A blurring of the lines of accountability and responsibility between the governing body and the governance professional.
When reading an FE Commissioner’s report recently, a thought occurred to me, ‘who is ultimately accountable and responsible for the governing body’s effectiveness? Is it the governance professional, the chair, the governing body itself, or all three?’ The said FE Commissioner report stated, ‘Clerking is not effective. The clerk has failed to develop board self-assessment, a board quality improvement plan or a board development programme. Requests by some governors for specific training have not been followed through. As such members have not been appropriately equipped to engage, contribute and challenge, and this has compromised understanding and decision making.’ The expectation is that the governance professional should facilitate any training requested by the governing body that is a given, but for the rest, I’m not so sure that they are the governance professional’s responsibility. It would of course depend on the detail of the case i.e. if the governance professional has not followed through on requests, then that is an issue, but my understanding is that a board self-assessment process must be led by the chair (unless they have delegated this task for a specific reason). An independent governance consultant advised, ‘It is the responsibility of the governing body to ensure it is fit for purpose. Identifying and planning its own evaluation, development and training is a key aspect of this and to delegate that responsibility may weaken it. It is important for governors to be able to articulate their training and development strategy and arrangements themselves, and demonstrate how they evaluate their own impact and develop their own skills.’
This dilemma formed part of the research work undertaken by Colin Forrest, Janet Goodall and Ron Hill in ‘The role of the clerk to the corporation in promoting the legitimate governance of further education and sixth form colleges in England: A role in the governance of all educational institutions? A discussion point focused on whether governance professionals should be involved in first order governance ‘doing governance work’ or rather that they should be involved in second order governance ‘promoting legitimate governance’, namely providing guidance for the chair and the board; and supporting the chair in ensuring the effective functioning of the board. Another FE Commissioner report states, ”The clerk has failed to address matters of good governance across the governance structure, leading to some poor and inappropriate decision making over a period of time and inappropriate governance. There has been a systemic failure of governance which has taken place over a significant period’. The promotion and facilitation of effective governance is a key function of the governance professional’s role and they must be held accountable for such, that is not in doubt. But to what extent poor decision making by the governing body can be laid to blame at the door of the governance professional is an interesting discussion that I’m not sure the sector has a clear answer to.