UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE To be published as HC 850-iii

HOUSE OF COMMONS

ORAL EVIDENCE

TAKEN BEFORE THE

EDUCATION COMMITTEE

THE ROLE OF SCHOOL GOVERNING BODIES

WEDNESDAY 20 MARCH 2013

LORD NASH and ANNE JACKSON

Evidence heard in Public

Questions 192 - 296

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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Education Committee

on Wednesday 20 March 2013

Members present:

Pat Glass (Chair)

Neil Carmichael

Alex Cunningham

Charlotte Leslie

Siobhain McDonagh

Ian Mearns

Mr David Ward

Craig Whittaker

________________

In the absence of the Chair, Pat Glass was called to the Chair.

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Lord Nash, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools, and Anne Jackson, Director, System Reform Group, Department for Education, gave evidence.

Chair: Good morning. Welcome to the Select Committee on Education. Apologies from Graham Stuart, who is not able to be here.

We have asked you to come along this morning to answer some questions as part of our inquiry into school governorship. We will kick off this morning looking at issues around improving school governors.

Q192 Mr Ward: A really easy question to begin with. Last year, the Education Secretary said that some school governors were "local worthies who see being a governor as a badge of status not a job of work", and who have "discussions that ramble on about peripheral issues, influenced by fads and anecdote, not facts and analysis". Do you agree?

Lord Nash: I think there are a lot of very good governing bodies in the country-that is clear-and we should be very grateful to them, but the fact that Ofsted tells us that 26% of our schools are not good or outstanding and that 44% of our school governance is not good or outstanding clearly means that there are quite a few governing bodies that are not up to scratch. How many quite fall into that characterisation, I do not know, but it has undoubtedly been true.

One of the aspects of weak governance is where they perhaps have too large governing bodies with not enough people with the right skills on them. They can get sidetracked on discussions that are not relevant to what we believe should be the key focus of governing bodies, which is attainment and progression, finance, strategy vision and performance management.

Mr Ward: We have about 40-odd questions, so you do not need to stray into the others.

Anne Jackson: Could I just make a point of clarification on your question? That part of the speech was a section where the Secretary of State was contrasting a picture of good governance with a picture of poor governance. The remarks that you have quoted were his exemplification of what poor governance looks like. There was also an exemplification of good governance, which did not get the same media headlines.

Q193 Mr Ward: Okay. A broad question: what can we-the Government or the DfE-do to raise the status of governors? I am not talking about the quality, but the status and the important role that we all know exists in our schools. What can be done to support that?

Lord Nash: I think Government should be sending a message at every point about the importance of governors. That is certainly right at the top of my list of priorities. It seems to me that the two key pivotal decision points for a school are the head teacher and the governing body. Perhaps in the past we have underestimated the importance of the governing body to drive change, particularly in difficult situations. We should talk about it a lot. I know that Ministers will be talking about it, and I will certainly be talking about it in conferences and with the various associations. The National College is focusing a lot on training, and the NGA is doing a lot. At every turn, we should invite more people to become governors.

Mr Ward: I agree.

Q194 Chair: Do you think that there is a firm role for voluntary governors?

Lord Nash: Yes.

Q195 Chair: And that we should not be looking at paying governors and professional governors, as we have seen in some other European countries?

Lord Nash: I know that Sir Michael Wilshaw has been talking about paying governors, and he knows a lot more about running schools than I do-probably a lot more than anyone in this room-so we should certainly listen to what he has to say. I rarely disagree with what he has to say, but, at the moment, I am not convinced. I think it could be a distraction. There is a danger that by paying governors you could attract the wrong people, or you could open the floodgates. There are probably plenty more people out there who, if we make the circumstances of being a governor attractive enough, we can attract on a voluntary basis.

Voluntary does not mean amateur. It is a very responsible job. It is a great privilege, in my view, to be a governor of a school. There has probably never been a more important moment to be a governor, but, at the moment, I am open-minded on that point.

Q196 Chair: Can I ask you a question about the fundamental purpose of governors in schools? I have had numerous conversations over the years with chairs of governors and governing bodies, where I have said to them, "It is not your job to stand foursquare behind the head. It is your job to scrutinise and to challenge and to govern on behalf of your community." Is that something that you would recognise?

Lord Nash: Absolutely.

Q197 Neil Carmichael: Good morning. One of the issues that we have been discussing in the session so far is the difference between skills and stakeholder representation. There are those of us who think that skills are more important, but some think that governing bodies need to have stakeholder representation. Where do you stand on that?

Lord Nash: I think we confuse representation and skills at our peril. Representation is incredibly important, and all good schools have a parent group, a teacher group and a student voice, but I do not think we should muddy that with governance, which is about having the right skills. I do not think that having, for instance, a few parent governors on a governing body is necessarily the best way to engage-it is a rather random way to engage-with representation. I am not saying that a governing body cannot consist of a lot of parents, but they should be chosen for their skills, not because they are parents.

Q198 Neil Carmichael: So do you foresee measures to move in that direction?

Lord Nash: We do not have any plans at the moment. As you know, we believe in autonomy. We do not believe in dictating to schools how they should run themselves. We trust heads, teachers and governing bodies, but we plan to emphasise the importance of making sure that all governing bodies have people with the right skills on them. I also personally feel, after 40 years in business, that, in any body like this, everybody in the room has to be able to keep up with the debate. They have to have the appropriate level of skills. That does not mean that they have to be a data geek or a financial expert, but they have to be able to engage with the debate at that level. They cannot be there for any one particular reason and not be competent on the others.

Q199 Neil Carmichael: So you could actually strengthen autonomy by saying to schools, "You can choose who you want, without any specific labels, because what you will want to do is have all the skills, rather than representative individuals"?

Lord Nash: Yes.

Q200 Neil Carmichael: So that would be basically freeing the system up?

Lord Nash: Yes, and we have done that already in terms of the difference between the 2007 and 2012 regulations, and for academy governing bodies, and we could go further, yes.

Q201 Chair: Can I just clarify? So you are saying that you would not have categories of so many parent governors and so many community governors?

Lord Nash: We have that situation at the moment and we have no plans to change that. For myself, I feel that the governing bodies’ role is so important that it should be about skills. There are much better and more effective ways of engaging with parent representation-which is incredibly important, I agree-such as in a separate forum, rather than having one or two parents who may, frankly, have particular vested interests, depending on what stage their children are at in the school.

Q202 Neil Carmichael: To develop that argument further, it is clear that a governing body ought to be engaging with all parents, through the PTA and various organisations, rather than simply relying on the fact that they have a handful of parents on their own body.

Lord Nash: Exactly.

Anne Jackson: And it is worth mentioning that the change in the maintained school regulations from the 2007 to the 2012 ones was designed to free up those categories and to make it much easier for governing bodies to recruit by skills rather than just representation.

Q203 Neil Carmichael: Going back to the question that Sir Michael Wilshaw raised relatively recently about paying governors, of course national leaders of governance are talking about stronger governing bodies and would perhaps wish to give bodies that are helping other schools some sort of remuneration. Is that a direction of travel you would be interested in?

Lord Nash: Yes. I think governors cannot be paid qua governor, but there is nothing to stop a governor fulfilling another role in the school, and I guess there is nothing to stop a governor giving consultancy advice to other schools, but not in the capacity of a governor to that school. That is something that we could definitely look at.

