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Neil Carmichael MP and Edward Wild: How to improve school governance

Picture 31 Neil Carmichael is MP for Stroud and a member of the Education Select Committee; Edward Wild is the Director of Wild Search, a headhunter specialising in executive and trustee appointments within non-profit organisations. They recently published Who Governs the Governors: A Fresh Approach to School Governance, which you can download by clicking here.

Applications for free schools and academy status have become a daily part of the Coalition era as ConHome readers will be well aware. Widening choice, removing stifling bureaucracy and creating new opportunities for our children are fundamental Conservative principles and are at the heart of the Education Bill.

Yet one area which is even more fundamental in the new landscape than before is the growing importance of school governors. And that is the issue we have addressed in our recently published report, Who Governs the Governors: A Fresh Approach to School Governance. Our report assesses the opportunities created by the 2010 White Paper and asks some fundamental questions about how the quality of boards can be enhanced and the appeal of joining them widened. More than fifty MPs, peers and leaders of schools and federations attended the launch event last month.

We estimate that there are more than half a million school governors in the UK across primary, secondary, state and independent schools. We regard them as being a core part of the community whose work is often overlooked or taken for granted. With the role of the LEAs diminishing, the role of governors will change.

We welcome the move from representative boards to skills and experience based boards and believe lessons can be learnt from other public sector and non-profit organisations in terms of how to improve the overall standard and quality of their work. Our report has been produced following a wide range of meetings and seminars with key educational leaders and chairs from across the sectors.

Our key recommendations were as follows:

Key skills: Boards will often evolve without full consideration of the breadth of skills and experience needed which leads to the over representation of certain professions or sectors. Key areas to be covered by all boards should include experience of education, finance, HR, property and communications.

Diversity: Ensuring a breadth of backgrounds and experience is important for boards to thrive. The time commitment is likely to increase as the role of LEAs is reduced. In common with housing providers and NHS boards, schools may wish to consider remuneration for chairs and board members to widen the range of candidates attracted to serve.

National Advertising Campaign and Database: The role of school governors offers an opportunity to serve the community and to be part of the country’s education system. Never before have so many people wanted to join boards and develop their non executive experience. We see schools are being a great opportunity to meet that need. Empowering schools and federations to find new governors and candidates through a database will accelerate the process of filling vacancies and, at the same time, enable candidates to update their own profile.

Composition: In common with federations and key academy providers, we concluded that smaller, skills based boards of around 12 members were ideal to ensure effective governance.

The role of Chair: Strong and effective chairs who bring experience from other sectors and boards are ideal. Succession planning should be considered more both for future Chairs and new governors.

Fixed terms: Refreshing boards whilst ensuring continuity is vital. We recommend three year fixed terms with the possibility of a maximum term of nine years.

Empowering parents to dismiss Chairs and Governors: When boards fail to address mismanagement or take decisive action, we propose that parents should be able to force a vote to bring about a change of Chair or, in extreme cases, the full board.

Finally, the formation of the All Party Parliamentary Group on School Governance, which Neil Carmichael will chair and for which Lisa Nandy, Labour MP for Wigan, will act as Secretary, will be brought into being to follow through these proposals and to develop new ideas. Those attending the report launch unanimously welcomed this proposal and we look forward to hearing from other MPs who would like to be part of the Group.


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