Governance during lockdown: can we go governance-light without going governance-free?

Most Heads that I’ve spoken with in recent weeks have described the past month or so as one of their most challenging in headship, especially because most schools remain open to support the children of keyworkers and those who are vulnerable.

Since lockdown, there has been much discussion about SATs, GCSEs and A levels but these debates barely scratch the surface of what Heads are currently managing, and the nuanced nature of the day-to-day judgement calls that they are having to make, a task that they are passionate about getting right but one which is far from easy: Who counts as a keyworker? Who counts as a vulnerable child? What level of support should and can schools realistically provide for home study? How well is a particular school equipped to deal with the provision of such support? What does school look like for those still in attendance? How are we going to say good-bye to those moving on to junior or secondary school, or to college, university or employment, or to much-loved staff who are leaving us? Oh, and what am I going to do about the governors?

As governors, one of the things we have to do is to find a way to take that last question off the table, to go governance-light, without going governance-free; we cannot do the latter because our legal and moral responsibilities as members of Governing Boards (as recent advice from the Department for Education and the National Governance Association makes clear) do not disappear. However, we must do the former, and go governance-light, because, frankly, much of the really important stuff that we do in ordinary times will, like the economy, just have to wait. By comparison with those challenges facing Heads on a daily basis, our predicament is much less pressing. Nonetheless, it remains important.

So, what might. ’governance-light’ look like? No trite answers here, but three questions that we might wish to ponder:

  1. Can we reduce the number of scheduled meetings we hold without abdicating responsibility? During the summer term we know there’ll be a budget to sign-off and we’ll also need to create time for reflection on a school year unlike any other, but can we hold over sub-committee and working group meetings until the Autumn term (or whenever we start up again)? This does not, of course, stop sub-committee members liaising on-line, giving advice or acting as a sounding board, or providing a sometimes vital second set of eyes, if or when the Head needs us to play this role. Nor does it preclude a weekly or fortnightly phone or Skype check-in between the Head and Chair to ensure information flows remain open and support remains accessible. As the latest DFE guidance, cited and supported by the NGA, makes clear: School leaders should stay in touch with the governing board in a proportionate way, including providing information on the welfare of staff and pupils, so that they can retain a strategic overview of the situation and the school (Governing in challenging circumstances: business continuity and holding virtual meetings, National Governance Association, 7 April 2020)
  1. Can we make sure that any meetings that we do hold are as short and as tightly-focused as they can be? Moreover, can we think about the timing of these (almost inevitably) virtual sessions, taking the needs of our Head and staff governors as a starting point, and baring in mind that home working will have changed the shape of the working day for many? This may offer the possibility of daytime or early evening meetings. It should mean gatherings that are much shorter than we are used to, probably of about an hour in length, or ninety minutes at the outside. And let’s presume non-attendance from any NHS (and other key worker) Board Members (whether or not they are ‘on shift’), and any staff governors who have been ‘in’ that day, while making sure that they’re kept absolutely in the loop.
  1. Can we minimise the preparation burden on all concerned, especially our Headteacher? Let’s reduce the paperwork (a longstanding aspiration for most of us), perhaps going further than we ordinarily would (or should) by not asking anybody to draft written reports ahead of – or as a result of – our meetings. Instead, let’s put the focus on ensuring that the Head has Board buy-in and, where necessary, formal sign-off for any, as the DFE puts it, “urgent, time-bound decisions” (DFE School Governance Update, 25 March 2020), and on the processes that will enable our senior leaders to take such decisions ‘in the moment’, free in the knowledge that the Governing Board is, well, on board.

The principle behind all of this is simple: we need to ensure that the tone of meetings, messages, phone calls or other communications is entirely at the support end of the ‘support-challenge’ continuum, so that, as the DFE put it, school leaders can “get on with operational matters”; if this were our usual practice, it would not amount to good governance. But these, as we are all too aware, are not ordinary times.

