Freedom to recruit skilled governors

Written by: Elaine Fischer | Published:

​Controversial plans to remove the requirement for parent governors in academies have been shelved. However, a new report argues against this decision. Elaine Fischer presents her case

Education secretary Justine Greening has recently suggested she will continue to require academies to recruit parent governors, u-turning on her predecessor’s proposal that this requirement be scrapped.

In an educational landscape where governance is becoming increasingly complex, it has never been more important that academies have the freedom to recruit governors solely on the basis of their skills.

Ms Greening should stay steadfast behind her government’s proposal and not waste the opportunity to improve governance.

The role of a school governor is demanding; it involves acting as a critical friend to the school, calling the headteacher to account, ensuring the school has a clear vision and overseeing its financial performance.

When a school becomes an academy, the role becomes even more challenging. Financial and legal liabilities which may have previously lain with the local authority now lie solely with the academy.

Evidence from Reform’s recent survey of academy chains suggests the importance of skilled governance is well recognised. When academy chain bosses were asked what skills they value most at the top levels of governance the resounding answer was financial, accounting or legal experience.

Parenthood was an attribute that was significantly more highly valued at local rather than top-level governance.
No doubt many parents have the experience and expertise to govern but these skills are incidental to their position as parents. To ensure the very best people are recruited as governors, academy chains should have the freedom to recruit on an entirely skills basis, as the demands of the school require.

That is not to say that parental involvement is unnecessary. Clearly, aside from the pupils themselves, parents are the greatest stakeholders in the school. Without parental support of the school’s ethos and policies, a school’s success is seriously thwarted.

Parental engagement can be achieved through other means, however, such as advisory boards. Academy chains such as E-ACT and Oasis have dissolved their local governing bodies in favour of these. Advisory boards are forums for parents and other members of the community to voice their opinions in an advisory capacity.

Many schools have shown creativity through their methods, such as a primary school which sent home videos of what children were doing in class to reach out to non-English speaking parents.

Ensuring parental involvement takes place naturally falls to the role of Ofsted. Inspectors do currently judge how well school leaders engage with parents, but Ofsted should go further and ensure that there are specific mechanisms in place. This would encourage schools to establish clear methods of parental engagement while having purely skills-based governance.

Most importantly, to improve academy governance and make the most of parental engagement, arbitrary requirements for parent governors should be removed. Ms Greening should give academy chains the freedom to recruit the skilled governors they need.


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