February 9, 2014

The NOT Secret Consultation on School Governance

Well it’s been nearly a year, since my indignation over school governance consultations going on in ‘secret’ led me to start this blog (The Secret Consultation on School Governance). So I’m delighted to be blogging a year later about a full public consultation on some more proposed changes around maintained school governance. I take full credit for this apparent change of policy of course. But it may also be an indication of the increase in the profile of school governance even in that short period of time.

The proposed changes affect the School Governance Constitution Regulations, and if they go ahead, will take effect in September 2014. The constitution regs are the ones that determine the size and membership of governing bodies (GBs), and, just as a bit of contextual information, we’re currently working to two different sets of regs in maintained schools. Most governing bodies are still constituted under the 2007 regs. They had 9 as a minimum size and 20 as a maximum, and various proportions of different stakeholder groups had to be maintained. Reconstituting under the 2012 regulations has been an option since 1/9/12 (and mandatory for any new GB established since then), but take up has been fairly slow. You can read why I think the 2012 regs are better and why everyone ought to reconstitute in a separate blog here: Does Size Matter?

The changes that are proposed now affect both sets of regs as follows:

1. New skills-based eligibility criteria for appointed governors

The first proposal is that all appointed governors (co-opted/community, partnership, appointed parents, Local Authority and, most notably perhaps, Foundation Governors) must have ‘in the opinion of the appointing body’ “the skills required to contribute to the effective governance and success of the school”. Now perhaps this ought to go without saying. But sadly it doesn’t, not always anyway.

So far, so good.

2. Surplus governors

The current arrangements for GBs reconstituting under the 2012 regs is that where there are surplus governors (eg the GB reduces from 3 LA governors to 1) they are removed on the basis of ‘last in, first out’; this means, fairly obviously, that the governor that keeps their place is the one with the longest continuous service on the GB (and where there is a draw the 2 or more governors draw lots). However the longest serving governor isn’t always the one that is contributing the most, or the one that the GB as a whole wishes to keep. The proposal is that the regs will be amended so that the governors who keep their positions will be “those governors with the most relevant skills to contribute to the effective governance and success of the school”. In the case of Foundation Governors this will be determined by the appropriate appointing body, but in all other cases it will be determined by the GB.

I think this is a great idea in theory. But in practice, I’m not so sure. Imagine you currently have four staff governors (including the head), and you have to go down to 2 (including the head) under the new regulations. The governing body will need to vote on which of the three existing staff governors gets the one position in the new structure on the basis of which of them will contribute the most.

Hmmm. There could be trouble ahead…

(In the interest of balance I should add that you are allowed to appoint members of staff as co-opted governors in the new arrangements, so you could decide to keep them all on this basis…).

As an aside, as a Local Authority Officer I couldn’t help raising my eyebrows when I noticed that the Diocesan appointing bodies get to make this decision about Foundation Governors, but where there are surplus LA governors the decision sits with the GB.

3. Transition from the 2007 Regulations

This is a biggy, because it will affect all those GBs (which is the vast majority of them) still constituted under the 2007 regulations. The proposal is that the 2007 regs will be revoked with effect from 31/8/15. In effect that gives all the GBs that haven’t done so yet five terms (including what’s left of this one) to reconstitute under the new regs. I have to say this will make the lives easier of all those who work across lots of GBs, as the current situation is quite complex, but much more importantly this is a better model, I honestly believe your GB will be better as a result of going through the process. (I explain why here).

4. The next set of proposals all relate not to changes in regulation, but to new statutory guidance to be published alongside the regs. If you’re not clear on the difference between the status of regulations and statutory guidance, if something is statutory guidance: “This means that governing bodies and local authorities must have regard to it when carrying out duties relating to the constitution of governing bodies in maintained schools”. That’s clarified that then.

4.1 Size and Membership

GBs should be “no bigger than they need to be to have all the skills necessary to carry out their functions”. This will be highly subjective of course!

