Carmichael NeilNeil Carmichael is the Member of Parliament for Stroud and a member of the Education Select Committee. Follow Neil on Twitter.

School governors and
governance are now high on the policy agenda. The Education Select Committee is
conducting a significant inquiry, Sir Michael Wilshaw, Chief Inspector of
Schools, has focused OFSTED onto ‘school leadership and governance’ and our new All Party Parliamentary Group on School Leadership and Governance is holding
regular meetings ar which standing room only is available to late comers.
Ministers, too, are engaging with this debate.

Individual writers and contributors
are also highlighting the need for reform, most notably and recently, Lord
Adonis is his book “Education, Education, Education”. Longstanding
organisations, including the National Governors Association. are turning up the
volume in this increasingly robust debate.

There are two linked
drivers behind this momentum. Firstly, governors and governance has
hardly changed in generations. The battle over the control of schools has, up
until now, been between local authorities and central government, characterised
by such policies as represented by the Butler Education Act 1944, Circular
10/65 (Anthony Crosland’s request to local authorities to move to comprehensive
schools) and the Education Act 1988 introducing, among other highlights, ‘Local
Management of Schools’. None of these or other measures addressed the actual
leadership and management of individual schools but, because of the impact of
league tables and the spotlight now on failing schools, governance is becoming
fair game for increasingly concerned parents, policy makers and public

The second driver is
more specific and contemporary. Academies are springing up all over the country
with their structures and, in particular, autonomy fuelling a debate about school
accountability, role of sponsors and performance management issues for head
teachers. Gone are the days when governors spent most of their time ratifying
local authority derived policies.

The debate about the
future of governance seems to have two dimensions, captured in terms of
defining roles and responsibilities, and challenging governor selection
criteria in the form of prioritising either stakeholder representation or specific

Before these two topics
are expanded, it is worth setting what is at stake. In essence, academies, as autonomous
institutions, need to have their own reliable mechanisms for monitoring
progress, challenging policies and delivery, strategic planning, and ensuring
effective leadership and management. If the academy programme is to generate necessary
confidence in it, individual governing bodies must avoid failures in these
responsibilities, leaving outside intervention as a last and, hopefully, rare
resort. In short, governors must be capable, professional and responsive, and
able to act together as a corporate body.

Another trend is the
formation of partnerships or chains. The Education Select Committee is
exploring the impact of these developments and, already, governance and
leadership have cropped up. The overall feeling from witnesses to the Committee
is that huge changes are underway in our schools, but that reforms of governance are

Despite such
observations, several possible areas of reform are now on the table. To start
with, when governing bodies fail they are often replaced by Interim Executive
Boards (IEB). IEBs are smaller, consist of selected individuals with the
requisite skills and, obviously, have executive capacity so should this model
be closer to the norm in the first place.

The role and selection
of the chair of governors is also being discussed. Remuneration, formal
training and robust accountability mechanisms are frequently mentioned as
proposals to improved performance.

A third area of debate concerns stakeholder representatives. Frequently, allocated places are not
taken up at all or occupied by unenthusiastic appointments. Instead, a focus on
skills and experience as the basis for selection might be more profitable.

The All Party
Parliamentary Group on School Leadership and Governance is continuing to debate
the case for reform and has produced a now well respected ‘Twenty Question for
Governing Bodies to Ask’. For my part, I am in favour of smaller boards,
comprising of individuals appointed on merit and ‘professionally’ chaired.