On the back of the Department for Education’s restructure of the National Leaders of Governance programme, some former NLGs were worried that a number of the most crucial aspects of the role would no longer be available to those who needed it. In particular, we were concerned about the loss of one-to-one coaching and advisory support for chairs of governors and trustees, which we know to be essential.
The DfE announced the changes to the NLG programme in summer 2021, with the role now focused on providing external reviews of governance at a cost – without the long-valued local support for chairs and boards. The programme is also under new management, no longer overseen by the DfE but by the National Governance Association (NGA).
As part of these changes, all existing NLG designations were revoked and a new application round was opened for a much smaller pool of experts. The founding members of Independent Governor Support (IGovS) all chose not to apply for the new NLG designation because we preferred to continue in the well-established spirit of pro bono volunteering, providing the coaching and mentoring support countless chairs have benefitted from for free.
Thankfully, that charitable spirit is evidently alive and well. IGovS has rapidly grown from our 12 founding members last summer to 29 governance experts across the country today. All are previous NLGs, who well understand the value and impact of the support they are offering because they have not only provided it before, but benefitted from it themselves in their own roles as chairs of governors and trustees.
And their expertise is sorely needed. In the past few months alone, IGovS has supported with a host of challenges. We’ve helped build more effective relationships between chairs and headteachers/CEOs. We coached and mentored new chairs daunted by the level of responsibility involved (especially amid the pandemic). We demystified the world of education governance for some new to it, and stepped in as members of panels for boards who were short of experts. We have conducted external reviews of governance and advised on strategic leadership, supporting trust boards through significant change and supporting chairs to move forward from challenging Ofsted inspection results.
Clearly, the new NLG model has already created a gap where informal support once was, and IGovS exists to help fill that gap. As one of our founding members, Infinity Academies Trust chair of trustees Sean Westaway, asks, “Staff rely on the executive leader for support, who in turn is supported by the chair. But who provides support for the chair?”
It can be a lonely role, so our aim is to be the organisation chairs can turn to for confidential, understanding and empathetic advice.
Sean is based in Lincolnshire, and the geographical spread of IGovS members means that in most cases, chairs can already secure support from an expert who understands their local context and challenges. As we continue to grow, we aim to make that available to all regions, and in depth.
In the meantime, our service allows chairs to quickly secure the help of an expert based not just on that important local knowledge, but the specific skills needed for the job.
At this time of unprecedented national challenge and strained budgets, I’m proud to be one of the founders of this organisation. Free, independent support has seldom been more needed across the sector, and we are here for any type of school or trust.
We understand what it is like to be a chair in need of support, and we hope the government will come to realise their decision to deprioritise this aspect of the NLG role is a mistake. But chairs can’t wait for more reforms to access expert help. And the good news is: they don’t have to