Christine Stretesky is a legal and governance professional with high-level experience across the charity and education sectors.

She is currently Head of Corporate Governance & Policy at Education Partnership North East, a large group of successful colleges with a quality reputation based on results.

In this guest blog, Christine shares her insights into the future of governance in education post-COVID-19.

Delivering governance during a national lockdown

As schools and colleges closed to all but vulnerable students and students of key workers, governance professionals were tasked to quickly design ways in which high-level governance could continue during self-isolation and social distancing.

At Education Partnership NE, I was very fortunate to have governing documents that recognised and allowed remote meeting attendance and Governors equipped with tablets to allow them to do so.

As the days and weeks have passed, I came to realise that some of my colleagues were not so fortunate. Their Instrument and Articles did not allow for remote meeting participation or decision making via electronic mail, nor were their governors on board (bad pun intended) with this new way of delivery. Reports of governors unable or unwilling to use technology to hold virtual meetings was perhaps the most shocking for me.

How the COVID-19 crisis may result in a ‘new normal’ for governance in education

On paper, overcoming these barriers seems straightforward and easy: amend governing documents to allow for new and innovative ways of legitimate decision making and train governors in the platforms used to host virtual meetings.

The real barrier, however, is getting governors to buy into the concept that a remote meeting can be as productive and effective as an in-person meeting. If that can be achieved, the COVID-19 crisis may result in an opportunity for a ‘new normal’ that maintains and potentially improves upon high-level decision making, scrutiny and support whilst making positive impacts on diversity, college and sixth form budgets and the environment.

Benefits to embracing an increase in remote meetings once out of this period of social distancing:

  • Increased attendance rates: remote attendance has the potential to increase attendance rates as governors travelling for work, or unable to make the commute from their office to the college in time for a meeting will be able to attend.
  • Increased participation: anecdotally, some of our lecturers have discovered that their shyer students are actively participating in the virtual classroom like never before; the same may be true for governors.
  • A potential to diversify your board: by having remote attendance, governor roles may appeal to younger candidates and candidates that find travelling to campus for a meeting a barrier to putting themselves forward for a role.
  • Reduction in governor expense claims: There will be very few colleges and sixth forms not financially impacted by coronavirus; by hosting remote meetings, governor expense claims will be reduced drastically.
  • Reduction in hospitality costs: there is no need to cater a remote meeting which will be realised in budgetary savings (albeit small).
  • Decrease your college’s carbon footprint: remote meetings are green and support sustainability policies and initiatives.

Governors are right to be reluctant. There are some real barriers to remote meetings:

  • Meetings have always been held in person; why stop now?
  • Technology may not be available to all governors: we cannot assume that all governors will have access to more than a mobile phone at home.
  • Poor internet connections can make meeting attendance difficult or make the quality poor.
  • The flow of a meeting is just not the same in a remote meeting.
  • Networking and making small talk with other governors are lost in a virtual meeting.