Introduction to the Governing Body
THE GOVERNING BODY
A governing body has a range of duties and powers. Its general responsibility is for the conduct of the school with the aim of promoting high standards of educational achievement. This includes setting targets for pupil achievement, managing the school’s finances, making sure the curriculum is balanced and broadly based, appointing staff and reviewing staff performance and pay and much more.
William Law is an Academy, one of three types of Church of England school (the others are Voluntary Controlled and Voluntary Aided). There are some differences in the range of responsibilities between different types of school. Voluntary Aided schools (as William Law used to be) and Voluntary Controlled schools are part of the Local Authority (LA) maintained sector. An Academy is independent of the LA and receives its funding directly from a Government Agency called the Education Funding Agency (EFA).
Academy governing bodies differ from other maintained schools in that, they are responsible for the admission policy of the school and the buildings and their upkeep. They are also the employers of most of the staff in the school. Academy governing bodies also have responsibility for setting the religious education and collective worship policy. There is an agreement made with the Secretary of State that defines the responsibilities of William Law Governing Body.
HOW IS THE GOVERNING BODY MADE UP?
The governing body includes a majority of Foundation governors recommended by Werrington Parish Church and appointed by the William Law Academy Trust. The number of governors is determined by the school’s agreement with the Secretary of State. At William Law, this agreement requires that there should be eleven Foundation governors. One of these is the Vicar of Werrington Parish Church and he is an ‘ex officio’ governor for as long as he remains in that position. There is no requirement in the school’s agreement for any of the Foundation governors to be parents of children in the school at the time of their appointment, although the Diocese encourages the school to appoint a proportion of Foundation governors from amongst parents who are worshipping members of the Church of England (or a Church in Communion with the Church of England). Foundation governors, except for the Vicar, are usually appointed for four years and they can be reappointed by the Academy Trust at the end of that period, if willing to continue in the role.
The representative governors at William Law are made up of two elected Parent governors, two Co-opted governors and three staff representatives (one of whom is the headteacher). Co-opted governors are chosen by the rest of the governing body and the current policy is that one should be a local City Councillor. As with Foundation governors, except for the headteacher who is ‘ex officio’, terms of office are for four years. All Academies may also have Associate Members of the governing body, who can be voting or non-voting at the decision of the governing body.
The Agreement with the Secretary of State that sets out the details of the composition of the governing body can only be altered with the permission of the Secretary of State. William Law is a Stand-Alone Academy and therefore no other organisation is involved in the management of the school. However, it is, of course, subject to inspections by Ofsted.
HOW DOES THE GOVERNING BODY MAKE DECISIONS?
No matter how appointed or elected all governors bring a valid point of view to the governing body. The responsibility for the decisions made at governing body meetings does not rest with any individual governor, or a small group of governors, but with the whole governing body. Responsibility for decisions is, therefore, a corporate matter and it is important that governors also understand that decisions taken by a committee are taken on behalf of the whole governing body.
A governing body or committee must be quorate (that is, have at least a minimum number of governors present) in order to make decisions. If possible, governors try to reach a consensus wherever possible. However, if that proves not to be possible, decisions will be made by simple majority vote. If the vote is a tie, the chair has a casting vote if he chooses to use it. The chair of governors (or, in his absence, the vice-chair) has power to act on behalf of the governing body but only when this is specified in policies approved by the governing body or in urgent cases where not taking immediate action would harm the interests of the school, its pupils, parents or employees. Any such urgent action by the chair or vice-chair must be reported to the next meeting of the full governing body.
WHAT HAPPENS AT GOVERNORS' MEETINGS?
Governing bodies are required to meet once a term: the governing body of William Law meets at least twice per term. Governing bodies usually have a number of committees which deal with particular issues. At William Law the following committees meet regularly: Personnel and Pupil Welfare; Health, Safety and Premises; Church and School Liaison; and Finance. There are also committees that decide on staff salaries and which oversee the headteacher’s performance management. In addition, there is an emergency committee which has the power to take urgent major decisions such as closing the school temporarily. The use of committees makes the agendas of full governing body meetings more manageable, enables the workload to be shared and puts any skills, experience or interests that individual governors may have to best use.