Q204 Neil Carmichael: I want to talk about interim executive boards, because they, ironically, are an example of skills versus stakeholders. Where we see them introduced, we usually see swift and positive results and outcomes. That certainly proves the wisdom of the discussion we have just had. One of the concerns is that some local authorities are loth to introduce IEBs, because of various political issues, which are often clogged up with their relationship with schools and other relationships in the vicinity. Do you think that is a problem?

Lord Nash: Well, 70 local authorities have never issued a warning notice, which is the step towards having an IEB. You make a very good point, because most IEBs are themselves also very small-they are rarely more than six people and are often smaller. As everybody knows, the Government are absolutely determined that where we see failure and inadequacy in results or school governance, we will use all our powers to intervene wherever we can. As you know, we are having discussions across the country about underperforming schools, generally to seek a solution where they join a strong sponsored academy chain. In many of these cases it does not mean that we have to use any powers; merely the prospect that we might can be effective. But where we need to use them, we will.

Q205 Neil Carmichael: Thank you. Still on IEBs, Sir Michael Wilshaw has raised the question-we might want to raise it with him-about the idea of Ofsted saying, "Look, leadership governance in this school is not very good; you need an IEB." That would be a recommendation from Ofsted to try to push through some change. Would you like to see Ofsted taking that kind of prescriptive role?

Lord Nash: First, moving Ofsted’s analysis of leadership and management, including governance, has really raised the game on governance; there is no question about that. We may need to go further, but it is early days and we will have to see. As I say, the Government are determined to improve the school system as quickly as we can. If we felt that that was appropriate, we would certainly discuss it with Ofsted, but it is early days on the whole new regime as it is, and we are hopeful that that will have a substantial effect.

Q206 Neil Carmichael: An issue Ofsted raised with us in earlier sessions was about the relatively restricted role that local authorities have to issue notices of warning and so forth. Do you think that they should be increased as well, and made more wide-ranging in some respects and certainly more penetrating?

Lord Nash: The answer to your question is that we are thinking about that.

Q207 Chair: I think I worked in the first local authority ever to issue an IEB, and I remember the sense of fear that was around at the time and the sense that we were stepping into a legal minefield. It was the unknown. Things have, however, changed since then, yet you said that some 70 local authorities have never issued such a notice. What can you do to make it easier for local authorities to do this? What do you intend to do to make it easier for local authorities to do this?

Lord Nash: As Mr Carmichael said, many local authorities are just loth to do it. They do not feel the obligation that, frankly, we feel they should. We are talking about children’s futures. We need to send a message at every turn that we expect all schools to do what good schools do. We all know what those are. I could list them, but there are 40 questions coming, so I will not.

Q208 Chair: What can you do to force those local authorities off the fence?

Anne Jackson: Of course, the Secretary of State has the power to impose an IEB. He has used that power in four situations so far. It is not something that we would do all the time, but it is something we keep under active review, to work out where the cases are that will make the difference and send that signal across the system, as you were saying.

Lord Nash: And in many of those local authorities, we are having conversations, with varying degrees of success, about underperforming schools joining chains. As the performance of academy chains is clearly strong, it will hopefully send a message that this is an effective route forward and is not something that those schools should fear. I sense the meaning behind your question. In some of these situations, adults are putting themselves ahead of the interests of the children, and we cannot tolerate that.

Q209 Neil Carmichael: That was a perfectly good question. We are basically talking about three ways of introducing IEBs: we are talking about the Secretary of State, we are talking about Ofsted signalling it as a good idea and we are encouraging local authorities effectively to use existing powers more swiftly and effectively, and all three are things that we need to try to encourage. As Lord Nash says, we cannot tolerate incompetence at governing body level when it is about vested interests as opposed to the well-being of the children and how they are being governed through the governing structure and the school.

Mr Ward: Can I just say that it is not a Committee view that incompetence is directly related to vested interests, or that community or parent governors have vested interests? I want to dissociate myself from those remarks.

Neil Carmichael: I was only remarking on those governing bodies that are kept in place-Pat noted that some local authorities are reluctant to bring-

Mr Ward: But local authorities are subject to Ofsted, and that would be identified in the Ofsted report.

Neil Carmichael: Good point.

Chair: I take note of your concerns, David.

Q210 Neil Carmichael: I think we have probably covered the issues about IEBs, except for one area, which is the question of payment for IEBs, especially those dealing with particularly tricky long-term problems. Is that something you have been considering?

Lord Nash: Well, local authority IEBs are paid.

Anne Jackson: Yes, the power is there to pay IEBs, whether by a local authority or by the Secretary of State. None of the Secretary of State-appointed IEBs have been paid to date. We have taken views and soundings from local authorities and there seems to be variable practice. There is no general move to pay, but some local authorities do pay, so we are continuing to look at it. Certainly the possibility is there.

Q211 Neil Carmichael: Once an IEB reaches the point where that is going to happen, do you think there should be a time limit on when they should be introduced? There can be delays, for whatever reason. If you had a sense of urgency and a time limit of six or seven weeks-

Anne Jackson: Certainly Ofsted and others have commented on the potential time lag, sometimes, in imposing an IEB. Again, this is the sort of issue that the Department would pick up in our discussions with local authorities. In effect, you have two triggers for a school to come into a category for intervention, one being an Ofsted report, and the other the school’s performance in relation to floor targets. Where schools fall into those categories, we want to talk to the authority about them.

Q212 Neil Carmichael: In terms of triggering the introduction of an IEB, there are obviously certain clear examples where that would be the case, but if a school is beginning to be identified as coasting or starting to get into trouble, at what point do you think an IEB should be raised as a solution?

Lord Nash: As I said, the first presumption is that a discussion would be had with the local authority and the school about whether it would be more appropriate for the school to be sponsored by a strong sponsor with a track record of school improvement. That might be a local school. If the school in question is a primary, the sponsor might be a secondary school that it feeds to, a strong local primary, another secondary, or a chain. Those are the kinds of conversation we are having, and we find in most cases that they are successful and we do not need to go further than that. Schools understand the necessity for that, and the benefits of joining a stronger group that can give them the support they need.

Q213 Chair: On that point, I think we are all agreed that when a school is beginning to have issues, it is best that intervention is made early, but this Committee has on occasion expressed concerns about how you would know that. Will local authorities still have the capacity, given the cuts in funding and so on? We have seen lots of school improvement services in local authorities either trimmed right down or disappearing altogether, and schools will not be inspected at the same rate as in the past. How would you know that you needed to intervene early and, if you did, who would have the capacity to do that?

Lord Nash: We know from the results.

Q214 Chair: Is it just going to be results alone?

Lord Nash: We know from inspection and from destinations. Results in schools tend to form a pattern. To be frank, historically in this country we have not intervened that fast when schools have got into trouble. I don’t see that the system going forward is any worse than it was. I think there are strong academy chains around the country and strong secondary schools identifying other schools in their area. One thing we are very keen to encourage is for secondary schools to team up with their feeder primaries, because they clearly have a strong vested interested in ensuring that the pupils coming to them are as well educated as possible. Through those routes as well we will identify schools that are not doing as well as they should.

Anne Jackson: And of course the inspection system is risk-based, so the frequency of inspection is linked to the track record of the school.

Q215 Chair: Inspections are not going to be happening at anything like the rate that they did previously. Yet we know that it is something like a third of schools that were previously judged to be outstanding are not outstanding at the next inspection. It could be seven years between inspections, and a great deal could happen in seven years.

Anne Jackson: That is why there is also the ability for a local authority to look at the performance of the school and raise concerns either with Ofsted or with the Department.

Q216 Chair: You are not concerned that local authorities will no longer have the capacity to do that?

