Delegates at NGA’s summer conference on 9 June had the benefit of hearing from both the Secretary of State for Education (the Right Honourable Damian Hinds MP) and the Shadow Education Secretary (Angela Rayner MP). As a charity NGA is strictly apolitical but we do seek to influence national policy in relation to governance and education. Here are some reflections on the Secretary of State’s speech.
We’re all doing very well
The Secretary of State started with what a former NGA chair used to refer to as ‘The Young Mr Grace moment’ (if you don’t understand the reference you probably class as a young governor and we need more of you).
In truth the simple act of the Secretary of State coming to Manchester to speak at an NGA conference is a big deal for governors, trustees and clerks. The ‘unsung heroes’ of the education system are too often the unrecognised, except when things go wrong. The Secretary of State referred to the general sense of duty to public institutions as a “very British quality” and went on to say of school governors and trustees that “there are some people who take their share of responsibility to a much, much higher level”. To hear the Secretary of State acknowledge the contribution of one of the largest volunteer forces in the country in person was a great boost for all – and nary a mention of ‘sherry, kumbaya or cake’.
Recognition that “what you do … can’t simply be measured in hours spent. Although, of course, I do also recognise it is also a large volume of hours” was music to our ears, and NGA aims to further explore time taken to govern over the coming year, especially as our new MAT case studies suggested chairing a MAT board was taking significant time.
Doubled funding for governance development – hurrah we say
“I am announcing today that funding for governor and trustee training will be doubled to £6 million up to 2021”
Usually when the Government announce more money for an initiative the first reaction is ‘well it’s not new money’ and, in truth, in terms of the DfE’s budget it isn’t. Some will undoubtedly say that £6m isn’t a huge amount – but it is double the current investment and NGA welcomes the commitment it shows to the development of those involved in governance.
NGA looks forwards to discussions with the DfE about the precise use of the money, which hopefully will be for clerks as well as governor/trustee development.
Funding – yes I know, but… and I will try harder
The issue at the front of the queue for governors and trustees. Even in my glass half full moments I didn’t imagine the Secretary of State would be able to conjure up significant extra funding for schools but it was encouraging to hear him say:
“as we enter negotiations in the run-up to the Spending Review I will of course be making a strong case to the Treasury to ensure our school system has the resources it needs.”
NGA’s Funding the Future campaign will continue to make the case that schools are struggling financially and we do want to hear from members about the steps you have taken and the impact this has had – get in touch with email@example.com. The more stories we are able to share the better the case we can make and indeed the more ammunition the Secretary of State will have for negotiations with the Treasury.
It was also pleasing that for once the phrase ‘there is more money going into schools than ever before’ was accompanied by the acknowledgement that it was also true that “society asks more of schools than ever before. And budgets are tight”.
Calling time on excessive executive pay
The Secretary of State made very clear in his speech that excessive salaries should not be the norm. Admittedly he trotted out the old chestnut about salaries not being higher than the Prime Minister’s salary, which I always find a somewhat invidious comparison - however challenging the circumstances of an individual school or group schools, it will never be directly comparable to running the country.
Having said that, the Prime Minister’s salary is around £155,000 – by most people’s standards that is a very significant salary, given that the Office of National Statistics reports that median household disposable income is circa £27,000.
NGA welcomes the Secretary of State’s focus on this area and the stronger guidance set out in the updated Academies Financial Handbook 2018.
I first blogged about this issue for NGA back in October 2016, so it’s nice the DfE has finally taken note. We welcome Mr Hinds’ statement that “I want to urge all trusts to take a lead here and bear down on excessive salaries – you have our backing on that.”
This is public money (use it wisely)
While Mr Hinds didn’t specifically reference the Nolan principles he did throughout his speech make reference to ‘public money’.
“I want to make sure that every pound of public money for our schools is used in the best possible way for the good of our children and for our society.”
“Parents, carers – and indeed schools – want to know: what value are they getting for the money their trust spends?”
He used the NGA conference to announce the new rules around related party transactions.
From April 2019 all related party transactions will need to be notified to the Education and Skills Funding Agency and anything above £20,000 will need its approval.
NGA very much welcomes these as steps in the right direction and particularly the accompanying statement - “I think pretty much everyone would agree that a situation where board members could simply hand out contracts to companies that they or their family and business contracts have an interest – that is not okay.”
This is another issue which we have consistently raised over the years and indeed blogged about.
While conflicts of interest pecuniary or loyalty are a fact of life, those governing do need to be mindful of when the level of interest is such that stepping outside the room will simply not be enough.
Parents – apparently they are a good thing after all
NGA members will remember that it is just over two short years ago that we fought a successful campaign to preserve the places for elected parents on governing boards in the wake of the White Paper Education Excellence Everywhere. So it was hugely gratifying for the Secretary of State to stand before conference and say:
“Parent governors continue to be crucial…”
What a difference a year or two and a change of Secretary of State makes – thank goodness.
But the Secretary of State didn’t stop there and made clear that parental engagement was equally important “It is vital that boards are connected with the parents and carers and communities they serve. We do not want to see boards become detached or distant from parents.”
NGA hosted a joint workshop at the conference with Parentkind and will shortly be issuing our joint updated guidance on parental guidance.
Governor and trustee recruitment – ‘good governance needs a range of voices’
NGA recognises that its own board needs to become more diverse, as NGA Chair Maggi Bull acknowledged from the stage and is seeking to rectify this matter, but we are also aware that too many of our governing boards lack diversity and fail to reflect the school community.
The conference saw the launch of the Everyone on Board campaign with an inspirational video about the value diversity brings. The Secretary of State welcomed the campaign saying “I champion the work NGA are doing…Governing and trust boards should reflect the communities they serve.”
Mr Hinds pledged to do “everything I can” to boost volunteer recruitment and retention because “simply we need more great people like you”, and acknowledged the work of Inspiring Governance and Academy Ambassadors and the need to recruit more governors and more diverse governors and more young governors.
The final take away
“Once again – thank you. Without you are schools simply wouldn’t run”
Angela Rayner closed the conference and exhorted those present to respond to the current Labour party consultation about its future education policy. NGA will be responding and will have a larger piece on the website to accompany our response.