In January this year, an updated version of the Department for Education’s Governance Handbook was published on the UK government’s website alongside a new competency framework for governors. The handbook outlines good practice in governance in all school and academy contexts, and is recommended reading for everyone involved in the governance of maintained schools and academies, plus those that support them.
The terminology relating to governance has become much more complex as more schools move into multi-academy arrangements. We therefore now see references to ‘boards’ instead of ‘governors’, and to ‘executive leaders’ rather than ‘headteachers’ or ‘principals’, which makes for some clunky phraseology at times.
The main difference you’ll notice with the new handbook is that it’s now structured around six key features of effective governance that align with the competencies in the new framework:
- STRATEGIC LEADERSHIP that sets and champions vision, ethos and strategy
- ACCOUNTABILITY that drives educational standards and financial
- PEOPLE with the right skills, experience, qualities and capacity
- STRUCTURES that reinforce clearly defined roles and responsibilities
- COMPLIANCE with statutory and contractual requirements
- EVALUATION to monitor and improve the quality and impact of governance.
The National Schools Commissioner, Sir David Carter, has emphasised that this competency framework isn’t a checklist, and certainly not a hurdle to be overcome before someone can be recruited as a governor. Instead, it’s intended as a tool that can be adapted to the context of different schools and governance arrangements. It outlines the skills and experience that those responsible for governance should be working towards, and provides a framework to support their training and development.
A bit of a turnaround
Another change is that the handbook now references the need for diversity on boards, emphasising that “Boards should be alert to the risk of becoming dominated by one particular mindset or strand of opinion.” It goes on to cite the contribution of parent governors, stating that “The board as a whole should take steps to understand what parents think, while acknowledging that anyone on the board who is a parent themselves has valuable knowledge and perspectives about the school(s) to bring to bear in discussions and decisions” – which is a bit of a turnaround from the government’s proposal last year to remove the requirement for academies to have parent governors.
Other key changes to note include an expanded section 2.2 that highlights the board as the key accountable decision-maker in the organisation, plus a reminder in section 4.1.2 of a recent statutory change that now requires all maintained school governors to have an enhanced criminal records certificate from the Disclosure and Barring Service. There’s also renewed emphasis on the role of the chair in ensuring board effectiveness, and further emphasis on the need for boards to have an effective clerk or ‘governance professional’.
Ruth Agnew is a National Leader of Governance, chair of a maintained primary school and director of RMA Governance, which provides governor training and consultancy services across North West England; for more details, visit rmagovernance.com or follow @ruthagnew