Enter the eGovernor: is the future of school governance virtual?

Rosemary Hill
Rosemary Hill

We hear a lot these days about the teacher recruitment crisis (or lack of, depending on your sources), but what about governor recruitment? If we’re even struggling to find people to dedicate their time to schools for a full-time salary, how must the voluntary side of the sector be faring?

Well, I wouldn’t talk about a full-blown crisis, but the picture isn’t entirely rosy. In a survey carried out by the National Governors’ Association and TES last year, half the respondents said they’d had trouble recruiting new governors, with primary and special schools the most affected.

What’s more, in a speech in November 2015, Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw called for a ‘rethink’ of school governance, demanding more professionalism and an end to what he termed an ‘amateurish’ approach.

But where, you might ask, are governing boards going to find these skilled professionals? In a recent talk at The Key, the CEO of SGOSS – Governors for Schools, Janet Scott, explained that while she had more volunteers than she could place in London, schools in rural, isolated or disadvantaged areas were still going without. So how can we address that imbalance and get the skills to the schools?

Enter eGovernance.

Never heard of it? Don’t worry – the phrase was only coined last year. It’s a pilot scheme, run by SGOSS and still in its infancy, that allows volunteers to govern remotely, participating in meetings through conference calls. In theory, it’s a win-win situation: volunteers can make an impact where they’re really needed, and schools everywhere have access to solicitors, accountants and HR professionals.

As with any innovation, there are inevitable teething troubles. What if the room where meetings are held doesn’t have good internet signal, or a place to plug in a landline? And how can you gain that vital knowledge of your school from 50, or indeed 150, miles away? I know good governance is ‘eyes on, hands off’, but surely there’s a limit to the distance a governor can have from the day-to-day running of their school.

However, it looks like these initial hiccoughs are being ironed out as they appear. For example, the pilot scheme encourages eGovernors to visit their school and meet their fellow governors face-to-face at least once before they start, and each eGovernor is assigned a ‘buddy’ on their governing board. SGOSS has also offered to help with the cost of spiders* for each of the eGovernors’ schools to improve the sound quality of the calls.

Could this be the future of school governance? Well, not exclusively, no. No-one would want eGovernors to replace people on the ground with up-close and personal knowledge of their school. Instead, the power of eGovernance lies in filling identified skills gaps: the schools who take on eGovernors need their expertise, and might not otherwise find it.

But who am I to say what the future holds? In this initial pilot, the eGovernors are appointed for one year, after which both sides can evaluate how things have gone and what might happen next. If these first intrepid virtual governors succeed, perhaps this as yet small pilot could find its place in school governance on a wider scale. We’ll just have to watch this space.


*not that kind of spider, apparently. This kind of spider:

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Comments 1

  1. Brendan Hollyer 16th February 2016

    Schools do need to keep an open mind about what they can do to support governors. More than ten years ago, my work situation led to me working away for stretches, but I was able to call the school and was put on a speaker for a couple of governing body meetings. For these, I passed the chairing to another governor who was in the room, but the meetings ran fine and I was recorded as having attended, which is much better than sending apologies. With Skype and spider-phones very available, there is more scope to support remote governance. That said, it is even more important for any such governor to provide evidence that they know the school and extra efforts need to be made to visit the school and see at first hand what is going on. We all need to know our school.

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