Of course, this will mean some catch-up activity further down the line, but it may also cause us to focus, as never before, on what really matters, and on the quality of our collaboration and partnership. Long term, this may lead to better, more effective governance, and a range of practices that weren’t even on the horizon a month or two ago.

And maybe, just maybe, as we approach another day, week or month in this socially-distanced landscape, let’s be sure to use any time that, as governors, we have to think creatively and pre-emptively in a way that the pace of an ordinary school year denies us.

Right now, we might yearn for that ordinariness but, in the interim, we need to consider the longer-term impact of the system-shock delivered to our schools, and the wider education system, by the virus; schools and school governance might never be the same again. As governors, let’s play our part in shaping the new, as yet unknown, post-COVID-19 reality.

We need to extend governance literacy beyond the boardroom if we want to build diversity within it.

In a feature article for the February 2019 issue ICSA journal, Governance and Compliance, Tony Breslin and Cosette Reczek outline the thinking behind their plans for an all-sector Better Governance Commission and set out its three key objectives: to encourage cross-sector learning within our boardrooms, to develop governance literacy beyond our boardrooms, and to widen and diversify participation in governance in all sectors.

Read the article here.

Governance beyond Silos

Having already addressed the key players in the corporate sector through a paper in the journal Governance in September 2018, Tony Breslin and Cosette Reczek extend their appeal for participation in an all-sector Better Governance Commission to the voluntary and community sector through a paper in the January 2019 edition of Governance and Leadership.

Breslin first called for such a Commission in Recommendation 29 of his 2017 RSA report, Who Governs Our Schools? This spawned the emergence of the #R29 campaign in early 2017, launched through a series of roundtables delivered in collaboration with Ann Reeder at Frontline Consulting.

Read the paper here

Sober Breslin raises £10,000 for Macmillan in five years

Tony Breslin has thanked his many sponsors after completing his fifth successive Go Sober for October for Macmillan Cancer Support, raising £2,003.50 (plus Gift Aid) this year, and a total of approximately £10,000 (including Gift Aid) over the past five years

Tony said: “Once again friends and relatives, and the parishioners at Sacred Heart Church in Bushey have combined to raise a terrific sum for a great charity doing vital work”.

This year 68,299 ‘sober heroes’ (as Macmillan calls them) raised a total of £3,817,252.

The Broken Promise of Autonomy

Tony Breslin’s debut piece in Schools Week explores the changing nature of school-based headship in multi-school settings and ponders whether the emergence of Trusts and Federations amounts to ‘a broken promise of autonomy’ for school-based leaders.

One school-based head has described the article as “a timely call to evaluate the role, scope and value of tiered executive management functions in schools and their impact in eroding the competencies and cultures that exist within individual institutions”.

Read the article HERE.

Breslin Social Impact links up with Permuto Consulting to launch new Transform Governance web presence

As work towards the establishment of an all-sector Better Governance Commission ramps up, Breslin Social Impact and Permuto Consulting have teamed up to complement the recently established Transform Governance twitter page @BetterGovCom, which already has close to 200 followers, with a new dedicated web presence, accessible from the websites of both consultancies, at www.transformgovernance.org.uk.

Breslin launches Transform Governance twitter page @BetterGovCom

Today, a new dedicated transformgovernance twitter account, @BetterGovCom, goes live, as the #R29 campaign for an all-sector #BetterGovernanceCommission, inspired by Recommendation 29 of Tony Breslin’s report, Who governs our schools? (RSA, 2017), gathers momentum.

This will be followed by a dedicated web space, transformgovernance.org.uk, which is to be launched later this month, and which will be accessible directly, through the Breslin Social Impact site, and through the sites of Breslin’s various partners in this important initiative.

As such, transformgovernance joins the existing set of Breslin Social Impact Transform brands, including transformeducation, transformpolitics, transformcommunities and transformorganisations that the business has pledged to make its key interface with specific areas of activity in the period leading up to 2020.

Tony Breslin commented:

“We want transformgovernance, on twitter and on the web, to be a dedicated space for all in governance – whatever their role, setting or sector – and we want people to actively engage with it, especially those who are passionate about the need for an all-sector approach to governance and genuine cross-sector learning.

