Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the National Governors' Council


  1.1  The National Governors' Council (NGC) is the main representative body for school governors in England. The members of NGC are independent Associations of governing bodies in two thirds of the LA areas in the country. NGC seeks to represent the interests of all school governors and governing bodies in all phases and types of school.

  1.2  Members of NGC and the National Association of School Governors (NASG) have recently taken a vote to merge. The merger will take place early in 2006.  This will mean that there will be just one organisation representing all governors, the National Governors' Association.


  2.1    Summary (Paragraphs 3-3.8)

  2.2    A School System Shaped by Parents (Paragraphs 4-4.10)

  2.3    Choice and Access For All (Paragraphs 5-5.7)

  2.4    Personalised Learning (Paragraphs 6-6.1)

  2.5    Parents Driving Improvement (Paragraphs 7-7.2)

  2.6    Supporting Children and Parents (Paragraphs 8-8.3)

  2.7    School Discipline (Paragraphs 9-9.2)

  2.8    The School Workforce and School Leadership (Paragraphs 10-10.4)

  2.9    A New Role for Local Authorities (Paragraphs 11-11.3)

  2.10  Conclusion (Paragraphs 12-12.1)


  3.1  NGC welcomes those elements of the White Paper that focus upon teaching and learning. Individual information on pupils will enable schools to move forward with the personalised learning agenda.

  3.2  It is interesting that the White Paper centres on parental involvement and influence in school decision making, but the majority of the proposals for schools will rest on the decision of the governing body. It is the governing body who will decide whether to apply for foundation or trust status and who would publish proposals to expand or adopt a sixth form.

  3.3  While NGC is pleased to see that the Government has recognised the importance of ensuring that governors receive appropriate training we believe that induction training should be made mandatory.

  3.4  It is the proposals that all schools should seek self-governing status and in particular become Trust Schools that give rise to most concern to NGC. We do not believe that encouraging all schools to become autonomous will have the desired effect of encouraging collaboration and co-operation. Indeed we think that it could have a detrimental effect upon the delivery of the Every Child Matters agenda.

  3.5  NGC supports the stakeholder model of governance in which all key local stakeholders have representation on the governing body. We are concerned that the proposed model for Trust Schools will enable the Trust to appoint the majority of the governing body. This will reduce the influence of parents as well as other community stakeholders, and the accountability of the governing body for the standards achieved by the school to parents and the community.

  3.6  It is difficult to see how local authorities will be able to carry out their strategic planning role if all schools are their own admission authorities and are able to expand and add sixth forms at will. The loss of community assets if all schools become "self-governing" is also a matter of concern. While safeguards will be undoubtedly put in place to ensure that local authorities do receive some compensation if school sites are disposed of in future, this is not the same as the local authority being able to manage its school estate strategically.

  3.7  One size does not fit all. The White Paper has a very urban metropolitan feel to it and seems to offer very little for rural communities. There is no evidence provided as to why it is thought that the changes proposed would, in a rural setting where many schools are community schools, improve the teaching and learning outcomes in these schools. Parents in urban settings may have limited choice of school, but in our rural communities for very practical reasons there is often none. In these areas more than one secondary school would be unsustainable so the offer to parents of additional provision is an empty one. The offer of free transport to the three nearest schools within a two-six mile radius can offer no benefit in areas where very many children are already travelling more than six miles to their nearest school.

  3.8  Innovation—the ability for schools to innovate is already available in the system and it is difficult to see why schools should need to change their status to take up these opportunities.


  4.1  Evidence clearly shows that when parents take an interest and get involved in their children's learning levels of achievement are raised. What is less clear is that parents wish to be directly involved in the running of schools.

  4.2  Trust Schools

      4.2.1  The White Paper says that "parents will welcome proposals for schools to acquire Trusts which are focused on driving up standards creating new opportunities for children". Yet no evidence is provided about why Trusts will more effective in driving up standards than schools without Trusts. Likewise the comment that Trust appointed governors will bring "drive and direction" to schools. Governing bodies already have the ability to appoint additional governors and there is no evidence that Trust appointed governors will be more dynamic than other governors. Indeed in many ways this is an insult to the hundreds of thousands of school governors already out there helping to drive school improvement forward.

