Are we witnessing the slow death of school governance?

With the recent speech to the National Governors’ Association conference in Manchester Nicky Morgan made clear the preferred model of governance is moving away from stakeholder representation.

Does this matter?

At the moment the vibe coming from the Dfe is towards medium sized multi academy trusts of 8-10 schools.

In itself this is not an issue but this will reduce the number of governors nationally to a frightening small number.

To be clear local governing bodies are not governance they are accountable committees solely at the mercy of the patronage of the MAT board. The presence of individuals on the LGB  “board” is at the behest of the board and can be removed at any time. What the LGB is given to do is at the whim of the board and can be changed at any time.

The only governors remaining will be MAT board members.

The numbers (please bear with me these are approximates)

There are circa 22,000 schools in England

The ideal MAT size is 8 -10 (DfE)

The average MAT board is approx. 10 people

That roughly equates to 22,000 governors nationally – down from over 300,000 today.

Even if my figures are off by 100% the drop by over 250,000 is potentially the single biggest dismantling and disenfranchisement of a volunteer group in our history.

Again – does this matter?

I have spoken to a number of MAT boards and several have no governance expertise at all. Skills such as legal, HR, and finance are valued but the mechanics and understanding of governance are not valued.

This does matter.

Governance has the Nolan principles running through it, is rooted in the local and accountable and is connected to the students and families it serves.

This will be lost.

Education will move to a service delivered to a community not reflecting the context it serves.

When parents find that a board remote from them their school and their child is the final arbiter of any disagreement with the head teacher. That if you have a SEND child the head teacher has no accountability locally. That if the board makes a decision which is disagreed with locally there is no formal method of arbitration people may start to take notice. By then it will be too late.

The balance of local accountability by head teachers does matter. Some head teachers are not outstanding and the freedoms in this model allow a poor head teacher to have a disproportionate local effect.

Is it worth the risk?

The concentration of the education of our children in the hands of a small number of people matters. Remember MAT board members are chosen by existing MAT board members. They are immune from the public appointments process despite running multi million taxpayer pound budgets.

Perhaps a MAT above £10M should be brought within the public appointment process?

The possibility of failure by a MAT board will have a disproportionate affect on the children within the MAT; way beyond the reach of a poorly performing governing body. Remember the phrase “to big to fail” and reflect on how that ended.

The flip of a coin to fly high or plumb the depths is not a chance I would relish with my own child’s education or any child for that matter.

The golden future of academisation will have to be very closely monitored but by whom?

There is neither the desire nor the capacity centrally or regionally. Local Authorities and regional schools commissioners and the DFE do not have the capacity. The local community may see what is happening but have little impact on preventing failure.

Too many known unknowns to paraphrase the metaphysical Dick Cheyney.

Worth the risk?

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All change or very much the same?

Governance questions for the new Ofsted framework.

With the changes to Ofsted inspections from September 2015 what governing bodies and trust boards have to discuss with head teachers will also change.

If your school is already “Good” or “Outstanding” then how your school will be assessed has changed significantly. An HMI (yes just one for primaries and two for secondaries) will start with the assumption your school is still good. They will check data, safeguarding and unless they find evidence to the contrary they will affirm that school is still good.

The only fly in the ointment is if they feel school may be outstanding or RI. That triggers a full section 5 inspection.

Is that an incentive?

The HMCI Sir Michael Wilshaw has conveniently published what HMI will ask head teachers.

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/letter-to-schools-outlining-changes-to-education-inspection-from-september-2015

This blog is based on page two of the letter.

HMI may ask how well leaders:

  • have built, or are developing, a school culture that is calm, orderly and aspirational so that teachers can teach and pupils can learn
  • have a grip on the school and fully understand its strengths and weaknesses
  • know how different groups of pupils currently at the school are achieving across a range of subjects
  • have removed any excuses for underachievement and are prepared to go the extra mile to compensate for family background
  • know the quality of teaching and are prepared to confront complacency wherever they find it
  • have communicated their strategy for raising standards to parents, governors and key stakeholders
  • ensure that pupils have access to good quality materials, for example textbooks, readers and library books that they can use in classrooms and at

home.

These questions equally apply to any school type and build on the concept that a safe well taught child should learn well.

The focus is shifting to the professional judgement of head teachers, ensuring they know their students and staff. That they know what a good teacher looks like and they recognise underachievement.

Personally when I hear the parade of excuses for underachievement it makes me a tad agitated.

I was brought up in great but disadvantaged communities and I know many successful professionals who were. The circumstances a child goes to school in are not their responsibility or their fault. Schools should work to provide the safe environment conducive to allowing children to learn.

Being a governor of a primary school it particularly irks me when secondaries take the same children with the same parents in the same community and results crash from 11 to 16. I still don’t feel secondaries should get more funding for the same child and that their floor targets are 50% of primaries.

Rant over……

The questions asked of the head teacher apply the same to governors. Getting to grips with these four questions are at the heart of what we already do. Tweaked slightly they could be the vision of any school:

  • understand strengths and weaknesses of school and be addressing these
  • know how different groups of pupils currently at the school are achieving across a range of subjects and maximise student opportunity
  • have removed any excuses for underachievement and are prepared to go the extra mile to compensate for family background
  • know the quality of senior leadership and are prepared to confront complacency wherever they find it

Seems like the core purpose of governance will always be the same.

Is that a bad thing?

Not at all.

Children matter first and last.