- The DfE Governance handbook was updated in January 2017 and includes the six key features of effective governance.
- The DfE publication A competency framework for governance was updated in April 2017 and is aligned with the six key features of effective governance.
- The competency framework is about the knowledge, skills and behaviours needed for effective governance in maintained schools, academies and multi-academy trusts.
- To be competent for a role, governors must be a fit and proper person as well as being suitably qualified with knowledge, skills and experience.
Governance is an issue we return to again and again. This is mainly because expectations of the way governors should carry out their role is constantly evolving due to changes in the structure of the education system and in legal requirements. Many governing bodies were unprepared for these changes and in the academic year 2015/16, Ofsted recommended urgent reviews of governance in 295 schools.
The guidance provided for governors also proliferates and it is important that schools stay up to date. For example, the DfE publication A competency framework for governance issued in January 2017, which we are going to look at here, was updated in April 2017 with additional guidance on clerking.
The Bible for all governing bodies is the DfE Governance handbook, which is updated annually. The most recent update in January 2017 is 131 pages and dense with statutory requirements and guidance. This year it contains a summary of what are termed the ‘six key features of effective governance’. The competency framework, which was published at the same time, is aligned to these, so reading the summary first will give you a good overview.
Six key features of effective governance
The six key features should be grouped into three sets of two.
A: The core pillars of the role and purpose of governance
1. Strategic leadership that sets and champions vision, ethos and strategy. This is about having a vision based on pupil achievement, strong and shared values, a determination to drive strategic change, planning, monitoring and reviewing progress, listening and responding to stakeholders, managing risk appetite and tolerance.
2. Accountability that drives up educational standards and financial performance. This includes rigorous analysis of standards, overseeing and monitoring school improvement and challenge, effective performance management, appropriate procedures for governance and effective financial controls.
B: How governance is organised
3. People with the right skills, experience, qualities and capacity. They must have an understanding of the purpose and role and the skills to carry it out well, they must include an effective chair and vice-chair, a diversity of perspectives to enable robust decision making, robust and transparent recruitment processes, active succession planning and a professional clerk.
4. Structures that reinforce clearly defined roles and responsibilities. This can be achieved through appropriate board and committee structures, clear separation between strategic non-executive oversight and operational executive leadership, appropriate communication within board and with pupils, parents and carers, staff and communities, in academy trusts, significant separation between members and trustees, published details of governance arrangements and in MATs, complementary and non-duplicative roles for the board, any committees or local governing bodies (LGBs), and MAT executives in holding school-level leaders to account.
C: Ensuring and improving the quality of governance
5. Compliance with statutory and contractual requirements. This can be achieved by fulfilling responsibilities under education and employment legislation and other legal requirement, undertaking key duties effectively, promoting equality and diversity and meeting the Equality Act and for academies, adherence to the requirements of the Education Funding Agency’s (EFA) Academies financial handbook (AFH) and the trust’s funding agreement and articles of association.
6. Evaluation to monitor and improve the quality and impact of governance. This can be achieved through regular skills audits and a planned cycle of continuous professional development, regular self-evaluation of governors and governance, external reviews of board effectiveness and efficient documentation.
The competency framework
The full title of the framework describes the content in a nutshell: A competency framework for governance: The knowledge, skills and behaviours needed for effective governance in maintained schools, academies and multi-academy trusts
Here, ‘behaviours needed for effective governance’ means ‘needed to achieve the desired effect’, which in this case is to fulfil the six key features outlined above. The competency framework lists what governors need to know and be able to do, starting with the sort of person they need to be.
Principles and personal attributes
To be competent for a role, one must be a fit and proper person as well as being suitably qualified with knowledge, skills and experience. Being fit and proper in this case means possessing personal attributes and holding and espousing certain principles.
“The principles and personal attributes that individuals bring to the board are as important as their skills and knowledge. These qualities enable board members to use their skills and knowledge to function well as part of a team and make an active contribution to effective governance.
All those elected or appointed to boards should fulfil their duties in line with the seven principles of public life (the Nolan principles). They should also be mindful of their responsibilities under equality legislation, recognising and encouraging diversity and inclusion. They should understand the impact of effective governance on the quality of education and on outcomes for all children and young people”.
The seven Nolan principles for holders of public office are:
- Selflessness: act solely in terms of the public interest.
- Integrity: not act or take decisions to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family or friends.
- Objectivity: act and take decisions impartially, fairly and on merit.
- Accountability: to the public for decisions and actions and open to scrutiny.
- Openness: act and take decisions in an open and transparent way.
- Honesty: truthfulness.
- Leadership: actively promote and robustly support the principles and be willing to challenge poor behaviour wherever it occurs.
To these seven principles, the framework adds seven Cs, which together describe the personal attributes.
The person should be:
- committed: to achieving the best possible outcomes for young people
- confident: have an independent mind, express their own opinion and play an active role
- curious: an enquiring mind and analytical approach
- challenging: to the status quo
- collaborative: Listen to others and work in partnership
- critical: understanding the value of critical friendship
- creative: challenging conventional wisdom and open-minded to new approaches.
Knowledge and skills
The knowledge and skills for effective governance, matched to the DfE key features above, are organised into:
- those essential for everyone on the board
- those required of the chair
- those which at least someone on the board should have.
The first task for any board is to audit itself against these extensive lists of requirements.
- Governance handbook: For academies, multi-academy trusts and maintained schools, DfE, January 2017: http://bit.ly/GovernanceHandbook2017
- A competency framework for governance: The knowledge, skills and behaviours needed for effective governance in maintained schools, academies and multi-academy trusts, DfE, April 2017: http://bit.ly/CompetencyFramework2017
Use the following item in the Toolkit to put the ideas in the article into practice:
About the author
Tony Powell is an experienced Additional Inspector and LA adviser. He writes extensively on education management, but his main work is in supporting schools to develop systems for