Time to get serious about developing governor capacity

20 Jan 2020, 5:00

As the role of college governor grows, the need for more support grows too. Help is already at hand, explains Mark Wright

The role of the governor has become hugely more challenging in the past few years. Colleges are growing in size and complexity, and financial pressures mean there is an increasing need for forensic scrutiny of leadership decisions. Effective governance is crucial to the success and sustainability of colleges, but is the sector at risk of asking too much of what remains by and large a voluntary role?

As the Government sets out what new funding is to be made available, including for capital investment, governors will be required to ensure the appropriate investment of public funds. Given these responsibilities, as well as a time commitment that increasingly resembles that of a part-time job, some may say this gives credence to the argument that governors should be remunerated for their efforts.

In fact, some chairs are already being paid. But while broadening this could help with recruiting and retaining governors, there is also a need to consider professionalising the role more broadly.

An essential part of that effort is to offer development opportunities, tailored to the demands of the job, that enable governors to successfully steer their colleges. The Education and Training Foundation (ETF) has been working with the sector to provide this support with a series of DfE-funded initiatives that form part of a drive to create a sector culture in which governor development is the norm.

In the Spring, we will be launching the Governor Development Programme following an extensive development stage during which many governors and clerks will have road-tested each of the 24 modules.

All colleges will be able to sign up to the programme on an annual basis giving their governors access to modules that include online content, podcasts, and face-to-face delivery. Those who have tested it have valued the range and flexibility of the learning opportunities on offer. Governors are time-pressed people too, and being able to listen to a podcast while getting on with other tasks was particularly appreciated.

Governors are time-pressed people too

The programme will be hosted on the ETF’s Foundation Online Learning website, and governors will be able to develop their own personalised learning plans, working through the most appropriate suite of modules for them in terms of content and level of difficulty – from those new to governance right up to experienced governors who need to ensure they stay up to date.

Professionalisation means a certain amount of ongoing management of governors’ development needs. The work of mapping where governors are on their development journey could become the responsibility of the clerk or governance professionals, working in partnership with the chair and board members themselves to determine the development needs of individuals and of the team.

The programme complements the work that has already been done to boost the capacity of chairs of governors, in particular through the Chairs’ Leadership Programme. According to Simon Perryman, Chair of Governors at Barnsley College, this programme provides “powerful insights on the role of boards in setting strategy, maintaining oversight and managing reputation, as well as a valuable opportunity to work with other chairs on the real issues and challenges of the role”.

And our commitment to professionalising governance doesn’t stop there. Efforts to develop a programme aimed specifically at the development of clerks is already underway in partnership with the DfE.

The ‘College of the Future’ has become a common topic of conversation across the sector, and rightly so. This decade will herald new challenges and also importantly new opportunities but some things are timeless. Effective leadership and governance is one of those things, and developing people – be they our students, our staff or our governors – is another. In the end, amongst a multitude of other things, we now need great governance to navigate our way safely to new horizons.

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