Dr Sue answers your questions on all aspects of governance, from taking time off to liability.
Question One: Time off work
As a school governor I was given time off work. Does the same apply to college governors?
Answer: Governors frequently ask about their entitlement to time off work to carry out their functions.
Under employment law, employers are required to give ‘reasonable time off’ to allow employees to be a member of the managing or governing body of an educational establishment, which includes colleges.
Leave of absence can be with or without pay
The amount of time off should be agreed between the employee and employer beforehand, based on: how long the duties might take; the amount of time the employee has already had off for public duties; how the time off will affect the business.
The employer can refuse a request for time off if they think it’s unreasonable. It should be noted that this leave of absence can be with or without pay. This is at the employer’s own discretion. What constitutes ‘reasonable time off’ is not defined in law and is an area for negotiation between the employer and employee. It may also be helpful to prepare your case before you approach your employer and be ready to explain the benefits to the business, such as, you would be helping shape the workforce of tomorrow as well as your own continual professional development.
Question Two: Personal liability
As a board member of a college governing body am I personally liable if something goes wrong? We have been asked to take decisions about merger and to set a deficit budget for large building projects. We’ve done due diligence but I’m nervous.
Answer: Governors are often concerned that they may be held personally liable for decisions they take in relation to their role as a college governor, particularly in respect of decisions around procurement and setting budgets.
Since 1992, governing bodies have been incorporated. As a corporate body, protection is afforded to individual members provided that they act reasonably, in accordance with procedures. As charity trustees, governors have a duty to act with skill and care to safeguard the assets of the college. The duty to act with good faith imposes a high standard of care and means that a governor must act honestly and transparently at all times.
You are right to be on guard
Governors should take reasonable care when discharging their duties, should take advice where appropriate and should be mindful of any decision that could be seen as benefiting themselves, their business or close family members.
To reassure you, I am not aware of any case of negligence being brought in relation to individual governors. Where governors act reasonably, in accordance with the corporation’s powers and their instruments and articles, the likelihood of negligence being proved is small. But you are right to be on your guard.
Question Three: Ofsted
I was looking forward to reading the Chief Inspector’s Annual Report BUT there was no obvious section on college governance. Am I missing something?
Answer: You are right, there is no separate section on college governance and this year the report does not go into any depth on governance matters.
However, what is there does explain the issue in no uncertain terms: “All of the colleges judged inadequate this year were characterised by systemic weaknesses in leadership and/or governance. Strengthening leadership capacity within the sector remains a priority.”
Governors should increase rigour by challenging leaders
This builds on a statement that was in the 2014/15 report which explained that in weaker colleges governors should increase rigour by challenging leaders.
Recent annual reports, through case studies and the individual college reports, do give indications of what Ofsted sees as good governance, with the main emphasis being on challenge, for example:
“Although governors know the challenges facing the college to ensure learners develop their mathematical and English skills, they have not sufficiently held leaders to account for improving the quality of teaching, learning and assessment across all subjects to improve achievement.”
“Governors have a good understanding of the main features of the college’s educational and financial performance. In a few key respects, however, they have been less effective in holding leaders to account. For example, they have not ensured that leaders’ vision for the college is clearly articulated and shared.”
“The governing body left no stone unturned in its scrutiny of progress against agreed targets for improvement. All staff had responded well to the more stringent performance management scheme that had a direct impact on improving the quality of teaching in all subject areas.”
Sue Pember is director of policy and external relations at Holex