Who governs the FE governors?

January 20, 1995

End-of-year quizzes are commonplace. It might be more fun to start the year with one. I think 1995 might be the year of accountability. All the focus is on the question to whom should governors be accountable? But underneath lies another set of questions -- for what are they accountable? All the following questions are about what governors have to do and all the answers can be found in the Instrument and Articles of Government for Further Education Colleges. However, if anyone is struggling I would be pleased to send them the answers, on receipt of a stamped addressed envelope.

1. What is the difference between "independent members" and "business members"?

2. What is the maximum number of co-options that can be made to the corporation?

3. What is the smallest and largest allowable size of the board?

4. What is the maximum period of appointment of a board member before he/she has to be reselected?

5. Under what circumstances can members be remunerated?

6. Under what circumstances can members receive allowances?

7. What is the minimum number of meetings to be held in a year?

8. When must a corporation member who is a member of staff withdraw from a meeting?

9. When must a student representative withdraw from a meeting?

10. What committees must be established?

11. Name four things on which the board must consult the staff.

12. State three things which the board must do in respect of senior post holders?

13. Who must the board consult before deciding on rules of conduct for students?

14. What aspect of the academic board's arrangements must the corporation board approve?

15 What is the board's role in respect of the dismissal of staff other than senior post holders?

In using this quiz with groups of governors in recent months I have found that the average score is five, a good score is eight and no one has scored the maximum.

What is the significance of that? In a sane world the answer would be nothing. But in a world which emphasises accountability above all else the conclusion might be that if governors themselves do not know what they should do we are facing a credibility gap.

Of course it could be argued that governors rely on their clerks to know these things -- but in the limited use made of the quiz so far, their scores are not significantly better than those of corporation members. There is not much solace either in relying on general knowledge of the colleges' financial memoranda. Here the scores tend to be lower.

It is trite to say we have a training and development need. Certainly, the Further Education Funding Council's work on the character, role and development of corporation clerks is overdue.

Meanwhile, three New Year resolutions might help. First, the Association for Colleges, the Colleges Employers Forum and the new Further Education Development Agency might develop plans for the training and development of governors. Second, the FEFC and Department for Education might fund the process. Third, the inspectors might separate the evaluation of management and governance in their reviews of college performance. And at Easter someone might develop another end of term quiz on, shall we say, college mission and strategic plans.

Keith Scribbins is chair of governors at South Bristol College and deputy director of The Staff College.

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