Missed our latest round table?
Read the Q and A’s from our roundtable webinar with industry experts Beej Kaczmarczyk and Tony Allen, who answered questions on the key elements of good governance for Independent Training Providers:
Q: What, in your view, is the best model of governance for us, a medium sized private training provider with just over £2m of AEB and apprenticeship funding?
TA: There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ model, however, you probably need a couple, maybe three people to be helping and supporting you for that size of organisation.
BK: I think it’s a good place to get started. All the evidence shows that unlike colleges and organisations of significant size, which are predominantly funded by public funding, what works for one, won’t necessarily work for others. There’s no expectation (from Ofsted) that you’re going to have a board of four or five governors, of which the majority might be independent or external. It’s got to be appropriate in terms of your business, and what we want from good governance.
What do we expect from a governance model? (You need) a good quality curriculum, whether that be adults, young people or apprentices. But also, because the majority of ITPs are for profit, it’s got to be something that delivers your bottom line as well.
Ofsted’s view is that it’s got to be something that delivers compliance in terms of audit, safeguarding and the dashboard in terms of performance, and something that enhances the offer, that delivers high quality learning, that also makes sure that different stakeholders, whether they be employer or parents, are seeing the full benefits. So, I think that is a great question and there is no best model.
Now, you might have a governing board that’s made up of five people, of whom three may be members of the management team, two could be external or independent. You might meet four or six times a year. You might have a board that looks at all aspects of governance, in terms of best practice models. If you’ve got a bigger organisation, you might have a board of governors, but we’ll also have a separate audit committee, to ensure we comply with the appropriate use of public funds. If you’re the size of a college, you might want a Quality and Standards committee. You should also consider what’s feasible in terms of time. Remember, in most cases these are independent governors, who, in most cases, are non-exec.
TA: I think that’s right. And certainly, for me, one of the first questions you need to think about if you’re a smaller provider is: do you want that formal governance structure, or do you want something much more informal? I’ve supported a very small provider with 52 apprentices, and their external governance is me, and yes, we have a formal and documented meeting once a quarter – that’s frankly mainly to satisfy Ofsted, but I speak to the CEO of that company every week, so if you’re a small provider, don’t be frightened of having a very informal form of governance, providing that’s an external person with expertise around apprenticeships – Ofsted described that model as a strong governance model.
BK: The governance model should help you to operate legally, ethically, sustainably, and successfully. Whatever structure you have in terms of governance, you always have to be able to say: does it deliver on those different aspects?
Q: What would be the minimum number of reports you would expect to see as an independent governor at the full board meeting?
TA: Again, Beej, you’ve talked about safeguarding, risk and curriculum. For me the three essential things are: I’d want to see some sort of data dashboard; I’d want to see something that told me how many learners, how many leavers, how many people achieve on time, how many out of funded’s – all of that standard stuff around apprenticeships; I’d certainly want to see a safeguarding report, not only about any learners with significant concerns, but maybe those around wellbeing and mental health issues, but also: what staff training have you done, what reaching to external organisations have you done? The third key area is around a risk register, and that doesn’t have to be something complex, that talks about the key risks to your business and what you are doing about them. Those three things form the core of the agenda. On top of that, I like to see a deep-dive subject for each of the meetings. For me, that would be the minimum. What do you think Beej?
BK: I agree, it goes back to the answer to the first question – no one size fits all. Certainly, you could say that we need to focus on anything that affects the learner, whether that be classroom-based or work-based in terms of apprenticeships. So, we want data on learner performance, learner achievement, and that dashboard that you talked about. I would also want to see something that tells us about how well we’re doing financially, particularly if we’re drawing down public funding, and we need to make sure there’s a clear audit trail, it’s transparent, and that there’s an appropriate use of public funds.
Safeguarding and Prevent is a key aspect, and that’s one of the aspects of Ofsted, in terms of it’s expectations. You might also want to include how well you are doing with your stakeholders, particularly if they are employers or local authorities. Or you might work with subcontractors or primes, so something about how well you are overseeing these relationships.
Q: What should we look for in a model of good governance?
BK: When we’re talking about good governance, it is important that you should have someone who provides independent scrutiny of the organisation to ensure the best interest of all learners. Whatever your source of public funding, it is important you have an appropriate oversight that those funds are being spent properly.
The code of governance in 2018 pulled together all the research and applies to ITPs, charities and social enterprises. It provides a model of good governance (AEP Code of Good Governance 2018). It gives you seven themes that are consistent with the Nolan Principles (the Seven Principles of Public Life).
TA: You can’t go wrong with those seven key themes because they cover all of the things that the agency, the department and Ofsted – even Ofqual – would expect you to be doing. And without going through them point-by-point, the absolutely crucial one is the first one – being very clear, when you’re a governor for an ITP, that your vision, strategy and ethos is very clear. So much flows from that.
