One governing body is challenging “statutory guidance” on governing body size. It wants to reflect its large and diverse community so, come September, there will be 12 co-opted governors on board . . .
As governors of a community school proud of its status as a strategic resource for the local authority, we have just fulfilled our most important single function. No, not to conduct the school with a view to promoting high standards of educational achievement at the school, as laid down in section 21(2) of the Education Act 2002, though it will contribute to that end. Nor is it directly about what the Department for Education (DfE) sees as our core strategic functions of “strategic direction”, “holding the headteacher to account” or “overseeing the financial performance of the school”, though it will impact on all of these.
What has happened, is that we have just appointed a new headteacher for our community’s school. Not the local authority’s school, not the DfE’s school, not any academy chain’s school – OUR school.
By “we” I mean ALL of us: five community, four local authority, four parent and two staff governors, with seven associate members (two senior students, three senior leadership team members and two from our partner secondary school). All had a major say in the appointment, though for legal reasons only “full” governors were involved the final interviews. This full involvement took place before the required reconstitution of our governing body, which takes effect from September.
We have a very good reason for having a large governing body
We are aware of the DfE’s requirements for reconstituting the governing body of a community school: a minimum of seven governors including at least two parent governors, one LA governor, the headteacher, one staff governor and an indeterminate number of co-opted governors.
However, the steer provided by the guidance is towards smaller governing bodies rather than larger, and towards restricting the number of co-opted governors. The model presented seems to be predicated on the assumption that schools are businesses, that they produce easily quantifiable outputs and that they should be governed accordingly – on the lines of a chief executive serving a board of directors. We firmly reject that view.
Our practice goes against both the spirit and the letter of the current guidance advocating these smaller streamlined governing bodies that, education minister John Nash believes, need to focus ruthlessly on the core strategic functions and avoid getting distracted by more peripheral matters.
But because our community is diverse and because we value that diversity’s influence on our school we don’t go along with the recently posited wisdom from Nash that “smaller governing bodies are likely to be more cohesive and dynamic”. We do accept that all governors should have skills and experience but we want to draw on far more than the skills and experience of human resource, project and financial management. We believe strongly in the importance of community engagement but don’t accept the DfE’s view that “it is not the role of governing bodies to provide this through their membership”.
This is in conflict with the government’s “statutory guidance”, which does not appear to be “guidance” at all. The DfE will tell you that “statutory guidance sets out what schools and local authorities must do to comply with the law”.
But it also says: “You should follow the guidance unless you have a very good reason not to.”
So we’re taking the DfE at its word. We have a very good reason for having a large governing body. Our community has a democratic right to oversee the education provided for its children and, as our community is large and diverse, so should our governing body be.
When our “new” governing body is convened in September it will meet statutory requirements but it will also include 12 co-opted governors to reflect the diversity that we value.
It will support and challenge the headteacher we have just appointed, it will engage with its “core strategic functions” but it will also act as a guardian of the whole community’s interest in the education and well-being of our young people.