Sack poorly performing governors, MPs' report says

By Hannah Richardson
BBC News education reporter

image captionProfessional clerks should help unpaid governors perform their duties, MPs say

Poorly performing governors in England's schools should be removed from office, an MPs' committee says.

The Commons Education Committee said the quality of governing bodies, manned by volunteers, was inadequate in many schools, particularly primaries.

It called for better measures for intervention when governing bodies were poor or failing.

The government said it had given governors more power to hold head teachers to account on performance.

The report said governing bodies performed a critical role in school leadership. They are responsible for appointing staff, setting achievement targets, managing school finances and reviewing staff pay and performance, among other things.

Education Secretary Michael Gove has said he wants to speed up reforms to school governance, but a year ago he offended many volunteer governors by saying they were often "local worthies" who viewed their post as a "badge of status not of work".

'Intervention powers'

The education committee acknowledged governors could be hard to recruit and said that vacancies were a significant issue for some schools.

And it said governing bodies had to be better at identifying the mix of skills and representation they needed in order to be effective.

It called for the government to investigate the reasons why so many local authorities and the secretary of state had been reluctant to use their powers of intervention when governing bodies did not perform adequately.

But it highlighted the fact that "too many governors have not received suitable training", and recommended that the government required all schools to offer training to new governors.

The report also found evidence that nearly one in nine governor posts are currently empty in England.

In a small minority of schools, some 2-3%, there were persistently high vacancy rates, but the committee did not see the answer as offering the unpaid volunteers a wage.

However, it said there could be some circumstances in which payment would be appropriate, such as when skilled governors helped other schools improve their governance.

Emma Knights, chief executive National Governors Association, said: "We are of the opinion that 'volunteer' is not synonymous with 'amateur' and governors can do a professional job without being paid."

She welcomed the committee's recommendation that schools should be required to offer training to all new governors, saying it was "an important development".

'Legal duties'

And she highlighted the idea that governing bodies be offered professional paid clerks to support the work of the governors.

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: "School governors have a key role to play in raising standards in schools.

"That is why we have cut burdens on governing bodies, set clearer expectations about their roles and given them more power to hold head teachers to account on school performance."

She added that the department had explained clearly what it meant to be a school governor in the new Governors' Handbook, including the core of the role and the specific legal duties.

"We are taking away bureaucracy and unnecessary duties, leaving governors free to focus on the important challenge of leading their schools," she added.

Chris Keates, general secretary of the Nasuwt, said it should be of deep concern to parents and the public that there are such serious weaknesses in school governance, given the extensive autonomy which has been heaped upon them.

"Governors are well meaning volunteers who now have control over millions of pounds of taxpayers' money and public assets, the school workforce and the life chances of children and young people.

"In this context these recommendations seem weak and will make little contribution to protecting the public interest. They may even compound the problems rather than resolve them."

ASCL general secretary Brian Lightman said as the demands on governing bodies increase it is essential that they have access to high quality training.

"Schools have a part to play in making sure that governor training happens, but the government cannot duck the issues of funding and coordinating.

"We have to remember that governors are unpaid volunteers who give countless hours of their time and make a valuable contribution to their local community. They should be supported and valued."

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