Important role but rarely appreciated

Government wants to replicate Academy model of governance


Our school system relies heavily on volunteering governors to   enable it to function .If you want to see the ‘Big Society’ at work, maybe  its worth looking at  what  the army of volunteer governors do, day in day out.  The recent White Paper described School governors  as “ the unsung heroes of our education system”. There are some 300,000 school governors, which makes them one of the largest volunteer forces in the country.  A report published by CfBT Education Trust (The ‘hidden givers’: a study of school governing bodies in England, University of Bath 2010)  found that school governors give an enormous amount to the education system in England, though their contribution is largely hidden from public view. It also  found, reinforcing the message that governing bodies role is  vital, that ‘the lack of a capable governing body is not a neutral absence for a school; it is a substantial disadvantage.’  Good governance and leadership at school level is regarded by the Government as a key driver in achieving better educational outcomes. They look to the Academies model to provide examples of smaller, high-powered governing bodies that can  demonstrate rapid improvements in standards. It is interesting though, as the CfBT Education Trust  report found, that  ‘Notions of ‘challenging the headteacher’ and ‘calling the headteacher to  account’ did not match the practices of the governing bodies studied for the report. The  focus, instead,  tended to be on scrutiny – of information, decisions, plans and policies.  Indeed the report found  ‘The governing task was only rarely described in terms of ‘performance’; it was  always talked about in terms of the ‘school’. It  continued ‘The extent to which the governing body focused on the performance of the  school and how performance was considered varied under a range of influences.’

The Government, though, sees the  arrangements for academy governance as a means of improving outcomes ,allowing  for greater levels of flexibility in the number and category of governors than in maintained schools, while ensuring that essential groups, such as parents, are always represented. Which is why it is legislating through the Education Bill, now in the Commons, to allow all governing bodies to mirror the academies model  in requiring  to have at least two elected parent governors and the head teacher, unless the head teacher chooses not to take up his position as a governor. Academy governing bodies have built-in safeguards to prevent particular categories of governor from dominating the governing body; for example, staff governors cannot exceed one third of the total membership, and charity law prevents those connected with local authorities from having more than 20% of the membership of a governing body. The CfBT Education Trust  report  found, in respect of LA representation on governing boards , that  the role of the local authority governor is ‘ unclear and in some ways can be  unsatisfactory’.  It added  ‘There was very little evidence  for instance of the responsibility or the link with  the authority being used in any productive way’.

Evidence points too to the need for Governing bodies to clearly set out the Strategic Direction of schools.  In the White Paper, “The Importance of Teaching”, the Government  set out a series of 10 key questions for governors to ask to assist them in setting their schools’ strategic direction and holding them to account:

What are the school’s values? Are they reflected in our long term development plans?

How are we going to raise standards for all children, including the most and least able, those with Special Educational Needs, boys and girls, and any who are currently underachieving?

Have we got the right staff and the right development and reward arrangements?

Do we have a sound financial strategy, get good value for money and have robust procurement and financial systems?

Do we keep our buildings and other assets in good condition and are they well used?

How well does the curriculum provide for and stretch all pupils?

How well do we keep parents informed and take account of their views?

Do we keep children safe and meet the statutory health and safety requirements?

How is pupil behaviour? Do we tackle the root causes of poor behaviour?

Do we offer a wide range of extra-curricular activities which engage all pupils?

The WP also  said ‘ Parents, governors and the public will have access to much more information about every school and how it performs’ and  ‘the Government  will help governing bodies to benefit from the skills of their local community in holding schools to account.’ It continued, ‘ The Government will work with  ‘the Education Employer Taskforce, Business in the Community, the Institute for Education Business Excellence, the School Governor’s One Stop Shop, and others to encourage business people and professionals to volunteer as governors.’ The Education Bill, which has just received its Second Reading in the Commons,   allows for the establishment of  smaller governing bodies, with appointments primarily focused on skills. From early 2012 the Government  will ‘ allow all schools to adopt this more flexible model of school governance if they choose to, while ensuring a minimum of two parent governors. Schools which currently have a majority of governors appointed by a foundation (often faith voluntary aided schools) will continue to do so.’


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