Anne Jackson: The amount of resource that a local authority has for its school improvement services will relate to the number of academies in any particular area. So, again it is designed to be a proportionate amount of resource. Either the authority is in that situation or else the Department in looking at academy outcomes is in a position to do that.

Q217 Chair: My experience of this-and it is not inconsiderable-is that when a school is beginning to fail, the first people who pick that up are often the finance or the personnel people. Do you have systems in place for that kind of intelligence?

Lord Nash: Yes.

Q218 Chair: You do. In the Department?

Lord Nash: Yes, in the Department and in the EFA. That is something we are very focused on.

Q219 Siobhain McDonagh: I want to look at governor effectiveness and the work of the National College. What has been learned from the pilots of the external review of governance conducted by the National College? Is school-to-school support for improving governance the way to go?

Anne Jackson: Yes. That was a very helpful development, because in category 3 schools, which typically may include some of the coasting schools we were just talking about, HMI will recommend an external review of governance if they think it is needed. There have been 60 or so recommendations so far and 16 of those reviews have been completed. The National College has been working with Ofsted to pilot the external reviews and they are now drawing up a lessons learned paper that will be published shortly. As the pilot stages come to an end, it will be open to governing bodies then to take those reviews from whatever source they want.

The principle on which the pilots have been working so far has been to have an external, independent experienced person. They have been using national leaders of governance or national leaders of education with governance experience to carry those reviews out, to work with the governing body, to reflect on what the inspection has said about the quality of school governance, to look at the strengths and weaknesses of that governing body and to draw up an action plan for the governing body to approve. HMI inspectors will be coming back to follow up a required improvement judgment within six weeks, so they will be able to look at how far the governing body has got with that. There will be further monitoring by Ofsted, depending on the seriousness of the issues, and then a follow-up inspection within two years.

The initial feedback from these very small numbers to date seems to be that it is a promising process that has been well received by the schools. We are also seeing evidence that schools are interested in assessing themselves against those Ofsted criteria for good governance, even outside an inspection process-it may be in preparation for an inspection-but there is evidence of those standards having a wider influence across the system.

Q220 Siobhain McDonagh: Thank you. External reviews of governance are targeted only at schools that have already been deemed by Ofsted to require improvement. With local authorities reducing their governor support services in some areas, what will fill the gap they leave in terms of providing constant challenge to good and outstanding schools to ensure that standards of governance do not slip between Ofsted inspections?

Anne Jackson: It will be open to schools to ask for external reviews on a paid basis. The costs appear to come out at something between £900 and £1,300, based on the evidence so far. That will be sourced from the open market. We know that a number of local authority governor services are now part of the consortia that the National College has pulled together to deliver leadership training to chairs and aspiring chairs. It is also delivering training on RAISEonline-it has delivered 1,300 places in the last two months. So there appears to be a lot of appetite for training, which ought to make it a viable proposition for governor services to continue. Most of those, as you will know, are now on a traded basis.

Lord Nash: And I think that part of this training will be to make chairs aware of the importance of self-assessment, with governance going right up the agenda as a result of Ofsted. All governing bodies should be reflective; they should maybe have an annual away-day, when they contemplate whether they have the right people involved, when they think about their strategy and when they judge themselves against the nine Ofsted characteristics or the 20 very helpful questions from the all-party parliamentary group. I think we are setting expectations on governing bodies to be very conscious of constant self-assessment.

Q221 Siobhain McDonagh: Do you consider that all good or outstanding governing bodies should be required to submit an annual risk assessment to Ofsted, so that risks to their performance can be identified at the earliest opportunity?

Lord Nash: I do not think that is necessary at this stage.

Q222 Siobhain McDonagh: The National Governors Association, along with several witnesses who gave evidence last month, said that Ofsted’s new data dashboard will only provide information to which governors already have access. It says the dashboard lacks important detail, which governors will need to access elsewhere. How would you respond to that?

Lord Nash: I think the dashboard is a big step forward. It is useful for parents and it is something that many governors will know already. Many governors will be well beyond that, but it will be helpful to some governors. Obviously, all governors need to understand RAISEonline, and it is quite complicated. We are working with Ofsted to simplify the RAISE summary report, and we are working in the Department for Education on a whole new data warehouse for all our data, so that the next generation of the RAISE equivalent is more user-friendly and will allow independent providers like Arbor or FFT to plug into it, enabling us to create more of a market and the products for analysis of school data. Of course, we must not forget in-year data, and the NGA is working with the NAHT and the ASCL to look at templates for in-year monitoring data. So the dashboard is helpful, but it is only one step.

Q223 Siobhain McDonagh: I think the data dashboard is a fantastic thing for the governing bodies in the schools in my constituency, but the governors and the schools that need it most will also need more assistance in understanding how to access and use the data on the dashboard and RAISEonline more effectively. Will the Government create a clear framework of questions that governors can use to interrogate the data?

Lord Nash: First, a lot of governors are going through RAISEonline training with the National College. We have had over 1,000 go through in the last two months.

Anne Jackson: This question about the questions that governing bodies should use is also something we have been talking to partner associations about. One of the things that we are planning to put into the next version of the governors’ handbook-the replacement for "The Governors’ Guide to the Law"-is a suggested headline set of questions that every governing body could use to interrogate data. We are also working specifically on the data dashboard and on RAISE to see what the most helpful questions are that we could suggest to a governing body. It will be a bit dependent on the circumstances of a school and what the data say, but none the less we think we can suggest some generic questions that would be helpful for every governing body.

Q224 Siobhain McDonagh: Thinking about my schools that need it most, the trouble with making it part of a handbook is that people have to read the handbook, and in my experience, governing bodies are not always aware of the information that is available or know they need to ask it. The dashboard has been really great because of all those people who suddenly think, "Gosh, I want to know what the school down the road is doing. Why aren’t we doing as well as that?" That information has always been there, but the question was how to access it. Now, a lot of governing bodies will want to know how best they can do that. They may be precisely the governors and the governing bodies where people are not going to that training.

Lord Nash: Yes. We will think about that more.

Anne Jackson: I am sure that there is a lot we can do through our website and through the national college website, working with Ofsted, to link into the data dashboard and get those questions out there.

Siobhain McDonagh: It is easy to engage the engaged, isn’t it? But it is probably the least engaged that need it most.

Lord Nash: What you say is very encouraging.

Q225 Craig Whittaker: Can I just ask you about the "Governors’ Guide to the Law"? The Government want to make it shorter and more concise, but is there a danger that that will take out some of the detail that governors will need? If so, where are they going to get that information from?

Lord Nash: We are very keen to focus governors on the key aspects they should be looking at: performance management, attainment and progression of the students, and finances. We do not want to underestimate the importance of all the other duties, although we have reduced the number of duties on governors quite substantially. I think this is where the role of the clerk can come in, to get into perspective how that should be managed. There is a danger that if you have a handbook that is too long and too full of legal duties, you will frighten everybody. It is a question of balance, which we thought about very carefully. I think you will be pleased with the new handbook when it comes out.

Anne Jackson: We are continuing to talk to the National Governors Association and our other stakeholders about the handbook, in particular the way it links through to more detailed guidance, which is typically what the clerk would need. Governors themselves do not need it up front.

Q226 Craig Whittaker: Let me ask you about the clerk. There is widespread support, or certainly a faction of people who sat that the role of the clerk should be made a professional one, like a company secretary. Do you agree?

Lord Nash: It is something we are looking at. I know that the NGA and SOLACE are looking at how to professionalise clerking. That is something we are very much involved in, and it is certainly something we are considering. A good clerk is essential, and they can help to manage the meetings and make sure that they are strategic debates rather than reporting sessions.

