Do your school governors have sufficient business knowledge to make meaningful decisions given the changing education landscape, and how can such knowledge be developed?
January this year saw the publication of the Competency Framework for Governance, which laid out the 16 competencies that all schools and academies should have within their Boards for them to deliver effective governance.
Each competency within the document is essential if boards are to demonstrate clear strategic leadership, robust accountability and oversight, and assure the best educational outcomes for young people.
Of the 16 competencies it outlines, 11 are concerned with strategic leadership and accountability, and often possessed by managers and executives with a business background – people who can bring these skill sets to your governing boards.
When evaluating the mix of skills present within a governing board, the usual starting point is to carry out a skills audit. Details of the NGA’s online governing board self-evaluation tool, recently updated to reflect the new competency framework, can be found here.
All governors should complete this honestly, and the results should be consolidated to give an overall picture of the skills mix – and, equally importantly, identify skills gaps on the Board. It may be appropriate for the Chair to meet with each governor and discuss his or her understanding of the questions asked within the skills audit to ensure that there’s a consistency of answers across the governing board.
Another potential source of information about skills gaps is an external review of governance. You can do this by using one of two resources available from the NGA website – ‘Twenty-one Questions for Multi-academy Trusts’ or ‘Twenty Key Questions for the Governing Board to ask itself’.
Where MATs are concerned, the NGA guide ‘Welcome to a Multi Academy Trust’ details the person spec for the role MAT trustee, including the knowledge and experience they’ll need in areas such as change management, risk management and financial expertise. It’s well worth reviewing this as part of the skills audit.
Once you’ve finished identifying where those knowledge gaps are, the challenge then becomes filling them. Broadly speaking, you’ll have three options…
Option 1 – Recruitment
Whenever a governor vacancy comes up, your first and only question should be, “Where are our skills gaps, and what options do we have for filling them? Bringing in individuals who possess specific skills and experience that the board has identified it needs is the quickest and most effective way addressing those gaps.
In the case of co-opted governors, the board can draw up a shortlist of contacts from their network who are likely to fill any skills gap on the board. These potential candidates can then be approached with a clear message of why the board requires their particular skill set.
Some larger companies seek to actively participate in their local communities – why not try approaching them to see if any of their staff with the required skills are willing to join? Another source of possible governors is School Governors’ One-Stop Shop, which is an independent charity dedicated to recruiting governors.
In all the above cases, it’s essential that boards make their decisions based on the skills that an individual brings, rather than in response to them being a ‘willing volunteer’.
Things are more complicated where parent governors are concerned, since the choice of who gets to represent parents on the board is down to the parents themselves, though it’s still possible to state what skills the board is looking for when notifying parents about available vacancies.
One area that Boards shouldn’t overlook – particularly when bringing in individuals from business – is to give new governors a proper induction. This should engage new governors from day one, while allowing them to immediately start contributing their skills and knowledge for the benefit of the school.
Option 2 – Training
Identification of skills gaps on the board in the absence of vacancies will drive the training plan for the board’s members. Possible sources for training can include LA-run governor training courses, though many won’t cover business skills such as strategic business planning.
Training in this area is also provided by schools governance organisations such as the NGA and Freedom and Autonomy for Schools, as well as online resource providers such as Modern Governor.
You’ll come across further training options at nationally run conference events and seminars, and sometimes through reading. Peter Rubery, CEO of Fallibroome MAT in Macclesfield, for example, recommended the book Our Iceberg is Melting by John Kotter to his governors early on in the MAT’s development.
If you have a specific training requirement that can’t be met by any of the above, sources, another option might be to set up a bespoke course for your governors – though the challenge here will be finding someone with a sufficient understanding of both business and the education sector, who is also an effective trainer.
Option 3 – External support
If a governing board finds that none of the above has worked, it can consider bringing in outside support to fill a short-term skills gap. Examples of how this might work in practice could include:
Facilitation:An independent third party is brought in to support a specific task, such as setting strategy or team working within the governing board.
Expertise:A good option for more sensitive areas, such as managing a difficult HR situation.
Training:Providing input for the Board.
To deliver effective governance within schools, it’s crucial that governing boards contain a balance of skills, irrespective of whether the school is maintained, an academy, voluntary aided or voluntary controlled – and the starting point for that will be to carry out an honest evaluation of what skills the board actually has.
Only once this is completed will you be able to recruit and/or deliver training on behalf of the board – and most importantly, the pupils.