Last week I had the opportunity to respond to a report published by Education and Employers ‘Governing our schools 10 years on’: it was largely a good news story, one which should credit all the hard work of those who have volunteered over this past decade and those who continue to.
The research identifies ten issues and the overall conclusion is that progress is being made. It is pleasing that the research concludes that the different roles and responsibilities of governors and trustees are now much clearer. Volunteers are much more informed and knowledgeable about their role, have a heightened sense of responsibility and are more focused on school strategy that they were ten years ago.
Given the development of multi academy trusts over the past decade, it is inevitable that the roles and responsibilities of governors and trustees have not been simplified, but in some cases become more complex. Governing schools is not simple; it is never going to be. Achieving the right balance of support and challenge for school leaders is an art. I am pleased the report recognises the importance of the role of clerk to the governing board.
This report underlines in triplicate the importance of quality induction and ongoing development and support for volunteers who govern our state schools. It was interesting that making induction training mandatory was the area with the clearest agreement from interviewees. This too is what NGA finds in our extensive annual governance survey: only 3% do not support mandatory induction, and these are the people who would have to undertake it. So this qualitative work supports the quantitative evidence.
The Department for Education has invested over the past few years in governance development programmes. Conflict of interest declaration, NGA’s Leading Governance partnership is now the largest provider of these. DfE is currently reviewing its support for the governance community, and I very much hope this call for funded induction is heard in the corridors of power. Volunteers should not have to rely on whether an individual school or trust understands the importance of induction training; and it is likely that it is those schools which don’t value governance enough to invest in good induction and development are exactly the ones which need governance to improve. Magistrates are not allowed on the bench until they have been trained, and there are numerous other examples within the voluntary sector of mandatory training. Surely the oversight of our schools deserves the same.
At any one time there are a quarter of a million people donating their time and skills for the benefit of pupils, and every year we will need to replace those who move on with new recruits. That is healthy. We need to ensure boards are strong and diverse, a team of people who between them bring a diverse range of knowledge, experience, perspectives and skills. We have been heartened by the reception of our two campaigns: Everyone on Board aiming to increase the diversity of ethnicity and age, and Educators on Board to encourage educationalists to share their expertise by volunteering at another school or trust. The support of their employers is invaluable, and some even organise networks for their employers: any employers who want to know more, can contact Judith.Hicks@nga.org.uk (Judith is NGA’s Head of Inspiring Governance).
We do need to take note that interviewees felt that increasingly new and existing governors could be put off from volunteering due to the increasing pressures of the role and perceived negative press that governance receives when linked to school failure. Of course we cannot return to the days when some were not entirely honest with potential volunteers in order to entice them to take on this responsible role. Instead we need to re-double our efforts to shout about the many benefits to those who volunteers as well as to the communities they serve. NGA intends to continue to do this throughout the coming decade, and take every opportunity to celebrate the work done by governors and trustees.
Read the report.