We see such an approach being articulated through the #R29 campaign and the Better Governance Commission that Cosette Reczek and I make the case for in our recent paper in the corporate journal Governance, A cross-sector approach to governance.

Subject to securing funding, we intend to launch the Commission in the first half of 2019. We have already had terrific encouragement from key individuals in organisations as diverse as the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, the Institute of Directors, the Non-Executive Academy, the National Governance Association, ICSA: the governance institute, Campbell Tickell, the housing, regeneration and social care consultancy, and the Centre for Charity Effectiveness at Cass Business School.

We believe that such a Commission can achieve three things: (1) better peer-to-peer, cross-sector learning, (2) improved governance literacy across the public sphere, (3) widened participation and greater diversity in the process and practice of governance. Each of these offers a pathway to better governance and to a greater public understanding of what governance is, and why it matters”.

New Modern Governor Module on Strategic Leadership written by Tony Breslin

Modern Governor publishes new module on the strategic role of governing boards, written by Tony Breslin

Today Modern Governor publish the first of two new modules developed and written by Tony Breslin, each supported by a dedicated web post that we republish here, with kind permission of Modern Governor. The first module, Strategic Leadership for Governors and Trustees: obligations, opportunities and pitfalls calls for a reappraisal of the traditional dichotomy between the operational and strategic domains, presenting this as much more nuanced and ‘messy’ than in much of the current leadership and governance literature.

The second module, The Curriculum and Beyond: what every governor needs to know, again accompanied by a dedicated blog post, will be launched during October.

Breslin to headline ICSA Academies Conference

Dr. Tony Breslin has been announced as a keynote speaker at the annual ICSA Academy Governance Conference on Friday October 5th in London, which this year takes as its theme, Delivering excellence in an age of accountability.

In his address he will reflect on the emergent realities of multi-school leadership and multi-school governance ‘on the ground’. He will also explore the challenges and opportunities that appear to be emerging, especially for school-based Heads, Heads of School and school boards, in terms of formal accountability and lines of reporting, and with regards to a plethora of other issues, including community connectedness, local autonomy, and governor engagement and retention.

Breslin Public Policy Limited has secured ten FREE tickets for the event; to secure your free ticket, click on the link and enter the code TONY10 when prompted to do so.

Breslin Public Policy launches the #R29 campaign

Today at Parliament, working in partnership with Ann Reeder at Frontline Consulting, Su Turner at Shaping Governance, and the Non-Executive Academy – which represents NEDs in the publicly funded sector – Breslin Public Policy launched the #R29 campaign, at what is to be the first of several roundtable discussions on the initiative. Roundtables already in the pipeline include sessions hosted by the Institute of Directors (June 13th) and the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (August 15th).

The campaign arises from Recommendation 29 of my recently published RSA report, Who Governs Our Schools? Trends, Tensions and Opportunities, which calls for a Cross Sector Governance Commission, dedicated to…

Beyond the report: the Modern Governor Blogs

Ian Usher, editor at Modern Governor has been fantastically supportive in recent months, publishing a series of blogs arising from my recently published RSA report, Who Governs Our Schools? Trends, Tensions and Opportunities; you can access the full set of blogs, which give the background to the report and explore its six key headlines here.

Feedback welcome!

Who Governs Our Schools? Trends Tensions and Opportunities

Today we launched my RSA published report Who Governs Our Schools? Trends Tensions and Opportunities at the National Governance Association hosted All Party Parliamentary Group on school governance in Westminster.

Thanks to Emma Knights and her team for their support today and throughout the 18 month project, to the project sponsors (the Local Government Association, The Elliot Foundation and RSA Academies) and to the members of our Expert Group (our sponsors together with senior leaders from the Association of School and College Leaders, the Catholic Education Service, the Centre for Public Scrutiny and the National Governance Association), and Julian Astle and all in the Creative Learning and Development team at the RSA.

Governance in the Academies Age: a loss of power, participation and autonomy?

