Stakeholder engagement has been the focus of NGA’s Visible Governance campaign this term. We’ve looked at how boards best engage with parents, pupils and staff and created guidance, webinars and Governing Matter articles to support you with this core function of your role.
Effective stakeholder engagement and visible governance go hand-in-hand. Stakeholders must be aware of and informed about the role of governance in order for boards to meaningfully engage with them. In addition, the voices of stakeholders can be an essential source of data for the board to use when making decisions, enabling the board to effectively fulfil its first three core functions.
A lot of school or trust staff may be unaware of who their board are and what they do. Promoting visibility can help the board to build trust and understanding with them, which in turn can strengthen organisational unity and improve board accountability, one of the pillars of good governance.
Staff are a stakeholder group that must feature in boards’ engagement activity. No group will know an organisation better than its staff. They have lived experience of the school or trust’s culture and so will be able to offer insight on how the strategy and policies work in practice. This means they are well placed to provide views to enable those governing to make well-informed strategic decisions and conduct effective oversight. This holds particularly true in relation to decisions on staffing, including areas such as recruitment, continuing professional development and staff welfare and wellbeing. Given that staff are an organisation’s most valuable resource, it is crucial that conditions are created in which they can thrive – staff engagement is central to achieving this.
Many boards will already have mechanisms in place to give voice to staff. Most schools run a staff survey annually – 75% of respondents to our annual governance survey 2021 said their board monitored the results of a staff survey – and many boards have staff governors. While this is a start, boards should ensure there are various methods in place so that their organisation engages with staff where relevant.
Methods of engagement will encompass more routine activities for a consistent understanding of how staff feel and their views and experiences on working in the school or trust. This can help identify whether there are any matters that may need to be addressed through appropriate questioning of the senior leader. For example, feedback from exit interviews may highlight concerns in the culture surrounding workload and wellbeing. Sometimes more ad hoc engagement activities, such as consultations or focus groups, will be more appropriate to gather staff input on specific matters that affect them. Doing this not only supports better decision-making but can make boards more visible and transparent with stakeholders.
However, engagement will not be meaningful unless feedback is genuinely considered and acted upon by those making the decisions. This does not mean that staff will dictate all decisions, but they should at least be acknowledged, and the results of engagement activities communicated back to them where relevant – ‘you said, we did’. There is value in stakeholders knowing their views have been considered and in being able to identify the effect of engagement activity in positive outcomes for themselves and their school.
We would encourage boards to evaluate their approach to stakeholder engagement to ensure it is embedded in the culture and working practice of the board. It may be useful to set a strategy detailing the methods that will be used, alongside regular evaluation to assess how well the board uses stakeholder voice to meaningfully influence decision-making.
Our staff engagement information sheet further explains when boards should be engaging with staff and the mechanisms that may be used.