Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

All Right, Guv'nor? You've Got a Helluva Job These Days

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

All Right, Guv'nor? You've Got a Helluva Job These Days

Article excerpt

College governing bodies are under increasing pressure in this era of major upheaval - but help is at hand

"Governors are the backbone of college accountability and are the faithful custodians of public funds" in the words of Judith Evans, chair of ColegauCymru, the Welsh colleges association.

The remit of governors, sitting above the senior leadership teams of FE colleges, is vast, covering financial, legal and safeguarding procedures and adherence to national quality and audit frameworks.

Governing bodies challenge and support the senior leadership to ensure the provision of an outstanding environment for teaching, learning and achievement, and ensure that student outcomes are aligned to the needs of local and regional employers and the prerequisites of higher education establishments.

In addition to these regular duties, pressure for governors to perform is heightened by government initiatives. "There are lots of demands on governors' time - not least area reviews but also Ofsted, curriculum changes, 14-19 performance measures, apprenticeships and English and maths to name but a few," says David Walker, director of governance at the Association of Colleges (AoC).

This brings the composition of FE boards into sharp focus. A 2015 analysis by the AoC and the Education and Training Foundation (bit.ly/CollegeBoards) found that of the 5,900 governors serving on the boards of 332 English colleges, there were some 630 students, 630 staff, around 130 parent governors (mainly in sixth-form colleges), and 335 executive governors (usually college principals). These groups accounted for roughly 30 per cent of board composition. The remaining 4,200 members were independent, external governors who offered their services as volunteers.

The most common reason these volunteers cite for becoming governors is the desire to "give something back", to contribute directly to the future of the next generation. But is that enough? And are the right people doing the job? According to the 2015 AoC survey, a quarter of governors had a background in education, with a further 7 per cent having worked in local government. While this is a traditional source of governors, new skill sets have been sought over time to reflect different management trends.

Specialist skills

The advent of greater financial accountability and risk management has drawn in specialists in these areas; now, approximately 36 per cent of volunteer governors have a financial, legal, business or management background. In these changing times, particularly given the spectre of area reviews and the appetite for "fewer and larger" colleges, boards may need to encourage more tightly honed skill sets.

Governor experience could be required in very specific financial management areas such as due diligence, and mergers and acquisitions. There could also be a greater need for softer skills such as culture change and organisational design, creativity and agile thinking, digital marketing and engagement.

Given that 57 per cent of external governors, in the AoC survey were over the age of 55 and 21 per cent were over 65, there may be a risk that some governors won't have been exposed to these more contemporary practices during their working lives.

That said, it might also be equally important for boards to exhibit the rather more timeless trait of digging their heels in and holding firm. …

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