Should governors be paid and if so, what and for what?

13 Apr

The responsibilities and workload of school governors have grown unbelievably in the last few years.  No chair of governors worth her/his salt works for fewer than five hours a week.   Most chairs average at least 10 hours weekly.   A survey by the National Governors’ Association (NGA) revealed that 65% worked for 17 hours a week and 23% for over 36 hours.  With the rank and file of the rest, it is not unusual for at least two to three hours a week to be spent on school governance.

Consequently, we need to address four issues.

(i)         Should governors be paid?  If so, do we restrict payment to the chairs of governing bodies or extend it to all the members?

(ii)        If governors are to be paid, for what should they be paid?  Should it be for the work that they do and their expenses or should it be simply for the work they do or expenses?

(iii)       If governors are to be paid, should it be by way of “salaries” or a “stipends”?

(iv)       From where will the finance come, if governors are to be paid?

At present, the only governors that do get paid are members of Interim Executive Boards (IEBs).  Their circumstances are special and they are recruited specifically to pull schools that are special measures out of their difficulties.

There is a tension between the opposite stances taken by governors and others in answering the first question.   People become governors mainly to give something back to society.  They receive intrinsic satisfaction from seeing work well done.  Many professionals have remarked that, en passant, they have benefited greatly from engaging in Human Resources (HR), financial and legal work impacting positively on their day jobs.   The research reveals, anyway, that most people gain greater satisfaction from doing voluntary rather than paid work.

On the other hand, schools in the less well-heeled parts of the country find it difficult to recruit governors because many simply can’t afford to give the time?   Often, governors have to be recruited from further afield.  Would paying governors make a difference?

Should payments be restricted to the chairs?   The burdens placed on chairs are considerable.   The responsibilities they are required to take on and the demands made on their time are excessive.  But then, do we extend payment to the chairs of the committees too?  They have more responsibilities than the rank and file of the membership, albeit less than the chairs of governing bodies.

“But,” I hear some say, “chairs could manage matters more effectively by delegating work to the other members of the governing bodies.”   However, delegation does not mean the abrogation of responsibilities and there is an onus on a chair to ensure that work that is delegated is done on time and to acceptable standards.  This involves work – albeit of a slightly different kind to doing things oneself.  In fact, some chairs aver that it is better to do the work themselves than delegate to fellow governors who make a pig’s ear of the tasks, don’t do them on time, or simply don’t do them at all.

If payments are to be made to governors, there is a strong case to make them by way of stipends – i.e. as honorariums – rather than salaries.   Governance has historically been a voluntary task and in its current form is really no different to the work carried out by non-executive members of the boards of public and private companies and charities.

If that is not to be, should governors be paid at least for their expenses?  I know of several governing bodies who have found it very difficult to recruit members of their communities because they are financially disadvantaged by having to fork out for public transport and child care.   In particular, young mothers and disabled people find it more problematic than the rest.

The good news is that the School Governance (Roles, Procedures and Allowances) (England) Regulations 2013 permit governing bodies to pay allowances for out-of-pocket expenses incurred by governors in connection with their duties.

This means that expenses could be paid for the following:

  • child-care or baby-sitting
  • care arrangements for elderly or dependent relatives
  • support for governors with special needs such as audio equipment
  • support for governors whose first languages are not English
  • telephone charges, photocopying and stationery
  • travel and subsistence

Also, the Regulations require employers to give reasonable time off to their employees to discharge their functions as school governors.  However, this does not have to be with pay.   And there’s the rub.

The biggest conundrum for governors is that even if they are to pay themselves expenses most are loathe taking them because it is at a cost to the schools they serve.  Given that finances are always tight, they can’t but feel a twinge of guilt when they take “food out of the mouths of the kids they are there to serve”.

HSBC – the bank – has a scheme where each employee who serves as a governor can claim £10 for every hour s/he works up to 50 hours annually – amounting to a maximum of £500.00 to make over to the school.  More often than not, schools at which HSBC staff members serve use the resource to pay governors’ expenses.

Now there is something which all employers can consider?

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