When is a governor not a governor?

 Increasingly I speak to people who believe their role is as a governor when it’s not. The complexity of the definition of who is a governor is confusing to everyone.

 Every person who volunteers their time to support schools wants the best education for children. No one wants to divert time from focussing on education to governance procedural matters but things have to be legal.

In 2010 the types of school were quite limited and mostly well understood. Community, academy, voluntary controlled and voluntary aided governors had largely similar roles. With the proliferation of UTC’s, studio schools, different multi academy trust types and free schools the structure, legality and types of governance have mushroomed.

 Diversity and local autonomy have been the watchwords for the last few years and this has allowed some schools to flourish. Others however have found adapting to the challenge much more perplexing. This doesn’t help the children in those schools.

Where a school chooses to join an existing Multi Academy Trust (MAT) all executive authority transfers to the MAT board. The governing body at the school ceases to exist and the school holds no residual authority to leave the MAT.

The volunteers who were governors are often given a local role by the MAT board. Being called a Local Governing Body (LGB) doesn’t help as the volunteers are not governors in the legal sense. Who can legally act and who is legally responsible are important aspects of governance and accountability. This isn’t me being pedantic; law matters and with the current Education Bill it will become more important.

Interestingly because local volunteers aren’t governors they can be paid for the role. I wonder how many know this and are being paid?

The MAT board should have a very clear schedule of delegation to the school committee, council, senate, synod, congress, cabinet; please no more LGB it’s confusing.

The schedule should be the clear founding document explaining what the MAT board wants the local group to do on their behalf, when they want reports and what data they expect. In essence it’s a service level agreement, very similar to the terms of reference to a governing body committee which the MAT board can change as they see fit.

The schedule should help the local group to demonstrate to Ofsted and any other accountable body how they meet their requirements, don’t meddle and focus on children. Without a schedule it’s akin to doing a job with no job description. The local group will become squeezed between the MAT board and Ofsted, pleasing neither and possibly failing the school.

The temptation to accept responsibility because we care is great but when legally it’s not ours the correctly accountable group must step up.

Similarly the recruitment process for MAT boards concerns me. A middle sized MAT can easily crest £20 million annual budget. Yet the recruitment process for board members is solely at the discretion of the board. There is no requirement to include stakeholders, skills audit to see what they need or potentially more than asking someone they know to join. The national public appointments process is both transparent, skills driven and clear. Perhaps it’s time for MAT boards to be brought into the national process?

The taxpayer funding from the DfE through a MAT to schools can be significant. Yet the MAT headquarters structure is unaccountable to OFSTED. Irrespective of philosophy taxpayers money should be accountable in the same way in every school. It’s not about academies it’s about children and value for money to provide their education.

These issues may seem arcane but the temptations associated with public money and duck houses has proved oversight is critical. I know its old fashioned to keep referring back to Nolan but the simple seven principles still apply.

If the DfE intends to encourage more schools into being academies the DfE budget scrutiny and MAT board recruitment issues have to be resolved.

When you know what you are expected to do doing it is much easier. Knowing the rules of the game means you are likelier to succeed.













This is not what I intended to write.

This is not what I intended to write.


At the start of this week everything was bumbling along. Why then by the end of the week do I feel like I’ve run a marathon carrying an elephant?

The reason we volunteer is because we care about the quality of education our children receive. Many of us start as parent governors, nosy about what’s going on with our children. Most of us stay to try and make a difference.

I’m so long in the tooth I even remember life before Ofsted, then the cupboard rummagers, the lesson scrutinisers and what we have now.

I firmly believe schools and governing bodies should be accountable; accountable to children, parents and Ofsted among others. I know that’s controversial but I’ve seen too many schools with a sleeping governing body where the world turns and they don’t notice.

I have a chat with the head where I’m Chair every couple of days and exchange emails a couple of times a week. We meet every couple of weeks and occasionally I pop into school on the way past and have a chat with staff, say hello and drop off some biscuits or cake.

This week I was bimbling past when I decided to drop in. I signed in, had a chat with the support staff and sat down in the staffroom. After about five minutes the deputy head stopped as she passed me for the third time and said “by you were quick who phoned you?” At that point my week changed.

About ten minutes before they had the call.

Sometimes being a Chair of governors is more about perception than action. Fighting the temptation to throw my hands in the air and run screaming from the building I adopted a “Steady the Buffs” attitude of cheerful stoic optimism in the face of the oncoming storm. Once I knew there was nothing the senior leaders felt we as Govs could do I left them to it, went home and emailed the team.

Our governing body are a team. We don’t have data storm troopers, we don’t drill everyone to the grade six governance. I know my fellow govs and I know what they bring. It was getting Ofsted to see that which occupied the next two days.

