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Does your board need to bring in some expertise on a certain topic?

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51 ARTICLE Associate Governors.psd.psd.psd

If your board has no existing vacancies, you might wish to appoint what’s called an ‘associate member’ - a temporary member who’s brought in to sit on a committee because of a specific skill set.

The charity Independent Governor Support (IGovS), which provides free mentoring and support for boards, says this role can work really well if implemented properly but not everyone understands the role and its remit.

We asked the IGovS team, who’re made up of experienced trustees, governors and governance professionals, to share some tips on best practice and how to stay compliant.  

7 things to think about when appointing an associate member

1. Think about the ‘why’ first…

  • Demonstrate through a skills audit that particular expertise is not already held on the board and additional support is required
  • Establish the remit of the person’s role when you appoint them... when they hold voting rights, which meetings they’ll attend and for how long they’ll serve
  • Record these decisions in the minutes

2. Are we quorate? You might not be…

  • Be aware that if you have a number of associate members on a committee and a few governors can’t make the meeting - it might not be quorate (i.e. the committee meeting doesn’t meet the minimum number of governors that must be present at a meeting in order for official decisions to be made). In a maintained school, associate members are not counted towards the meeting quorum. In an academy trust, the way that the quorum is determined should be clearly set out in your governance documentation
  • Associate members have the right to receive the agendas, minutes and papers for any committees they sit on
  • Associate members must also declare all personal and business interests. These must be published online in the same way as governors and trustees are required to do so. However it should be noted that there is no requirement to add associate members to Get Information About Schools (GIAS). This is the national register of governance roles within schools and colleges in England
  • Associate members shouldn’t make school visits - they’re not governors and monitoring isn’t part of their role. Under Department for Education guidance, associate members aren't required to undergo DBS checks however IGovS strongly recommends that associate members who may come into contact with pupils are treated like any other volunteer and that DBS and section 128 checks take place, they're entered on to the single central record and they take relevant safeguarding training. This should all be determined by the board prior to appointment.

3. Make sure to understand the rules around associate members and chairing

  • An associate member can chair a finance committee in a maintained school but only if they’re the most appropriate person to do so and they have the necessary skills
  • The board should set out in the committee terms of reference that the individual is specifically afforded voting rights
  • Note the exceptions to this rule: the associate member must be 18+,  the majority of committee members present must be governors, not associate members themselves and the associate member won’t have a chair’s casting vote
  • At the trust board level, it is not appropriate for an associate member to chair a finance or audit committee as set out in the Academy Trust Handbook. If there are committees at the local tier, these should be chaired by the person with the most appropriate skills - this could be an associate member but it’s for the trust board to determine the constitution, membership and proceedings of its committees - so check with the trust board

4. Associate Members should improve governance, not bring issues

  • Associate members are there to improve governance, not cause extra work or issues. If that’s happening, it’s time to review the situation
  • A committee IGovS came across appointed an associate member who was regularly active in the local community as part of a plan to increase community engagement - but this person did not understand their role unfortunately did not respect confidentiality
  • Associate members cannot be suspended (they’re not governors). If the board decides their participation or advice is no longer needed then they should simply vote on this, record it in the minutes and inform the associate member of the decision

5. Associate members can only be appointed to committees

  • If your board doesn't have committees and follows the circle model, you won't be able to appoint associate members. Instead, you'll need to appoint a full governor or trustee to fill any skills gaps
  • Associate members can attend full governing board meetings, but cannot be appointed to the full board and cannot vote at these meetings

6. Staff members as associate members - think about balance

  • IGovS has noticed some boards put additional staff members on a committee as associate members because it is easier than recruiting governors externally. This is not advisable. Associate members are not governors, remember

  • IGovS supports staff who wish to learn about governance but too many staff as associate members can affect the balance of the board and can make it difficult for a board to challenge school or trust leaders effectively

  • You don’t need to appoint a staff member as an associate member in the minutes just because you want them to attend a meeting – If anything, they can attend meetings as contributing observers

7. But... staff members as Associate Members can work well in certain circumstances..

  • This is not to say that members of the senior leadership team or teaching staff should not be appointed as associate members. One of the IGovS team has a SENCo as an associate member in the school where they clerk. This person is invaluable in both their knowledge and the experience they share. They were the elected staff member and, at the end of their term, they wanted to give the opportunity to someone else to stand but offered to support the board going forward. This arrangement has worked very well.

About IGovS

IGovS is a Charitable Organisation which provides free support, coaching and mentoring to governance chairs to improve the governance in their own educational setting whether that be maintained schools or academy trusts. You can contact them here to find out more about how they can help you and your board.

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