If workload is a concern, the last thing you’ll be interested in is becoming a school governor, but is that worth a rethink? Whether you are a staff governor or a governor in a school other than the one you work in, the role gives you a tremendous opportunity to get to know closely, and possibly influence, the way a school operates.
With the range of school types we have now – including voluntary controlled, voluntary aided, foundation schools, academies, maintained schools and free schools – it can be confusing to determine precisely what the rules are concerning staff governors. With regard to maintained schools, the National Governance Association (NGA) explains that the regulations state that governing bodies must have one elected staff governor. This is in addition to the headteacher. Other members of staff can be co-opted on to the board (the total number of co-opted governors who are also eligible to be elected as staff governors when counted with the staff governor and the head teacher, must not exceed one third of the total membership of the governing body).
While being a staff governor at the school where you work can be beneficial to staff, the NGA recommends that staff govern at schools other the one they work at.
With regard to academies, there is no requirement for staff to be appointed to the trust board. In fact, the current version of the Academies Financial Handbook states in paragraph 1.3.6:
Whilst the members can decide whether to appoint the trust’s senior executive leader as a trustee, the Department’s strong preference is for no other employees to serve as trustees in order to retain clear lines of accountability.
As the NGA explains, “the DfE is silent on the rules around membership of academy committees (also referred to as local governing bodies/LGBs) although a similar rationale relating to clear lines of accountability could be applied.
A staff governor (either teaching staff or support staff), explains Gillian Allcroft, deputy chief executive of the National Governance Association, is someone elected to the governing board by those paid to work at the school. “The role of staff governor/trustee is not – and should not – be any different to that of any other governor/trustee, and staff governors can take part in the full range of roles and responsibilities of the governing board including of matters of staffing and policies which affect staff. Staff governors/ trustees, as the rest of the board do, bring professional knowledge and personal experience that can be used to enhance the governing board’s knowledge of the school. For example, when a policy is being discussed, staff governors could assist the rest of the governing board by explaining the intended outcome of the policy and the benefits for pupils and the school.”
If a staff governor has a conflict of interest then, like any other governor or trustee, they would be required to leave the discussion and any subsequent vote. “It is important to remember that staff governors/trustees are ‘representative of staff, not representatives’ – staff governors might want to let the governing board know the general feelings of staff, but they must use their own judgement in decision making,” Gillian explains. “A staff governor is not a ‘delegate’ of other staff members, and they are free to contribute and vote freely in the best interests of the whole school. They do not speak and act in accordance with the wishes of the majority of staff, and should not canvas the opinion of staff.”
The governance of schools is significantly important in ensuring they are run effectively, and within that, the role of staff governor adds to the breadth of experience on a governing body. Diverse views on a board are likely to lead to better decision making and a more effective board. “Being a staff governor can also be immensely useful CPD, not least for middle leaders who aspire to being headteachers one day. However, in order to fully benefit from the role, it is advisable that this is undertaken in a school other than your own,” explains Gillian. “Through the information provided to the governing board, the discussions had and decisions made, staff governors will have a better understanding of the matters being agreed at a strategic level, and it can be an enlightening role.”
As staff governors are effectively holding their line managers to account, the role can be challenging. The core functions of governance in a school should be in the forefront of all governors’ minds (ensuring financial probity, robust accountability and strategic direction) and staff governors have equal rights with the rest of the board. Being utterly objective about the school is essential, so all personal interests must be set aside. This is about taking a strategic view in the interest of pupils and the whole school. Whether you are a governor in your own school or, as is perhaps preferable, in a school other than where you work, the development opportunities are there for the taking.
Find out more…