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Who governs our schools – induction, development, access

Dew on rolled up leaves by Joey Kyber

Who governs our schools – induction, development, access

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This is the fourth in a series of guest articles on the Modern Governor blog exploring the implications and themes of the RSA report Who governs our schools? written by Dr. Tony Breslin.


Dr Tony BreslinDr. Tony Breslin is a public policy analyst and writer, specialising in education, participation and the third sector. A teacher by profession and a former local authority education adviser, he is chair of the board of governors at Bushey Primary Education Federation and was, until Autumn 2016, chair of the Academy Council at Oasis Academy Enfield. He is also chair of the awarding body Industry Qualifications and a trustee of the charity, Adoption UK. You can contact Tony on Twitter at @UKPolicyWatch or via www.breslinpublicpolicy.com.

The need for greater governance literacy, system-wide

Two weeks ago, in the third in a series of blogs on my recent RSA report, Who Governs Our Schools? Trends, Tensions and Opportunities, I explored the first of six key themes that we picked out in the report – Purpose and Participation – outlining our purpose as governors at the heart of the school improvement project and the importance of governor engagement as a means of enabling participation, both in our schooling system and in our communities more broadly. The analysis in the report sought to underline to policymakers how vital this participative spirit is to effective governance and to school improvement. Put simply participation gives voice and, in so doing, builds inclusion and, over time, inclusive schools don’t simply raise attainment; they widen the numbers who attain.

Today, I turn to the second key theme, exploring an issue – induction and development – that I first looked at in a couple of articles for Modern Governor, published earlier this year: Governance Beyond the Governance Ghetto and Out of the ghetto: training in governance, not just for governors. As with the other themes, we generated and addressed a set of key questions:

  1. To what extent might the work of the school governor be described as a secret garden?
  2. How is school governance portrayed and is this portrayal accurate and fair?
  3. How do we best train and induct the various participants in the school governance process?
  4. How do we best inspect or otherwise assure the quality of governance?
  5. Given the increasing demands on those involved in school governance, should we move towards a system in which governors, or specific post-holders on governing boards, are paid or remunerated in some other way?

Here, I want to explore two of these questions in particular, one on which the Expert Group that I worked with during the course of producing the report was united (the question devoted to governor training and induction), and one on which they were not (the issue of governor remuneration).

Are governors the only individuals in need of governor training?

The nub of the question on induction and development is simple but easily overlooked and rests in the phrase “the various participants in the school governance process”. Here, our argument, as explored in those earlier articles cited above, is straight orward and captured in the headline that we draw out in this section of the report:

There is rightly a strong focus on the need for better induction and training for school governors, but training for governors alone is insufficient. We need a better understanding of governance across the teaching profession and amongst others who work in and with schools, especially amongst school leaders and those who aspire to such roles.

In short, while those who are governors – and those who are in the process of becoming governors – need access to high quality induction and training and while all governors need access to such training whatever local authority area or MAT they are based in, governor training for governors alone is not enough. Indeed, if we focus simply on the inadequacies of governor training, we accentuate the notion of the governor as amateur. Instead, we need a much stronger emphasis on developing what we call governance-literacy, especially amongst heads and aspirant heads and across the teaching profession and the wider school workforce. That issues of school governance barely feature in either the training of teachers or heads says much about the status that governance holds in the minds of both policymakers and programme developers.

Moreover, if – by addressing this fault line – we can develop a stronger system-wide grasp of what governance is about and what effective governance involves, we will address concerns about the tendency of school governance to remain a secret garden to others in and beyond the system and we will mitigate the  risk of governance being inaccurately or unfairly portrayed.

Should school governors be paid, or otherwise remunerated?

But what of the other thorny question in this set? That of governor remuneration; elsewhere in the report we have reminded readers that there are over 300,000 volunteer governors in England and championed, on this basis, the value of their contribution to a cash-strapped education system, which according to a recent study comes in at c. £40,000 per governing board (University of Bath-NGA, 2014). Why rock this boat with a debate about remuneration?

For three reasons: first, that key groups and key communities are still significantly under-represented at the governance table; second, that there is a greater risk that governance will be weak in those areas with the lowest reserves of social capital, such that social disadvantage reproduces social disadvantage, with predictable outcomes for children at the schools concerned; third, that certain geographical settings have significant and enduring governor shortages.

Where these or similar challenges persist there is a case for exploring the potential for incentivising participation in governance. This need not be simply through paying governors, although the relatively common practice of paying members of Interim Executive Boards and the tendency in MAT settings to professionalise some functions previously carried out by school governing boards arguably provide precedents for doing so. Alternatively, as we argue in one of our recommendations, it might be facilitated through, for instance, (1) a more explicit commitment to cover out-of-pocket expenses, including child care costs; (2) the introduction of a framework that compensates employers for releasing staff to participate in governance activities without loss of pay to the individual; and/or (3) access to specific personal and professional development programmes that have a demonstrable value to those for whom participation may, otherwise, be less attractive.

In this regard, our recommendation is modest and hardly a call for system-change. We simply argue that the Department for Education ought to encourage the establishment of “one or more small-scale pilot projects in which there is some aspect of remunerated governance”.

Questions for your governing board: on governance

  • What access do we have as a group of governors to induction and on-going training and how might this be enhanced?
  • What reflections do the senior leaders and staff governors on our board, or in regular attendance at your meetings, offer about the attention given to issues of governance in their own professional development programmes?
  • How would we describe the level of governance literacy across our school, federation or MAT community, and what are we doing, or could we do, to enhance this?

Questions for your governing board: on remuneration

  • Do we believe as a Board that there is ever a case for remunerating governors?
  • If so, what form (or forms) could this take, and who might the beneficiaries be?
  • What might the disadvantages – other than cost – of introducing remunerative models be?

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Image credit: Dew on rolled up leaves by Joey Kyber on Unsplash.


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