School governing bodies on the hunt for expert legal knowledge

A new study has revealed that one third of school governing bodies are on the look out for expert legal knowledge. 

The survey carried out by SGOSS Governors for Schools, a national charity that links up schools with skilled volunteers from professional sectors, found that one in three schools who register with the body are seeking a governors with legal skills.

High Court actions over term-time holidays, challenges to admission criteria, and disputes involving private finance initiative (PFI) repayments have all hit the headlines in recent months. Some local authorities, such as Staffordshire County Council, are even planning to introduce a levy on schools that convert to academies to cover the cost of implementing legal and structural changes such as transferring lands, IT systems and records. 

However, with heavy cuts facing the education sector  - eight per cent reduction in funding per pupil - expensive legal action and fees is not something schools can SGOSS Governors for Schools recruiting for volunteers with legal expertiseafford. 

The SGOSS survey was carried out between 2014 and August 2016, and found that a third cited legal knowledge as the skills most lacking among their governors, with most 29.7% pinpointing the reason as a difficulty in recruitment. 

Chairman of SGOSS Governors for Schools Ian Armitage said: “In short at the same time that financial pressures are rising, the responsibility carried by governors is increasing and there is no hiding place.

“Certainly a Trustee of an academy or MAT carries the same legal responsibility as a company director. Whilst governors may not carry the same legal exposure, they are now responsible for providing effective governance, which means they have to ensure that the school has good leadership at all levels, has a sound strategy, delivers for its pupils, parents and local communities, manages its risks and operates within the financial resources it can command.”

The survey revealed that 97% of governors surveyed agreed that having a professional and effective governing body is more important than ever.

In a bid to provide governing bodies with the expertise they need, SGOSS has already been working with legal firms across the country, but is going to pick up the pace in coming months. 

Ian said: “Specialist knowledge in topics like law and finance is generally more in demand than educational knowledge which schools already have. 

“It comes as no surprise that more and more schools appreciate the benefits they can glean by bringing in governors with specific experience and skills.”

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