Who are school governors and what do they do?


Have you ever wondered about the role of school governors and what happens during school governor body meetings?

School governors are unpaid volunteers who hold headteachers to account and ensure that schools are meeting their strategic objectives. Governors do not manage the operational day-to-day functions of a school, but are required to oversee its long-term development.

In this article, we explain who can be a school governor, look at the structure of governing body meetings as well as signpost you to organisations that recruit governors.

Who can be a school governor?

Anyone can be a school governor, as long as you are over 18 and show an interest in the school, what is happening in education and the local community. You should also have enough time to attend governing body meetings and fully commit to the role.

Most governing bodies consist of a diverse range of people who bring a variety of skills to the role. These include marketing executives, charity workers, retirees, university graduates to dentists. School governing bodies will often consist of the following people:

  • Parent governors: are governors with children at the school. They are elected onto the governing body by other parents
  • Staff governors: the headteacher and deputy headteacher will always attend governing body meetings. Also there is often a representative from the teaching staff. The headteacher will prepare and circulate reports to the full governing body in advance of meetings. Staff governors provide useful operational knowledge of the day-to-day workings of the school
  • Foundation governors: are on the governing bodies of both aided and controlled church schools. They are appointed by the school’s founding body, which in most cases is the church.
  • Partnership governors: are members of the community served by the school appointed by the governing body. They are only found on foundation schools without a church link
  • Local authority governors: are nominated by the local authority but appointed by the governing body. The local authority can nominate any eligible person as a local authority governor, but it is for the governing body to decide whether this nominee has the skills to contribute to the effective governance and success of the school
  • Co-opted governors: are appointed onto the governing body by the other members because they possess a particular skill which can contribute to the effective governance and success of the school

What are the responsibilities of a school governing body?

School governing bodies set a school’s aims, review its policies and ensure a clarity of vision, ethos and strategic direction. Broadly, the responsibilities of a governing body sit under three functions:

  1. Ensuring clarity of vision, ethos and strategic direction
  2. Holding executive leaders to account for the educational performance of the organisation and its pupils, and the performance management of staff
  3. Overseeing the financial performance of the organisation and making sure its money is well spent

As part of the governing body team, a governor will be expected to:

  • Monitor the school’s budget
  • Act as a “critical friend” and ask pertinent questions
  • Review and suggest amendments to school policies
  • Analyse the school’s staffing structure
  • Monitor the school’s performance by looking at attendance, attainment and pupil progress
  • Act as a link governor on a specific issue, for example, more able pupils. They would be expected to make enquiries of the relevant staff and report to the governing body on the progress made
  • Listen to and report to the school’s stakeholders including pupils, parents, staff and local employers
  • Set the headteacher’s pay and agree the pay recommendations for other staff
  • When required, serve on panels of governors to appoint the headteacher and other senior leaders

What are the various committees structures in governing bodies?

The majority of governing bodies will have a committee structure to ensure tasks are split between governor’s areas of expertise.

The committees will each have a key area of focus on the school’s operations and performance. Membership and terms of reference of committees are determined annually.

Committees often have different names from school to school. Examples of committees in governing bodies include:

  • Achievement and standards: will consider to matters relating to assessment, progress, transition and monitoring and evaluation
  • Finance and premises: will guide and assist in budgeting and financial matters
  • Resources committee: analyses the use of school ‘resources’ including the leadership of teaching and learning, the school budget, the employment and development of staff and the school premises
  • Personnel and performance management: will complete the appraisal of the headteacher and review policies relating to performance-related pay and progression

The committees also monitor the school’s delivery of statutory requirements in regards to the education and well-being of pupils and the management of staff and resources.

The focus of their activities each year is on the progress made towards specific strategic goals which will be set out in the school’s development plan. Committee meetings will also be much more frequent than the wider whole school governing body meeting which typically take place once a term.

What happens at whole school governing body meetings?

All the governors at the school will meet together, often during evenings in term time, for a whole school governing body meeting. An agenda and minutes from the previous meeting will be sent out in advance. There will be a Chair who has responsibility for making the meeting run effectively and making sure all governors can voice their opinions.

The headteacher will often start by providing a report covering issues such as attendance, behavioural attendance and pupil attainment and progression data for the previous term.

The chairs of the different committees will also provide a summary of what was covered in their meetings. Governors will have the chance to question the headteacher and deputy headteacher and discuss the strategic direction and the school development plan

There will be a clerk who will be producing minutes of the meeting. The clerk is the ‘constitutional conscience’ of the governing body and provides advice on procedural and legal requirements.

There will also be a section at the end of the meeting for confidential matters arising. Topics which could be raised during this section include specific details on pupil exclusions and staffing matters.

How does school governance work in academies and free schools?

Multi-academy trusts and free schools have additional layers of governance structures compared to local authority controlled schools. The majority of these schools have a two-tiered system:

  1. Members who sit at the top, usually two or three people who sit on the board of the trust and only have occasional meetings. They ensure that the academy trust’s charitable objectives are being met, maintain an overview of the effectiveness of the trust structure and have the power to appoint and remove trustees
  2. Trustees are people who fulfil the roles traditionally done by governors. Academy trustees must be autonomous in their decision-making and avoid conflicts of interest. If they are connected to another organisation in the local community such as a business, their decisions as a trustee must be made independently.

GOV.UK provides more information on governance in multi-academy trusts.

How can I interact with school governors?

As a member of teaching staff your headteacher might ask to present to the governing body on your specialist area, for example, EYFS provision at your school. As many governors will have a basic knowledge of school-related topics it will be a chance for the governing body to develop their knowledge on the subject.

You might also have governors come and visit you in class.for fact-finding and looking at how the school can best support teaching staff. You can request to sit in on a school governing body meeting as an observer so you can get an idea of what is involved.

Governors might also be involved in grievance hearings, we have published another article which provides further information on grievance hearings.

Where can I go to look for more information on school governance?

Inspiring Governance is a national online matchmaking service which connects skills volunteers interested in serving as governors and trustees with schools and colleges. It provides free, expert support for volunteers and governing bodies, as well as for employers wanting to run programmes for their staff serving as governors.

The National Governors’ Association aims to represent all school governors and trustees in England. It is an independent charity that aims to support and promote effective governance. It also runs national conferences, and several regional events.

Academy Ambassadors is a non-profit organisation which recruits non-executive directors, also known as trustees, to a wide range of board roles on academy trusts.

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