New rules demanding governors publish their interests online or face suspension “the right thing to do”

New rules demanding governors publish a register of their interests online – including relationships with school staff – have been cautiously welcomed.

Governors in local authority maintained schools will have to publish the register on their school’s websites from September.

It includes relevant business interests, other schools they govern and relationships between governors and school staff, including spouses, partners and relatives.

Any governor who fails to reveal the information could be suspended for bringing the governing body into disrepute.

Academy governors have been required to publish a register since September last year.

While leading governors have welcomed the changes, a note of caution has been sounded.

Rachel Gooch, a national leader of governance and governor at two schools in Suffolk, said: “Publishing the register of interests is the right thing to do. I am sure there will be objections, and perhaps a few resignations among governors.

“We’re a varied bunch with different degrees of experience and understanding of governance and its responsibilities.

“It is easy to say that governors who are reluctant to publicly declare interests shouldn’t be governors, but there needs to be some understanding that these are volunteers who may not want their financial details, shareholdings and relationships available on websites for their friends and neighbours to see.”

Concerns were raised in 2012 when parish councillors were required to publish their financial interests and relationship details on an online register.

Local council leaders said the website availability was a “major change” which would result in some councillors dropping out.

Ms Gooch added: “We need to explain to governors why it is necessary and exactly what interests are expected to be declared.

“We should learn from what happened with parish councillors in 2012 as we can ill afford to lose governors over this issue.”

Statutory guidance published this month states: “Governing bodies should make it clear in their code of conduct that this information will be published on their governors and, where applicable, their associate members.

“Any governor failing to reveal information to enable the governing body to fulfil their responsibilities may be in breach of the code of conduct and as a result be bringing the governing body into disrepute.

“In such cases the governing body should consider suspending the governor.”

Gillian Allcroft, policy manager at the National Governors’ Association, added: “NGA takes the issue of conflicts of interest seriously and subscribes to the Nolan principles of public life.  Governing boards’ decisions need to not just to be open and honest but to be perceived as such.

“Where there is a question mark about the interests of an individual trustee then the decision making of the whole board may be called into question – and the reputation of the organisation put at risk.

“Publishing a register is part and parcel of being open and transparent.   NGA recommends that all governing boards adopt a code of conduct – and produce a model for boards to adapt which is freely available on our website.  For members we also produce a model declaration of interests form.

“Being a school governor is a very responsible role and it is right that there should be transparency around those undertaking it.  For very many governors, as now, there will be nothing to declare – but where a governor has a conflict of interest this should be publicly acknowledged.”

Last year Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw said schools should be required to publish a governors’ register of interests. It was one of the recommendations following his investigation into the Trojan Horse claims in Birmingham schools.