Your governing board is there to ensure the school or trust achieves the best for all pupils. But what does this mean in practice? Here’s what you need to know about your board and how you may interact with them.
What do governing boards do?
Boards have a strategic role in school leadership – think ‘eyes on, hands off’. It is about offering support and challenge and asking courageous and constructive questions in the interest of children and young people. Formally, boards are responsible for ensuring vision, ethos and strategic direction; holding the executive leader to account; and overseeing the financial performance of the organisation. They also have responsibilities for stakeholder engagement and, in some types of schools, as the employer of staff.
Your board is not involved in the day-to-day running of the school but concentrate on things relating to long-term direction and school improvement. Your board monitors and evaluates the progress the school is making and acts as a source of challenge and support to the headteacher to continue and develop what’s going well and to overcome what isn’t going so well. They also consider and make decisions about the future of the school – including its pupils, people and premises.
In practice this means:
- Appointing and performance reviewing the headteacher and senior leaders, including making decisions about pay
- Managing budgets and deciding how money is spent
- Addressing a range of education issues within the school including disadvantaged pupils, pupils with special needs, staff workload and teacher recruitment
- Looking at data and evidence to ask questions and have challenging conversations about the school such as relating to pupil learning and progress.
Governing boards don’t get involved in every decision about how things are done in school, but are there to monitor if things are done, and what the impact of this has been. For example, they are responsible for ensuring there is a broad and balanced curriculum offer, so they may challenge the headteacher on how the curriculum meets the needs of all pupils, but they won’t decide the content of lessons or how things are taught.
Governors (in maintained schools) and trustees (if your school is a single or multi academy trust) conduct their role largely through meetings. The governing board will hold full board meetings at least three times a year. Boards may also have committees for areas such as finance or curriculum which will require additional meetings. Governors and trustees draw on lots of information like reports, what they experience when they visit the school and data about performance or trends. They use this information to support and challenge the headteacher.
Who are your governors and trustees?
Governing boards are made up of volunteers who bring a range of experiences, skills and insight which benefit the school. Depending on your school type you will have a governing body (if your school is maintained by the local authority) or a trust board (for single and multi academy trusts). If your school is part of a multi academy trust you may also have an academy committee (local governing body).
There are also different categories of governor including parent, staff and co-opted. Co-opted governors are invited to join the board for the skills and experiences they can contribute. Parent and staff governors are elected, and bring their experience of the school and community to inform the discussions – but all governors and trustees have the same roles and responsibilities. Take a look at your school’s website to find out who your governors or trustees are!
Each board also appoints a clerk (governance professional) who provides procedural, legal and strategic advice and guidance to the governing board, as well as administrative support. Headteachers are invited to join the board because of their role, and many take up this offer. Members of your senior leadership team and your school business professional may also attend meetings.
How can you engage with the governing board?
As meetings are held often outside school hours, and with many volunteers balancing their own jobs, you won’t always see governors and trustees around school. But for boards to do their role well they need good information and insight, so in addition to reports and data they receive they will want to meet and understand the experience of staff as well as pupils and parents. Here are some ways you may interact with your board:
- Monitoring visits – governors and trustees will regularly visit the school to see how the strategy works in practice. They may speak to you about your work, school life and achievements. They aren’t there to judge teaching or performance, but to better understand the school’s strengths and areas for development. You may also get an opportunity to chat to them at events or parents’ evenings.
- Staff surveys – there may be specific occasions where the board asks for your views on a topic, either through focus groups or surveys, such as when developing a new strategy or changing policies.
- Attending or contributing to board meetings – you may be invited to provide information on a particular topic to compliment the executive leader’s report to the board. You might also be invited to attend a board meeting to present, for example subject leads might provide updates on the introduction of a new curriculum.
- Becoming a staff governor – there may be an opportunity in your organisation to join the board as a staff governor. Staff governors aren’t expected to be the voice of all staff butbring professional knowledge and personal experience that can be used to enhance the board’s knowledge of the school.
Find out more about what governors and trustees do, and how you could become one yourself on the National Governance Association website.
About the author
Elizabeth works at the National Governance Association as the assistant to the chief executive and PR Manager. She supports NGA’s PR activity including the Visible Governance in Schools campaign and runs NGA’s social media accounts. She also leads on NGA’s pupil mental health and pupil voice policy work and is a new governor at a primary school in Birmingham.