Meetings of the full governing body and most committees open with prayer and all formal meetings have an agenda which indicates the business to be discussed. The issues that might be discussed at a full governors’ meeting will vary, but some items will be standard. For example there will be minutes of the previous meeting and any matters arising, the headteacher’s report, the school improvement plan, reports from committees and correspondence. At one meeting each term, the assistant headteachers and other senior staff responsible for the different year groups attend and brief the governors about their own areas and how their pupils are performing. The chair of governors tries to conduct the meeting so that everyone has an opportunity to contribute. The clerk to the governors takes the minutes of the meeting, records those present and advises on procedural matters. Governors are asked to prepare for meetings by reading the papers (which are usually sent out electronically about a week beforehand) and noting any points they want to make or wish to clarify.
New governors are given help to enable them to understand their role and the issues facing the school through an induction programme. They are also allocated a more experienced governor as a ‘mentor’. All governors have free access to relevant governor training provided by the City Council or the Diocese; although an Academy, the governing body has decided to continue to purchase the support of these organisations.
HOW CAN A NEW GOVERNOR GET TO KNOW THE SCHOOL?
It is important that governors get to know their school in order that decisions made at governors’ meetings can be based, as far as possible, on first-hand knowledge of the school at work. It is helpful to read the school prospectus and other documents about the school but there is no substitute for a school visit. An enjoyable aspect of being a governor is involvement with the pupils during the school day. Visits are planned in consultation with the headteacher and any member of staff whose class you are to visit. Governors must be clear that their role is not that of an inspector. It is right to ask questions, of course, at appropriate times, but visits should be viewed as an opportunity for getting alongside the headteacher, staff and pupils as well as an opportunity to fulfil the governor’s role in monitoring.
WHAT QUALIFICATIONS DO GOVERNORS NEED?
Governors do not need any formal qualifications and are not expected to be experts in everything. Governing any school will, though, involve a considerable commitment. The list of responsibilities can appear daunting but they are shared by the whole governing body. Therefore, each governor needs to play his or her part so that a sensible and fair distribution of the work is made. All governors are able to offer something. For example they may have particular skills or have useful knowledge and understanding because of their careers or their experiences in life. Just as important, though, are the skills of being able to listen and offer encouragement and support to staff, pupils, parents and their fellow governors. Every governor’s contribution can make a difference to William Law and the education and experiences that our pupils receive.
LEGAL STATUS OF THE GOVERNING BODY
The governing body of an Academy is a corporate body with exempt charitable status. A corporate body has a legal identity separate from that of its members. The charitable status means that more effective use can be made of gifts to the school through, for example, Gift Aid. The ‘exempt’ status means that the governing body does not have to make an annual report to the Charity Commission, but most of the rules of operating a charity do still apply.
As it is a corporate body, individual governors are generally protected from personal liability as a result of the governing body’s decisions and actions. As long as individual governors act honestly, reasonably and in good faith, any liability will fall on the governing body as a whole, even if it has exceeded its powers, rather than on individual members.
Individual governors have no power or right to act on behalf of the governing body except where the whole governing body has delegated a specific function to that individual, or where regulations specify that a function is to be exercised in a particular way. The governing body is legally liable for all actions taken in its name by individuals or committees to which it has delegated functions. It is advisable, therefore, that the governing body should ensure that decisions to delegate specific responsibilities are properly minuted and recorded.
Governors, except for those who are ‘ex officio’, are appointed by the William Law Academy Trust. This is the legal body with final responsibility for the running of the Academy Company. The Members of the Trust are also Directors of the Academy Company. As with all Stand-Alone Academies, William Law is an independent Company, Limited by Guarantee, and registered at Companies House. The Diocese of Peterborough requires that a majority of the Members of the Trust are Foundation governors. There are currently five Members, three of whom are Foundation governors. The Diocese can choose to appoint additional Members at any time.
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