Q227 Craig Whittaker: On recruitment of clerks, training and all the rest of it, do you think that is the role of the local authority, or do you think organisations such as SGOSS should recruit, train and pass on governing bodies? What kind of model do you think is best?

Lord Nash: SGOSS have been very successful at recruiting governors. Most clerking at the moment is done through local authorities or through academy chains, but we are keen to encourage other providers if they come forward.

Q228 Craig Whittaker: You said that you were considering make the role of clerk one that is more professional. Has there been any work on which model is best to achieve that end result?

Lord Nash: It is early days, it is fair to say, but that is right on our agenda.

Anne Jackson: We will be interested to see the recommendations from SOLACE and the NGA on this. The various documents we have-regulations and model academy articles-are very clear about the importance of the clerk or the academy equivalent.

Q229 Craig Whittaker: Finally, I want to take you back to the question of training for governing bodies. You said that there is, without question, an appetite for training out there. Lord Nash, you said that voluntary does not mean amateur. Should it therefore be compulsory for each governing body to do a skills audit?

Lord Nash: We are not a Government who want to mandate everything from the Department for Education, so it is not our style to make things compulsory; but we have, to a certain extent, an expectation that all governing bodies will do a skills audit. I am sure with the Ofsted new framework, any sensible governing body must be doing one.

Q230 Ian Mearns: Good morning. Apologies for being late. Do you think it is acceptable that we have individuals with little or no knowledge or training in the job of being a governor taking on such an important role as overseeing the management of our schools?

Lord Nash: Are you referring to any particular individuals?

Q231 Ian Mearns: No, I just think that we seem to be trying to pluck people out of the ether to try and take over the job of, for instance, academy sponsors or governors. They may have particular skill sets, but not necessarily any knowledge or understanding of how the education and schooling of our children actually work.

Lord Nash: Well, if you say, as Ofsted does, that 44% of our governing bodies are not good or outstanding, clearly we need to do something; just revolving the same people round in musical chairs will not do it, so we need to bring in new people. As I said, SGOSS has been very successful at bringing people in from the private sector on to governing bodies. They have put in 15,000 and we have funded them substantially to beef that operation up. I do think that sitting on a governing body has characteristics similar to those of sitting on the board of a company, a charity, or a foundation trust for a hospital. There are many more people out there whom we could attract to do this, and we should seek to do so, because it is about skills, and I think a lot of the skills are transferrable. I do not think you need necessarily to be an educationist, dyed in the wool, to be an effective governor of a school.

Q232 Ian Mearns: You say SGOSS have been successful. They have been operating for a little while now, trying to recruit people from the private sector, but they have actually recruited only about three quarters of a governor per school, so obviously there is still significant work to do. The regional variations in their success in recruiting people are also significant, and of course we need to educate children all over England. What can we do in order to make that better, as well?

Lord Nash: We need to send out the message at all times that the Government regard now as the time for people to step forward and become governors. I think people have sometimes been put off by the red tape or the size of the governing bodies. We need to make it more attractive for people to become governors, so this Government will be sending out a message at every opportunity that we welcome people stepping forward. We are finding that a lot of young people are stepping forward to be governors, and I think that is something to be encouraged.

Anne Jackson: Part of the reason why we have funded SGOSS for the next two years is, precisely as you say, because we think there is more to be done on this. Part of our discussions with them about our expectations for coming back on that funding is about establishing their regional presence more evenly across the country, really going out and promoting the availability of their services to areas which are not familiar with them yet, and also raising their engagement with schools from 11% to a quarter of schools. We are really trying to get maximum value out of that.

Lord Nash: But I do agree we need to do more, and we intend to do so.

Q233 Ian Mearns: You have talked about trying to make it more inviting to become a governor, but of course we have Ofsted being critical of governors and saying that 40% of governing bodies really are not good at the job. With the best will in the world, all these people are willing volunteers, yet we seem to be handing them much more responsibility and probably a lot more accountability for probably little or no reward, apart from the satisfaction of doing the job. What are the good bits?

Lord Nash: Well, most of the people I know would be attracted by sitting on a body which has more accountability and more responsibility; the kind of governing body or organisation they don’t want to join is one which is just a talking shop and has no power and effectiveness. So I think that that is a good bit in itself.

Q234 Ian Mearns: We have heard a lot of support from different people giving evidence to us for training for governors. Do you think there should be any element of compulsory training-induction, or ongoing development-or do you think compulsion is not required?

Lord Nash: As I said, this Government’s style is not to mandate that kind of thing, but to set a very clear expectation, as governance goes up the agenda through Ofsted, where there are clear criteria for governing bodies to judge themselves against and the clear expectation that all schools should up their game to emulate the best schools. We would expect all good governing bodies to do just what you said.

Q235 Ian Mearns: What do you think a programme of induction training for a governor would look like?

Lord Nash: Data-an understanding of data is crucial. I don’t believe you can sit as a governor of a school unless you understand the key drivers of attainment, progression and all that. You have to have some knowledge of finance. You have to understand that the responsibility of a governor is not to manage the school but to support the senior leadership team.

Obviously the relationship between the governors and the senior leadership team is crucial. The relationship between the head and the chair is a vital one. One system that works very well is the buddy system whereby each governor buddies up with one member of the senior leadership team so they also have a mentor. I could talk for a long time about the functioning of a governing body and how it should be run, but all experienced chairs would know that. There are plenty of organisations like the NGA who can provide that kind of induction training.

Q236 Ian Mearns: We have a diverse family of schools across the country and many primary schools are very much neighbourhood based. In some neighbourhoods it is more difficult to attract people with particular skill sets than in others. Do you have anything in mind for addressing that problem?

Lord Nash: Yes. Although I have a preference for smaller governing bodies, I appreciate that that is often not the status quo. Often a lot of these small primary schools have large governing bodies. One of the models that we discussed with the NGA for that is where you might have sub-committees focusing on attainment and progression, with one or two expert people on those sub-committees so that they can be really sharp in relation to those areas. That is not to say, as I said earlier, that not all members of the governing body should be able to engage in debates on finance, progression, attainment and performance management strategy, but you may be able to devolve some of the detail to sub-committees so that that works more effectively.

Q237 Ian Mearns: If you do not think the compulsory training is necessary or warranted, do you think that using a sort of compulsory skills order in a governing body would be useful? It is important that governing bodies have a range of skill sets.

Lord Nash: The Ofsted regime will mean that most governing bodies do that. We have to see where that goes. Governance has moved dramatically up the agenda. We need to see that bed in for a while before we do anything more.

Q238 Ian Mearns: Is there anything that you can do to ensure that the training available to governors is not only of the best quality but the right sort of training that governors need? This is my 30th year as a school governor, Lord Nash, so I have had lots of training over the years. Some of it has been very good, but sometimes I have thought to myself, "What did I come here for?" From that perspective, how will you make sure that the training provided is tailored to the needs of the governing bodies?

Lord Nash: The National College is doing a lot of work on this. Again, I do not want to keep mentioning Ofsted, but it is our sharpest tool in the box. Ofsted’s criteria will mean that all training has to be driven towards that. There is no point in producing training if it is not going to cut the mustard. I think this will help.