  4.3  Self-governing Schools

      4.3.1  No evidence has been provided to demonstrate that the vast majority of existing community and voluntary controlled schools wish to take on the additional responsibilities that foundation, voluntary-aided or Trust status would bring. Even before the streamlined route to foundation status was introduced schools could, if they wished apply, to take this route. There is no evidence that schools failed to opt for foundation status because of the bureaucracy of the process; it is far more likely that they had no interest in the additional responsibilities and valued the support of the local authority. A great many community schools see their buildings as a local, not an individual, asset and believe that ownership should rest with the local authority.

      4.3.2  The only advantage of being the admission authority of a school is to change the existing admission arrangements. It is difficult to see how 23,000 admission authorities will make the system simpler for parents to navigate, or enable local authorities to carry out their responsibilities for strategic planning. Since popular schools will inevitably be over-subscribed, it will be the schools choosing the pupils, and despite the non-statutory guidance, may be tempted to discriminate against difficult to teach pupils, thus reinforcing existing inequality.

      4.3.3  It is not clear why it is an advantage for the Trust to appoint the majority of governing bodies (paragraph 2.20). This suggests that voluntary controlled schools are currently not as effective as voluntary-aided schools, but no evidence is provided to support this assertion.

      4.3.4  NGC supports the stakeholder model of governance. In the vast majority of state schools parents are entitled to one third elected representation on the governing body. The local authority, staff and community also have statutory representation. We have serious concerns that allowing a Trust to appoint the majority of the governing body would reduce truly local representation on the governing body. It is not clear what benefits there would be to a school of setting up its own Trust. Paragraph 5.21 states that Trust Schools must still have one third parental representation, but this will not be all elected representation, it will be Trust appointed representation. While this mirrors the current regulations for voluntary-aided schools, the Trusts at these schools have generally long-standing links with both the local community and the school. The fact that Trust Schools will have a duty to promote community cohesion seems to be recognition of the fact that they may have no roots in the local community.

      4.3.5  It also seems extraordinary that a White Paper that seeks to strengthen the parental involvement in the decision making process should promote Trust Schools in which elected parental representation will be reduced. Trust schools will be the only type of institution at which Parents' Councils will be compulsory because the strength of the parental voice on the governing body will be reduced. Parents' Councils will not have decision making powers and it is difficult to see how decreasing independent parental representation on the governing body will increase their influence on school policy making.

  4.4  There are very many high performing community schools and NGC does not support the proposal that no new community schools will be established.

  4.5  Academies

      4.5.1  NGC is concerned that the Academies programme is being used as a model for the governing bodies of Trust Schools. The governing bodies of Academies do not follow the stakeholder model of governance and may have little local accountability. Where academies are replacing institutions which have consistently failed to provide an acceptable standard of education for their pupils then there is some acceptance within NGC membership that the governing bodies of those institutions may need to follow a different model. However, many of the proposed additional academies will not be replacing failing schools, but will be brand new schools to cater for additional places or replacement schools under the Building Schools for the Future programme. In these circumstances NGC can see no justification for a model of governance which does not follow the stakeholder model. It is also the case that at academies parents are only entitled to one place on the governing body, which does not provide the parental body as a whole with a strong voice in school policy making.

  4.6  Parental Demand For New Schools

      4.6.1  It is entirely right that parents should be able to express satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the standard of schooling on offer to their children. NGC looks forward to further information about what level of support amongst parents will be required for local authorities to put resources at their disposal.

  4.7  14-19  Opportunities

      4.7.1  Like many, NGC was disappointed that the Government chose not to adopt the Tomlinson proposals. However, it is clearly important that all our young people have appropriate opportunities at 14-19 to achieve to the best of their abilities and interests.

      4.7.2  We are not clear that allowing successful schools to establish sixth forms will automatically lead to a diversity of provision and greater choice for young people. We believe that there is a possibility that a proliferation of smaller sixth forms will not lead to greater choice, but will produce a number of institutions competing to provide a small narrow band of qualifications.

  4.8  Tackling School Failure

      4.8.1  It is clearly right that schools which are failing to provide an acceptable level of education should be the subject of intervention. The Ofsted inspection regime is a vital instrument in providing a robust and objective assessment of the standard of education provided. If the new inspection regime with it emphasis on self-evaluation is to be effective then it should not be Ofsted who are first to realise that a school is under-performing. The Head teacher, senior-management team, governing body and local authority all have an important role to play in monitoring and evaluating provision and putting in place a realistic development plan.

