Inquiry to see if school governors are damaging education

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INSPECTORS will carry out an “in-depth and far-reaching” investigation into the effectiveness of governors in schools amid fears that “amateurish governance” is damaging education.

Urgent reviews by external experts had to be carried out in almost 500 schools in the last academic year alone because of serious concerns about the performance of governing boards.

Now Sir Michael Wilshaw, head of education watchdog Ofsted, has launched a survey to examine whether senior governors should be paid and if school governing boards have the right mix of professional skills and experience.

He said: “The role is so important that amateurish governance will no longer do. Good will and good intentions will only go so far.

“Governing boards made up of people who are not properly trained and who do not understand the importance of their role are not fit for purpose in the modern and complex educational landscape.”

Last year Sir Michael recommended that the Government should consider mandatory training for all governors and trustees, but is now “disappointed” at a lack of progress.

High-quality training for governors, particularly chairmen and vice-chairmen, is “vital” if schools are to succeed, he said, and the forthcoming study will focus on this and how schools source the necessary expertise for such work.

Sir Michael highlighted the so-called “Trojan Horse” scandal in which Muslim hard-liners attempted to take control of several Birmingham schools as an example of when things can go “badly wrong” with governance.

And while in many schools governors and trustees make an important contribution to raising standards and lifting aspiration, “unfortunately, such strong, dynamic and cohesive governance is far from universal”, he added.

“Ofsted comes across too many schools where oversight is weak and the governing board is struggling to have the necessary impact.”

Governors often lack the professional knowledge or educational background to sufficiently challenge senior leaders, and do not receive sufficient training for them to do their job properly, Sir Michael suggested.

Other problems include focusing too often on marginal issues such as school uniforms and dinner menus rather than teaching quality and pupil attainment, and governors simply lacking curiosity about children’s progress and the quality of teaching.

Sir Michael said: “Depressingly, we often find the weakest governance operating in the most challenging schools in the poorest areas of the country - the very schools that stand to gain most from strong, professional and forensic governance and are least able to muddle through when this is absent.”

It is now “essential” for senior governors to be deeply knowledgeable about education, Sir Michael said, adding: “Has the time not come to consider paying chairs and vice-chairs in order to recruit the most able people to schools in the most difficult circumstances?”

The survey, which will be published next year, will also examine whether authorities intervene early enough with problems of governance in between Ofsted inspections, and will explore whether adequate structures are in place to support governors and trustees.

The inquiry was welcomed by the National Association of Head Teachers, which said it supported increased powers to remove governors failing to meet standards.

General Secretary Russell Hobby said: “The expectations placed on school governors are very high, so proper training is essential. Governors should be entitled to paid time off work to fulfil their duties and to attend training. This training should be mandatory and funded by the government.

“In successful schools the relationship between governors and school leaders is constructive and involves both challenge and support in equal measure. Indeed, governors and school leaders are judged as one unit by Ofsted, so it is vital that everyone understands their particular roles.”