The Secret Consultation on School Governance – Part 2: The Loss of the Terms of Reference Regulations

Part 1 of this blog outlined the ‘informal consultation’ that the Government is undertaking around the new proposed School Governance (Procedures-and-Allowances) (England) Regulations 2013.

Now I’ve completed my line-by-line comparison of the new regulations and those they’re replacing (yes, I did really – sorry) something’s made me sad. And that’s the amount of the Education (School Government) (Terms of Reference) (England) Regulations 2000 that we’re losing.

The Terms of Reference regs definitely needed some attention, because they were a bit of a mish mash and quite a few parts have been revoked over the last 13 years. But I think the bits that are left are really important – is it just me?

If you’re a governor cast your mind back to your induction training (what do you mean you didn’t attend any? Don’t tell me THAT, that really will make me angry!). Do you remember being told that a school governor had three roles: 1. Strategic 2. Monitoring/Critical Friend 3. Accountability? Well, where does that come from? It’s all laid out in the Terms of Reference regs. Not only that, but so is this underlying principle:

(Regulation 2) “In exercising their functions, the governing body shall have as their terms of reference the principles that they shall—
(a) act with integrity, objectivity and honesty in the best interests of the school; and
(b) be open about the decisions they make and the actions they take and in particular shall be prepared to explain their decisions and actions to interested persons.”

This has all gone from the new regulations. Perhaps such things as integrity and transparency are no longer important? Perhaps the premise that we act in the best interests of the school isn’t relevant any more?

Perhaps the thinking is that all this goes without saying, but I don’t agree. Perhaps it also goes without saying that we want the best for the children in our school, that we all treat each other with respect, that we all aim to be the best we can, and support each other in this, and yet we still choose to have written school aims that articulate things like this, because it helps us focus, it tells other what we stand for, because it’s powerful.

What else are we losing?

Regulation 4 states that we “shall establish a strategic framework for the school by –
(a) setting aims and objectives for the school;
(b) setting policies for achieving those aims and objectives;
(c) setting targets for achieving those aims and objectives.”

And that “the governing body shall monitor and evaluate progress in the school towards achievement of the aims and objectives set and regularly review the strategic framework for the school in the light of that progress.”

And that “The governing body shall act as “critical friend” to the head teacher, that is to say, they shall support the head teacher in the performance of his functions and give him constructive criticism.”. Those of you that have attended my training courses know that we talk about this – what does it mean in practice? It doesn’t say ‘individual governors are the critical friends of the head teacher’, and therefore doesn’t imply that individual governors should take it on themselves to tell the head what they’re doing wrong. It’s about the way we structure our governing bodies and the way that supports us in bringing challenge.

These things underpin what we do, they set out our remit. Nowhere else clearly articulates this. And it’s all disappeared into three lines of Part 5 of the new regulations.

And there’s more. Regulation 7 states: “The head teacher shall comply with any reasonable direction of the governing body in performing any function delegated to him by the governing body.”

Now this is not intended as a negative comment about head teachers so please don’t take it as such. But I’ve worked alongside heads and governors for a long time. And I know that sometimes it’s helpful to be able to say the accountability structure is underpinned in regulation. Just very occasionally, some heads, every now and then, forget this… (and some governing bodies, just occasionally, every now and then, aren’t “reasonable” – it works both ways, I know!).

I attended a very interesting discussion with governors and the education select committee earlier in the year. And one of the things that came through there was a desire for greater clarity of role for school governors. And yet now we’re seeing a proposal that the only legislation that attempts to define the role should be removed.

That’s why I’m sad. And yes of course I’ll be responding to the “consultation” to this effect. But I won’t be holding my breath…

You can respond to the “consultation” yourself by emailing by Monday 11th March 2013.

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