Education & Family

No place for CV-boosting governors, says Ofsted boss

woman and laptop Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Sir Michael Wilshaw says school governors must understand a "complex educational landscape"

"Amateurish" school governing boards in England's schools "will no longer do", the chief inspector of schools warns.

Head of Ofsted Sir Michael Wilshaw said goodwill would "only go so far" and governors signing up to boost their CVs were not welcome.

He repeated his belief that chairs and vice-chairs of governors, at least in challenging areas, should be paid.

The National Governors' Association said it recognised the need to improve governance in struggling schools.

In an online note, Sir Michael said Ofsted came across too many schools where the governing board was ineffectual.

He said: "In the last academic year alone, there were nearly 500 schools [of a total of 5,000 inspections] where inspectors were so concerned about the performance of the governing board that they called for outside experts to be drafted in to carry out an urgent external review of governance."

Schools were now complex institutions, he went on, subject to far greater external accountability than they had been in the past.

Changes including the rapid growth of academies and free schools in England had put more power into the hands of governing boards than ever before.

Image caption Sir Michael has commissioned an in-depth survey into school governance

"In short, the role is so important that amateurish governance will no longer do. Goodwill and good intentions will only go so far," he said.

"Governing boards made up of people who are not properly trained and who do not understand the importance of their role are not fit for purpose in the modern and complex educational landscape."

He went on: "The role demands commitment. There can be no place for those who have signed up to become a governor because they think it will boost the credentials on their CV and are content to sit passively through meetings where important aspects of the school's performance are being put under scrutiny."

Sir Michael also said he was disappointed that his recommendation to the government that all governors and trustees should receive compulsory training had seen little progress.

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption The majority of governors served their schools well, Sir Michael noted

He said the weakest governance was too often operating in the most challenging schools in the poorest areas of the country - the very schools that stood to gain most from strong governance.

"I therefore pose the question once again: has the time not come to consider paying chairs and vice-chairs in order to recruit the most able people to schools in the most difficult circumstances?"

'Lifting aspiration'

The chief inspector said he was so concerned about the issue that he had commissioned inspectors to carry out an in-depth survey into the effectiveness of school governance.

Ofsted will publish a report next year and in the meantime the watchdog is seeking the views of serving governors and trustees, head teachers, teachers and parents.

Sir Michael also acknowledged there were "thousands of people across the country who give up their time to serve on governing boards" and the majority took their duties very seriously.

He added: "In many schools, governors and trustees are making an important contribution to raising standards and lifting aspiration."

Emma Knights, chief executive of the National Governors' Association, said it understood the urgent need to improve governance in poorly performing schools and was already in talks with the Department for Education on the issue.

"But while we welcome Ofsted's spotlight on governance, we do question whether Ofsted has the expertise in this area to conduct such a review - their own school reports suggest that inspectors do not always understand the governance role and they invariably misunderstand the lines of accountability.

"Therefore we hope Ofsted will have the humility to involve those who have the breadth and depth of governance knowledge in their upcoming evaluation."

A Department for Education spokesman said it had introduced reforms to "improve and professionalise" governance, including allocating £1.4m to recruit high calibre volunteers and a further £1m to help governing boards train their members.

He added: "We are also creating a supply line of outstanding non-executive directors from the corporate world to sit on academy trust boards to use their experience to ensure trusts are equipped with the range of skills needed to help modern schools thrive."

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