Governors increasingly need the skillset of management professionals, academics have warned, as a trial scheme to transform schools in some of Yorkshire’s most challenging areas looks to be rolled out nationwide.
The Standing Out project, from Lloyds Banking Group, has seen a team of financial experts placed at schools struggling to attract skilled governors in Yorkshire, lending guidance to headteachers and staff.
There has been a key focus on the region’s disadvantaged, coastal and rural areas, academics evaluating the scheme have said, as these communities can often struggle to attract highly skilled governors.
And, as the initiative looks set to be replicated elsewhere in the country, they add that such a business mindset is increasingly critical to educators’ performance success.
“Over the last 10 years, schools in England have faced a number of changes, particularly with the increase of schools choosing to become academies,” said Dr Tom Dobson, from Leeds Beckett University’s Carnegie School of Education, who led the evaluation.
“This has fundamentally altered not only how schools are funded, but also how they operate, having withdrawn from local authority support.
“Arguably, some of the biggest changes and challenges have concerned the role of, and responsibilities placed upon, the governing body.”
Since 2013, he added, a demanding framework has been in place for inspecting governing boards, requiring legal knowledge and expertise in finance, management and leadership.
“Good governance is no longer seen as sufficient,” concluded Dr Dobson. “The skills of those on governing bodies need to be on par with professional organisations; running a school should now be viewed in the same way as running a business.
“However, for some schools, especially those in areas of socio-economic disadvantage, recruiting governors with professional skills can be challenging.”
It comes after Education Secretary Damian Hinds issued a “call to arms” earlier this month, leaning on leading businesses to lend support and expertise to schools as governors or trustees.
Latest figures from the National Governance Association show that 57 per cent of schools nationally have at least one vacancy, with Yorkshire’s vacancy rates among the highest in the country at 56 per cent.
The pilot from the banking group saw 80 skilled individuals become governors, non-executive directors, or ‘E-governors’, working remotely, placed at schools facing governor shortages from a diversity of Ofsted ratings.
Dr Dobson, who led an 18-month evaluation into the project, concluded that it boosted school performance, increased skills and knowledge, and improved business practices.
While the E-governors had felt more removed from their schools, the evaluation had found, all had become increasingly engaged, with one even being appointed chair of governors, and it had impacted on business practice and mentoring.
“All were able to bring a different skill to governing bodies, to make them more businesslike, challenge practices and bring in that objective viewpoint” said Dr Dobson. “They were also genuinely motivated – they all went into it for the right reasons.”