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Kirsty Williams AM, Cabinet Secretary for Education

First published:
28 June 2016
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School governing bodies have a vital and demanding role to play in the success of our schools. They set the strategic direction for the school, and hold the head teacher to account for the school’s educational and financial performance.

I value the contribution governors make to raising school standards. However, I acknowledge that to be successful they need the necessary skills.

Estyn’s most recent inspection report indicates that many more governors now provide more challenge to school leaders than in the past. However, Estyn also found that governors in around 15% of primary schools and a minority of secondary schools still do not challenge leaders enough. The Task and Finish Group on school governance, established by former Education Minister, Leighton Andrews, considered the fitness for purpose of the school governance framework. It concluded that governing bodies needed to be more skilled in their governance role, and to be able to recruit more widely so that the very best individuals participate in governing schools.

The Group recommended a shift from the current stakeholder model to a “Stakeholder Plus” approach to school governance which would retain the valuable contribution made by the variety of stakeholders in the current school governance model, but the ‘Plus’ aspect would allow governing bodies the flexibility and freedom to recruit additional governors on the basis of skills needed.

In its report “Step Change – A new approach for schools in Wales” the CBI commented that “the focus for composition of governing bodies must be skills - ensuring the right people with the right skills are in place is the key to effectiveness”. The Report concluded “More freedom should be given to governing bodies to determine their composition based on skills, rather than representative roles such as parent governor, LA governor or staff governor”.

The existing school governance model has been in place since 1996 with few changes. It requires schools to constitute their governing bodies based on numbers of pupils in a school. There is no option to deviate from structures and no consideration need be given to appointing governors for the skills or expertise they can offer. The focus is more on the constituent groups that governors represent rather than the skills they possess.

In the autumn I propose to consult on revisions to the school governance legislative framework to make it more flexible. Under the proposals governors will be appointed for the skills they offer and governing bodies will be able to constitute themselves in a way that meets their specific needs. The stakeholder model will be retained, but with a stronger focus on skilled governing bodies with the flexibility to make their own decisions about their constitution and membership. Governing bodies will be expected to carry out a skills audit of members to identify any gaps in the skills they need to carry out their responsibilities effectively.

I also propose to amend the constitution and membership of governing bodies. Under the proposed arrangements there will be a minimum of 7 governors for all except voluntary and foundation schools. Governing bodies will consist of parent, staff (i.e. teacher and staff combined), local authority, community, foundation, partnership and pupil governors, as well as the head teacher. There will be a new category of ‘Co-opted governors’ recruited specifically for their skills.

While minimum numbers for voluntary and foundation school governing bodies will be larger as they will retain the requirement for foundation or partnership governors, the intention is there will be no upper limit on the overall size of any type of governing body.

I believe that parents are critical partners in the running of a school. Their continued involvement on governing bodies is crucial to ensuring effective school governance. I propose to keep parent governors who are elected by their peers, rather than being appointed to the governing body. However, I want to go further and extend the category of parent governor so that there will also be appointed parent governors alongside their elected colleagues on all governing bodies.

As the latter will be appointed by the governing body, I believe it is right that - along with all other appointed governors, appointed parent governors are suitably skilled. Governing bodies will have the flexibility to decide exactly what skills are needed to ensure effective governance for their individual schools when making these appointments.

I also propose to allow parents of former pupils to be appointed as parent governors, as I believe this group may provide a rich source of skilled governors. Crucially, I propose to end the current system whereby governing bodies have restrictions on the number of parent governors they may have.

Governing bodies will have flexibility to have as many parent governors as they wish. The only requirements will be that elected parent governors do not outnumber appointed parent governors, and that all governing bodies must have at least 1 elected and 1 appointed parent governor.

The proposed new framework will give governing bodies the flexibility to increase or decrease their numbers more easily providing they meet the minimum requirements. I also propose to enable governing bodies to appoint ‘associate members’ or non governors to committees, whenever specific expertise or experience is needed. For example, governing bodies may wish to appoint an auditor or accountant as an associate member of their finance committee.

The requirement for an independent person – which currently only applies where a staff disciplinary and dismissal committee is dealing with a matter involving harm to a pupil - will be extended to all staff disciplinary and dismissal committees, as well as head and deputy head teacher selection committees. This will assist governors in taking the often complex and sensitive decisions dealt with by these committees.

These proposals seek to strengthen the role that school governors play in the delivery of improved outcomes for pupils. The proposals would apply to governing bodies of all maintained schools, including federated schools. The proposals will be subject to a 12 week consultation in the autumn.

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