Dr Sue, director of policy and external relations at Holex, answers your questions, backed by her experience as principal of Canterbury College and in senior civil service posts in education and skills.

Question One: Advice for chairs

I am new to FE but have chaired a charity and found the National Council of Voluntary Organisations useful. Where should college governors look?

Answer: Colleges are exempt charities and the Charities Commission website should be your first port of call.  You already know about NCVO and much of the material on their website is useful, but because colleges have a strong business ethos you will also find pertinent items on the Institute of Directors website. However, the material on these sites has not been contextualised for the FE college world. The most useful source is the material funded and supported by the Education and Training Foundation which sits on the Association of Colleges website. This material has been developed by college clerks and chairs and is an invaluable bank of information and advice. Your clerk can help signpost you to the subjects and areas most relevant.

There is also a relatively new organisation on the scene called the Association of Chairs. They have been formed to support chairs and vice chairs of charities and non-profit organisations in leading their boards effectively and ensuring delivery of their organisation’s mission. They provide peer network, chair-focused seminars, speakers and briefings and resources specifically for chairs and vice chairs. They have also published a supportive document called the Chair’s Compass, which offers guidance on the role and impact of chairs.

 

Question Two: Job share

My role as chair of governors is becoming more substantial as I work full-time. I have a governor colleague who wants to job share. Is this possible?

Answer: I can see that in circumstances like the one you describe job sharing or co-chairing could offer a suitable, practical and effective solution. Although not widely practiced in the FE sector, school governing bodies have had the option to do this for a while. First you need to check your college’s Instrument and Articles to see whether it expressly disallows co-chairing. If it is silent on the issue then I see no reason why you shouldn’t go ahead. However, the board would need to ensure that any role-sharing arrangement does not lead to a loss of clarity in its leadership. In order for co-chairing to work, there needs to be transparency and trust and probably some work with the clerk to produce a formal programme on who does what.

 

Question Three: Election advice

As we receive most of our funding from public sources, are there any election guidelines for governors to follow?

Answer: Colleges are exempt charities and the Charities Commission has produced a clear guide. In summary, campaigning and political activity can be legitimate and valuable activities for charities to undertake. However, it must be undertaken by a charity only in the context of supporting the delivery of its charitable purposes. Unlike other forms of campaigning, it must not be the continuing and sole activity of the charity.

Charities can campaign for a change in the law, policy or decisions where such change would support the charity’s purposes. Therefore, as long as you are even-handed, don’t financially support in any way and/or do not try to influence results, there is no reason why as a trustee or governor you cannot make your views known to prospective MPs. Ensuring the financial stability of your college is a clear part of your role and prospective MPs need to know what impact government policy or proposed policy changes have on colleges. Remember any material used must be factually accurate and have a legitimate evidence base.