New external board review service for college governance launches

A new external board review service for college governance has been launched by the Education and Training Foundation (ETF) and Institute of Directors (IoD) this week.

Providing an unmatched mix of further education and corporate governance expertise, the new service has been tried and tested with colleges.

The service combines the ETF’s experience of board reviews in further education and the IoD’s extensive experience of delivering corporate board reviews.

Further education and sixth form colleges are now required to complete external governance reviews every three years following newly published Department for Education (DfE) guidance.

The ETF and IoD service will support college boards to meet those statutory requirements from 2022/23. Board reviews will be led by experts from the further education sector.

Kurt Hall, National Head of Governance Development at the ETF, said:

“Governors play a critical role in colleges’ success and educational outcomes for learners.

“An external board review increases the understanding of the steps needed to continuously improve competence and characteristics required in the boardroom including effective performance, responsible stewardship and ethical behaviour.”

He added: “Our service has been tried and tested with colleges and we are delighted to launch it in partnership with the IoD.”

Jonathan Geldart, Director General of the Institute of Directors, said:

“We are excited to be working with the ETF on this new board effectiveness review service, leveraging our extensive experience in corporate governance, to deliver independent board reviews to the FE sector.”

He added: “We are looking forward to rolling out this service to colleges across the country and internationally in the coming weeks and months.”

The new service provides an independent, holistic and rigorous assessment of board performance based on a robust methodology developed in consultation with colleges.

It builds on a pilot project funded by the DfE and conducted in 2020/21 when reviews were provided to 28 further education colleges, sixth form colleges and other FE institutions.

One of the providers that took part in the pilot project was Nescot College in Epsom, Surrey.

Sandra Dessent, Governance Professional, Nescot College, said:

“Some colleges may, understandably, feel apprehensive about an external board review but it was such a positive step for us. It really was a gift and the catalyst that gave our board the confidence and impetus to make a number of useful improvements.

“Governance is not just about process but is supported by people and creating opportunities for them to interact. The impact of taking part in the pilot board review has been phenomenal. Students and staff governors have a stronger voice on the board. Governors are also able to connect more strongly with students and staff and the core business of the college.”

She added: “What helped us was having a reviewer who understood the further education sector and was incredibly helpful and supportive. Based on our experience of the pilot board review, I would definitely recommend the ETF because it provides a one stop shop.

“You need access to training to support you with your board review action plan. It is really helpful to get that in one place. I continue to regularly report on the ETF board review action plan. Board effectiveness is on the agenda and it is here to stay.”

Surveys assessing those pilots found that they had an immediate impact on college board attributes that are essential for effective governance.

Key findings:

  • 95% of governors and principals supported the implementation of the review recommendations.
  • 92% of governors and principals agreed that the review report was a fair and accurate account.
  • 89% of governors and principals were satisfied with the overall review process.
  • 84% of those who completed reviews in the pilot agreed that it had improved their board’s ability to assess its contribution to effective governance.

The board reviews take approximately eight weeks to complete and include a six or 12 month follow-up. The review is tailored, based on the board’s cycle and needs.

Visit the ETF board review page to find out more and register your interest in the service.

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