Should governors be striking a deal?

Last week, governors in West Sussex went on strike in protest of the lack of funding for schools. This is the first action of its kind, as governor volunteers withdrew their support to schools for the day.

We contacted governors at Upper Beeding Primary School after they released a statement to parents outlining the funding issue.

We asked what measures the governing board had put in place to try and avoid getting to strike action.

Malcolm Gordon, a spokesman for the governing board, said: “All governing bodies wrote to their local MPs outlining their concerns and stating a range of actions they could take, including withdrawing school support for a day or week. Sadly, in our case, Nick Herbert MP did not respond.

“Other governing bodies have met with local MPs – many of them have been supportive – however, the government seems intent on putting any new money into free schools and grammar schools. The ‘strike action’ hopes to draw attention to the fact that governors, who understand and sign off school budgets, are extremely concerned about fair education funding in mainstream schools.”

Philippa Davey, chair of governors at a primary school, posted a picture of her school’s budget on Facebook, with a note on the document saying “As chair of governors, and with the backing of the governing body, I want to raise that I am signing this [budget] under duress”.

The note also said: “Staff have spent hours and hours trying to make the savings required without reducing the quality of teaching to pupils. This is against a backdrop of increased standards, increased monitoring and continual changes of goalposts.

“I would hope all governors comment on their budgets and the decimation of our education system.”

Speaking to TheSchoolBus, Ms Davey expressed that she felt compelled to annotate the budget form as her governing board “simply weren’t getting any answers”.

We asked Ms Davey: “Why did you decide to agree a budget that the governors do not agree with – would leaving it unsigned have had more impact?”

Ms Davey said: “LAs are now allowed to sign deficit budgets. This is absolutely not the answer. You only have to look at the parlous state of the further education sector to see this does not solve the problem. Deficits will rise, staff will be laid off and curriculum compromised. We have to stop this now.”

With regards to strike action, Ms Davey said that this has not yet been discussed within her governing board, but that if coordinated national strike action could be organised this would be extremely powerful.

As the news over the governor strike action hit, many took to Facebook to share their opinions.

One governor said: “The cynic in me wonders who would notice! I agree that funding is a serious issue, but I am not sure that this is the best way forward.”

We asked Mr Gordon whether he thought the one-day strike action would receive the reaction the governing board wanted.

Mr Gordon responded: “We are under no illusion that a simple day of action will be enough on its own. It is part of a much wider campaign by headteachers and parents; however, we hope politicians will recognise that moderate and independent volunteer governors are very worried. Our responsibility is to current pupils and pupils in the future ─ we want our schools to deliver the education that will enable children to be the best they can.”

Issues that seemed to cause concern were those surrounding the Code of Conduct and the new governance regulations that come into effect from September 2017 – in which elected parent or staff governors can be removed if acting out of their line of duty.

Yet, some governors did agree with the strike action, as they believed it would raise the profile of what is currently happening in schools.

However, the majority agreed that the most appropriate route for governors to take was to constructively lobby, and turn to ways in which they can save money for the school.

Instead of taking to strike action, governors suggested that the best course of action would be to “look to energy saving schemes, or even energy production, private sponsors, alumni schemes, legacy donation, and corporate donations”.

One governor said: “It isn’t good governance to get involved in politics like this. The job is to do the best possible with the money available. Governors aren’t personally being impacted by changes, other than the need to do their job and make difficult decisions.”

Governors play an important role in ensuring high standards of achievement for pupils, but in times of budget cuts and growing unease regarding funding – sometimes this can prove hard. With a heavier focus on financial efficiency within the DfE’s ‘Governance handbook’, published earlier this year, it’s as important as ever to ensure your governing board is doing what it can to support its school.

To help ensure that your school is ‘financially efficient’, your governing board must first analyse and evaluate their own skills, knowledge and ability to monitor the school’s financial stability, and ensure that public money is used efficiently to improve outcomes for children and young people.

Below are some tips to help ensure the financial efficiency of your school.

All members of the governing board should have:

  • Knowledge of the financial procedures of the school, including its funding arrangements, funding streams and its mechanisms for ensuring financial accountability.
  • Knowledge of the school’s internal control processes, including how these are used to monitor expenditure and ensure propriety to secure value for public money.
  • Knowledge of the financial health and efficiency of the school and how this compares with similar schools, locally and nationally.
  • A basic understanding of financial management, in order to ensure the integrity of financial information received by the governing board and to establish robust financial controls.
  • Confidence in the arrangements for the provision of accurate and timely financial information, and the financial systems used to generate such information.
  • The ability to interpret budget monitoring information and communicate this clearly to others.
  • Involvement in the school’s self-evaluation of activities relating to financial performance, efficiency and control.
  • The skill to rigorously question whether enough is being done to drive financial efficiency and align budgets to priorities.
  • Knowledge of the school’s processes for resource allocation, and the importance of aligning allocations with impact and outcomes.
  • Knowledge of the importance of setting and agreeing a viable financial strategy and plan, which ensures sustainability and solvency.
  • Knowledge of how the school receives funding through the pupil premium and other grants, e.g. primary sports funding, how these are spent and how spending has an impact on pupil outcomes.
  • Knowledge of budget setting, audit requirements and timescales for the organisation, and checks that are followed.
  • Knowledge of the principles of budget management and how these are used in the organisation.
  • The skill to assimilate the financial implications of organisational priorities, and use this knowledge to make decisions about allocating current and future funding.
  • The skill to interpret financial data and ask informed questions about income, expenditure, resource allocation and alignment with the strategic plan’s priorities.
  • Knowledge of the school’s annual expenditure on staff and resources, and any national/local data which this can be benchmarked against.
  • Knowledge of how staff performance management is used throughout the school in line with strategic goals and priorities, and how this links to the criteria for staff pay progression, objective setting and development planning.
  • Knowledge of the remuneration system for staff across the school.
  • Responsibility for maintaining, updating and implementing a robust and well-considered pay policy.
  • Confidence in approving and applying the system for performance management of senior and executive leaders.
  • The ability to identify and consider the budgetary implications of pay decisions and account for these in the context of the spending plan.
  • Knowledge of the purpose, nature and processes of formal accountability and scrutiny (e.g. DfE, Ofsted, ESFA) and what is required by way of evidence.
  • An understanding of the relevant data and information to present, both verbally and written, for external scrutiny (e.g. inspectors/RSCs/ESFA).

The governing board should ensure that someone on the governing board has:

  • Knowledge of the school’s current financial health and efficiency and how this compares with similar schools, both locally and nationally.
  • The ability to use their own detailed financial knowledge and experience, which is appropriate for the school, to provide advice and guidance to the governing board.
  • Knowledge of the school’s policies and processes in relation to teachers’ pay and conditions, and the role of governance in staffing reviews, restructuring and due diligence.
  • The skill to monitor the outcome of pay decisions, including the extent to which different groups of teachers may progress at different rates, and check that processes operate fairly.

The governing board should undertake an annual skills audit to ensure that members have the required skills and knowledge to monitor financial efficiency within the school. This is a statutory requirement for all academy trust boards and academy local governing bodies. Where gaps are identified, a governor training and development plan and a recruitment plan should be developed to address this.

Our Governors and Financial Efficiency guidance document outlines how a governing board can ensure they are guaranteeing financial efficiency within their school.

For more information and resources regarding financial management at your school, explore our Financial Planning, Cashflow and Budgeting topic.

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