As I have set out in an earlier blog, Governance in the Academies Age: a less or more localised future?, I’ve spent the past few months working with an expert group on the future of school governance – a project that culminated in a summit at the RSA on June 21st and which will lead to the publication of a scoping study, ‘Governance in the Academies Age: issues, opportunities and challenges’, this autumn. Partners in the project include the Association for School and College Leaders, the Catholic Education Service, the Centre for Public Scrutiny, The Elliot Foundation, the Local Government Association, the National Governors’ Association and RSA Academies.

The RSA is immensely grateful for the time and the financial and/or in-kind support that these partners have committed to the project, and I, as project lead, have richly enjoyed and benefitted from the variety and depth of thought that each has brought to our deliberations. We are also grateful to the governors, senior leaders and policy-influencers who took time out to join us at the summit and who have responded to our earlier calls for observations and feedback.

As I have remarked previously, our aim is not to answer the many questions that are now emerging about how we govern our schools, but to identify as many of these questions as possible and to urge their further exploration, possibly through the launch of a National Commission on School Governance, something we’ll be making the case for to new Secretary of State for Education, Justine Greening.

In my earlier blog, I outlined some of the discussions centering around one perennial debate in the area – the balance to be struck between securing expertise and engaging stakeholders, a debate that has found recent expression in the question marks being raised over the future of parent governors. Our summit, which brought together governors, school leaders, and policy influencers in the field, explored these matters further but also gave particular attention to several arguably unintended consequences of the current direction of travel.

So, what is this direction of travel? In a word: academisation. Former Secretary of State Nicky Morgan may have stepped back from statutory academisation as set out in her recent oxymoronically titled White Paper, ‘Educational Excellence Everywhere’, but this is less a u-turn, more a shimmy around the bollards and speed-bumps of the educational landscape, and one that newcomer to the role Justin Greening is likely to stick largely to. We may see some more nuanced arrangements for smaller schools, especially special schools and those in rural areas, and some local authorities might be able to evolve into Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs), but the end point is likely to be pretty similar – a largely academised world where the MAT becomes a key player.

Unintended or not, the consequences for local school governance are profound, and yet governance barely features in the White Paper from which these changes spring. Let’s look at three inter-related consequences of the proposed reforms here: (1) the relocation of power at a different, less local place in the educational infrastructure; (2) the potential loss of expertise to the education system that is currently voluntarily-gifted to it; (3) the rise of managed headship.

A fundamental power-shift?

The shift to academisation and to a system of schools organised through a series of MATs that are not necessarily locally or regionally based represents a fundamental power-shift in the educational infrastructure. Critically, the hard edges of governance – what we might term the ‘responsibility stuff’ – is no longer held at local level; it is in the gift of the MAT through the scheme of delegation that it uses. Thus, responsibilities for finance, human and physical resources, and for strategic direction and school ethos are fundamentally held at the level of the MAT and defined by the MAT’s Board of Trustees. In short, in the academies age, local governing bodies – those that we currently understand to be school governing bodies – are not, well, governing bodies.

Especially where existing governing boards are weak or where they struggle to recruit, this change may bring significant benefits, with the MAT Board better able to recruit and retain expertise in key areas and able to share this across a range of schools to the benefit of all. Moreover, free of these responsibilities, there is the possibility that these local school-based bodies might be free to focus on issues like curriculum, standards and community engagement. Nonetheless, it does open-up a potential accountability gap between MAT Board members (the new governors) and the governed (the range of stakeholders in a school’s local community, including pupils, staff and parents).

While a combination of charity and company law makes more demands on the probity of those who are members of MAT Boards than current regulations do on that of members of traditional governing bodies, how those in local school communities hold MAT Boards to account is much less clear. And this is not just a governance issue – it is one fundamentally of legitimacy, the legitimacy that derives from being locally connected and offering local voice. Further, some might contend that the concurrent and intended decline of the power of the local authority in supporting educational delivery that flows from the White Paper amounts to a democratic double-whammy in terms of the influence that local communities might exercise over schooling provision, especially given the current lack of clarity about just what part Regional Schools Commissioners will play in all of this.

