NGA’s GOLDline advice team are often asked whether schools and their governing boards can determine which parents should stand in parent governor elections, and specifically, whether they are able to prevent parents from standing if they have concerns about them.
In most cases the answer to this question is no and in any case it is not something that NGA advocates or would recommend.
Parents, as the primary educators of their children, should be involved in their child’s education in schools. Whilst parent governors and trustees are elected or appointed to provide a parental perspective on the board, rather than to act as representatives of the parent constituency, their insight and perspective is essential in shaping the values that underpin the culture, strategy, policies and procedures of a school and trust.
The rules, procedures and arrangements for electing parent governors are different depending upon the type of school and its legal governance structure. However, the principle of parent governors being elected by other parents remains the same. In maintained schools, the School Governance (Constitution) (England) Regulations 2012 make it clear that every parent of a child at the school is eligible to both stand in the election, and vote in the election. There are disqualifications that prevent individuals from serving as parent governors (or as any other category of governor) at maintained schools but these apply in specific circumstances. Regardless being disqualified/ineligible to stand is different to being prevented from standing. Both Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs) and Single Academy Trusts (SATs) are governed by their articles of association. Most articles of association for SATs and MATs stipulate that the trust must have parent trustees, or parent local governing body members, and that a trust should try to fulfil an election before appointing a parent unopposed. However, some articles may differ on wording, especially should the trust have articles dating back quite a while.
Whilst the outcome is quite properly out of their hands, there is much that schools, trusts and governing boards can do to conduct informed parent governor elections and attract the ideal parent governor to their governing board. The Department for Education’s Statutory Guidance on the constitution of governing bodies of maintained schools describes how the best governing bodies do this by setting out in their recruitment literature the role, responsibilities, level of commitment, preferred skills, expectations etc. and give prospective candidates the opportunity to provide a statement to the electorate explaining how they meet these expectations and requirements. However, the Statutory Guidance is also clear in stating that this does not create additional eligibility criteria for potential candidates, so you can’t prevent people from standing because you think they don’t measure up to your standards. That’s left to the electorate to decide.
Although the Statutory Guidance is for maintained schools its guiding principles can be applied to both SATs and MATs.
So what do you do if you are concerned about a prospective candidate in a parent governor election, perhaps because they have had a challenging relationship with the school or, for whatever reason, you think that they have an ulterior motive? Our first and most valuable piece of advice is not to become consumed in finding ways to obstruct and prevent the parent from standing if the law and your procedures are clear that they are eligible to stand. This is both counterproductive and is likely to create or heighten tension. Our second piece of advice is to embrace the election process, encourage parents to engage (therefore creating a real choice), emphasise the governing board’s code of conduct and make clear the difference between being elected to provide the perspective of a stakeholder group, representing them directly and pursuing your own interests. Finally don’t allow your previous experience or assumptions to dominate your thinking. Make the effort to speak to prospective parent governors/trustees and clarify the expectations of a governor and trustee. These expectations are the same as they are for other governors and trustees and there is action that the board can take if they are not met. You shouldn’t be looking for the first opportunity to take action though just as you shouldn’t jump to removing them from the electoral race.
Through the ‘advice insights’ series, NGA’s GOLDline advice team are taking turns to explore the themes of some of the most common legal, procedural or practice questions they receive. This insight is based on a general scenario – for advice tailored to your governing board’s circumstances and context, please contact the advice team.