New starts are not easy to come by, and I sometimes come across some quite extraordinary examples – providers that have been niche for years in a certain sector, all of a sudden panicking a bit and starting to leap out and go into a completely different sector that they don’t know anything about, and assuming that that’s going to solve all their starts and therefore financial problems. For me, it’s about reminding senior management what they have said they’re all about. The other six for me, flow very much from the first point.
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BK: The benefit of having an external governor, or governors, is that they are able to check if what you are trying to do in terms of your curriculum is consistent with your purpose, your mission. From that, you get your key performance indicators. But also underpinning those are your polices: are you sure your equality and diversity delivers what you are trying to do in terms of your values, your ethos?
As an independent governor or board member, you’re also there to make sure that what the provider is doing in terms of its delivery of a plan is also best for the external stakeholders, whether that be learners, parents, the employers, or the general public. Policies are critical, but so is the practice. That’s why independent oversight is so important.
TA: As the independent person’s role, it is your job to see the wood for the trees; sometimes when you’re a senior manager in a business, you’re so engrossed that you don’t have time to take that little step back. For anyone performing that external governance role, it’s really important to be able to step back and look at things in a broader context.
BK: Looking at number seven of the code, it’s importance that whatever model you have, you are reviewing it in terms of its effectiveness, in terms of how compliant and consistent it is with what you are trying to do. But also, if you’re moving to an excellence model, you want to exceed these in terms of the expectations.
That means there are some tensions, because sometimes you’ve got to be honest and say: the governance arrangements at the moment don’t deliver that, let’s have a look at where the strengths and weaknesses are, and it might be that we’re not consistent on some things, for example, clarity of roles. How do we ensure that balance is right? How do we ensure that the internal management isn’t being taken over by the external consultant and that we keep that clear division of roles? That can be difficult when you’ve got a small team and the external person is asked to provide scrutiny, but also asked for help with funding for example.
TA: Yes, it can sometimes be very difficult being that external scrutineer, while at the same time advising and guiding on a daily operational basis. It can be done but that road is fraught with risks if you don’t do it properly. And, certainly, you shouldn’t be frightened to bring things up when they aren’t working, which goes back to point seven – you have to review things on a regular basis.
BK: There is a tension. You want to be a profitable training provider, but you also need to be consistent with the expectations of any organisation that draws down public funding, so integrity, accountability, honesty, et cetera. As the independent governor, we need to find a way of challenging the organisation whilst providing support to the leadership team. We should challenge when we see poor performance in terms of teaching and learning, poor outcomes for leaners, or some other activities which are not consistent with requirements for public funds.
TA: Yes, that can be a difficulty, because the last thing you want is a cozy, club environment, where everybody gets on really well and nobody ever challenges anybody; I’ve sat in meetings that were a bit like that: because the principal or finance director said it, it must be so. And nobody ever challenged the fact that it might not be so. We’re human beings, and we develop good relationships with people, but that has to be on the basis that if you’ve the governance person, the CEO and senior team expect you to challenge them. They’re presenting data about something; it’s your job to interrogate that data and make sure it’s based on reality, it’s based on fact.
Q: What do independent governors expect, and what should you expect of them?
TA: In terms of expectations, one thing for me that I think is important is that if I’m asked to join a board or be an external governor, and they say that want to meet three times a year for an hour each time, without any involvement in between, I politely decline. It is impossible, in my view, to be an effective, external, independent support to a business if you’re only going to engage with them for three hours a year. You need to understand context, you need to know what’s going on. There’s nothing wrong with meeting three or four times a year, but it’s really important that you receive reports or communication in between.
Another model that might work is that you have formal meetings three or four times a year, but if the senior management team meet every month, you’re copied in on those papers, for example. There’s nothing worse than when Ofsted come round and they ask you some fairly detailed questions about the strategic and weaknesses of the organisation about what the governance arrangement has achieved in the last year – unless you know that business, you can’t answer those questions in the way you need to be able to answer them.
BK: On the question of renumeration for independent governors, most of the ITPs I’ve worked with have said they can only pay your expenses. I’ve worked with another ITP where I was a member of the board, where I was paid for each meeting I attended.
TA: It is entirely for you as an organisation to talk to that individual. I think most organisations will pay for perhaps half a day for a meeting because you’ve got papers to read and things like that, that’s a fairly typical arrangement, but other arrangements involve, if you want that person to be more ingrained in the business, you could perhaps pay them on a retainer basis, or indeed, as I do with a couple of smaller organisations, I do it as a volunteer. You have to find what works for you. Another thing on this, that sort of links to pay, is making sure that you get the right individual to support your business.
BK: It goes back to what’s the right size of the governance board; rather, have you got the right mix of skills. I think it also goes back to effective governance; if you are going to renumerate external governors, make it clear, make it transparent – identify exactly how you’ve gone about that.
