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Principals must be prepared for tougher scrutiny

The age of passive governing bodies is over, says David Kissman

Governing bodies in the 1990s were sort of benevolent god-parents, not too keen to get in the way of the managers team who, after all, knew far more about running of a college than part-time business men and women and local politicians.

Governors would nod wisely and smile warmly at the principal when presented with the three-year plan or the financial return. But Success For All - the Government's new model for reform - means this rather passive governance role must change. Two years after it took over post-16 education and training, the Learning and Skills Council must take steps to ensure that governors are just as engaged and committed as principals and other key stakeholders.

Let us not forget that governors are drawn from every sector of the community and possess many useful skills and relevant experiences.

Reform, raising standards and improving efficiency have been the language of the private sector, from which many governors are drawn.

However, involving governors more will not be easy. For example, are senior college managers ready for a more hands-on approach by governors? They must prepare themselves for more rigorous challenges to the college strategic plan, more questioning about the curriculum and more analysis of student achievement.

Of course some governing bodies will say that this is what they are already doing. But recent Ofsted and Adult Learning Inspectorate visits also show there are many where governors need to have a firmer hand on the tiller.

The relationship between LSC and governing bodies needs to change. The LSC needs to look upon governing bodies as key players in the delivery of training reforms. Much stronger partnerships need to be established especially at the local LSC level and through a suitable vehicle at national level.

The Department for Education and Skills also needs to put in place mechanisms that enable it to listen directly to the views of governors.

Currently, most consultation is with principals, senior managers and clerks. While no one doubts their contribution to the development of policy we must do more to use governors' wealth of knowledge and insight.

The right speed of change is vital.Successful change has only been achieved once a new policy or mechanism is working well. Rushing to meet an arbitrarily imposed deadline will produce a poor outcome followed by the need for further adaptation and disruption. Almost without exception, better results are achieved when planning and consultation are done properly and given enough time.

There is already some evidence to suggest that the LSC is determined to provide colleges and governing bodies with many of the tools and infrastructure that will make delivery of the reforms easier. The recent announcement of an agreement between the LSC and the Local Government Association is just one example.

For colleges to deliver on the 14 to 19 agenda, there needs to be greater collaboration with schools. Stories abound about the reluctance of some LEAs to require school heads to work with college principals. This new agreement should pave the way for progress on this. Lets hope there is more to follow.

David Kissman is chair of governors at Broxtowe College, Nottinghamshire

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