Anne Jackson: There does seem to be, among governing bodies, a lot of awareness of, and appetite for, identifying their skills. The NGA tells us that about 70% of governing bodies currently do some form of skilled audit. Obviously we would want all to be doing that, but that is encouraging. Allied to that is the work that the National College is doing on some of the key aspects of training. For example, there is the leadership development training that it has developed. It has licensed it out now to 11 partnerships in all areas of the country, so that sort of core training is available for chairs and aspiring chairs.

Q239 Ian Mearns: As for the message that you are giving about making sure that Ofsted does its job, and Ofsted being the sharpest tool in the box, I am sure that Sir Michael will be delighted to hear you say that, but is it going to be resourced enough to do this job to the extent that you are talking about?

Lord Nash: Yes.

Q240 Ian Mearns: Thank you. One of our witnesses has pointed out that it is virtually impossible for governing bodies to operate strategically and identify their development needs when nobody really knows where the education system is going-when it is in a constant state of flux. From the perspective of a governing body, how does it know what it has to do next?

Lord Nash: I think that would be a pretty poor excuse for not performing your duties as a governor. It is absolutely clear-I am sure you know this after 30 years as a governor of a school-that you are worried about the progression and achievement of the pupils. That has to be your No. 1 concern; that is why you are doing it, so I do not think much of that as an excuse for not doing the job properly.

Ian Mearns: I think it has been raised more as a concern than as an excuse, Lord Nash.

Lord Nash: Right.

Q241 Neil Carmichael: I just want to stray before I start the main thrust of my questioning. Of course, there are training packages, data packages, HR packages and so on to deal with, but fundamentally, what a governor has to do is recognise the strategic responsibilities that he or she has, and be able to stand up to or with the head teacher, with enough confidence and enough intellectual capacity to drill down on the issues that matter; and that is all about equipping the governing body with confident, capable people, isn’t it?

Lord Nash: Yes, and that is particularly relevant for the chair. That is the key relationship. It is like the relationship between the chairman and the chief executive in a company. It is a lonely job, being a head. Everybody needs someone to bounce ideas off. That relationship is very important, and that is one of the reasons why we are focusing so much on training for chairs.

Q242 Neil Carmichael: The other issue for chairs, of course, is succession planning. Quite often, somebody turns up and gets elected as chair and they are almost like a startled rabbit, because that is not quite what they had in mind. In other words, a succession plan for a chair, or at least the way in which that person is appointed, is a really important one for the governing body as a whole. Do you have any thoughts about whether that person should be formally elected, or perhaps appointed by the local authority or some other body, to make sure that the person who is chair really is that kind of person?

Lord Nash: I think anybody who is putting themselves forward as a governor, particularly in any kind of election, should state their prospectus, and when they are coming up for re-election, they should state what they have done in the last four years and what they intend to do in the next four years. It is part of good governance for all members constantly to state their case. I know some chairs who start every governing body meeting by going round the table and asking everybody what they have done for the school in the last two months. If the answer is too often nothing, that will, hopefully, embarrass people into doing something. Succession planning is something that all good governing bodies should be focused on.

Q243 Neil Carmichael: The relationship between the head and the chair is clearly pivotal in this. There is perhaps a case for saying that the chair would need some sort of training so that he or she knew how to deal with that relationship, and of course that could work the other way as well. Do you agree?

Lord Nash: Yes.

Anne Jackson: Yes, and it is worth saying that this is part of the training programme, the leadership programme, that the College is running. In addition, it is now running workshops to get chairs and heads working together, and there has been considerable take-up of those. I think there have been about 650 applications so far.

Q244 Neil Carmichael: The national professional qualification for headship is no longer mandatory. Do you think that there is a case for making the governor training elements of the national professional qualification for headship mandatory for all serving and aspiring head teachers?

Lord Nash: It will not surprise you to hear us say that we are not rushing to be more centralist in our approach to education. The fundamental philosophy of this Government is that we trust heads, teachers and governors to run their schools, set expectations and raise expectations of what they need to do.

Q245 Neil Carmichael: The Academies Commission has been recommending that the appointment of chairs of governors should be more professional and rigorous in order to ensure the quality of chairs, which, as we have been discussing, is so important. How will we put some traction behind that aspiration?

Anne Jackson: I think a lot of it is around the incentives in the system now. I come back to the fact that we are trying to get much more clarity and many more benchmarks around what constitutes effective governance. We are setting that framework in the policy framework that we are updating, through the handbook, so that we can pull out very clearly what the core functions are for a governing body, including that key relationship with a head. Those are mirrored in the Ofsted benchmarks, so you are putting a whole set of incentives in the system that we think will drive chairs of governors and heads to understand how that works, if they do not already, but obviously, good chairs and heads do.

Q246 Chair: That is good practice once you have a chair of governors in place, but this is about the appointment of the chair, which is a crucial post. The Academies Commission is saying that if we are talking about business-like governing bodies, we have to be more business-like in how we appoint the chairs. Why are we not advertising this? Why is there not a set of criteria, so that you do not get someone who does not have the skills? Why are we not advertising this in the same way that we would with any other public body?

Anne Jackson: The point I was trying to make on the expectations of chairs and governors is that that gives us the material for a clearer set of expectations around what it is that a chair needs to do, and those are the sorts of things that are reflected in the training. We have got the material there to make available to schools, when they are thinking about the appointment of the chair, to set those expectations very clearly.

Lord Nash: But I think you have made a very good point. We will beef-up our expectation of what a good chair looks like and what their role and responsibilities are.

Q247 Chair: So you are looking at the recommendations of the Academies Commission?

Lord Nash: Yes.

Q248 Neil Carmichael: It is a pretty detailed job description that you are thinking of there. To some extent, that would answer my next question, which is really on clarifying the roles of the head teacher, and of different forms of governance-there are academies, maintained and so on. There are accountability issues that are often talked about but not necessarily fully understood by either governors or head teachers. Would that be a useful additional part of that description?

Lord Nash: Yes, absolutely.

Q249 Neil Carmichael: Last but not least, the NGA has stated that the Department for Education has accepted that it is "a nonsense" that governors in schools, who are their own admissions authority, are supposed to undertake some of the admissions operation. What do you intend to do to clarify this?

Lord Nash: Most schools and academies go through the local authority admissions procedure.

Neil Carmichael: I am assuming that the question is geared more to maintained schools.

Siobhain McDonagh: I think in the guidance it suggests that governing bodies are responsible, but, in effect, that never happens.

Q250 Chair: I think it is fair to say that if there is one thing that parents are most concerned about in schools, it is fairness around admissions. The Department accepts that where a school is its own governing body, it is not perceived as fair that it is operating the admissions system. There are academies that look to the local authority to administer this. Is that something that the Department would look to see happen universally?

Anne Jackson: The Department monitors the progress and fairness of the admissions system via the Office of the Schools Adjudicator. She works with local authorities and every year she looks at complaints about the admissions arrangements and produces an annual report, which helps the system-

Q251 Chair: That is an individual issue about individual admission. This is about the generality of admissions. If admissions are not perceived to be fair by parents, they will be very angry. I have rarely seen anything that makes parents more angry than what they perceive to be unfair admissions. In the past, many schools were their own admissions authority, but they gave the job of allocation over to local authorities because that was perceived to be fairer. You are quite right that some academies that doing that now. Is that something that the Department is thinking about across the piece? For this to have the badge of fairness, does it need to be handed to someone else to carry out the operation?

Anne Jackson: What the statutory admissions code sets out is that academies, like voluntary aided schools, are their own admission authority. We also expect local authorities to be a co-ordinating point for the information about admissions procedures. The schools adjudicator does not actually look at individual complaints-those complaints go to the EFA for academies. She looks at the health of the system and at complaints against admissions arrangements by academies, rather than individuals. She looks at the overall health of the system, and reports back to the Secretary of State on how that is going through her annual report.