A loss of volunteered expertise?

A second – un-thought-through if not unintended – consequence of the shift towards, not just ‘academisation’ but ‘MAT-isation’, is likely to be in the continued ability of the school system to secure the level of expert-volunteer input that it currently does. Approximately 300,000 individuals currently volunteer as school governors across England and Wales. As such – alongside, for instance, the magistracy, jurors, charity trustees and local councilors – school governors provide one of the key (and largest) pillars of our lay democracy and a vital conduit for citizen-engagement. A recent report from the National Governors’ Association and the University of Bath, The State of School Governing in England (James, C. R. Goodall, J. Howarth, E. and Knights E., 2014), estimated the ‘cash’ value of the work of school governors as being worth approximately £1bn. In very crude terms this translates into over £40,000 per school, loosely the salary of an experienced full-time member of staff. However, the level of governor input may be much higher at particular points in time – for example, when a school is going through a process of federation or academisation, when it is appointing a new head, or when it is addressing issues arising from a critical inspection.

While placing a monetary figure on such activity is inherently difficult and often undertaken by those with a point to make, the social value is incalculably greater than any financial cost. Our concern is that the shift in responsibility outlined above runs the risk of acting as a disincentive to those who currently volunteer as governors to continue to do so. The quality of school governance as traditionally organised might be patchy and socio-economically patterned, but there is a risk that, in the new landscape, the Board that matters will be seen as the MAT’s Board of Trustees, not the comparatively less-influential school-based local committee. Whether these local bodies (often framed as “Academy Councils” or similar) will offer enough ‘meat’ for their members to ‘get their teeth into’ is questionable, and was a concern for governors attending our summit; anecdotally, we are hearing several stories from ‘governors’ in MAT settings who are finding their new role less engaging than their former one. In any case, on the basis of simple mathematics, there will not be enough seats around the MAT Board’s top-table for all to continue to play a role in the ‘responsibility stuff’.

Should the concerns of some about a more MAT-ised landscape have any substance in this regard, the loss of economic and social capital to the system could be substantial. If the outcome is that we lose even ten percent of existing governors, this will amount to a loss to the system in England of expertise that has a notional cash value of approximately £100m. And, if our supposition that engagement in school governance often opens a gateway to – and provides a training ground for – further and wider community and societal engagement, the cost in lost social capital might be much higher still. The ‘Big Society’ just got significantly smaller.

The rise of ‘managed headship’?

A third issue that we have identified in the course of our research is the impact on headship in all of this. I made the point in my earlier blog that great (or poor) governance takes place in the shared space where school leaders and school governors meet, in the grey area that is strategic and operational. For this reason, we opened the doors of our summit to school leaders – deputy heads, heads and executive heads, as well as governors, and we are pleased to have both ASCL and the NGA amongst our project partners. Here, another consequence of MAT-isation is as stark as it is unnoticed. We are moving from a climate in which headship is governed (however effectively or poorly), to one where it is line-managed. In traditional models of headship, the governing body holds the head or principal to account, at its best through a nuanced mix of support and challenge (and, when appropriate, support as challenge); in the new landscape, the head (or head of school) is line-managed by an executive head who, in turn, is line-managed by the CEO of the Multi-Academy Trust, who is formally accountable to the MAT Trustees, not to ‘governors’, parents and others in the local school community.

There could be advantages in such a shift – it may mean that headship emerges into a less lonely and more collaborative experience, it may reduce the risks of what can happen when charismatic professional leadership meets weak voluntary governance (most notably demonstrated in recent times at Kids’ Company, rather than in school settings), and it might mean the development of better models of succession planning. However, it is also likely to mean a move away from current levels of head teacher autonomy at the local level, even if that autonomy sometimes results from weak rather than strong governance. This hardly rests easy with a political mantra variously crystalised around “setting heads free”, “letting heads get on with it”, and system-leadership. Nor does it sit with the classic deal about headship itself – which, for all of its drawbacks and sometimes to the frustration of governors – remains seen as a career destination rather than a staging post, and one in which the post-holder manages, rather than is managed by, others. At a time when the shortage of current and future school leaders is acute, it may be wise to caution the new Secretary of State against any change that might make headship less attractive. We sense that the almost unnoticed shift to managed-headship might carry such risks, at least for some current and aspirant heads.

