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School Governance Seminar

Themes for discussion

A number of themes emerged from the presentations and the discussion sessions, not least of which was the moral purpose and social responsibility involved in being a governor and whether current changes were threatening this.

This and other concerns that arose are listed below in the form of a series of questions, which we hope will prompt further discussion of the issues.

Should there be mandatory training?
This could give rise to the question of paying governors. Many large companies allow paid time off. But it is more difficult for smaller employers who need to be required/encouraged to allow paid time off. This issue affects who can be a governor, for example many parents may be employed locally by small employers.

What skills do governors need?
Soft skills are important; expertise can be taught but governors should have these skills. Is it easy for governing bodies to recruit people with the right skills? How do governing bodies balance skills and representation? Governors need the skills and confidence to challenge. Is it particularly difficult for parent and staff governors? Succession planning is important for governing bodies. How do governors ensure access and fairness? How can governors stand up to an authoritarian chair or a majority culture of no change? Governors need to be able to assess the impact of their work.

How should governors be regulated?
Should they be regulated differently from professionals? Is it right for non-professionals to be pressured in this way? Is it possible for Ofsted to make a judgement in such a short time and at such short notice? Should Ofsted inspect how much CPD governors have done?

What about the Local Authority’s role?
Are we moving to a situation where schools are accountable at local level only to governors and at national level to Parliament and Ofsted?
Will we end up with fewer governors responsible for a larger number of schools? The middle tier needs support if it is to carry on a role. The National College may be able to support but would need a very wide reach to fulfil the role that local authorities carry out. Relations between the local authority and local schools are very variable across the country. Where do parents go with concerns if they are in an academy and are not satisfied with the answers from the staff – can they reach the governing body or the trust easily?

What support do governors need?
Governors don’t always get the information they need to do the job. Where can governors get an independent external view? Getting advice and support from a clerk is increasingly important. Governors need to know what research is showing for example. Will they have to buy in commercial support? Does the National College of Teaching and Leadership fulfil this role? Are we using the National Leaders of Governance properly? They need coordinating. There has to be investment if governors are to carry out their job properly. HR support is vital, particularly with performance related pay. There is a growth in legal practices looking for work in schools. Is the National Governors’ Association able to support governing bodies faced with DfE enforcers, whose legal powers are questionable?

How can governing bodies take risks when failure is not an option?
For example, how can governors defend a broad and balanced curriculum in the face of pressures?

Fragmentation of the schools system
Could all schools have voluntary aided status? Is this a step of reorganisation too far for any government? Instead perhaps a requirement that all schools face the same regulatory framework would make the situation clearer and fairer. Is fragmentation leading to a polarisation of governance? Where does the power lie in multi-academy chains and trusts? If governing bodies cannot appoint the head what is their influence? Can governing bodies stand up to an overarching trust? Would MATs be a passing phase if schools could withdraw? Are we heading to profit-making schools? What would happen to the role of governing bodies if schools were to become profit making? There is a real need for an impetus in requiring schools to work together.

The role and structure of governing bodies
What does it mean to be a governor in the current situation? Do we need a clearer legal definition of the role of the governor? Governors have to accept that we are in a process of transition. We must look to the future.
Why do we need diversity in the role and structure of governing bodies? Magistrates do not face such diversity. Can governance be more democratic? Was governance ever democratic? International comparisons seem to indicate that wholly elected parent boards can become unmanageable. Generally governing bodies are not good at strategic planning. Is the size of the governing body now not considered as important?

How can governors do a better job?
There is a need to focus on what kind of school governors want their school to become. Their incentive should be to do the best for their children. Governing bodies must be constantly on the look out for good governors. It may be that teaching schools will demonstrate what good governance looks like.

Is an inter-generational ongoing conversation possible?
Certainly young people are not involved in governance as pupils or students. This needs to change. Governors must find a way of interacting with the young people in their schools. Governing bodies must be able to hear from all stakeholders and speak to them.

Governing bodies and their moral purpose
Is this shown by schools taking money to become academies thereby reducing the amount for other local schools, or expanding or setting up free schools when there are sufficient places already? Was this demonstrating social responsibility and a moral purpose? Can governing bodies rediscover social responsibility if they have lost it? How can governing bodies come to agree their moral purpose?

Full report of seminar

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