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Phil Reynolds

On the board

Lower teaching costs and paid 'supergovernors' are among the financial implications of the switch to academies, says Phil Reynolds

Posted by Stephanie Broad | May 02, 2016 | Law, finance, HR

Turning all of England’s state sector primary and secondary schools into academies may see a revolution in the way education is run: the emergence of paid ‘supergovernors’.

Currently, all governors are volunteers, often parents of past or current pupils, and may (or not) include people with relevant professional skills. This seems certain to change.

The government is, quietly, opening the door to paying governors, an acknowledgement of just how complex the job may become when schools band together as Multi Academy Trusts (MATs). The result will be that one of the, so far, least reported parts of the Government’s 124-page white paper on its reforming plans, Educational Excellence Everywhere, and a supplementary strategy document from the Department for Education, may prove to be one of its most significant.

The white paper makes clear that the Department for Education (DfE) expects the vast majority of governors to continue to be unpaid volunteers. But as the growth of MATs increases it envisages some seeking Charity Commission authorisation to offer payment to attract the very best people into key positions. This is not only a profound change from the volunteer ethos, but also has governance implications. At a very basic level these include: who will decide how much, for example, a chairperson should receive? The members of the Academy Trust?

It seems at the very least an awkward prospect, but at worst risks conflict of interest and even misappropriation.

High-quality governors

The yellow brick road to remuneration is being firmly laid with the DfE’s stated expectation that governing boards will, in future, contain more skilled people. Any skills gaps will be filled through appropriate training. It will even pay: “We are also funding governing bodies to recruit more skilled people, to support the supply of high-quality governors in every part of the country”.

What makes remuneration more than likely as a reality, rather than merely a possibility, is that MATs are clearly to be favoured. The white paper mentions a so far unquantified “MAT Growth Fund”.

It also makes clear a government commitment to attracting sponsors. What will be interesting to discover is whether there will be enough able and available to take on the role, even with encouragement.

It is unclear what financial form the encouragement will take. However structured, a money incentive risks attracting sponsors who may not always have school improvement at the centre of their motivation.

Recruitment and employment costs

Elsewhere, there may be savings. The employment market in the education sector is extremely tough at the moment, with many teachers unhappy over  their workload and salaries. Recruitment is hard.

In response, the government is proposing a new free national teacher vacancy website so that aspiring and current teachers can find new posts quickly and easily. This should  help schools save on agency recruitment costs.

But the real savings could come from plans to replace Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) with a new and stronger accreditation that takes longer to achieve. Schools will be employing more non qualified teachers, the pay of such individuals will be lower than employing someone qualified. The lower salary will in turn mean lower ongoing costs, such as pension contributions and tax.

Overall, the changes outlined in the white paper and an accompanying strategy document present challenges and opportunities for both existing and future academies. Not all schools will be winners and some will face very difficult decisions to make their budgets balance. But one way or another, it promises to be quite a revolution.

Phil Reynolds is a specialist in academies at accountancy firm Kreston Reeves and also a school governor.

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