Q252 Chair: My understanding is that under the Education Act the power of the schools adjudicator to investigate on her own merit has been taken away. She has to wait for a complaint; she cannot simply say, "I think there is something a bit dodgy there; I will have a look at it."

Anne Jackson: She has a number of functions. In addition to looking at complaints about individual admissions arrangements at academies, she surveys local authorities every year and asks them for their feedback and their impression of how admissions work locally. That is both in terms of the normal admissions round and the fair access protocols. When we see her report, we can pick up on issues from a policy perspective on the back of that.

Q253 Chair: So there is a feedback mechanism there? If there is general unrest in an area about the fairness of admissions, it will be picked up through the local authority report, and the DfE will ask the schools adjudicator to investigate.

Anne Jackson: The schools adjudicator will come to the Department to tell us if she has issues of concern. As I say, the formal responsibilities are now set out in the admissions code, which was updated in 2012; it took effect last February. That allows academies, like voluntary aided schools, to be their own admissions authorities.

Q254 Chair: So you are content that there is an accountability circle?

Anne Jackson: Yes, there is.

Q255 Ian Mearns: There is a residual problem with that. When a school is their own admissions authority-for example, many VA schools are their own admissions authority-even when they pass the administration of the admissions procedure over to the local authority, they quite often conduct their own appeals. With bums-on-seats funding, more children means more money, and sometimes you get schools deliberately deciding to over-fill their school, which has an impact on other schools nearby. That is something that still needs to have a torch shone on it.

Lord Nash: We will look at that.

Q256 Ian Mearns: Okay. We are going back to governance. With regard to recruitment and retention of school governors, we heard that the ministerial working group on school governance, which was established by the previous Government, was making good progress in delving into the complex area of recruitment and retention. Has anybody thought about reconvening the ministerial group, or something similar?

Lord Nash: As I said, this is something I feel very strongly about. We are working with SGOSS. I have only been in this job for a couple of months, but I am very keen for this to go right up the agenda. We will look at how effective SGOSS is-it seems to be very effective-and at what more we can do.

Q257 Ian Mearns: So you would actually openly consider reconvening the ministerial working group to look at it?

Lord Nash: Yes.

Q258 Ian Mearns: We talked previously about the fact that you are funding SGOSS for another two years, but awareness of what SGOSS does and how it works is lacking out there. It is clearly accepted that response to their recruitment is very patchy around the country. How will you encourage more people outside to become aware of what SGOSS does? How will SGOSS make more people aware of what it does and how it tries to do it?

Lord Nash: It is moving from working with 11% of schools to 25% of schools. As I say, we intend to send the message wherever we can that we are looking for more school governors, and that SGOSS is one of the best ways of getting engaged in the process.

Q259 Ian Mearns: In written evidence to us, the CBI offered to help the Government promote governor opportunities. Are you going to take up that offer and capitalise on it?

Lord Nash: Yes.

Q260 Ian Mearns: Excellent. I like one-word answers, I really do. What other incentives for, and requirements on, businesses that release their staff for governor duties do you think you will be able to provide?

Lord Nash: At the moment, I do not think that we feel the need to do anything more. Business is very willing to provide staff for governors. Certainly, from my involvement in the education world, I have found businesses extremely willing to engage with schools, and I think they are becoming more willing. There are many programmes, such as work experience and career advice, and I think we can and will do more to engage with business. We are trying to engage with business more in the academy programme generally, and we shall use those links on the governors front.

Q261 Ian Mearns: The biggest private sector employer in my locality has about 990 employees, but that is the biggest by far. The rest of the economy in my area is mainly SMEs, and there are capacity issues for those sorts of companies. How are we going to engender that feeling of community responsibility among SMEs? It has to be said that, on the other side of the account book, SMEs are feeling a bit battered and neglected at the moment, in terms of the Government’s economic thinking. We are asking them to be community-spirited, but that is not being paid back through any significant role, in term of economic policy.

Lord Nash: You make a very good point-

Ian Mearns: I am glad that you accept that.

Lord Nash: It is a very good point. We should be sending the message out to SMEs that we welcome them. Personally, I think there are many more people who are prepared to get involved in the school system, but many of them do not really appreciate the opportunity. We need to get the message out there.

Anne Jackson: It is something that Lord Heseltine covered in his review that was published the other day. He recommended that local chambers of commerce should work actively with local schools to try to get more business governors into communities. We would certainly like to do that. At the minute, there is a legal requirement for employers to give time off to governors at maintained schools, but whether or not that is paid is for local discussion, although there are real benefits to businesses from governors acting in that capacity and bringing those skills back into the business. I should say that that requirement does not apply to academies at the minute, so we are thinking about how we can try to share that expectation. [Interruption.]

Q262 Chair: I think you have inspiration coming to you from someone on the seat behind you. While you look at that, is it just business that you are looking at, or are you also putting the same kind of expectations on the public sector, so that more doctors can spend time doing this? Have you looked at-I am sure you have-how you can raise the status of governors, so that simply being a governor at a school gives you some kind of status within the community?

Lord Nash: We are keen to involve doctors and civil servants widely. On my way here, I bumped into one of the civil servants in the Department, who was telling me how much she enjoys being chair of her local governing body. Just as we need to raise the status of teachers and head teachers in this country, because it is the most noble of professions, I agree that we need also to raise the status of governors. We will do all we can. I certainly shall do all I can. This is genuinely right at the top of my list of priorities. We talk about the academy programme, but success in schools is actually driven by head teachers, teachers and the governing body-and strong chairs in particular.

Anne Jackson: We try to use the honours system as actively as we can to recognise that sort of contribution.

Chair: If the status was raised, it would make a huge difference.

Q263 Neil Carmichael: I wanted to pick up on the point about the interface that business must have with education, because it is absolutely pivotal. It is not just schools; businesses also need to start engaging with schools, so that they can start to address some of the training issues and the skills deficit that we have, certainly in the SME sector, because that is where it is most acute, in many respects.

While I am a great believer in governing bodies engaging, it is important that businesses feel comfortable with governing bodies. That kind of interface needs to be encouraged through a relatively proactive and prominent chair. Would you agree with that?

Lord Nash: Yes, absolutely. In my own school, I have spent a lot of time engaging with the local business community and the professional community-doctors and others. We have had more than 300 speakers in the school since we took over Pimlico. I do not think anyone has ever said that they would not come and speak. A lot of them have found the experience quite daunting, but no one has ever said no. There is a genuine willingness there, but I think it is for the schools to feel more able to ask for it more.

Q264 Ian Mearns: I think you are entirely right about the importance of heads, but of course it is governors who appoint heads, so often it is important to have good governors to appoint good heads. Some of the most important days’ work I have done in the past 30 years have been spent appointing good head teachers; there is no doubt about that. We talked earlier about employment law. I think there is only an expectation, not an entitlement, in employment law that people will be given reasonable time off to perform public duties. There is no requirement on employers to do it, as far as I understand.

Lord Nash: It will not surprise you that this Government do not want to tinker further with the restrictions of employment law, but as I say, my experience is that businesses are very willing to get involved, and we should do what we can to encourage that.

Q265 Siobhain McDonagh: We have heard a lot of opinions on the relative merits of stakeholder versus skill-based governors, and you made some pretty clear statements earlier on. Do you have any evidence to prove the effectiveness of each model? Would you commission some?

