Academies Bill [HL] — Report (2nd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:15 pm on 7th July 2010.

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Photo of Lord Puttnam Lord Puttnam Labour 7:15 pm, 7th July 2010

My Lords, not for the first time I speak in support of my noble friend Lady Howe. I did not speak on this subject in Committee, but on Second Reading I did make the point that the Government's handling of governors and governance issues had been "clumsy". I had hoped that in the intervening weeks I would be able to withdraw that, but, unfortunately, according to the DfE website,

"no decisions have yet been taken on the composition of future academy governing bodies".

That is a foolish way of putting it for all sorts of reasons.

I have spent the past 12 years visiting almost 400 schools. What have I learnt from that? I have learnt that successful schools are typified by engaged staff with good leadership from heads, engaged parents, and engaged governing bodies. In almost 400 schools I have never come across a school in which the relationship between a successful head and the chair of the governing body has been anything other than excellent. I am sure that it is possible to find one, but I never have. It is a pivotal relationship and I cannot imagine that a successful academy will manage matters differently.

I have a real concern. I think that in years to come, largely as a result of the work of the national college, and possibly the recession, we will have a generation of first-class head teachers. They will tend to be quite young and very professional. They will probably have led three, four or possibly five schools at different times in their careers. As they move on, the only continuity left to the community will be the governing body. If you begin to minimise the role of the governing body in some way and solely optimise the role of the heads-or, as we shall increasingly come to think of them, the CEOs-we could reap a whirlwind. The Government will make a massive mistake if they do not addressing the legitimate expectations of governing bodies.

I would go further. I think that there should be mandatory training for the chairs of governing bodies. I agree absolutely with the noble Baroness, Lady Howe. My own Government, in a dozen years, did nothing like enough in this area. To repeat that mistake in an educational environment in which this relationship will become ever more important as schools need to connect and remain connected to their local communities, will be a grievous error. I fear that academies which believe themselves able to get up and running while ignoring the role of the governing body will fail. There is a danger that they may simply minimise it, or go through something perfunctory such as having one or two people just because they feel they must. Governors are crucial to successful schools, and anyone who thinks otherwise has not visited enough of them.