The Secret Consultation on School Governance

I wonder if you’ve spotted the irony in the heading for this – my first ever – blog post. Governance is about accountability and transparency, isn’t it? Perhaps that’s why an email I came across yesterday has made me so cross. Cross enough to start a blog. And actually you’ll probably think it’s fairly insignificant in the scheme of things. Given all that’s going on in education at the moment why have I chosen this to get upset about? I suppose it’s because it hits at the heart of something I hold so dear. It’s not even the subject matter of the consultation. It’s the way it’s being done that I find so unacceptable.

I’ve known for while that we were expecting the School Governance Procedures regulations to be replaced from September (these and the other regulations referred to only apply in maintained schools). Yesterday the new draft regulations were released. The draft School Governance (Procedures and Allowances) (England) Regulations 2013 will replace the School Governance (England) (Procedures) Regulations 2003, the Education (School Government) (Terms of Reference) (England) Regulations 2000 and the Education (Governors’ Allowances) (England) Regulations 2003.

But you won’t find any reference to the new regulations on the Department for Education’s Consultations page. No – this is an *informal* consultation apparently. Members of the Department’s Advisory Group on Governance (AGOG) have been asked to consult their members. Your search for the membership and activity of this group may be more fruitful than mine…

Consequently yesterday the National Governors’ Association yesterday emailed all their members with a link to the draft regulations. No criticism of the NGA is implied in anything I’m saying here. They’re doing what they’ve been asked. But when I enquired when responses were needed by, I was told the end of February. So not only is the consultation secret – it’s also only a fortnight long, and one of those weeks is half term for many.

Governors are continually being told at the moment how very important they are, the Education Select Committee is scrutinising us, the Ofsted framework talks about governors more than ever and has increased the expectations on governors enormously.

But suddenly I don’t feel very important. The rhetoric is one thing but without some effort to actually engage with governors around important discussions that’s what it will remain.

So what’s different in the draft regs? Well I’ll have to go through all four sets to answer that in detail. But it is half term, so what else is there to do? I’ll list below the things that leapt out to me on a first reading, and, as people are emailing and tweeting me further comments I’ll add them also:

Regulation 6 – the maximum and minimum terms of office for chair and vice chair have been removed, the governing body just has to ‘determine the date when the term of office will end’ (thanks to Caroline Wilding for this one – chair of governors in Cheshire East).

Regulation 12 – introduces a new requirement for agendas to be sent to the Local Authority 7 days in advance of a meeting where change of school status is to be discussed. That means if you’re thinking of converting to academy – or any other status change of course – you’ll need to notify the LA of the discussion in advance.

Regulation 12 – the requirement that governors receive ‘reports or any other papers to be considered at the meeting at least seven clear days in advance’ has been removed. Is that saying it’s ok for all papers to be tabled??!! (thanks Caroline Wilding again).

Regulation 13 – removes the requirement for a change of school name to be approved by 100% ‘yes’ vote.

Regulation 13 – more significantly – governors will be allowed to vote by proxy – by conference call, or via Skype etc. This means that virtual governors’ meeting will be permissible in maintained schools for the first time (already allowed in academies).

Regulation 26 – the three lines here replace the whole of the Education (School Government) (Terms of Reference) (England) Regulations 2000. I find this a bit sad. That means we’ve lost the statutory definition of the role of critical friend. Perhaps we’re not “critical friends” any more…?

If you want to feed into the “consultation” how do you do it? Well, if you’re an NGA member, email Philip.wood@nga.org.uk.

If you’re not – reply here, and I’ll see what I can do…

And finally, thanks to Charles Wright (@cwcomm1) for tweeting me the link to this page on the DfE website, stating their intention to launch a public consultation on this very issue. Clearly all this is just a mistake then…

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