Also “every member should actively contribute relevant skills and experience. Governing bodies should conduct regular skills audits and use the process of filling governor vacancies as an opportunity to address any skills gaps”.

Well, I’m not arguing with that. Skills audits are (relatively) easy to carry out, though, and difficult to really make meaningful in practice in my experience.

4.2 Skills

The government has tried to define the skills we need. Now I was a bit anxious about this, and I’ve said before that I didn’t think they and I would see eye to eye over it. But I’ve been pleasantly surprised, and I think it’s worth including the relevant paragraphs from the draft guidance in full here (emphasis mine):

“The specific skills that governing bodies need to meet their particular challenges will vary. It is therefore for governing bodies and other appointing persons to determine in their own opinion what these skills are and be satisfied that the governors they appoint have them. Experience has shown, however, that all governors need a strong commitment to the role, the inquisitiveness to question and analyse, and the willingness to learn. They need good inter-personal skills, a basic level of literacy in English (unless a governing body is prepared to make special arrangements), and sufficient numeracy skills to understand basic data.

Experience also shows that effective governing bodies seek to secure or develop within their membership as a whole expertise and experience in analysing performance data, in budgeting and driving financial efficiency, and in performance management and employment issues, including grievances. They seek to recruit and/or develop governors with the skills to work constructively in committees, chair meetings and to lead the governing body. They set aside a budget to fund appropriate and necessary continuing professional development for their members.”

As I said, I’m pleasantly surprised. There’s no insistence that we all need an accountant, a solicitor and an HR officer, but some common sense around the skills and commitment needed, and an acknowledgement that training will also be a necessary requirement.

And finally…

4.3 Governor Elections

With the probable exception of revoking the 2007 regulations, which I’m delighted about, I think this is my favourite bit!

Too often I hear GBs say ‘of course we have no control over who the parent governors are, we have to take what we get’, but often even basic information isn’t being given to prospective candidates, who put their hand up for the role without having any clear idea of what they’re volunteering for. The draft statutory guidance proposes:

“Governing bodies and local authorities should make every effort to conduct informed elections in which the expectations and credentials of prospective candidates are made clear. The best governing bodies set out clearly in published recruitment literature:

  • the nature of the role of a governor and the induction and other training that will be available to the new governor to help them fulfil it;
  • the expectations they have of governors for example in relation to the term of office, the frequency of meetings, membership of sub-committees and the willingness to undertake training; and
  • any specific skills or experience that would be desirable in a new governor, such as the willingness to learn or skills that would help the governing body improve its effectiveness and address any specific challenges it may be facing.

Well run elections offer candidates for election the opportunity to publish a statement of sufficient length to set out:

  • Evidence of the extent to which they possess the skills and experience the governing body desires;
  • Their commitment to undertake training to acquire or develop the skills to be an effective governor;
  • If seeking re-election, details of their contribution to the work of the governing body during their previous term of office; and
  • How they plan to contribute to the future work of the governing body.”

I like this, not because I’m seeking to put an extra barrier up to stop parents standing for election, but because, as I explain here, I’d rather have a vacancy than have someone who isn’t going to contribute. There will also be a requirement on some LAs to re-write their election procedures (which they then delegate to schools) which have stupid word limits. It’s not long ago since I helped a friend produce their election statement of FIFTY WORDS. How ridiculous! Try it, and see how much meaningful content you can get into 50 words…

Anyway, that’s the proposed changes in a (fairly large) nutshell. there are some changes also proposed to the Federation Regs but they are basically the same issues, but as they affect federated GBs.

There were ’12 substantive responses’ to last year’s “secret consultation”; it would be great if we could increase that by at least tenfold for this one. We don’t want to give the government the impression that we’re not interested in governance do we?

You’ve got until 14th March 2014 to submit your response, and all the documents you need, including the response form can be downloaded below.

Have fun!

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