By half time on day one the head was quiet, not like them at all. The deputy who is a caring and dedicated professional was similarly tacit. I started to worry.

I emailed the Govs at lunchtime and at the end of the day, asking specific people to be sure they knew their areas of responsibility. Our finance guru was working 200 miles away and other govs couldn’t get the time off at short notice. We had our final Eight.

The day dawned and by dawned I mean we had our meeting with the lead inspector at 08.30. One Gov assumed this was such an unreasonable hour it must mean 20.30 and was typo (seven left).

By ten the lead inspector had written many many pages and was starting to get the air of desperation that they wanted to get away. I could not have asked for more from our team. The parents were clear, eloquent and passionate about their children and the work they saw in governance in their children’s lives. The staff were clear about their dual role, what they saw, the openness of the governing body and how we all worked together as a team. I felt deflated worried there was so much more we could have said and evidenced. I did not want to let our children down.

The conversation ranged over the single central register (checked two days before by me), attainment, CVA, achievement, progress, disadvantaged groups, high achievers, data, safeguarding, pupil premium, sports premium, how the governing body interacted with the stakeholders, challenge, VFM, teacher appraisal linked to reward; but above all children. Each aspect linked directly back to children.

To say the process was thorough was an understatement.

I went home.

Then I started to worry.

My hand hovered over the telephone.

Should I ring and say we forgot to mention?

Did we miss a curve ball??

did you realise we do…???

I thought better of it and had a cup of tea.

As I sat there feeling thankful my boss had given me the time and space to be so involved with our school, playing the various options in my mind I realised I knew what grade our school was but did Ofsted? What could happen next? How would we react?

The debrief was at 3.30.

I can’t finish this story, yet.

We had the meeting yesterday.

I can’t tell you what was said, why or what it means to our school’s future.

What I can say is I know why I’m a governor. I care about the children. I care about their life chances and their life after they leave us as well as what happens in our school. They get one chance and we can’t squander that. No matter what is thrown at us we’ll do what we can because they can’t, they are children.

Every governor in every school feels the same: we care.

Pass the sherry and where are the bourbons?

The perception that school governors are biscuit munching sherry drinking do-gooders was inadvertently reinforced by Michael Gove when he was Secretary of State for Education. The reality is radically different.

The concept of a governing body being a genial group of amateurs who rubber stamp the plans of the paid educators has long gone in most schools. Those which are left are slowly being found wanting by Ofsted.

The focus of a governing body should never waver from the children in school. Their education remains the sole and most precious part of governance and this should never be forgotten.

No one wants to work in or send their child to anything but a good school. Since governance became an integral part of the leadership and management strand of every Ofsted report most governors have been well aware that their underperformance can have serious implications.

There is no area of school life which governance does not oversee. From performance managing the head teacher and setting the budget governance decisions impact education throughout every school. Just as the governing body is accountable to stakeholders and Ofsted so the school leadership team is accountable to the governing body.

Many educators don’t fully understand the role of governance and this can cause issues. Governance is not a financial sign off; we can and do say “no”. Neither are we a management committee, in many schools the governing body is the employer. If the head teacher underperforms it is the governing body that dismisses them.

Intriguingly almost all head teachers choose to be governors and fail to undertake governor training. There seems to be a perception that being an educator working in a school is sufficient. It’s not. The roles, rules and regulations are different. This basic lack of subject knowledge in an important part of school life can cause unnecessary tensions and misconceptions between the head teacher, senior leadership team and the governing body. If everyone knows what they are supposed to do life is much simpler.

With expanding local school autonomy has come increased responsibility for governors. Many announcements made that “head teachers can now” are additional governing body responsibilities. This fundamental lack of understanding of how schools work is increasing governance workload and work complexity.

Governing bodies have to ensure value for money, impact on education and drive school improvement. We constantly ask “why” and look for reasoned evidenced education explanations. We are part of the wider accountability mechanism to ensure taxpayers’ money is spent correctly.

The current feeling among the majority of governors is that we should not be paid for our role. The reasoning behind this is that we acknowledge there would be no new money and we would not want to take resources from an already stretched system. This is misinterpreted as placing a lack of value on governance but is driven by the very reason most volunteer.

Instead of asking should governors be paid it be could suggested that all public voluntary roles be unpaid. This would take us straight back to the number one Nolan principle “Holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest.”

The breadth of skills, local knowledge and personal commitment in the average governing body would be difficult to find in any comparable public sector board.

Its time that the educational establishment started to value governance; replacing us with a paid alternative would not be easy or cost effective.