It's not too early to reconstitute

9th January 2004 at 00:00
Governors should not delay in introducing a legally required make-over, says Diana Penton

It may seem a long way away now but by 2006, all governing bodies will have to have reconstituted themselves. Regulations effective from last September require them to consider how many members they should have and, within certain limits, the balance of parents, staff, co-optees, and nominees represented (see TES, September 26).

But governing bodies who believe there is no urgency in establishing their new constitution may find they are storing up problems for the future. It is true that governing bodies have until August 2006 to reconstitute but experience so far is revealing unexpected quirks in the new regulations.

These mainly stem from the limitations on terms of office included in the new regulations. Governors who have been re-elected orre-appointed after September 1 last year are particularly affected.

The regulations state that "current" governors (those appointed or elected before September 1, 2003) may complete their term of office until it ends or up to August 2006 - whichever is earlier. But governors appointed or elected since September 1ast year may only serve until reconstitution, whenever that may be. A governing body which delays reconstitution until the latest date may well find itself scrambling to put new members in place or restore existing members before the summer holiday in order to have a viable governing body for September 2006. And all of its members will complete their next term together, unless the differential terms of office now permitted are built into the new constitution.

Moreover, a governing body which creates surplus governors on reconstitution may find that any who were appointed or elected (includingre-appointments and re-elections) after September 1, 2003 will automatically cease to be governors immediately rather than being allowed to complete their term (as the regulations allow for "current" governors).

This brings a risk of losing active and effective governors, not to mention hurt feelings. An early decision on the future size and make-up of the governing body will allow it to plan for a gradual and seemly move to a new model.

Any governing body which started the autumn term this year with a number of vacancies should proceed quickly with reconstitution and avoid filling any gaps until the new instrument is at least on the way.

However, the process offers a valuable opportunity to review how well the governing body is working, how difficult it has been to fill vacancies in each of the categories, how the committee structure works, the implications of the new quorum (50 per cent of the complete body) for making decisions, as well as the relationships and the balance of power on the governing body.

Only the rare governing body complete at the beginning of this academic year can afford to delay for long, although the best date for reconstitution will depend on the timescale of expected vacancies and perhaps the particular intentions of individual governors.

It is good practice to circulate a paper setting out the issues and options before the meeting at which this important matter is to be discussed, rather than tackling it cold at the meeting. Governors should also be supplied with or directed to the Statutory Guidance on the School Governance (Constitution) (England) Regulations 2003 which can be found on Under no circumstances should governing bodies allow their education authority, diocese or any other body to dictate their new constitution - although advice should be welcomed and the new instrument of government must be approved and drawn up by the LEA.

Voluntary and foundation schools must seek additional approvals. In every case, the needs of the school and effectiveness of the governing body should be the main focus and priority.

Reconstitution can have a revitalising effect in eliminating previously intractable problems. For example, some small schools struggling to attract candidates have found it helpful to reduce the size of their governing body, particularly when they also streamlined their committee structure to match. Others who have never been able to find a non-teaching staff governor chose a model with the minimum of head and teacher "staff" governors, or reduced the number of LEA governors to reflect long-term vacancies.

It may seem a nuisance to have to deal with reconstitution when governing bodies are also coping with a plethora of new regulations on procedures, delegation, staffing, and annual meeting exemptions, which also date from September 1, but the consequences of delay are likely to consume even greater time and effort.

Diana Penton is clerk to a number of governing bodies in Hertfordshire and editor of the National Association of Governors and Managers' papers on school governance

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