Sharing the Role of the Chair of Governors

25 Aug

Part 3 of the School Governance (Roles, Procedures and Allowances)(England) Regulations 2013 explains the process of electing the chair and vice chair.   As the role of the chair has become distinctly onerous in recent times, finding a governor who is willing to stand for this position has become daunting.   A solution would be for two governors to share that role.

The Department for Education’s (DfE’s) advice states that “It is possible to appoint more than one person to share the role of chair, or, similarly, the role of vice chair, if the board believes this is … the best interests of the school.   The board would need to ensure that any role-sharing arrangement does not lead to a loss of clarity in its leadership.” (Item 18)

There is nothing in the articles of government for academies to preclude the appointment of co-chairs in these institutions too.  However, it would be useful for each academy to check its articles to ensure that this is possible.  The board of a Multi-Academy Trust will have its own policy in relation to appointing co-chairs.

There are pros and cons for appointing co-chairs to a governing body.

Apart from easing workloads, it is advantageous, for instance, to induct the enthusiastic, greenhorn into the position of chair by pairing her/him off with someone experienced.   More often than not, a governing body finds it difficult to persuade one of its members to take on the role from a long-standing chair keen to surrender responsibility for leading the troops. Electing co-chairs could be one strategy worth trying.

Even where there are two able and willing governors – sharing the position could be a huge advantage to the governing body because they could complement each other in relation to  knowledge and skills for the benefit of the school/academy and make the whole greater than the sum of the two parts.   Bringing different perspectives into the role could be an asset for the governing body.

However, the arrangement needs to be thought out and worked through carefully to ensure that governors don’t play off one co-chair against another.  Clarity of decision-making should not become a casualty of co-chairing.    There is also the danger that work may be duplicated or a task fall between two stools.   Making arrangements to meet the headteacher and/or clerk must also be done to the mutual convenience and benefit of both.   This could become tricky because many governors – including the co-chairs – have day jobs making it problematic to fix suitable times and dates for such meetings.

Chair’s action is taken rarely and only when not taking action (in the event of not being able to call a meeting of governors as a matter of urgency) will be dangerous for the school – such as closing when there is a fire or when an epidemic breaks out.   Co-chairs will need to ensure that arrangements are made to decide on who will take these actions in an emergency.

Co-chairs must work in harmony.  Clashing personalities could cause difficulties for the smooth running of the school/academy.  Co-chairs must learn not just to communicate regularly but also trust each other.   Disagreements must be resolved amicably.

The notion of sharing the chair’s role is an enlightened one and could be in the school’s/academy’s best interests, especially where you have uncertainty about succession planning.   The National Governors’ Association strongly recommends that no chair should be in post for more than six years.  However, many chairs continue for much longer because of other governors’ reluctance – either because they don’t have the time or don’t feel competent enough – to take on the role.   Co-chairing would be a way forward.  The intention is a good one, but the way to hell is sometimes paved with a good intention – or two.

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