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Mandatory governor training, Mr Morgan?

TES Hustings - photo: Fiona Salvage @fsalvage

Mandatory governor training, Mr Morgan?

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Last night was the TES Hustings – a free event to attend with an audience which included teachers, consultants and others from the world of education. Ian Usher, Product Manager for Modern Governor, attended the event in an attempt to ask those who would be the Secretary of State for Education on the 8th of May their views on governance. Here are his personal account of and reflections on the evening: 

In attendance at the Emmanuel Centre were the current Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan (a former school governor of eight years’ standing), her shadow, Labour’s Tristram Hunt and the Liberal Democrat school’s minister David Laws. The three panelists each gave a five minute opening speech outlining their vision for education.

Questions were taken from the floor, from Twitter, from a student representing Robert Peston’s Speakers for Schools organisation, the event’s sponsors. Here’s a selection, seen through the lens of Twitter.

https://twitter.com/StuartLock/status/575757137906958336

https://twitter.com/eward659/status/575756491594014720

Was there going to be a question on governance?

Getting the moderator’s attention appeared to be difficult. Wearing white or waving an item of clothing above one’s head appeared to work for others but – near the end, by the last batch of questions – staring at the moderator, mouth agape with one hand reaching up in an attempt to scrape the distant ceiling appeared to work:

Having spent a few minutes prior writing the question out on a phone, all that was needed now was to manage to read it all out, in particular remembering to include the final sentence.

Bearing in mind the important John Nash gives to a profesional approach to school governance, and the importance of having professional, informed and responsible governors, especially in academies and free schools, are the panel in favour of compulsory / mandatory training for governors? Would it dissuade people from volunteering as governors? You presumably wouldn't accept zero training for magistrates, so why might it be acceptable for governors?

Ah, a shame about that final sentence. It probably wouldn’t have altered the panellists’ responses, which were unequivocal:

which led to a mixed reaction from those in the room and following online:

What’s the issue with mandatory governor training?

The often given reason for not making any governor training compulsory – the one cited by Nicky Morgan and agreed with by Tristram Hunt and David Laws – is that it would dissuade volunteers from joining the ranks of more than 300,000 school governors across the country. Lord Nash has gone further and suggested that as a new wave of governors would be drawn from the ‘professional’ ranks of society and, as such, would have an innate ability to govern effectively, meaning they wouldn’t need training. Does this hold true for magistrates – another group of volunteers holding an important societal role?

The assumptions – that someone who works in (for example) the HR industry can look at educational performance data without any training, or that anyone from any profession can walk into a school for the first time in twenty years and immediately understand the role of a governor – are as presumptuous as one another. It might be argued that they come from a view of governance which is rooted in the past – where governors had little responsibility, possibly nodded agenda items through in governing body meetings and were rarely accountable for most aspects of a school’s life – rather than grounded in the present realities of a professional approach to governance.

Such answers assume there’s no other approach, that any mandatory training at all is not good. Looking over the border from England to Wales gives a different picture:

The mandatory Welsh training covers the core elements of a governor’s role and responsibilities and also data – which can be a mystery for those who’ve been in schools for a long while – and clearly presumes proper, professional engagement with the mandatory training by anyone volunteering to be a governor.

Much is often made of the fact that being a governor is a voluntary role – often words to the effect of We’re volunteers – we shouldn’t be made to do anything – but Lord Nash is quite clear on this:

However, when it comes to actual training, there seem to be several simultaneous yet contradictory assumptions about its nature. What’s the actual issue? Is training too easy? Too hard? Too inconvenient? Does the fact that it exists at all belittle professionals from other fields? Is it unreasonable to expect volunteers to improve their knowledge, skills and understanding?

Meet a professional school governor

Jonathan Morgan

(image from Charnwood Borough Council)

According to a BBC News profile of his wife, Jonathan’s an architect and councillor for the Loughborough Outwoods ward. According to a comment from the Secretary of State for Education during the TES pre-election education hustings on Wednesday evening, he’s also a governor (she didn’t specify where). It looks like Loughborough FE College, where the role of a governor is similar to that of a school governor, though with some differences – along with at least one school – Mountfields Lodge School.

It would be an exercise in bad faith to be cynical about the motivations for people to become governors, but it’s not unreasonable to assume that most of those who form Lord Nash’s dreamed-for cohort of professional people, keen to be governors, would take the role seriously enough to engage with training to improve their ability to carry it out well. Is it safe to assume that Mr Morgan – in a profession in which becoming professionally qualified takes five years at university and two years’ practical experience – isn’t averse to training & improvement? That if he were a new-to-the-role governor he would see that his requirement to train and develop was a sign of the high regard the role was held in, by both his school(s) and the government? There’s no reason to assume that he is anything but a competent, effective governor – but would he want new governors to join his team without knowing that they had an understanding of the fundamentals of school governance?

What do we mean by ‘professional’ governors?

Sometimes the term professional in relation to school governors is used in a sporting sense – implying someone who is a paid participant. This could be what leads to some confusion:

which leads to all sorts of issues of equity and responsibility within a board of governors. Maybe the true meaning of governors being professional is one of attitude – which Lord Nash would surely applaud – but most people taking a professional attitude to any part of their lives will welcome challenge and rigour to improve in it – an approach reflected in the National Governors’ Association’s current Manifesto for this year’s election, which calls for training, at least for induction, to be mandatory.

We have high expectations of learners – phrases like a no-excuses culture  are often used around what children and teachers are expected to model in school – shouldn’t we raise the bar for governance as well?

You can watch the TES Hustings on the TES web site.


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