Developing governance: Parveen Ghulam, South and City College Birmingham

Parveen Ghulam is Head of Corporate Governance and Legal Services at one of the country’s largest vocational colleges, South and City College Birmingham. As an experienced governance professional, she believes in the importance of CPD for her governors and has recommended the ETF’s Governance Development Programme.

A varied role

I started at the College back in 1999 and I was deputy clerk to the governors until around 2004, then took on the lead role in 2014. I originally trained in the law and could have pursued a legal career, but I found I enjoyed the College, and it was easier to balance my family commitments. Now I head up legal services, procurement, insurance, data protection and freedom of information alongside my corporate governance responsibilities, so it’s a very wide-ranging job and I really like the variety.

Supporting a diverse governing body

Years of experience have helped me develop the knowledge, skills and confidence to enjoy this job. Being a governance professional can be a challenging role – you have to remain independent and that can be hard when you work for the organisation – but it’s about gaining trust.

I’ve worked hard at building relationships with our governors. I feel strongly that it’s not just what the governors can do for the college, it’s how we can help them in the business and communities we serve – it’s a two-way process. I like to make our governors feel appreciated and to have that bond with all of them. They are all very different and you have to take account of that. In fact, it’s the key. The diversity of the board is essential because that’s how you get different skills and different perspectives, so you get more meaningful support and challenge.

Importance of CPD for governors and governance professionals

Governors and governance professionals need the appropriate knowledge, skills and confidence because their roles are so important for their colleges. Especially when there are so many changes in education with new offerings coming in like T Levels. It’s always a challenge to keep our knowledge and skills up to date.

I was desperate, and other governance professionals I know were also desperate, to find a source of CPD that we could recommend to our governors. Obviously, we have our own induction and training for statutory areas like safeguarding, but we wanted high quality, external CPD where they could study independently and just dip in and out as and when they pleased. So, finding the ETF Governance Development Programme was very important. I’m encouraging all our governors to register on the system and to try different courses depending on their background. It’s easy to register on the learning management system, and I took some wonderful screenshots for governors to show them how easy it is to use the platform.

The ETF’s Governance Development Programme

The programme offers a wide range of standalone courses, all fully funded by the Department for Education (DfE) to cater for different levels and types of experience. Users can pick and choose courses flexibly from six learning pathways covering:

  1. Being an effective board member
  2. Strategy and educational character
  3. Quality and standards
  4. Finance, risk and audit
  5. Board leadership and organisational development
  6. Curriculum

Courses are mapped onto three levels of skill – Core, Proficient and Highly Effective – and there are certificates upon completion. The courses come in different formats – self-directed study, podcasts, live workshops and online courses.

Format of the courses

I think I’ve probably tried all the formats. I prefer the online courses because you can dip in and out so easily and there are little assessment tests at the end. I find that really helpful to check that I’ve understood and learnt. The courses are short and that’s good because governors do not have the time to do long courses. They can also pick and choose because the courses are standalone.

Favourite courses

To be honest, there’s not a single course that I’ve tried that I can fault – they’ve all been good. The ‘Board involvement at inspection’ course stood out. Inspections are all about preparation, preparation, preparation, so the course is helpful for governors to get into the right mindset. ‘Board responsibilities and duties for senior postholders’ was interesting as it’s helped me with recruitment, and ‘Supporting effective risk management’ was a good reference point for checking what we’re doing.

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