Governors are in danger of getting bogged down in detail and missing out on the big picture in their colleges, says a new report.
They feel they have been "living and breathing finance" for too long, to the detriment of other areas of responsibility. Many governors found the curriculum "the most challenging area to grasp". They often deferred to senior managers as "the experts" and were unwilling to engage in any real debate on the subject.
This is a cause for concern, according to the report by the Learning and Skills Development Agency, which carried out a "healthcheck" survey of more than 3,000 college governors in 246 colleges in England.
Most problematic for them were staffing issues. On staff profiles, turnover and absence, governors had either not received information or saw no need for it.
Many boards were concerned that they did not have clear channels of communication with staff. Governors are confident about their responsibility for the educational character, mission and strategy of their organisations. The same is true of the quality of information received about enrolment, retention and achievement.
The role and performance of the principal, clerk and board as a team are praised.
Nick Barclay, LSDA development adviser and the report's author, said: "If governance is about operating as a strategic, critical friend then senior managers must ensure that governors are able to make links between different areas of college activity."
Malcolm Wharton, governance consultant for the Association of Colleges, said the report showed that in the essentials, governors were getting it right "in legal and financial control, managing the mission of the institution, ensuring they have the quality of the data they need for monitoring college performance on student enrolment, retention and achievement, and the role and performance of the principal".
However, as their own roles changed, many governors were looking for support in understanding curriculum changes.
Editorial comment 4 Governance healthcheck for FE college boards 20012. Learning and Skills Development Agency, tel: 020 7297 9144