TA: Again, expectations vary. And to my view, there are a few correlations around the governance arrangement and the outcomes for those. If people are happy to be a governor on the basis of three or four meeting per year, that’s fine. But something that I think’s perhaps a bit overlooked from an external governance viewpoint is making sure that you keep up to date, you have an overview and an understanding of the way things work, because there’s nothing worse than if the senior management team have to spend half the meeting explaining to the governance person about what goes on. So, there’s a time commitment, there’s a knowledge and context commitment – I think those two things are really important.
BK: I would add that anything you can bring from your own experience – even if it’s not the experience of apprenticeships – it might be (knowledge of) what’s happening in the wider economy, your contacts. It’s that mix of experience which if you can get in one person, amazing, but you’re more likely to find it in two or three external governors.
I think also, the right attitude to the role. So there is the support, but there’s also the challenge, and people should feel, in an assertive way, to be able to say: how has that happened, how has retention for our level three apprenticeships dipped below the national average? You need that inquisitive mind, as well as an enquiring and knowledgeable mind. But also, a very important expectation I would have is that there’s an empathy for running an organisation as complex as a training provider can be, especially if you’re relying on very different sources of public funding.
TA: Some providers, particularly larger ones are quite keen to have somebody with some industry sector expertise, particularly if they’re a niche provider perhaps operating in one or two sectors, but on a pretty grand scale. Then having somebody who’s a current practitioner in that sector is quite important.
Q: What does Ofsted look for in terms of good governance?
TA: An effective part of governance is being able to give recommendations for improvement. You don’t just go in and tell people what’s wrong and what they should be doing, but you go in and you offer thoughts and suggestions. And for me, there are three key aspects to governance being effective. One is that as a governor, you’re involved in the business. The second thing is that you’re listened to – you’re not just the token external governor because the ESFA and Osted have said you’ve got to have this person coming in every three months and off they go again. The third thing is that you can show the difference you’re making and the impact that you’re having. Impact is a key Ofsted word these days, and it’s really important that as a governance board you demonstrate not only to Ofsted, but also to the business at large, what difference you are making.
BK: I would echo what you said Tony, and while there are examples of good governance, there are examples of what happens when governance goes wrong. You get weak decision making, particularly in terms of strategic decisions, you can have poor financial management, you get an increased risk of not spotting problems early, a lack of accountability for public funds, safeguarding risks, not setting clear expectations of all the people involved in the training provision, and not having adequate quality monitoring. And these are things that can change the whole of the judgement that’s made on you.
TA: Ofsted want to know, that whatever your agreement is, that it’s effective. They want evidence of that; they want evidence that the governors, whoever they might be, understand the strengths of the organisation, understand its weaknesses, what it needs to do, understand what impact they’ve made, they’re suitably qualified and on the ball when it comes to safeguarding, and understand what the key risks of the business are. I’ve been interviewed by HMIs quite a few times, and I know what they’re going to ask me. It’s around those things I’ve just mentioned. And if you can convince the HMI that your governance is making a difference, and that chimes with what they see out there in the business, then that will make Ofsted happy.
One of the huge correlations that I see, is that those providers evaluated ‘requires improvement’ and ‘inadequate’, inevitably, Ofsted also question their governance arrangements. There’s a clear correlation there – if your governance isn’t very good, you have a much better chance of ending up in the bottom two Ofsted categories.
BK: All those things I agree with. I think the added dimension, certainly from my last inspection was: how well did we meet the needs of the local economy, the local skills needs? This is a new dimension, and that applies not only to colleges, it’s an expectation at an ITP – how well are we meeting the needs of the local and regional economy in terms of skills needs?
Q: Is there an expectation, timing wise, that providers should have governance in place from the awarded funding date?
TA: For me, if you’re a brand-new provider, and you’re providing apprenticeships and starting to deliver, then I don’t think anyone’s expecting you to have your full-flung governance arrangements in place from day one. But certainly, by the time you get a monitoring visit by Ofsted, you should have your governance arrangements in place, and certainly by the time you get to your full inspection, your governance arrangements should be up and running and demonstrating how they are adding impact and making a difference.
BK: I would agree. And the expectation of the funding agency would be that there are good governance arrangements in place. Now, whatever that model is – and as long as you’re consistent with the themes of the Nolan Principle – that would be an expectation. And if you haven’t got your funding yet, if you’re in the process of getting it, I would expect to see some kind of action plan that shows what you intend to put in place.
If, for example, you’ve had one model of governance that hasn’t been successful and you’re thinking of putting another one in place, then that would be an appropriate thing to do – part of theme seven, reviewing your governance arrangements – to make sure that they deliver the outcomes you’re seeking from them. So yes, I would say there’s an expectation that by the time you’re securing significant amounts of funding that you’ve got some kind of governance in place.
Thank you all for your questions. If you would like a review of your current governance or would like to initiate a change in your governance, then do please get in touch.
Please note that the above transcript has been abridged and edited for clarity. The original webinar can be accessed here.
Beek Kazmarczyk: 07921 587443 email@example.com
Tony Allen: 07876 546156 firstname.lastname@example.org
Advanced: 0330 343 4000 email@example.com
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