Is the government trying to sideline parent governors-in favour of professionals?
School governors give an enormous amount to the education system in England, yet their contribution is largely hidden from public view. Their work for the most part is undertaken for no tangible reward. There are around 300,000 or so school governors in England . The Government understands the importance of school governance and governors and sees school governing bodies as one of the levers to drive system wide education reform. Because of the importance Ministers attach to governors and governance, they see the need for more high quality ‘professional’ governors serving on governing bodies. They also want to preserve some parent involvement although there have been claims that they want governing bodies to become wholly professional, run almost like businesses at the expense of this parent involvement .
The role of parents in school governance has been seen as important by many for some time
Back in 1984 Sir Keith Joseph said:
“We mean to give parents an increased role within it. Parents, too, are partners in education. They bring to this task unique responsibilities, a close knowledge of the children and a personal dedication to the full development of their qualities and talents.”—
[Official Report, 25 May 1984; Vol. 60, c. 1381.]
The National Governors Association say about parent governors:
“Elected parents are an important part of sound governance… They have knowledge that others governing from outside the school do not have and through election, they ensure that boards do not become small groups of like-minded people who appoint their friends, colleagues and in some cases even relations. Those disposed to governance by clique must not have that option.”
But critics say the government is side-lining parent governors.
The charge is that a new amendment to a regulation -School Governance (Constitution and Federations) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2016 (S.I. 2016, No. 204)-strengthens the professional voice on governing bodies but at the expense of the parent voice. The amendment actually provides that the governing body of every Federation of two or more maintained schools includes two parent governors. Currently, the parents in each school in a federation can elect one parent governor. In a federation of five schools, for example, there will be five parent governors. Labour argues that to limit the number to just two elected parents seems unnecessarily prescriptive. The government argues that the amendment simply brings Federations in line with other state schools. Academy trusts, however many schools they contain, have never been required to have more than two parents on the board. That allows governing bodies to remain at a workable size, enabling them to make sound and strategic decisions for their group of schools. Nick Gibb MP, the Minister, points out that the Department’s advisory group on governance, which includes all organisations with a key interest, including the National Governors Association support the measure.
In a debate on the Amendment on 14 June 2016 he said that the amendment to the School Governance (Federations)(England) Regulations 2012:
“was requested by the National Governors Association and the Churches. It was prompted by concerns that requiring the governing body of a federation of multiple maintained schools to have a parent governor from every school may result in a membership that is larger than they need or want. That can be a particular issue in larger federations or those that involve voluntary aided schools, where they need to maintain a majority of two foundation governors over all the other categories of governor.”
“The amendment reinforces the principle that…, a parent governor’s role, like that of every other category of governor, is to govern in the interests of all the children in federated schools, not just in the interests of the pupils from their child’s school. In reducing the number of parent governors to two, federations have the freedom to retain or recruit any particularly skilled and effective individuals, for example, by appointing them under a different category of co-opted governor. There is nothing to stop a federation or a foundation asking parents to be a foundation governor of a foundation school, or indeed to fit in to any of the other categories of governor that make up the governing body, to a minimum of seven.”
So this seems to shed a rather different light on the government’s intentions.
It is worth noting though ,in this respect , that Regional Schools Commissioners have an obligation to check that the trustees of a MAT have the necessary skills and expertise before the funding agreement of an academy or free school joining the MAT is signed