Feedback and next steps

These, and a host of other issues will feature in our report, which will be published this autumn. We’d love to have your feedback on the observations offered above, on governance in the academies age more broadly, and on what does (or doesn’t) constitute good (or even great) governance. Post your thoughts below or contact Roisin Ellison (Roisin.Ellison@rsa.org.uk) or myself (tony.breslin@breslinpublicpolicy.com) with your thoughts.

Article by Tony Breslin, originally published on the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) website HERE.

Dr. Tony Breslin is an RSA Fellow and an Associate in the Creative Learning and Development Team. He is the author of Governance in the Academies Age: issues, opportunities and challenges (RSA, 2016, forthcoming), Director of the consultancy Breslin Public Policy Limited and founder of the campaign, UseYourVote.com. He is Chair of Governors at Bushey and Oxhey Infant School in Hertfordshire and Chair of Academy Council, Oasis Academy, Enfield

Governance in the Academies age: a less or more localised future?

Over the past few months I’ve had the privilege of leading a new RSA investigation into the emergent issues in school governance. This has involved working with an Expert Group that counts amongst its membership leading figures from a range of organisations with an interest in the field. These include the Association of School and College Leaders, the Local Government Association, the National Governors’ Association, the Catholic Education Service, RSA Academies, The Elliot Foundation, and the Centre for Public Scrutiny.

On Tuesday 21st June, the RSA will be hosting a summit of leading practitioners and policy influencers in the school governance field ahead of the summer publication of our report Governance in the Academies Age: issues, opportunities and challenges. At the summit we’ll be sharing some of the thinking that we have been undertaking and offering a flavour of any recommendations that we’re leaning towards making – and we’ll also be asking those present to challenge, refine and add to these thoughts.

We are positioning our report not as the definitive prescription on where we need to go with school governance but as a scoping study that identifies and scans the key themes in a rapidly changing landscape. This work is intended as a precursor to a much larger investigation, a National Commission on School Governance, but this will be dependent on just how important practitioners and policymakers see the themes that we identify, and of course on finding funding partners who are willing to support such an exercise.

For now, we are grateful for the intellectual and creative input and the financial and in-kind support provided by the organisations that compose our Expert Group – organisations that represent traditional and emergent approaches to governance, governance in a range of different settings and from a range of perspectives.

Join us at the summit to get more detail on the report. As a taster, I set out here some of the assumptions that we have started with and some of the issues that are featuring in our discussions. Amongst our starting assumptions, three are especially prominent:

Effective school governance is not simply about what governors do or how good the Governing Body (or Board of Governors to use the emergent language) is – rather, good governance results from the interplay between governors and a school’s professional leadership team. Good governance happens where governorship meets senior leadership, not at the extremes of this continuum;

Poor school governance serves nobody’s interest and consumes the energy and time of both school leaders and governors. In contrast, effective school governance can be a driver of both creative thinking and school improvement through the expertise that governors individually and collectively bring to the lives of schools. However, on occasions this expertise can be ignored, under-used or experienced as intrusive by school leaders;

Participation in governance constitutes an opportunity for schools to draw on the expertise of those who might otherwise remain beyond its boundaries, and an opportunity for community members to develop their skills and confidence through the experience provided by engaging in governance.

The conventional language of governing board membership (with ‘Staff’ Governors, ‘Parent’ Governors and ‘Community’ Governors) points to a committee of largely ‘lay’ representatives speaking for separate constituencies or stakeholder groups. However, the truth is that, to be effective, governors – while they may give voice to these groups – must leave their silos at the door. In reality, some do this more effectively than others.

