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School Governors (Appointment)

Volume 587: debated on Tuesday 28 October 2014

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require that school governors be appointed on the basis of experience relevant to the role; and for connected purposes.

I would first like to thank all the school governors across the land, because the role they play in ensuring that our schools are well managed, well led and well planned is enormous. The tribute I pay to them is heartfelt. They also contribute massively to local communities, and that, too, needs to be recognised.

Our schools are going through a changing landscape. There are more schools with increasing autonomy than ever before, and that direction of travel is continuing. That is quite right, because there is support across this House for academy status, and other schools are beginning to benefit from more autonomy. The structures behind those schools are changing as well, with the introduction of the regional commissioners, the changing role of local authorities and, indeed, the emerging debate on academy chains, and that means that governors and governance are becoming increasingly important. Another driver has been the role of Ofsted in focusing on the importance of leadership and governance as part of the inspection process by making the latter category one of the four that will determine whether a school is graded in the way it wants to be.

Already in Westminster we have seen a large number of actions under the auspices of those who want improved governance across the piece. The Education Committee—I see that its Chair, my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart), is in his place—has conducted an inquiry into school governance and made a number of recommendations to which the Government have, quite properly, responded. I established the all-party parliamentary group on education governance and leadership almost as soon as I arrived here, with the purpose of talking about school governors and ensuring that their role is properly understood and develops in line with education policy, and that we recruit good governors.

Another thing that has happened is the Inspiring Governors initiative whereby various organisations have formed an alliance, including the Department for Education, the CBI, employment and education bodies, and a whole range of others. They have come together to make sure that we can promote governance to people who may not necessarily have thought of being a governor before. I am running through this activity to demonstrate that there is a lot of thought behind what I am proposing in this Bill—thought that is underpinned by substantial work. Other bodies that are key for our governors include the National Governors Association, the Wellcome Trust, the School Governors’ One-Stop Shop, and Wild Search. They have all contributed to the wider debate about the role of governors.

So where do we need to be? First, we want school governing bodies to be flexible. We want them to be able to decide how they are constructed, how they develop their plans, and how they interface effectively with their schools. The need for more autonomy for school governing bodies is recognised and required. Strong accountability of head teachers matters. A governing body needs to be able and willing to take on a head teacher who is not delivering—that is absolutely critical. We do not want weak governing bodies; we want strong and supportive governing bodies that are nevertheless capable of making a harsh decision if it ever becomes necessary. Nobody wants to do that without forethought, but the governing body needs to be capable of backing up the decision if necessary.

We need to make sure that strategic thinking takes place in schools. Governing bodies have to set the scene, the ethos and the direction of travel in making sure that the head teacher and everybody else is aware of the process. It is also important to engage with the wider community. No school can survive successfully without proper engagement in the community, and the governing body is part of that process. An effective governing body is the type of structure with good communication skills that can make the difference in this whole field.

We also want better links with employers. We must cultivate circumstances in which schools are talking to businesses much more readily and frequently about the requirements that businesses have. If we are going to start measuring the performance of schools by the destinations of their pupils, we need to be clear that schools bear some responsibility in making sure that their pupils know where they can go and where they should go, and are equipped to get there.

Getting the right people is an important mission. We need to enable employees of businesses to perform on governing bodies if they agree to do so. As the Department for Education has acknowledged, that may require an amendment to the Employment Rights Act 1996, and I would certainly want this Bill to incorporate that. We need to raise the profile of governors so that they can be recognised properly. I include national honours in that, but also civic responsibilities, civic duties and civic recognition.

Strong chairs of governors are absolutely essential and it is worth considering selecting as chair somebody who was not previously on the governing body. We need to choose the best people, not wait for them to come through the pipeline. We need an accelerated process to enable them to get where they need to be. That needs to be debated.

We also need to have a rapid response to failing schools. The Government are taking action, but some local authorities are not necessarily doing so as fast as they should be. The introduction of an interim executive board has often yielded good results and turned schools around, but there is no use in waiting for things to get so bad that turning them around is such a big job. We should be acting swiftly. Governing bodies have a role to play by recognising when they have themselves lost control and need some outside help.

I want to suggest some further steps to pave the way. We need pools of tested and proven governors who are able to address certain situations. The regional commissioners may well want to consider that suggestion as their role develops during the course of the current reforms. It is important that we have governors to choose from, rather than have to search for somebody who will do the job reluctantly. That is essential for good governance in all areas, certainly in schools.

We need to think about the transparency of decision making. The more people understand what governors do and the more they see the responsibility they have and how it can make a difference, the better. Transparency of school governing bodies is important.

A further next step for school governing bodies to take is on the need to be more corporate in how they conduct their affairs. We have already seen that pattern emerge and develop in the further education sector, so I think we should see more of it in the school sector, because it will encourage the sorts of skills, characteristics and processes I have already discussed.

In short, this Bill would make it easier, more attractive and rewarding to be a school governor, because we want the right people with the right skills, enthusiasm and motives to make sure not only that learning is a school’s top priority, but that its other characteristics can be encouraged and developed.

Finally, we are enormously thankful to those governors who currently serve, but we need to move to the next stage, which is a new shape for education, with more autonomy and responsibility. That will, of course, be a greater challenge for governing bodies, and that is why we need governors of the calibre I have described.

Question put and agreed to.


That Neil Carmichael, Alistair Burt, Mr Graham Stuart, Richard Graham, Mr Robert Syms, Sir Alan Beith, Fiona Bruce, Matthew Hancock, Chris Skidmore, Jeremy Lefroy and Robert Jenrick present the Bill.

Neil Carmichael accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 23 January 2015 (Bill 109).

We will have to delete the name of Mr Hancock, because he now occupies the illustrious post of Minister of State.

You are absolutely right, Mr Speaker, and I don’t know why he is on this list, because he shouldn’t be.

He may be a great man—that is a divisible proposition, but what is not a divisible proposition is that he cannot sponsor a 10-minute rule motion. The hon. Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael) has enough supporters and he need not trouble his head about the matter any further.