1 in 3 governing bodies need volunteers with solid legal skills to support school improvement

Legal knowledge is the main area of expertise missing from school governing bodies with one in three searching for more skills in this area, according to a new survey by SGOSS Governors for Schools, a national charity that matches schools with skilled governor volunteers from professional sectors. 

High Court actions over term-time holidays, challenges to admission criteria and disputes involving private finance initiative (PFI) repayments have all hit the headlines recently. Now some local authorities, such as Staffordshire County Council, plan to introduce a levy on schools that convert to academies to cover the cost of implementing legal and structural changes such as transferring lands, IT systems and records.

Yet with forthcoming changes to the DfE’s National Funding Formula meaning that thousands of schools across the country will suffer further budget cuts in 2019 – an 8% real terms reduction in funding per pupil - costly legal action and fees are something they can ill afford.

The SGOSS survey of governors placed in schools between 2014 and August 2016 - i.e. those with a minimum of six months experience - found that a third cited lack of legal expertise as the skill most lacking amongst their governors, with most (29.7 %) stating difficulty in recruitment as the reason.

Currently 1 in 3 schools who register with SGOSS are seeking a governor with legal skills – rating them as ‘essential’ or ‘desirable’ – that figure is up from 1 in 7 in 2014.

“In short at the same time that financial pressures are rising, the responsibility carried by governors is increasing and there is no hiding place,” said Ian Armitage, chairman, SGOSS Governors for Schools. “Certainly a Trustee of an academy or MAT carries the same legal responsibility as a company director. Whilst governors may not carry the same legal exposure, they are now responsible for providing effective governance, which means they have to ensure that the school has good leadership at all levels, has a sound strategy, delivers for its pupils, parents and local communities, manages its risks and operates within the financial resources it can command.”

 

An overwhelming 97% of governors surveyed agreed that having a professional and effective governing body is more vital than ever in the current climate.

“Experience of the complexities of any legal framework, and skills associated with the profession, are extremely valuable in securing the success of our schools in an increasingly commercial world,” said Sarah Young, executive head teacher of The Hessle Academy in East Yorkshire.

SGOSS works with legal firms large and small across the country in order to encourage their staff to volunteer, including Allen & Overy, Dentons, Herbert Smith Freehills and Pinsent Masons.

“The legal firms we work with are really engaged and we have had a steady flow of volunteers with legal skills,” said Ian Armitage. “In 2014-15, 39% of the governors we matched with schools had legal skills, but with demand appearing to rise, it’s an area we will focus on more sharply in the coming months.

     
   
   
 
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