Independent Board Member for an FE Provider:

Non-Executive Director Equivalent Role

Role Outline and Personal Specification


College governance overview

Good governance is an essential component to the successful running of colleges and the delivery of impact through education to young people.

All colleges in England have a governing board. The size varies but is usually in the range of 10-18 members. The governing board consists of highly committed external members who are volunteers, drawn from a range of backgrounds including business, local government and education, along with staff and student members. Each member serves for a pre-determined length of office, usually 3 or 4 years (re-appointment for one additional term of office can be an option).

The governing board oversees the strategic direction of the college. It appoints senior post holders who are responsible for running the college on a day-to-day basis. The governing board is also expected to:

Ensure the solvency of the college
Safeguard public funds and assets
Approve the annual budget
Determine the college mission

Work on these strategic activities is usually delegated to a series of committees that sit under the main governing board, bringing their reports back into the main Board for approval and final sign-off. Each committee will have specific terms of reference that reflect the characteristics of each college.

There is a clear distinction between governance (the responsibility of the board) and management (the responsibility of the senior leadership team).  In brief, oversight, financial probity, scrutiny and monitoring are the business of the board.  Management, operation and administration are the business of the principal and the senior leadership team.

Effective governance provides strategic direction and control to colleges and providers by creating robust accountability, oversight and assurance for their educational outcomes and financial performance.

Role of a board member

Independent board members play a crucial role in the success of any FE provider.  They are viewed as non-executive directors and share the collective responsibilities of the Board.  Effective board members require confidence and the ability to challenge conventional wisdom, ask tough questions and nurture strong relationships.  A Board Member acts as a critical friend and advises and guides the principal and the senior leadership team accordingly.

Responsibilities of a board member

As an independent member of the board, you would be expected to:

  • take joint responsibility, with other members of the Board, for setting and monitoring the strategic framework within which the FE provider operates
  • be actively involved in reviewing the role and function of the FE provider in response to internal and external change
  • ensure that all resources, including financial, personnel, property and other assets, are effectively deployed and managed
  • through regular quality reports ensure that the FE provider is setting and achieving high quality provision across all areas of delivery
  • through receiving regular financial reports, ensure that the FE provider is solvent and that finances are well managed.  You will, as a board member, be responsible for approving annual estimates of income and expenditure
  • work with other members of the board to set frameworks for pay and conditions of service, with particular responsibility for establishing pay for senior post-holders and the clerk to the board
  • foster good relations between the FE provider and its community and ensure that the FE provider’s aims and objectives are understood
  • participate in committees or working groups of the board, in accordance with your own professional knowledge, skills and abilities
  • be willing to serve on at least one committee at the request of the chair subject to mutual agreement
  • be willing to serve in the role of chair or vice-chair of a committee, if elected to do so by other board members
  • help to ensure that the FE provider, in its procedures, policies and actions, complies with the law
  • promote equality and diversity

Person specification

A board will try to maintain a balance of skills and experience within its membership.  In addition, the Department for Education has identified seven personal attributes of board members that are as important as their skills and knowledge:

  • Committed – Devoting the required time and energy to the role and ambitious to achieve best possible outcomes for young people. Prepared to give time, skills and knowledge to developing themselves and others in order to create highly effective governance.
  • Confident – Of an independent mind, able to lead and contribute to courageous conversations, to express their opinion and to play an active role on the board.
  • Curious – Possessing an enquiring mind and an analytical approach and understanding the value of meaningful questioning.
  • Challenging – Providing appropriate challenge to the status quo, not taking information or data at face value and always driving for improvement.
  • Collaborative – Prepared to listen to and work in partnership with others and understanding the importance of building strong working relationships within the board and with executive leaders, staff, parents and carers, pupils/students, the local community and employers.
  • Critical – Understanding the value of critical friendship which enables both challenge and support, and self-reflective, pursing learning and development opportunities to improve their own and whole board effectiveness.
  • Creative – Able to challenge conventional wisdom and be open-minded about new approaches to problem-solving; recognising the value of innovation and creative thinking to organisational development and success.

Board members also have an individual responsibility to observe the seven principles set out in the Nolan Committee’s report Standards in Public Life:

  • selflessness
  • integrity
  • objectivity
  • accountability
  • openness
  • honesty
  • leadership