Having the right people around the table is one of the eight elements that NGA identifies as being essential to effective governance.
NGA’s guide to recruiting and retaining governors/trustees gives some really useful pointers to building a successful governing team that has balance and diversity in skills and experiences. This is strengthened further by the investment that the board makes in their professional development.
The guide also explains that the right governors/trustees around the table are the ones who are both able and fully prepared to play their part. How can boards help ensure this?
Much of the groundwork should be done during the recruitment process when through prior conversations, perhaps with the chair or vice chair, a prospective governor or trustee is helped to understand clearly what the role entails and what they are signing up to. This includes the time commitment, which on average is five to eight hours per month (for meetings, background reading and school visits), although it will vary depending on the needs of the school and the role.
The expectations of contribution and commitment that are communicated to prospective governors and trustees should be re-enforced in the board’s code of conduct that they sign when they are appointed. NGA’s model code of conduct describes in some detail how the commitment of significant amounts of time and energy involves more than making a full effort to attend meetings. The commitment extends to active involvement in the work of the governing board, and accepting a fair share of responsibilities.
It is good practice for the chair or the vice-chair to meet with each governor/trustee once a year to discuss their experience of governing, their interests and aspirations in their governance role and to check that they are still fulfilled by serving on the governing board. It is also an opportunity to explore how your board works, and in particular factors which may influence whether a new volunteer decides to join your board (or a current governor/ trustee to continue in their role). Being thoughtful about how you could adapt to be inclusive, accessible and best enable busy people to participate in school governance will widen your choice of volunteers.
Even if your board does all these thing a situation may arise when the attendance and or contribution of a governor/trustee does not meet expectations. Without being judgemental (there may be sensitivities and underlying issues you do not know about) it is always best to deal with such situations decisively, before they have a demonstrable impact on the work of the governing board and the morale of other governors/trustees.
The first sensible step is for a suitable member of the governing board or the clerk (the circumstances will generally determine the best person for the job) to reach out to the governor/trustee concerned and have an informal, constructive discussion with them about their future participation and attendance. This should provide clarification about what the code of conduct expects and the support that the governor/trustee needs in order to meet those expectations. The conversation may end up revisiting issues about board practices such as meeting times, expenses for child care and even the use of technology (e.g. skype).
The purpose of this conversation is to establish a way forward, even if regretfully that is an acceptance that the needs of the board and the circumstances of the governor/trustee cannot be reconciled, therefore it is in everyone’s interest that they step down.
In the relatively rare circumstance of a governor/trustee not responding positively to the constructive conversation (or making themselves available to have it) and or it not leading to the required improvement in their attendance and contribution, then a formal response will be required.
If the issue is one of continued non-attendance at meetings then this is covered by the rules under which governors/trustees are disqualified from holding office. Governors of maintained schools and trustees of academies are disqualified or cease to hold office if they are absent from all meetings for a continuous period of six months. These absences must be without the consent of the governing board, therefore if apologies have been given and these have been accepted by the board, then the six month period will restart. As this is disqualification and not removal it does not require any action to be taken by the board other than, we would recommend, to confirm in writing to the governor/trustee that they have been disqualified.
If the issue is either sporadic attendance (missing meetings but not meeting the disqualification criteria), the contribution of the governor/trustee or a combination of both then the board could invoke the process of removal in accordance with the regulations for maintained schools and articles of association for academies. The grounds for doing so would be the governor/trustee being in breach of the board’s code of conduct as it relates to attendance and contribution.
This really should be a last resort as it is not only a distraction from the important business of the governing board, but the process itself is, by its nature, challenging and uncomfortable for those involved. Therefore the advice is always for the governing board to invest time and attention in making attendance and contribution part of their process for getting the right people around the table.