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

Question One: Supporting the chair

My principal seems to think he should not be involved in the running of the governing body and it is all down to me and the clerk. Is that appropriate?

Answer: This view does seem to be taking hold, but it doesn’t help the management of the college. Successful governance should be a matter for the principal as well as the chair, as it has an impact on the effectiveness of the college as a whole.

The roles of the principal and the chair both embrace leadership and management responsibilities but have their boundaries.

The chair should lead the governing body and manage its business, while providing an element of strategic leadership for the whole college. The principal should provide assistance to the chair in relation to board matters, while focusing primarily on the leadership and management of the college.

For board meetings to run smoothly, you need good chairing and clerking, and first-class advice and underpinning information from the principal. This doesn’t mean a cosy relationship, but one of professionalism and challenge.

 

Question Two: An awkward situation

I’m a governor in an awkward situation where I am a confidante to both the chair and principal. The two don’t get on and it is affecting the way the board runs. How can I get them back on track?

Answer: This should not be just your problem, and you should not have to shoulder the responsibility alone. It is really important for you to talk to the clerk and vice-chair, and agree the next steps.

The first step would be for you and the vice-chair to talk to the chair or principal to uncover their issues and explain that you think it is affecting the way the board is working.

Explain it is vital that they present a solid, united public front. If in these conversations the chair highlights issues of performance, then they should be investigated properly. However, if it is just a breakdown of their working relationship, and the principal’s performance is sound, you may need to suggest the chair stands down.

Either way it needs to be tackled before it upsets the effective running of the college.

 

Question Three: Prevent, safeguarding and governors

How do we know we are doing enough on Prevent and safeguarding? We have all gone through training, we have relevant policies, and we monitor how they are being implemented. Can we be doing more?

Answer: I can understand why you ask this question because these responsibilities are wide-ranging.

It is important that you are clear on your duties and how robust your monitoring is. These are areas where you should use data about reported incidents and monitor how they were tackled.

Your policies need to account for where your students are studying and what is needed at any off-campus sites. Several colleges now they have risk assessments in which the action is proportionate to the risk.

For example, if some of your provision is delivered in an open-access situation, have you assessed the risk for that context, and is mitigation action appropriate? It doesn’t mean you necessarily have to, say, fit gates and barriers, but it may mean that ID cards come into play and staff are all trained for emergencies.