Further education still needs more effective governance

5 Dec 2021, 6:25

We have developed a ‘governance maturity matrix’ to strengthen college boards, writes Fiona Chalk

Fraud, insolvency, and poor outcomes for students are some of the major risks of “non-mature governance”. Because of these, concerns have been raised by stakeholders, funders and regulators about the need to strengthen mature governance.

This includes FE Commissioner reports that have also expressed concerns about complex, non-transparent and ineffective governance. 

Meanwhile the fourth chapter of the Skills for Jobs white paper says the government will work with the sector to “level up standards of governance”.

This includes “setting out clearer expectations, requirements and support to empower weaker colleges to address problems earlier”. 

Similar to the concept of good governance, governance maturity possesses fundamental requirements. These include accountability, legal compliance, ethical compliance and effectiveness and efficiency of operations.

Previous research undertaken through the Further Education Trust for Leadership (FETL) on the topic of governance maturity in further education makes for interesting reading. 

It notes that despite inspection – or perhaps because of it – high-profile failures of FE governance appear to stem from docile rear-view governance. 

High-profile failures stem from docile, rear-view governance

This form of governance is overly concerned with a ritualistic preoccupation around performative regulatory mechanisms.  

So it was perhaps unsurprising that the ensuing FETL report supported the view that effective, mature governance is crucial. 

Extensive stakeholder conversations have revealed a consensus that any governance maturity matrix needs to address current issues such as sustainability, inclusion and digital. 

The matrix should focus on behavioural governance as well as procedural governance, and should have due regard for the fundamental principles in governance codes. 

So the Education and Training Foundation has developed a “governance maturity matrix” with support from Nottingham Trent University, The Good Governance Institute, The Skills and Education Group and stakeholders within the further education sector.  

The matrix is based on nine themes across three levels that represent the main building blocks of effective institutional governance.  

Each statement allows an assessment to be made against it and the matrix is progressive in terms of maturity from “fundamental” – the compliant board – to “advancing” – the skilled board.  

This matrix is a practical tool for reflection on current organisational performance against a range of indicators of good governance. It demonstrates how boards can develop governance to a level of maturity that makes it both impactful and sustainable. 

Boards can apply the matrix in various scenarios, including but not limited to:   

  • As an internal assessment tool on the effectiveness of governance  
  • As a tool for recruitment of governors  
  • As part of a skills audit 
  • To help shape a training and development plan for governance  
  • To inform management’s understanding of the role of governance in positively impacting on organisational performance 
  • Planning of the annual cycle of board work  
  • As part of an external review of governance

The matrix allows progress to be assessed in a nuanced, consistent and effective way over time.

A current assessment can be built on by setting a governance maturity target, which is the level of maturity the college would want to achieve within an agreed period.

The board can then put in place a developmental programme to facilitate a strengthening of institutional governance and leadership over a longer period of time.   

The matrix is available on ETF’s governance support page. Over the next year, the usage and impact of the matrix at a number of colleges (varying in size, location and complexity) will be monitored.

A review will then be undertaken to ensure its impact is maximised and that it remains current in a constantly changing policy landscape.

The government says in the Skills for Jobs white paper that “excellent college governors and leaders are pivotal to delivering high-quality provision and enabling their workforce and learners to succeed”. 

There is an increasing need in FE to quickly assimilate an effective governance model. 

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    This is so interesting – since getting involved with the governance of Multi Academy Trusts over a decade ago – I have repeatedly said that Trusts have not learned from the lessons of the past governance failures in FE Colleges ( Bllston / Halton / Coleg Gwent etc etc ) since their Incorporation back in the mid 90s. Now I see FE Colleges have a “governance effectiveness” Board / Corporation self-assessment tool that has been around in Trusts, care of the ESFA, for some five years or more. What comes around, comes around again !

  2. Andy Forbes

    I applaud this initiative and the “Maturity Matrix” looks fine, but for me the key word is “accountability”. Unless a college suffers a financial or Ofsted car crash, the governing body remains answerable to no-one. In my experience this not only leads to the kind of rear-view laziness the ETF identify, but poor Equality & Diversity practices and cronyism. There needs to be a mechanism for requiring governing bodies to undertake this sort of exercise, rather than leaving it up to them, especially when there are warning signs such as non-diverse membership or lack of transparency in reporting Board meetings.