Lord Nash – doubts about paid Governors

Lord Nash, Education Minister, does not seem to be in favour of paid governors.

Speaking at the Education Select Committee on 20 March on the role of school governing bodies he said that he was “not convinced” about the benefits of paying governors. He said:

I think it could be a distraction. There is a danger that by paying governors you could attract the wrong people, or you could open the floodgates.

He went on to say, “voluntary does not mean amateur”.

Indeed – as we said in our last post, just because someone is unpaid does not means that they are not capable or qualified.

Qualifications are no guarantee of quality

Why does Sir Michael Wilshaw, Ofsted Chief Inspector,  think that the best measure of the quality of governors is their professional qualifications and how much they are paid?

No one would deny that there is a real need to improve the quality of school governance. But his statements today seem to miss the point and just rehearse old arguments.

People with specific professional backgrounds can clearly make valuable members of a governing body, but it is not helpful to place all the emphasis on those with the more obvious formal qualifications. And to do so risks ignoring or loosing the valuable contribution that can be brought by people from a wide range of diverse backgrounds and experiences.

Just because someone is unpaid, does not mean that they are not capable or ‘qualified’, or are going to operate at a lower standard.  Across the voluntary sector their are numerous examples of people working in and governing successful organisations at

There are numerous examples in the voluntary sector of people operating to high standards of professionalism, working in and governing organisations without receiving financial reward. The idea that unpaid work is somehow sub-standard flies in the face of what is actually going on in voluntary organisations across the country.

We want people to give their time and energy to being a governor because of a commitment to improving education, not because they will get paid for it.

Attracting qualified professionals to take roles as members of governing bodies should not become a tick-box exercise of counting letters after peoples’ names, or  seen as an alternative to the schools themselves ensuring that they employ appropriate professional advice and support.

No agreement on third tier role

The newly published LGiU report, ‘Should we shed the middle tier?’ was launched at an LGiU/NUT fringe meeting at the Liberal Democrat Conference on 25 September 2012.

The report, based on interviews with a selection of leading politicians, researchers and policy makers, showed general agreement that there needs to be something between schools and Westminster – which everyone is calling a third tier.  There was no agreement, however, on is what the role of that third tier should be.

There was consensus that accountability and ensuring compliance with the code on admissions were functions that could not be carried out by schools or central government.    There was also general agreement that local authorities already existed and  were in a good place to carry out these roles – so there is no need to create a new body.

Most contributors agreed that school improvement was best delivered by schools working with other schools, not by a ‘third tier’.  They emphasised, however, that strategic oversight and direction of local education should be independent of local schools.

One contributor,  Jon Coles (Chief Executive Officer, United Learning Trust), argued that councils could only be a real provider of an independent accountability function once, as in housing, they no longer had a significant provision role.  Interestingly enough, at a fringe meeting at the 2011 Liberal Democrat Conference, a similar view was expressed  by David Laws (recently appointed Minister of State for Schools).

Will local authorities only step up to the mark and properly fulfil their role as the focus for democratic accountability and as the  champions of their local community, if their responsibility as a provider of education is taken away from them?

Freedom and responsibility

If you subscribe to the principle that freedom for individuals and institutions and the devolution of power means that better and more appropriate decisions are made, then why should that principle not hold true for schools?

On 22 September 2012, David Laws, in his first speech to the Liberal Democrat Conference as Education Minister, said: “Greater autonomy is a characteristic of high performing school systems”.

He made it clear that he had confidence in schools – in headteachers, teachers and governors – to do the right thing for their pupils.

He said that every school can, and must, be a good school but that this cannot be achieved by trying to run all schools from Westminster. It requires a partnership with headteachers, teachers and governors; proper funding and innovation in the system; and devolving power and letting go.

He said that he does not wish to micro-manage 25,000 schools from Whitehall, as that “would undermine innovation and undermine informed decisions of heads and teachers”.

However Mr Laws stressed that with freedom there needs to be accountability and described it as ‘freedom to do’ not just ‘freedom from’.

He said he did not want to be heavy handed with schools, but that they had to deliver. Schools spend tax-payers money and are the guardians’ of our children’s education, therefore they should be held to account, and must be able to demonstrate that they are spending our money effectively, improving standards and opportunities for children.