Lord Nash: I do not think we have what people might call convincing and detailed evidence, but I certainly have lots of examples of schools that have failed that clearly do not have the skills on the governing body. I think everyone I know who works in schools, particularly intervening in schools, would say that one of their most common experiences-as I said earlier, there are a lot of outstanding governing bodies and effective large governing bodies-is too much talk and not enough action, caused by too many people but not enough people with the right skills.

Q266 Siobhain McDonagh: Is that not the case on any committee about anything? Apart from this one, of course.

Lord Nash: I am not sure it is. Forty years in business has taught me that it is fine when everything is going swimmingly well, but when things are in difficulty, a large body is not a very effective method of dealing with it.

Q267 Siobhain McDonagh: SGOSS sees a clear role for Government in addressing some of the logjams in current governor recruitment processes, such as schools refusing potential governors because they do not live in the same postcode area as the school. How do you respond to that?

Lord Nash: We are discussing these kinds of issues with SGOSS, and we will do whatever we can to help un-jam them.

Q268 Charlotte Leslie: I want to touch on the composition of governing bodies. I know that regulations provide for governing bodies to be reduced. I think 60% of governing bodies say that they find trouble with recruiting people, but 90% said that they would not reduce their size or reconstitute their body. Do you think that this permissive legislation would have been more effective were it mandatory?

Lord Nash: If you want to reduce the size of a governing body, yes, but as I said, it is not this Government’s style to mandate things. We are in an early stage of governance being pushed right up the agenda through Ofsted, so we must see how that goes.

Q269 Charlotte Leslie: In terms of not mandating things, as I understand it there is a juniority principle.

Lord Nash: Yes, we plan to remove that.

Q270 Charlotte Leslie: Good, because the people who have been there for a very long time who are maybe not always the most helpful and a new arrival is.

Lord Nash: Well, we were discussing this the other day, and I had not ever heard of this. Officials suggested that we removed it and it seemed to me an absolute no-brainer, so we plan to do that.

Charlotte Leslie: That is very welcome. Thank you very much.

Q271 Alex Cunningham: There appears to be a lot of confusion and distrust of the different models of governance present in academies at the moment. Do you agree that further clarification of accountability within academy governance structures is needed-and assuming you do, what is needed?

Lord Nash: I am not sure I do agree. I think there may be a suspicion-we touched on this earlier-in areas of the country or governing bodies of the motives of academy chains. But this Government are committed to helping good academy chains expanding in a sensible way, we believe that academy chain governance model is a very effective one, and we would plan to improve the messaging there. These suspicions are understandable, but I think they are not well founded. These chains are about improving education, and there are no other dark agendas.

Q272 Alex Cunningham: So you do not think there is any problem with the governance, or the understanding of governance, within academy governing bodies, then, or the academies sector.

Lord Nash: Well, I have heard some people say that some governors of schools that have become academies have been confused about the fact that they are now not only governors but directors of a company limited by guarantee and also a trustee. I think that that is a transition that, frankly, most governors with the appropriate skills should be able to make.

Anne Jackson: If I could just add to that, the academies financial handbook, which was recently revised to try to make it much sharper and clearer about those responsibilities, does set out quite specifically how those different responsibilities interact, but also makes the point that, actually, the essence of being a company director and a charitable trustee is similar to the essence of being a school governor, in any case. It is all about probity, the best interests of the school and ensuring regularity and value for money, and good performance.

Q273 Alex Cunningham: But perhaps the wider world of education needs to understand a little bit better how this all hangs together.

Anne Jackson: Yes.

Lord Nash: Yes, we do encourage all schools converting to academies to understand this, but enough people have raised this that I think we need to just make sure that the message is getting out there.

Q274 Alex Cunningham: Emma Knights of the NGA said that material published by the Department does not distinguish properly between the different roles for governors in different types of academies. She is also asking for clarity, some "real, good terms of reference", which she says is "crucial" in this area. Do you not actually accept that?

Lord Nash: Well, we will look at it, but I come back to my point that I think it is important that people on governing bodies do not get hijacked by worrying about these kinds of legal issues, which may be partly a question of explanation, so that they are clear that their duty is to think about the education of the children and the attainment and progression issues.

Q275 Alex Cunningham: You do not seem to have any great concerns about this area at all.

Lord Nash: I wouldn’t say that. I think that I have said that we will look more closely at that. Emma Knights knows what she is talking about, so we will certainly listen to what she has to say.

Q276 Alex Cunningham: Sir Michael Wilshaw said to us that he sees a role for local authorities in reporting any concerns about academies to the Department. Local authority witnesses have said that they could maybe play a role, but published data could well be out of date, and of course the trouble may have started and be a bit further down the line before any intervention could be made. Do you see a role for local authorities in looking at academies?

Lord Nash: We did discuss some of this earlier, before you arrived.

Alex Cunningham: Yes, I am sorry, I was not able to be here.

Lord Nash: There is no doubt that the role for local authorities in looking at academies is very much reduced. We are looking for academy chains to step up to the plate. The Department and the EFA monitor them closely, but certainly on admissions and basic need the role of local authorities will continue.

Q277 Alex Cunningham: But the bottom line though, as you say, is that it is now the academy chains that are taking over that role and there is not actually a role for local authorities.

Lord Nash: Academy chains or local clusters. A model we very much like, as I mentioned earlier, is secondary schools clustering with feeder primaries or with each other, or primaries clustering with each other. So, very much a local chain model.

Q278 Alex Cunningham: Are you actually saying this morning that there is no role for local authorities?

Lord Nash: No, I am not saying that.

Q279 Alex Cunningham: So what is the role of local authorities in relation to the standards that are being developed in academies? How can they get involved? How should they get involved?

Lord Nash: I think part of the academisation process is that their role is reduced.

Q280 Alex Cunningham: So what you are saying is that if an academy exists, the local authority does not have a role, as Sir Michael Wilshaw would suggest it should have. It does not have a role. Is that what you are saying?

Anne Jackson: Yes, a local authority-

Alex Cunningham: Was that yes, or yes you understand my question?

Lord Nash: No, I fully understand the question. I think it is absolutely obvious that the Government feel that the performance of local authorities in education in this country has been patchy, and we think there are alternative solutions. Where the solution is academisation, the role of the local authority is substantially reduced. That is clear.

Alex Cunningham: That is clear. The question I am asking, though-

Q281 Chair: Can I just ask a question on this? The local authorities, as I understand it, will still be inspected by Ofsted and judged on the quality of schools, including academies, in their area. Do the Government have any intention of changing that, given that local authorities have no control over academies at all?

Anne Jackson: Ofsted is consulting on the framework for that sort of inspection at the moment. One issue that is being discussed is how that framework would be differentiated according to the role of the local authority and the number of academies in that area. Clearly, authorities will always have a general interest in the quality of education that children in a locality receive. If they have concerns about an academy, they can talk to the Department, they can talk to the Education Funding Agency or they can talk to Ofsted to make sure that those concerns are registered and followed through.

Q282 Charlotte Leslie: I have a quick question on a slightly different angle of the local authority role. Are you monitoring, or interested in, the way in which academies are buying in services from local authorities? An interesting trend that I am noticing is that academies are buying in services from neighbouring local authorities where their local authority may not, historically, have provided them very well. Is that something that the Department is monitoring and looking at?

Lord Nash: It is not something we are monitoring, but we are aware of it.

Q283 Alex Cunningham: I am sorry if I am being a bit of a pain on this, but I just want to know whether local authorities have any role in the future in relation to standards in academies or reporting concerns about academies within their local authority.

