Year in review: a governor’s perspective on 2015

Governors have been in the headlines this year. Compulsory training, paid chairs and vice-chairs, and no more stakeholders have all been mooted. But what will work – and why?

School governance now attracts the interest it deserves with both education secretary Nicky Morgan and Ofsted bringing aspects of it to the fore.

There has been an increased focus on “professional governance”. Ms Morgan, addressing the National Governors Association (NGA) summer conference, said, “I should be clear now that I intend to look further into how we can move away from that [stakeholder] model over this parliament — because what makes your contribution so important isn’t the particular group you represent, it’s the skills, expertise and wisdom you bring to the running of a school.” The importance that the Department for Education (DfE) places on skills was made evident in the revised statutory guidance relating to the constitution of governing bodies of maintained schools. Issued in August, it states that prospective candidates should be interviewed before appointment to find if they have the requisite skills. While many people are dismayed at the move away from the stakeholder model, I welcome the prominence given to skills. If governors want to be regarded as “professional”, then they need to have the requisite skills.

The drive to convert maintained schools into academies continued this year. David Cameron articulated his vision of every school becoming an academy. Most governors who responded to the NGA/TES survey would like the government to stop advocating conversion without evidencing the advantages. The department made clear that it does not encourage small schools to convert as standalone academies, with existing standalones encouraged to join multi-academy trusts (MATs). Governors should investigate the options available as it would be better for schools to join MATs on their own terms rather than being forced into it. Governors of “coasting” schools will be following the new bill closely, especially now that academes come under it.

The voluntary nature of governance is one of its strengths

The fallout from the Trojan Horse affair continues. The education select committee published its report, which was followed by the government’s response.

The whole affair indicated that there were failures of governance and Tahir Alam, former chair of governors at Park View Educational Trust, became the first person to be banned from taking part in management of schools.

Governing boards are now required to publish details of governors on their websites in an “easily accessible format”. This, I think, will eventually be used to develop a national database of governors.

Governance was also the subject of Sean Harford’s [Ofsted’s national director of education] blog and Sir Michael Wilshaw’s monthly commentary. Mr Harford clarified that Ofsted would not expect governors to get involved in operational matters and dispelled a myth regarding access to the draft inspection report. He clarified that there was no restriction on which, or how many, governors could attend the feedback meeting.

Sir Michael raised various issues in his commentary; some I agree with and others not. He is disappointed that there has been no progress on making governor training mandatory. This is something that most governors (including me) would like to see introduced. He also raised the question of paying chairs and vice-chairs. I do not agree with him on this one. I, like many other governors, think that the voluntary nature of governance is one of its strengths. Payment is a distraction and most governors cannot see how it will help or where the money would come from.

Sir Michael echoed the DfE’s view on stakeholder governors and announced the launch of a survey into board effectiveness, asking people to contribute their views. The NGA has questioned whether Ofsted has the expertise needed to look into governance. I hope governors and clerks will respond so their voice is heard, too.

And in November, the governors’ handbook was renamed as the governance handbook to emphasise it applies to everyone involved in governance.

Governors can expect 2016 to be just as challenging. All I can say is “keep calm and carry on governing”.

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