Improving standards of governance in schools

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According to recent figures, 2,481 secondary schools have converted to academy status, 883 schools have opened as academies with a sponsor, 1,500 primary schools have become or are in the process of becoming academies and 174 free schools have opened with a further 116 in the pipeline. The governors of these schools are taking on legal, financial and management responsibilities, as these academies are run along business lines with minimal support from the local authority.

Three recent announcements from the Department for Education (DfE) show that they are now expecting maintained schools to be run along similar lines. At present there is no requirement on governing bodies of maintained schools to prioritise the skills of a prospective governor, but that is set to change. The Chief Executive of the National Governors’ Association said in the DfE press release that “being a school governor is an important responsibility akin to being a non-executive director of a trust or company”. The DfE is therefore proposing to change the regulations that govern the constitution of governing bodies in maintained schools.

Consultation on changes to constitution of governing bodies
The DfE proposes to change the School Governance (Constitution) (England) Regulations 2012 to add a requirement that any newly-appointed governor (but not an elected parent governor or a staff governor) has “the skills required to contribute to the effective governance and success of the school”. Although the specific skills required by any school will vary, the new proposed statutory guidance that will accompany the revised 2012 Regulations states that “all governors need a strong commitment to the role, the inquisitiveness to question and analyse, and the willingness to learn. They need good inter-personal skills, a basic level of literacy in English (unless a governing body is prepared to make special arrangements), and sufficient numeracy skills to understand basic data.” Any governor appointed will therefore need to have these skills as a minimum.

At present, some school governing bodies are governed by the (less flexible) 2007 Constitution Regulations. The DfE intend to require all governing bodies to be constituted under the 2012 Regulations by September 2015. This will give them the flexibility to co-opt governors with the right skill set.

Guidance on the School Governance (Roles, Procedures and Allowances) (England) Regulations 2013
The second announcement from the DfE is some non-statutory (so not legally binding) advice for governing bodies of maintained schools in England. It explains what the 2013 Regulations (which replace a previous set from 2003) require of governing bodies. The key points are:

  • ‘Boards of governors’ should operate at a strategic level, leaving the head teacher responsible and accountable for the operational day-to-day running of the school
  • The board should concentrate on its key core functions:
  • Setting the school’s vision and strategic direction
    Holding the headteacher to account for its educational performance
  • Ensuring financial resources are well spent
  • There needs to be a scheme of delegation but with the board as a whole retaining oversight of the core functions
  • High quality professional clerking is crucial for the board to function effectively
  • Procedures are more flexible than under the old regulations, with boards having the power to allow meetings to be conducted by telephone or video conference.

New Governors’ Handbook
The final announcement from the DfE is a new Governors’ Handbook, which replaces the Governors’ Guide to the Law that was published in May 2013. This applies to governors of academies and free schools as well as maintained schools. The main changes include a more detailed explanation of what it means for governors to play a strategic role and key considerations in determining the structure and membership of the governing body, reflecting the advice above. There is also an explanation of the role of academy trustees as charity trustees and company directors, and what the responsibilities of charity trustees are. This is something that our Academy Governors – Know Your Duties booklet deals with in more depth.

Need some help?
If your school is thinking of changing its governing body or constitution, or if your governors have any legal queries, our friendly and helpful Education Team is here to help so please get in touch.