Schools, who say they are keen to be in charge of their own destiny, must accept that with autonomy comes responsibility, and politicians, if they mean what they say about freedom and innovation, must learn to let go.

Stimulating the debate

We are seeking to engage people in the debate around the future role of Local Authorities in education.

The education landscape is changing rapidly and there is much uncertainly about future roles and the relationship between local authorities and schools.

We cannot rely on old models to provide effective solutions for this new environment and we want all stakeholders to have a chance to contribute to this debate.

Earlier this year we carried out a survey to gather the views of Headteachers and Chairs of Governors, as we felt their views were not being adequately heard.

We want to develop the debate and would welcome views of the role of the local authority and its relationship with schools. We are gathering contributions towards a pamphlet to explore these issues which we will publish later in the year.

Please post your comments here.

Views of Headteachers and Chairs of Governors on the role of the LA

The increasing independence of schools as they move to academy status is just the latest stage in the journey of school autonomy which can trace its origins back many years through foundation schools, grant maintained schools, and local management of schools.

As more schools take advantage of increased autonomy and freedom from local government, inevitably, the relationship between schools and local authorities has to be redefined. Whilst politicians and local authority education officers are staking their claim to a place in the new world order, the voice of schools themselves seems often to be overlooked.

To explore the views of headteachers and chairs of governors, Tamarind Chambers carried out a survey by email questionnaire sent to of a range of secondary schools across England between October 2011 and February 2012.

Survey results

The survey shows that schools value their increased autonomy and freedoms but recognise that, within clearly defined parameters, the local authority still has a role to play.

Two areas stood out as matters that schools did not see as a role for the local authority.

First, schools were clear on their wish to have control of the curriculum. The vast majority of Chairs and Headteachers said that local authorities should not have any control over the curriculum in schools, with just one respondent saying that the local authority should actually determine the curriculum.

The second highest ‘no’ vote was on the governing body – with over a third of respondents saying that the local authority should have no role in removing or replacing a governing body and nearly half saying that they should only be able to do so under certain conditions.

There was general agreement across schools on the local authority’s role in the provision for children with special educational needs. In their responses, most Chairs and Headteachers said that local authorities should continue to be responsible for assessing the special educational needs of individual pupils and for providing appropriate education to meet those assessed needs and controlling the funding.

The responses to some questions revealed contradictory views. For example whilst most respondents said that local authorities should have a role in planning and co-ordinating school places, there was less support for local authorities having specific powers to make changes to the size of a school or alter a school’s admissions decisions.

A clear majority of Chairs and Headteachers were against local authorities having the power to enter and inspect schools as they chose. However, a large proportion did think the local authority should be able to intervene in a failing school, albeit under certain conditions.

There was general agreement that local authorities should collect and report on data about schools in their area, and provide advice and support on school standards.

Whilst schools wish to guard their independence and ability to deliver education in the way they feel best for them, they also want someone to act as a ‘policeman’ or arbitrator to protect them from potentially damaging actions by another school.

Full report

The full data from the responses to the survey has been published in our report ‘The role of the local authority in education: Views of Headteachers and Chairs of Governors’, that can be found here.

Accountability … local or central?

One aspect of the debate about the role of local authorities in education is where the responsibility will lie for tackling failing schools, once all schools have become academies.

Currently, for maintained schools – those that have not become academies or free schools – the local authority can intervene when a school is under-performing and a headteacher appears unable to turn it round.  What a local authority can do is provide management support for the school or, in extreme cases, remove the headteacher.   However, for academies, the local authority does not have these powers.

For an academy, an Ofsted report could be the first public sign that there is a problem.  However, by this stage, children’s education could have suffered – Ofsted inspections could be some years apart.

A school would benefit from having support that is timely, discreet, flexible and relevant to help it overcome a temporary difficulty.  The question then arises, should this be provided on a national or local basis?

We would argue that this important education function is best provided by an organisation that is local and accountable rather than a remote central-government quango.

One model could be a school peer group network, where a group of schools provide academic monitoring and support to each other.  Another could be that this function is provided by the local authority as part of their new ‘strategic role’.

The experience of local authorities having responsibility for performance in schools is not all good.  However  local authorities  do have an important role in providing local accountability and scrutiny on behalf of their local community.

This is an opportunity to engage local authorities and schools, elected representatives and professionals, and the wider community, in the development of  new and innovative ways to improve education for all.