The Legal angle
1 Relationships. The roles of principal, chairman of the governing body and clerk need to be strengthened to ensure an effective system of checks and balances and that authority is not abused. Attention has been focused on the role of the independent clerk since the FEFC report into Derby Wilmorton. There is a strong case now for strengthening the role of the chairman as leader of the governing body and, as a part of a review of this important remit, considering payment of an allowance in recognition of the heavy duties.
2 Governors. There should be no room for under-performing members. All must be enthused by the vision of what colleges can achieve. Governors must be committed, and attendance at full and committee meetings should be carefully monitored. The changes in the composition of governing bodies brought about by the recent modification to the instrument of government should be used as an occasion for a critical review of governor performance.
3 Search committees. They must be vigilant in the recruitment and selection of governors in accordance with open and transparent procedures, and should include as part of their remit a critical review of all candidates for appointment to the governing body, including nominees.
4 Constitutional clarity and purpose. The constitutional "rule book" of colleges (ie, the Instrument and Articles of Government), which have been recently modified by the Secretary of State, should be explained in a way which makes the rules more easily understood, especially in relation to the allocation of responsibilities.
5 Briefingguidance. This should be clearer and more intelligible, for example in relation to governor induction packs and training, papers for meetings of governing bodies and committees, financial information (of crucial importance in the context of maintaining financial health), official circulars (which can often be unreadable) and, last but not least, the duties and potential liability of governors.
6 Codes of conduct. These should be updated to include accountability and ethics. Codes eed to emphasise the importance of ethics and public sector values: what it means to be a "custodian", a "steward", a "quasi trustee" or "a citizen" in the fuller sense of that word.
7 Schemes of delegation. The composition, remit and reporting back arrangements of all committees should be reviewed to ensure that they are working efficiently and in accordance with the constitutional rules, with the aim of raising standards.
8 Public responsiveness.All colleges should develop mechanisms at which annual reports can be presented, future plans can be explained and questions can be put and answered. Other mechanisms for making the college more responsive to "stakeholder" groups should be developed to engage the local and wider community in debate. This will take time.
9 Public interest disclosure. Whistleblowing policies and procedures should be used to strengthen internal accountability; training in the use and awareness of such policies should be emphasised. Staff induction should be provided and colleges should be ready to include students and other users in advance of the Human Rights Act taking effect in October 2000.
Risk. Programmes of risk management should be developed urgently to enable governing bodies to be more accountable for the diverse, complicated andautonomous organisations that they serve. This should help them in the monitoring role which so often has been the Achilles heel of college governance and help managers and staff to take proactive and cost effective steps to identify and minimise risk. Programmes should not concentrate solely on financial risk, but cover all areas: governance, students, staff, commercial contracts, procurement, estates, and health and safety. They should be capable of self- audit at departmental level to bring about a change of culture throughout the college. By being able to manage risk, governors and managers will make themselves more accountable. There is no reason why within the next two years colleges should not become worthy models for all other public service organisations.
John Hall is head of education law at Eversheds, solicitors, London EC4