The recent consultation from Welsh Government on the reform of school governance in Wales has been surprisingly interesting for such an apparently dry subject.
I won’t go into the advisability of expecting coherent responses to eighty-six questions about a very complex piecemeal adaption of existing legislation. I am just glad that I don’t have the difficult job of making sense of what I suspect have been some very impassioned responses and then making a recommendation as to how to proceed.
What I have found fascinating has been the various discussions I have been party to: at school, local authority and consortium level, and which bits of the proposed changes have hit people’s buttons. Some people have very strong views on how schools should be governed and can speak at length on the subject.
The basic premise is that Governing Bodies should be skills-based. The consultation document is unhelpfully vague about what skills it has in mind. In discussion with officials it appears that the word “skills” was chosen to encompass several other attributes – experience, qualifications and what are now referred to as “soft skills”, which used to be called common sense and the ability to get on with other people. They also speak of business experience or specific human resources or legal expertise. Schools can be thought, after all, as businesses running within constrained budgets. They have the usual issues of treating employees fairly and not wasting money. However, I am a bit wary here because each Governing Body can already call on professional advice from local authority lawyers, HR specialists and property experts, not to mention Health and Safety advisers. Perhaps one essential skill is knowing one’s own limitations and when to call in the experts.
There is a feeling that Governing Bodies can be too large and unwieldy, leading to actual governing being delegated to a small inner caucus who then tell the others what to do. I have some sympathy with this. One secondary school of which I was a Governor increased in size and the numbers went from 16 to over 20. The level of commitment and participation dropped markedly. With more people, there was less for each individual to do and it was less important to turn up for committee meetings because it was easier to get a quorum. I think there was also a psychological element. With so many people, each Governor’s view of their own value was somehow less.
Reducing the numbers leads to reducing the number of elected Governors from the parental body and the school staff. This seems to be because of a lack of confidence that the democratic process will produce Governors with the necessary skills, and a danger that parent Governors will not see beyond their own child’s needs, and that staff Governors will always back up the Headteacher. Neither of those has been my experience over the past thirty years, but perhaps I have been lucky.
I look forward to the final document which should be ejected from the Welsh Government sausage machine in the summer. I can’t wait to see the new recipe.