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The voice of specialist further education

Meetings and self assessment

Governing Body meetings

This section covers meetings of the full board of the governing body. Specialist colleges may also decide to create sub-committees (see governance structures), but the full board meetings are the formal meetings of the governing body. Governors will often participate in visits, informal observations, walking learning tours, and may take part in many other college activities, but it is the formal meetings where decisions will be made.

Meeting frequency and format

Meetings should happen as often as is necessary to carry out the role of governance at the college. The frequency of meetings varies from college to college; it can be anything from 3 meetings per year to one meeting per month, with at least one meeting per term considered good practice.

There is no statutory requirement for specialist colleges to have a particular type or format for governing body meetings. During the pandemic, most governance meetings took place virtually, but it is now usual for meetings to be a combination of face to face and virtual.

Good practice would suggest that in normal circumstances there should be some physical meetings. It is also recommended that governing documents are checked to ensure that they do not prohibit video conferencing, and that they are fully accessible for screen readers.

The frequency of meetings should be set out in the terms of reference for the governing body. How often the full governing body meets will depend on a number of local factors, including what other methods of communication are in place, governor availability and size of college. However frequently governors meet, you should be confident that key decisions can be made in a timely manner, governance documents are regularly reviewed by governors, and that governors do not lose the ability to effectively check and challenge. The onus is on the senior leadership of the college to put systems in place to keep governors up to date.

Roles during meetings

The chair of the governing body is responsible for chairing meetings of the board. Any further duties or powers of the chair need to be set out in the governing document or agreed by members.

Other duties of the Chair may include line management of the Chief Executive / Principal, signing key documents or attending college events.

It is important to establish the quorum for the meeting (the minimum number of board members required to be present for a meeting to be valid). Meetings can be held with less than the quorum but decisions taken will be advisory only and will require ratification by a later quorate meeting.

Minutes

It is important to keep minutes of the meeting. The minutes are a formal record and must be recorded accurately and agreed by the members and securely preserved.

Governing body meetings are usually minuted by a professional clerk, but some smaller colleges have a volunteer secretary to take minutes at the meeting. It is possible for members to take minutes but it does detract from active participation in discussions and decisions.

Action based minutes (which record the action, date it will be achieved and who is responsible) enables governors to monitor the progress of actions agreed.

Board members are collectively responsible for the decisions taken by the board as a whole. This applies even if a member is unable to attend a board meeting. It is important, then, that members always prepare for meetings and read background papers, even if they cannot attend the meeting.

More effective meetings

A well- structured agenda will help meetings to keep their focus. It is useful to have clarity around which items are for decision and which are for information only. The agenda should contain items that cover items relevant to the role of the governing body.

The meeting should be organised in such a way as to ensure that thorough discussions around key aspects of governance take place.

Encourage governing body members to ask questions, for example about the quality of the education provision, safeguarding, equality and diversity.

Ensure that the meeting does not spend too much time on trivial or day to day issues.

Ensure that they do not go on for too long.

Self-assessment and quality improvement

There should be robust processes in place for completing a self-assessment review (SAR) and developing and implementing a quality improvement plan (QIP). Governors should be aware of when and how the SAR is completed each year and should monitor the QIP to address identified areas for improvement in a timely fashion. When actions are taken, meetings of governors should include monitoring the impact of these actions, to ensure they have been effective and identify new actions if required.

As part of the quality improvement process, governors should understand the provision in the college well enough to be able to assess its strengths and weaknesses, provide challenge to senior managers, and hold them to account.

The process should include governors understanding the goals and targets set for students, the learning opportunities and programme provided, and the challenges students are set. Governors should set a culture of high expectations that is then seen throughout the college senior leadership and all staff.

Collecting and analysing data is an important task for the college leadership. Data can cover a range of measures including attendance, progress, attainment, destinations etc and can be presented to analyse issues such as differences between student cohorts, gender and so on. The range and type of data presented should be selected carefully, so as not to overwhelm governors and ensure they focus on key aims for the college. It should be presented to governors so that they can monitor progress across the college and challenge if there are areas of weakness. The intended destinations of students should be key drivers of the design and content of learning programmes.

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