Monday, 4 July 2011

LEA governors under threat

The debates about schools and education so far in this parliament have largely focused around free schools and academies, with occasional diversion into the content of the curriculum and the E-Baccalaureate. I’ve touched on some of these issues before, but just whilst there’s still time (just!) for a change in the Education Bill as it passes through the committee stage in the House of Lords, I wanted to highlight the threat posed in the Bill to school governors appointed by Local Education Authorities. I should say at this point that I have been an LEA appointed governor for nearly eight years, and that my views are informed by my experiences of that role.

Amongst other things, Clause 37 of the Bill removes the requirement for school governing bodies to include LEA appointees, with the intention of allowing the school to constitute the membership of a governing body based on its needs. As pointed out by Dan Rogerson MP in the debates in the Commons, doing so risks losing the experience, continuity and long-term thinking that LEA governors bring, and potentially removes counterweights to the school management team or a ‘captured’ chair of governors.

Sadly, Mr Rogerson’s amendment to this clause fell in the Commons, but a more limited amendment – to allow a single LEA appointee if they have skills needed by the governing body – was passed in the Lords last week. I would like to see further amendments which would allow the retention of LEA appointed governors as present, but improve the accountability of their role and reduce the party-political aspect their appointment.

But it’s not just me who thinks that LEA appointed governors add something to governing bodies that elected or co-opted governors do not. I raised this issue at a recent meeting of the secondary school governing body to which I am an LEA appointee, and there was unanimous agreement that LEA governors should be retained, including from the headteacher.
Their views were that LEA governors brought a wealth of experience that other governors did not have: that they were able to ask questions and propose solutions that the parent-elected and staff-elected governors could not; that they had links and contacts with the local authority that helped overcome the occasionally strained relations with the school; and that LEA governors were able to think about processes and strategy beyond immediate horizon.

Because LEA governors didn’t have an immediate constituency interest (a child, a career, a skill or project focus), they can help the school plan for the long-term and address issues with wider community interest (such as, for example, whether to enter into a federation, adopt a speciality or convert to an academy). However, although there were some well known political affiliations around the table, it was recognised that ‘political appointees’ as governors could be divisive and potentially have a conflict of interest, and that unless they were an existing governors, local councillors shouldn’t be LEA governors.

So, LEA governors have their uses, and despite the government’s desire to free headteachers and schools from local government, they should recognise that LEA governors can add a great deal to the success of a school and keep a reasonable allocation of them on governing bodies. However, they should be made more accountable to the local residents that they ultimately represent – perhaps some form of report-back mechanism could be introduced. At the same time, the crude dividing up of LEA places on governing bodies that happens in some areas according to the political composition of the local council should stop – it doesn’t help schools and just looks a bit grubby.

Author: Alex Feakes is a Councillor for Forest Hill ward in the London Borough of Lewisham and an LEA appointed secondary school governor. He occasionally blogs at and tweets as @alexfeakes.

Original Article can be found at

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