The research, commissioned by AELP, into governance in the independent sector culminated in the publication of the Code of Good Governance (a must read for any CEO or Chair). The publication, along with several workshops, has been well received. And while I have had the privilege of co-facilitating the workshops with Karen Adriaanse (specialist in education and training and former Ofsted inspector), I am left with the feeling that all is not well for new governors/non-executive directors (NEDs), and that providers may not be making the most of this new resource.

The Code of Good Governance, if you have not seen it, is a great place to start when reviewing the responsibilities of the Board. That said, many providers who are considering selecting a governor or NED, perhaps for the first time, can find the whole process perplexing. It’s important to select the right person, but how you induct and keep them informed about your business can be difficult without a plan!

Let’s suppose for the moment you have identified a potential governor/NED (let’s call them all governors for now) for your Board. Providers in the Further Education (FE) sector (irrespective of type) seem to have real difficulty in explaining the level of responsibility new, well-meaning, but often naïve, governors will be taking on when they are making the invitation.

Let’s face it, unless you are inviting someone who has worked in the ‘sector’ and understands the inspection and audit requirements, and is up to date with all the changes in policy, then most candidates will not have a clue. How do you explain the level of responsibility you are asking them to take on without frightening them off?

Most organisations target new Board members because of their skill set. You may choose someone with a social work background to provide strength to the work you are doing around Safeguarding; or an accountant who could offer support to stress test your budget as well as provide a view as an employer. Governors need to be able to understand things ‘in the round’ if they are to provide real challenge and be effective across the whole spectrum of the provision! Ofsted will expect them to understand your business strategy and have some in-depth knowledge of your business, not just their own specialism.

Explaining everything a new governor needs to know is extremely difficult. Even if it’s done properly the breadth of their responsibilities will certainly give them cause for some serious reflection, no matter what you offer to pay them. So, how do you invite a friendly employer or someone with the type of background you feel will add value to your Board without frightening them off?

The answer is to provide an appropriate, and probably intense, induction that includes a plan to explain how you aim to support them as the new governor initially and how you will keep them informed and up-to-date between Board meetings, preferably without increasing your own workload.

Before I explain how you can do this, I would like to take a moment to clarify the responsibilities of the leadership and governors at Board level. For many small providers their Board is often made up of key personnel from their senior management team (SMT), therefore stepping up to the Board and understanding their role from that position can be as difficult for them as it is for a new governor. If you have included members of your SMT on your Board, it is worth updating their responsibilities.

The responsibility of leaders and governors at Board level is first and foremost to ensure public money is used for its intended purpose, and that is to deliver high-quality education and training safely, and be able to evidence how this has been done. Before I go on, let me say that I am all for making a profit. Ensuring public money is used for its intended purpose is more about ensuring you understand the cost of your delivery and you are investing in the right resources.

When introducing a potential governor to the business, you will explain what you deliver and how you deliver it; however, it is worth clarifying the breadth of the sector you operate in as well. Take a look at Dr Sue Pember’s webinar (available on AELP’s website) doing just this. Even if you don’t use it per se, it will help you structure something for yourself.

If you provide a list of responsibilities or expectations for your governors, I would suggest the statement ‘in bold above’ comes before everything else. Although, in itself, it doesn’t sound too onerous or complicated, we in the sector know how complex things are, and how quickly things can change.

When getting down to the priorities, there are three areas where you could lose your contract if you get it wrong, so be very clear about their importance. I have heard qualified and experienced people do this badly by going off on a tangent and emphasising their own personal preferences; so stick to the three big issues and keep it simple. The details can come later.

  1. Safeguarding: The one element of an Ofsted inspection that, even if the rest of your provision is outstanding, can close down your contract if you receive a negative grade.
  2. Audit: Understanding the obligations of an existing contract is essential. Poor record keeping will lead to clawback and that can deplete your cash flow and reserves. If it’s not recorded, then it didn’t happen!
  3. Financial Health: Making sure you manage your risks and that your financial health is strong is paramount. Does your funding support the strategic plan?

Follow this (quickly) by explaining how you will support your new Board member.

Sign them up to the weekly edition of Countdown and Mark Dawe’s monthly webinar; offering these as part of their ongoing induction and communication plan will be informative and can be accessed at convenient times. Additionally, Stewart Segal’s webinar on finance and audit will explain the rules as well as the changes. There are many other webinars that will give a clearer strategic picture of the sector and changes that need the attention of the board. These will save you time and give them an unfiltered explanation.

If your new Board member is willing, give them a place at some of AELP’s many workshops or a place at one of AELP’s conferences. Explain that you expect their contribution to develop as their understanding increases, which you know will take time.

Using AELP’s current support will assist new Board members to feel more prepared before they attend a Board meeting and they will quickly start asking more probing questions across the whole agenda. And most importantly – no extra work for you!

On top of the obvious benefits, when the time comes it will allow you to show off your well-informed governor to Ofsted, perhaps by having them greet the Ofsted Team on day one. Allow your governor to create an impression of solid leadership the minute the inspectors enter your building.

I hope this helps you think about ensuring that governors are effective. If you have any queries feel free to email me on [email protected] and I will arrange a time to call you back.

How you select a governor and maintain a healthy Boardroom without getting bogged down can be challenging but also rewarding if you give the health and well-being of your Board the attention it needs. But that’s more for another day.


Chris Jeffery MBE

Boardroom Health and Governance Adviser

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