detailed profiles of or Q&As with governors, or the works – minutes, agendas, photos – it’s likely that it’ll have to change for many of our boards. A BBC News article and parallel Telegraph article, neither of which gives links to the DfE document – see paragraph 20 of the PDF) reports that the government intends to create a national database of governors. It’s unclear as to how this would happen, though Emma Knights of the NGA believes that this information will come from the updated information schools will have to publish on their own web sites, a move which was trailed earlier in the year. One interesting side issue to this is related to Emma Knights’ further comments regarding no individual being a governor of more than two schools – “this has not yet been implemented or well communicated”, but it is interesting to note that this was identified as a potential issue for Lord Nash in 2014. How your school publishes details of its governors, their committees, interests (the pecuniary ones, probably not just what they like to watch on TV) will be an important addendum to the ever growing list of items your school should have on its web site, so you might like to spend some time over the summer preparing for any forthcoming detailed announcements. As anyone with any experience in school leadership will tell you, they tend to arrive in the hours after term ends:

Photographs from the NGA conference

Images: copyright © 2015 Neilson Reeves and are used with permission. Lead image: Nicky Morgan MP addressing the 2015 NGA summer conference.

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