      4.8.2  NGC welcomes the role for local authorities in tackling poor standards. While under-performance is clearly unacceptable we do have some concerns about the imposition of a one-year timetable for improvement. Our concerns principally stem from how "improvement" will be defined. Such a definition must not be results driven as even with an effective improvement plan it is highly unlikely that any school will see a material change in results in just one year. While local authorities must ensure that appropriate measures are in place to set a school on a road to improvement, we are concerned that placing a duty on local authorities to consider using the full range of their powers immediately could precipitate action which ultimately could be more harmful than beneficial.

  4.9  While supporting the principles of the New Relationship with Schools, NGC is concerned that governing bodies may not have the same level of access to and, therefore, support from the School Improvement Partner (SIP) that they currently receive from their external adviser. This could hinder the governing body's ability to monitor and review the performance in schools.

  4.10  We will await the Ofsted consultation on lighter touch inspections for high-performing schools with interest. We are not convinced of the need to have a separate regime for separate schools, especially in view of the new short notice regime introduced in September 2005.


  5.1  We are not convinced by the arguments put forward that parents want a diversity of choice and provision. Some parents value the option of a faith school, but the vast majority of parents simply want a good local school.

  5.2  It is absolutely right that all parents should have equal access to information and advice about the admission arrangements of schools in their area. However, unless schools amend their existing admission arrangements then better information may only serve to inform parents of the schools their children cannot gain admission to rather than providing new opportunities.

  5.3  NGC does not believe many schools will perceive any incentive to amend their admission arrangements to admit pupils from more disadvantaged areas if these are not their traditional cohort. It is also likely that any significant amendment to a school's admission arrangements which would mean that children who traditionally would have attended that school and now would not automatically receive a place is likely to be unpopular with parents.

  5.4  Extending the scope of free school transport to provide the most disadvantaged pupils with more choice is on the face of it an attractive proposal. However, this again presupposes that pupils would have a reasonable chance of obtaining a place in three local schools. It will also provide logistical and cost difficulties for authorities in trying to meet these preferences. It is difficult to see how a proposal which envisages bussing pupils further to schools fits with policies on healthy school standards and school travel plans. We welcome the proposals that such schemes would be piloted before they are rolled out nationwide. Such a policy will not improve choice in vast swathes of the country where there is only one secondary school within an eight or 10 mile radius rather than the three in a six mile radius envisioned by the proposal.

  5.5  We fully support the Admissions Code of Practice and admission authorities' adherence to it. However, the fact remains that the Code is non-statutory and that admission authorities having had regard to the code can still employ over-subscription criteria considered to be bad practice.

  5.6  As regards the expansion of popular schools we would reiterate our response to the DfES consultation on this issue in 2004.  NGC does not support the proposal for the expansion of popular and successful schools to be "excepted expansions". The NGC believes that encouraging individual schools to expand could have a detrimental effect upon other schools in the area, which could ultimately lead to less diversity of provision. It would also make it extremely difficult for LAs to plan properly the provision of school places. At a time when the Government through Every Child Matters and the Children Act is encouraging co-operation between the various agencies this proposal would seem a retrograde step. We believe that it is better to work to improve the quality of overall education provision in an area than to allow an individual school to expand. Expansion of any school should only be countenanced as part of properly prepared local plan.

  5.7  NGC believes there will be no benefit to pupils if small sixth forms which can only offer a restricted choice of subjects are allowed to open. The Department for Education and Skills must make clear what it considers to be a viable size for a school sixth form. The future viability of currently efficient Sixth-Form Colleges/Community Colleges with wide 14-19 curricular provision could be at risk from school small sixth form expansion, leaving students with less breadth of post-16 subject choice.


  6.1  NGC supports the personalised learning agenda and believes schools will continue to expand on the many examples of good practice already in existence. We believe that it is right to focus attention on Key Stage 3 children. Schools Forums on which governing bodies are represented will clearly have a role to play in determining how the funds referred to in paragraph 4.15 are distributed.


