Efficient, but can you prove it?

29th November 1996 at 00:00
Governors know in their heart whether or not they are being effective - proving it is more difficult, writes John Graystone.

The first key test of governor effectiveness is whether the college meets its targets. Have targets been achieved for funding (an indicator of effectiveness), student enrolments (responsiveness) and student retention (programme effectiveness)? Has the college reached its targets for learning goals and qualifications (student achievements) and NVQs or equivalent (contribution to national targets? What is its average level of funding?

A central question is how much the governing body contributes. What value does it add? Are the outputs worth more (or less) than the inputs? One approach is to identify performance indicators (PIs) for governors in the same way as for colleges.

PIs may include attendance at governing body meetings, length of governing body meetings , presentation and style of papers, fulfilment of legal responsibilities. Others might be quality and type of decisions taken, work of committees and, often overlooked, resources allocated for administering governing body business .

Targets might be set for achievement of these indicators. Governing body effectiveness might involve analysing the time spent on different activities during meetings. Targets might be set for each - 50 per cent of decisions to be strategic; 20 per cent operational etc. Past agendas might be analysed to see how many items were "strategic" rather than "operational" and for future meetings the clerk could keep a record of time spent on each item. This exercise might have added bonus in helping clarify the meaning of both terms.

Another approach is to assess performance in relation to the governors' legal and financial responsibilities. for example, how effective is the contribution of the governing body to the determination of the educational character and mission of institution?

The next step is to define "effective". What is the governing body's involvement in strategic planning - being actively involved in framing the long-term mission; making major or minor modifications to a plan drawn up elsewhere; rubber-stamping?

A third possible approach involves turning important issues into PIs and targets. Examples might include "range of skills and experience in the governing body" - target: to ensure that the governing body includes those with experience in company law, estate management, finance etc; "arrangements for planning new appointments" - target: to have in place a written and open selection procedure.

Under the proposed new inspection arrangements in England (in Wales, governance and management are not graded) due to start in September 1997, the intention is to grade governance separately from management. Each college inspection report will contain a separate and publicly available grade for its governing body.

The current vogue is for self-assessment. Sir John Harvey-Jones recognises its importance: "Unless the board continuously criticises the way it is working, is clear as to what it should be seeking to achieve, and its members are able to learn from each other, it is extraordinarily difficult to improve its performance".

Developing meaningful and measurable PIs for governing bodies is difficult. This does not mean it cannot be done.

John Graystone is eastern region chief executive of the Association of Colleges.

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