Professional Governance

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By Rob Merino
on 18 December, 2015

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Professional governance – a call to action?

Sir Michael Wilshaw, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools, recently provided a commentary on the role and importance of governance in an increasingly autonomous education system.

As we all know the role of school governors covers three key areas:

  • To set the school’s vision, ethos and strategic direction.
  • To hold the headteacher to account for the performance of teachers and pupils.
  • To ensure that public money is being well spent.

The recently re-published Governance handbook provides more in-depth information on the role of all governors.

The rapid growth of academies and free schools has placed even more responsibility and power in the hands of governing bodies, governors and trustees. Furthermore, the government’s ambition that all schools become academies and the potential impact this will have on local authority versus local control of schools places further emphasis on the importance of good governance.

With this comes the expectation that a volunteer body should be able to understand the complexity of school performance and financial data; be able to stay strategic rather than look from an overly operational perspective and challenge and support school leaders in equal measure. In the words of Sir Michael,

“…the role is so important that amateurish governance will no longer do. Good will and good intentions will only go so far.”

He also recommended that there should be mandatory training for governors to support them to undertake their role, a recommendation that to date has not been heeded.

The effectiveness of governance has increased in importance within Ofsted inspections and forms a key element of the leadership and management judgement, with the events of the so-called ‘Trojan horse’ incidents in Birmingham directing even more emphasis and oversight on good governance. As a result of inspections, last year Ofsted inspectors recommended that nearly 500 schools should undertake an external review of governance due to concerns about the performance of the governing body.

In his commentary Sir Michael returns to a question that he posed three years ago, should we consider paying chairs and vice-chairs in order to recruit the most able people to schools in the most difficult circumstances? This is not a suggestion that all governors should be paid, but that it should be a consideration for those governors in key roles who require a deep knowledge of educational issues and should also support and cascade knowledge to other members of the board.

To review evidence on how to improve governance, Sir Michael has commissioned inspectors to carry out an in-depth and far-reaching survey into the effectiveness of governance in our schools for a report to be published next year.

Specifically, it will:

  • Examine whether governing boards have the right mix of professional skills and experience needed to perform their increasingly important role
  • Assess whether the time has now arrived to make provision for paid governance
  • Look at whether local authorities, regional school commissioners and others, intervene early enough when problems with the governance of a school are spotted between Ofsted inspections
  • Explore whether in an increasingly diverse system, the right structures are in place to support governors and trustees, and to deliver the training they need to hold schools to account
  • Investigate the level of guidance and support governors receive for headship appointments
  • Look at the extent to which governors are involved in succession planning for school leaders
  • Look at whether external reviews of governance are an effective tool for improving standards
  • Look at the role performed by National Leaders of Governance and whether there are enough of them to make a difference
  • Examine some of the specific challenges facing governors of standalone academies
  • Explore the relationship between multi-academy trusts and their local governing boards. The survey will seek to determine the extent to which their respective roles are clearly defined and delineated.

In addition Sir Michael has launched a call for evidence to inform this piece of work from anyone who has views and experience to contribute. So this is your opportunity to inform this debate.

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