27 Jan The demise of LGBs?
The Secret NLG (National Leader of Governance) has been an NLG since two thousand and something and spends her or his time supporting governing bodies, or governing boards, to be more effective. This is the third guest post s/he has contributed.
I wish that I could say that I was surprised by the E-ACT academy chain’s announcement that they are to sack all Local Governing Bodies (LGBs) within the chain and replace them with teams of their own, but I’m not. I have digested many proposals made to schools by academy chains and sponsors as well as having attended dozens of informational meetings on pending academy conversions.
The big issue
One thing stands out as a common issue: school communities’ grave concern around losing their representation (in regards to school leadership) in the form of the LGB. Potential chains and sponsors are always quick to dispel these concerns, however I have always felt suspicious of this. Something always made me feel that the retention of the LGB was something that was tolerated as a ‘necessary evil’.
In fact, if you read the minutes from any of the open meetings that have been held where a school considers converting to academy status there is no more prevalent issue than that of the retention of the governing body. Those representing the proposed chain or sponsor are always prepared for this, because they know how fundamental this concern is for an entire school community. This from a letter sent to a school in the last couple of months by an academy chain:
(Academy chain) has a central board of directors, which is responsible to the Secretary of State for overall standards for each school in the chain. A Local Governing Body will be responsible for the day-to-day operation; in practice, this is likely to remain the same as or similar to the current Governing Body. The Local Governing Body as now will come from the local and wider community.
The E-ACT chain gave the same assurances to each of the schools that it encouraged to join its chain.
Now, as we all know, not all of the schools in the E-ACT chain enjoyed a success story. It was just two years ago that the damning Ofsted report on E-ACT led the chain to relinquish a third of its schools, due to the chain’s abysmal performance. This followed a previously damaging report by a financial inspectorate who found that the chain had ‘a culture of extravagant expenses’.
But to give E-ACT its due, Ofsted has had quite a bit of positive feedback on the chain too — particularly in the area of local governance. and the financial notice to improve was lifted in July 2015. Looking into the most recent inspection reports from schools in the chain, here are some of the good things that Ofsted have said about the schools’ current local governing bodies:
The reformed governing body is very effective. Governors have a very good understanding of the academy’s strengths and weaknesses and challenge leaders to make it even better.
The new governing body consists of some experienced members who bring useful skills. They have quite rightly raised some concerns and have challenged school leaders about the performance of the school.
The governing body is instrumental in supporting senior leaders in their drive to improve the quality of teaching and secure improvements in pupils’ achievement. Governors know the school well and are actively involved in all aspects of the school’s work. The governing body is committed to providing the best possible education for all pupils.
I found comments like these in every one of the inspection reports for schools within this chain. Of course, it’s not all perfectly rosy, as Ofsted points out in one of the school’s reports:
There are currently no parents serving on the governing body, which breaks the terms of the academy’s funding agreement. At the last full inspection governors were requested to undertake an external review.
I wonder if we’ll hear any more on those ‘funding agreements’ now that all LGBs are being removed?
To suggest that E-ACT’s sacking of all of its LGBs is the thin edge of the wedge is actually likely to be starkly accurate. Knowing how many chains and sponsors conduct their leadership makes me think that many of them would have already dismissed their LGBs, if they thought that this was allowed. This is why the actions of E-ACT have set a very worrying precedent indeed.