The Department for Education has ordered school governors to nurture closer relationships with business while divorcing themselves from representing parents, according to new statutory guidelines.
The new rules are part of the government’s efforts to equip boards of governors with the skills required by state schools that adopt standalone academy status, such as budgeting and accounting work, which is largely undertaken by local authorities for maintained schools.
The amended regulations come after a charity set up to encourage people to become school governors warned that there are as many as 30,000 vacancies for school governors in England, or one in 10 vacancies nationally, a figure that rises to as high as one in four in some rural and deprived areas.
The updated statutory guidance – published in a draft consultation for school governance regulations – instructs governors to “assist their school to build relationships with business and other employers in order to enhance the education and raise the aspirations of pupils”.
The new guidelines concede that “engagement with parents, staff and the wider community is vital”, but goes on to warn: “It is not the role of the governing body to provide this through its membership.”
Governors should instead focus on “the core functions of providing strategic leadership, holding the headteacher to account and making sure the school’s money is well spent”, according to the guidelines.
John Nash, the schools minister, compared the new emphasis on financial skills to commercial operations, saying: “The best businesses have a skilful board of directors keeping them on the right path. I want to see the same approach in schools.”
Appointments for new school governors should fill skill gaps of the governing body, which the regulations list as inquisitiveness, good interpersonal skills and “a basic level of literacy in English … and sufficient numeracy skills to understand basic data”. It also calls for expertise in analysing performance data, in budgeting and financial efficiency, and in performance management and employment issues.
The new requirements do not apply to academies or free schools. Last week the head teacher of King’s science academy in Bradford, a free school that opened in 2012, was arrested for alleged fraud involving the school’s funds.
Addressing the public accounts committee in Westminster, the head of the Education Funding Agency told MPs on Monday that 27 academies and “three or four” free schools were currently a concern for running budget deficits.
Liz McSheehy, the chief executive of Governors for Schools, said it welcomed the tougher requirements for school governors, despite the shortages already existing.
“While filling vacancies across England’s schools is of great importance, our focus is on finding the right people with the skills, experience and passion to add value,” said McSheehy.
“Good schools are dependent on good governing bodies made up of a diverse group of people driving improvement and monitoring outcomes for children.”
The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) said the government should allow some form of compensation for governors.
“The relationship between a governing body and the head teacher is central to the success of any school. It needs to be a constructive relationship involving both challenge and support in equal measure, and requires the best people to be encouraged and developed to take on school governor roles,” said Russell Hobby, general secretary of NAHT.