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Neil Carmichael MP: School governors must be well managed, or key education reforms may not achieve full potential

Carmichael neilNeil Carmichael is the Member of Parliament for Stroud, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Education Governance and Leadership, and a member of the Education Select Committee.

Last week newspapers reported on an apparent attack by Michael Gove on school governors. However, to anyone who read all of his speech this was far from the case. Michael emphasised that good schools need good governors. His emphasis was that because governance matters so much, the difference between good and bad governance matters so much. This is recognition of what so many good school governors know already.

It is a year since Edward Wild and I published our report, Who Governs the Governors? (Wild Research) on the challenges facing governing bodies of schools and colleges and offered some practical ways to improve the quality of governing bodies, which we summarised for ConservativeHome. Shortly afterwards I established the All Party Group on Education Governance and Leadership, supported by the National Governors Association.

Since then a great deal has been achieved to raise the profile of school governors, to address the key issues in the changing educational landscape and, most recently, to provide some practical guidelines for boards to consider and to apply.

We have hosted a number of meetings, most recently with Lord Bichard (former Permanent Secretary at DfES and now a Crossbencher), which have discussed the shared concerns and ways to improve both the recruitment to and effectiveness of governing bodies. A key theme has been the move away from representative boards to skills-based boards. The fact that more than 30,000 vacancies exist across the UK demonstrates the scale of the challenge. Lord Bichard has produced 20 key questions for governing bodies, which we hope, once finalised, will be widely used across the UK.

This week, Sir Michael Wilshaw, Chief Inspector of OFSTED, addressed the first anniversary meeting of the APPG and shared his thoughts and opinions on how to improve the quality of governance in schools. His key question was have good governance arrangements kept pace with wider changes in our education system, and do they remain fit for purpose across the board? He argued that much more needs to be done to improve governance and raise national standards, and that OFSTED should, and will, play an increasing role in judging the effectiveness of governance, and brokering additional support. 

There will remain differing views on the composition of boards, the optimal tenure, the balance of skills needed and how the boards engage with other key stakeholders within and beyond the educational community. What remains clear is that without due consideration of and engagement in the critical issue of how boards are managed and run, many of the Government’s key education reforms will fail to achieve their full potential. And unless boards hold Heads and Senior Management Teams to account they will be responsible for a substantial failure to fulfil their key purpose. Most governing bodies do an excellent job, but some fail to take difficult decisions and to stand by them. The APPG and the cross party support it commands will continue to press for better boards and a clearer definition of good practice.


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