By Ian Armitage, Chair, SGOSS Governors for Schools
Legal knowledge is the main area of expertise missing from school governing bodies with one in three searching for more skills in this area, according to the results of our latest survey.
I must say that this didn’t really come as any surprise given that High Court actions over term-time holidays, challenges to admissions criteria and disputes involving private finance initiative (PFI) repayments have all hit the headlines recently. Now some local authorities, such as Staffordshire County Council, plan to introduce a levy on schools that convert to academies to cover the cost of implementing legal and structural changes such as transferring lands, IT systems and records.
Costly legal action and fees are something that schools can ill afford at the best of times, let alone at the moment, following the announcement of the DfE’s new National Funding Formula. This change in funding means that thousands of schools across the country will suffer further budget cuts in 2019 – that’s an 8% real terms reduction in funding per pupil.
The SGOSS survey of governors placed in schools between 2014 and August 2016 – i.e. those with a minimum of six months experience – found that a third cited lack of legal expertise as the skill most lacking amongst their governors, with most (29.7 %) stating difficulty in recruitment as the reason.
More and more schools appreciate the benefits they can glean by bringing in governors with specific experience and skills. SGOSS has an unmatched record over 18 years placing candidates with much needed business experience to enhance the skills of Boards of Governors. Last year it helped 2,047 schools by finding them 2,800 governors
Currently 1 in 3 schools who register with SGOSS require a governor with legal skills – rating them as ‘essential’ or ‘desirable’. That figure is up from 1 in 7 schools citing this concern in 2014.
In short at the same time that financial pressures are rising, the responsibility carried by governors is increasing and there is no hiding place.
A Trustee of an academy or MAT carries the same legal responsibility as a company director. Whilst governors may not carry the same legal exposure, they are now responsible for providing effective governance, which means they have to ensure that the school has good leadership at all levels, a sound strategy, delivers for its pupils, parents and local communities, manages its risks and operates within the financial resources it can command.
An overwhelming 97% of governors surveyed agreed that having a professional and effective governing body is more vital than ever in the current climate.
SGOSS works with legal firms large and small across the country in order to encourage their staff to volunteer, including Allen & Overy, Dentons, Herbert Smith Freehills, Freshfields and Gowling Wlg.
The legal firms we work with are really engaged and we have had a steady flow of volunteers with legal skills. In 2014-15, 39% of the governors we matched with schools had legal skills, but with demand appearing to rise, it’s an area we will focus on more sharply in the coming months.
Ian Armitage is chair of SGOSS Governors for Schools, which has an unmatched record of 18 years experience in placing talented business executives into school governing roles. Its free service helped 2,047 schools by finding them 2,800 governors in the last year alone. For further information on SGOSS please visit www.sgoss.org.uk or call 020 7354 9805.