Lord Nash: I think they do have that role but, as Anne said, the exact methodology of Ofsted reporting on local authorities’ performance is something we are developing right now. This will become clear fairly soon.

Q284 Alex Cunningham: So you are now saying to me that, yes, you agree with Sir Michael Wilshaw that there is a role for local authorities. But how would they be able to be effective in any role if they do not have the necessary data to form a judgment?

Lord Nash: They will have the data. The data will be published.

Q285 Alex Cunningham: But it tends to be historical, doesn’t it? They do not have regular data.

Lord Nash: It has always been pretty historical, in reality.

Q286 Alex Cunningham: But you do not see local authorities being involved directly in the academies in any shape or form, really.

Lord Nash: That is partly what the academisation process is all about.

Q287 Neil Carmichael: Earlier, we briefly bumped into the subject of describing governing bodies as boards. That is certainly a model that a lot of people have talked about for the accountability structure and the structure of the board. Do you think we should move in the direction of having a board rather than a governing body?

Lord Nash: The function of a governing body is very similar to that of a board. I know that business and education are different, but the dynamic of the governing body is very similar. Having spent my life in the venture capital business, where you make investment decisions, I know that you only get one chance to make the right decision about whether to invest in a company or not. If you get the wrong company, you obviously try to recover the situation, but it is a very highly geared decision-making process. Normally in business, you make decisions and when they are not right, you can change them later; in the investment process, you are stuck. I have thought a great deal about the dynamics of boards, and I do not see anything in governing bodies which are materially different.

As I said before, the dynamics of these kinds of organisations work best when there is a good chair, when everybody in the room can engage in the debate-it is no good if you get people there who can engage in only parts of the debate, because they then hijack the rest of the debate or take the debate down rat runs-and when you do not have too many people in the room. I am absolutely clear about that.

Q288 Chair: As a Committee, we visited the Netherlands and Denmark recently, and we looked at their structures of governance. There was a very clear separation between representation and decision making. Is that something that you would consider?

Lord Nash: It is something I would applaud, yes. I think that if you visit a lot of effective schools, you will see that that actually happens. Certainly, it happens in my school. We have seven governors; we have one parent. It is absolutely clear that the role of the governing body is to make decisions.

Q289 Neil Carmichael: This is basically consistent with the discussion we were having before about skills versus stakeholders. That is using slightly different themes to get at the same point, which is that we want a decision-making body that does its job properly.

That brings me on to the question of interim executive boards. We have already discussed the wisdom of appointing them in many cases, because of the swift ways in which they respond. Should we not just cross off the word "interim" and basically just have executive boards instead of governing bodies?

Lord Nash: As I said earlier, this Government are not in the business of mandating things. We feel that schools are capable of running themselves, if we set the right expectations. Of course, you get the word "executive" in an IEB. It is important that governing bodies distinguish between being strategy and holding the senior leadership team to account, and management.

I was surprised when Andrew Adonis rang me up to ask whether he could quote me in his book as having the smallest governing body in the country, of seven governors. If you were a board of directors, you certainly would not be anything like the smallest board of directors, at seven. As I say, I am sure that there are many-there are many-successful governing bodies that are much larger than that, but I think that a tighter, more dynamic, skills-based governing structure is the way forward.

Q290 Neil Carmichael: Should we be thinking about making sure that governing bodies, or whatever we call them, can actually remove governors who they just think are not up to the job for a variety of reasons?

Lord Nash: Apart from absenteeism for six months, where governors on maintained schools are disqualified-I think I am right-there is not such a mechanism. Again, I think that comes back to the fact that in boards of directors, if you have people who are just not cutting the mustard, they tend to be managed out by a good chair. That again comes back to a good chair’s job. Certainly, as I have said, when people come up for re-election, they really should have to state their case as to what they have done and what they are going to do in the future.

Q291 Neil Carmichael: Yes. The Committee has discussed the sort of federal structures of schools in a chain-mechanisms and so forth-and we say that one governing body can deal with more than one school, either vertically or horizontally, if you like. The question arises: how big could they be? How many schools would you think would be optimum or maximum?

Lord Nash: At the moment, each school has its own governing body, although you have multi-academy trusts that have an overriding governing body. I am nervous of pure federations, where there is no clear accountability, but if you mean whether one governing body can be the governing body of a number of schools, that is not how things are at the moment. You may have similar people, but at the moment you have to have a governing body for each individual school.

Anne Jackson: Yes, subject to the ability for maintained schools to federate, with the equivalent, as the Minister said, being the multi-academy trusts for academies. It is worth flagging up that there has been some favourable comment in the Academies Commission and in HMCI’s report about the dynamism and focus that those sponsored MATs are bringing to school governance. That is something we are keen to look at and follow.

Q292 Neil Carmichael: Finally, one or two people have raised the possibility that the number of variations of governing bodies might cause a problem for comparison. Local authorities might find it difficult to recognise the same thing in some schools that they have already seen in a different school and so on. Do you think that is a problem, or do you think that localisation of decision making and the ability of school governing bodies to change themselves, which is basically part of your theme, is right, proper and can be managed by local authorities?

Lord Nash: I think it can, yes.

Q293 Chair: May I ask you some general questions before we let you go? We promised to finish at 11. The Committee visited the Netherlands where they were emerging from a scandal about the insolvency of a very large board which appeared to resemble the chains of academies. As we move towards a more business-like model-we would all accept that not every business in this country is a good business and that thousands go bust every year-is there a danger that we will move towards a system in which some schools and governing bodies will fail, which will result in insolvency, and that we will see the kind of scandal that is emerging in the Netherlands around these boards?

Lord Nash: We are monitoring the situation with chains very closely. There will be failure. There has been failure in the school system in the past and there will be in the future. But we are doing all we can. This is very much one of my jobs in the Department-to ensure that the expansion of academy groups is handled in a sensible way with geographic focus at a pace that they can handle.

Q294 Chair: There is a second question that I am concerned about having visited the Netherlands. They looked to have very large boards that were governing bodies for up to 50 or 60 schools. They appeared to resemble something like the chains of academies that we might be moving towards in this country. The evidence that the Committee got was that head teachers had far less autonomy within that system than they do in this country. They say in politics that everything moves around. I felt as though they were moving back to a pre-1988 model before school budgets were devolved, where head teachers effectively got on and were responsible for teaching and learning but had no control over any budgets or the wider strategy of their schools. That was all handled by big boards that seemed to resemble local authorities. Does it keep you awake at night, as it does me, that we might be moving to a pre-1988 model?

Lord Nash: If you look at the really successful chains, they have a lot of central services. They have a common vision. They may have common HR. They have a common curriculum. They have school support centrally. They have governance training centrally, but they trust their heads to run the school on a day-to-day basis. Academy chain sponsors have an ethos. But it is a long step from that to thinking that we are going to get to the sort of Netherlands-type situation that you talk about. In this country we are very keen to make sure that there is still local accountability and local good governance at school level.

Q295 Chair: Are you doing any monitoring of the views of heads within academy chains about their degree of autonomy, whether it is increasing or decreasing?

Lord Nash: We have regular meetings with heads of academy chains. I speak to a lot of them. The consistent message I get from heads in chains is that they welcome the support they get.

Q296 Chair: Thank you. Is there anything else that you would like to say to us today that is important and you would like to include within our inquiry?

Lord Nash: No. I welcome your inquiry and thank you for moving governance right up the agenda. I look forward to hearing the details of what you have to say.

Chair: Thank you for coming.

Prepared 26th March 2013