This issue of stakeholder or constituency membership has come to the fore with the controversy arising from recent government-sourced statements about the future of Parent Governors and this debate has been exercising the Expert Group. Thus, while several members of the group are concerned that recent calls to reduce the insistence upon parental involvement in governing boards risks ignoring the expertise that resides within parental communities, or the need to seek this out and develop it where it appears to be absent or weaker, others see this as an opportunity to get beyond silo-thinking, contending that confusing the very real need for strong parent (and student) voice should not be confused with the equally demanding challenges of governance.

In this context, the rationale for the shift away from parental involvement appears to lie in a desire to strengthen the expertise of governing boards, and the Expert Group is sympathetic to this objective. However, the notion of the ‘expert’ governor risks similar drawbacks to that of the ‘super’ Head; it assumes that expertise can be flown in where there are shortcomings – rendering those with it dependent and those without it bereft.

In many circumstances, a longer term and more sustainable solution might be to identify and grow governance talent within the school and the wider community that it serves: the issue is not to go ‘local’ or‘expert’, but to value the very special quality that emerges when specific functional expertise is augmented by a real grasp of local issues. Responding to gaps identified by governing board skills audits by simply looking at the specific competency of potential members risks what one Expert Group participant described as “cold governance” – clinical and qualified but weakened rather than strengthened by its detachment; asking probing questions of a potential governor about his or her grasp of local and educational issues, his or her professional expertise, is likely to reap dividends.

This is not to say that connection to a locality should be a prerequisite for governing board membership, although empathy for, and grasp of, a community’s circumstances might be; an entirely locally based membership can give rise to an inward-looking parochialism and a lack of objectivity, if not an unhealthy ‘cosiness’ that fails to hold school leaders sufficiently to account. And, of course, it risks reproducing the very inequalities that exist between schools in different socio-economic settings at governing board level – an issue arising from the skewed distribution of cultural capital that can mean governorship is sometimes at its weakest where schools might benefit from it being at its strongest. “Growing your own” is much more challenging in some terrains than others.

Whatever, identifying and nurturing talent, whether it is locally sourced or not, is likely to require smarter search and recruitment and better access to in-role training for all governors than has hitherto universally been the case. And, on the other side of the governance mirror, better training for Heads and aspirant Heads on how to best engage and draw on the talents of governing boards and individual governors is needed. The relative neglect of governance in many headship training programmes should be a cause of concern for all, and a matter for urgent action by policymakers and all who wish to strengthen the leadership of our schools.

None of this, of course, is to address our central concern – how we might best do governance in a far more (if not fully) academised world. In these post-White Paper months, the place of locality(and by this we mean much more then the origins of governors themselves) is vital – whether the focus is on the reducing role (although not necessarily responsibilities) of local authorities or on the reduced autonomy (and probable authority) of local governing boards in an age not just of academies but of Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs). It seems to have gone largely unnoticed that, in a setting where all or most schools reside within MATs, the legal responsibilities that currently rest with school based governors will move to the Boards of Directors of MATs. If the potential shortcomings of such a move are to be addressed, issues around the articulation of local needs – and the felt-inclusion of local voices – will need to be addressed.

The consequence of this shift in responsibility is just one of the issues that will be explored in our report and in the discussion at our Governance Summit on June 21st. I do hope you can join us. In any case, we’d love to have your thoughts on what does (or doesn’t) constitute good (or even great) governance. Please contact Roisin Ellison (Roisin.Ellison@rsa.org.uk) or myself (tony.breslin@breslinpublicpolicy.com) with your thoughts.

Dr. Tony Breslin is an RSA Fellow and an Associate in the Creative Learning and Development Team. He is the author of Governance in the Academies Age: issues, opportunities and challenges (RSA, 2016, forthcoming), Director of the consultancy Breslin Public Policy Limited and founder of the campaign, UseYourVote.com. He is Chair of Governors at Bushey and Oxhey Infant School in Hertfordshire and Chair of Academy Council, Oasis Academy, Enfield.