  7.1  Effective governing bodies already consult and take account of the views of parents at the school and so making this a statutory duty will in effect have little impact. Parents' Councils will in some schools be an effective mechanism for seeking parents' views on school policy. However, Parents' Councils will not be appropriate or even effective in all schools. The Education Act 2005 has only just abolished the requirement to hold an Annual Parents' Meeting precisely because so few parents chose to attend. Governing bodies will need to ensue that where they set up a Parents' Council this is not the only means of seeking parental views. Those parents currently least likely to engage with schools are those least likely to attend Parents' Councils. It may be that governing bodies will need to consider holding Parents' Councils off school premises, as those parents who experienced unhappy school days may be unwilling to attend meetings in such a setting.

  7.2  As was said earlier parents must have the right and the means to express dissatisfaction with the standard of education available to their children. We are not sure how the new statutory power for Ofsted to investigate complaints will significantly improve this position. The White Paper states that parents will only be able to exercise this right once all local avenues for complaint have been exhausted. Clearly, if schools have serious weaknesses in performance or discipline, which both it and the local authority failed to acknowledge or address then it is right that Ofsted should be able to take action. We find it difficult to believe, however, that legitimate parental concerns would not be addressed before Ofsted was called in.


  8.1  NGC fully supports the Every Child Matters agenda. We have concerns that many of the proposals in the White Paper rather than supporting the collaboration and cooperation ECM needs to be effective, will work against them by encouraging schools to be more competitive.

  8.2  It is of course governing bodies that have the responsibility for determining what extended services their schools will provide. These decisions will not be made easier if pupils are travelling to schools further away from their homes. While the pupils may be entitled to free transport their parents will not and ensuring that they have access to what is on offer will be more difficult.

  8.3  Healthy School Food

      8.3.1  NGC in collaboration with the Food Standards Agency published its Food Policy in Schools: A Strategic Food Framework for Governing Bodies in June 2005.  The document sets out the governing body's role in relation to a whole school food policy and provides step by step guidance on how to implement such a policy. NGC continues to work with the FSA and others in promoting healthy school food.


  9.1  NGC welcomes the Government's acceptance of the Steer Group's recommendations on school behaviour and discipline.

  9.2  That having been said, some of our members are concerned about the implications of the extension of parenting contracts and will welcome clear guidance on these issues.


  10.1  NGC welcomes the renewed focus on continuous professional development for teachers. It is important that teachers should have access to such opportunities throughout their career.

  10.2  NGC is most concerned that school support staff should have similar opportunities. Workforce reform can never be truly effective if support staff in one authority can be paid completely different rates from those in a neighbouring authority for the same terms and conditions. It is vital that a coherent career structure is provided for support staff in schools. We are not clear how the possible flexibilities that will be available to Trust Schools on pay and conditions fit with the aims expressed in paragraph 8.19.

  10.3  As mentioned earlier, given the significant statutory responsibilities that school governors take on, NGC firmly believes that induction training should be mandatory for all new governors. We also believe that experienced governors should continually update their knowledge throughout their terms of office.

  10.4  Given the sentiments expressed in paragraph 8.33 " One of the strengths of our school governing bodies is that they bring together experienced and energetic people form all backgrounds—people who know what is best for their school and their children", we are not clear why such people should need to be replaced by Trust appointed governors.


  11.1  The majority of NGC members welcome the support and advice they currently receive from their local authority and we are pleased that the White Paper provides additional powers to intervene when schools are failing to provide acceptable standards of education.

  11.2  As mentioned elsewhere in this evidence, however, we feel that the local authority's role in co-ordinating the "ECM" Agenda and strategic planning will be made more difficult if all schools become self-governing. Local authorities will retain a responsibility for the overall planning of educational provision in the area, but these plans can be disrupted by an individual school's decision to expand.

  11.3  NGC does not support the abolition of the School Organisation Committees (SOC). It is unfair to say that existing providers will always support the status quo against new providers. While removing the SOC may appear to reduce the bureaucracy in the system, we feel that it removes one of the checks and balances in the system.


  12.1  Excellent schools are not excellent because they are a constituted in a particular way. They are excellent because the head teacher, school workforce, governing body, pupils and parents combine to make them excellent. Excellence is about partnership, collaboration and working with the local community. NGC is concerned that many of the proposals in the White Paper will not result in collaboration, but will lead to competition.

November 2005

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