What are the Roles & Responsibilities of a School Governor?

October 23, 2020
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In England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, every state school has a governing board (or governing body) consisting of varying numbers of governors. These governors make up the largest volunteer force in the country, and play an extremely important role in the success of a school.

As Ofsted has noted, there is a clear relationship between effective governance, the quality of leadership and management, and student achievement. This gives governors heavy responsibilities, but while the role can be challenging, it can also be extremely rewarding.   

Whether you are interested in becoming a governor, or simply want to learn more about the duties that they have, this article will guide you through what you need to know. Here, we will outline the role of a school governor, their various responsibilities, and the benefits related to the position.

What is a School Governor?

School governors – also known as ‘trustees’ or ‘local academy committee members’, if you are on the board of a single or multi academy trust – can essentially be defined as overseers of schools. They work alongside the headteacher and senior leaders to ensure that the school is running effectively, and are accountable to parents, the local community, and the local authority for this.

Their work primarily involves attending governing board meetings – which usually occur once a term – as well as any meetings for committees within that board which they have chosen to be part of. For example, some schools split the governing board into curriculum, finance, premises, and personnel committees, which each have their own agendas and report back to the board as a whole.

Governors are useful because they are independent from the day-to-day running of the school, and therefore give an outside perspective on issues. Ideally, the governing board will be as diverse as possible, so that everyone has different skills, knowledge, and experience to contribute to discussions. For this reason, the board usually contains the school’s headteacher, members of the local authority, and parents. Parents often have specialist knowledge of another sector from their full-time job. Those working in finance, HR, law, or premises management are often particularly useful governors.

Additionally, teachers can become governors, bringing with them their passion for education and invaluable understanding of the effects that governing board decisions could have on the school. The National Governance Association (NGA) campaigned in 2018/19 for more teachers to consider doing this, backed by the NAHT, ASCL, Teach First, the Ambition Institute, and the Independent Schools Council. It is usually preferable for teachers to be on the board of a school other than the one that they work at – due to the obligation for governors to be objective at all times – but it is possible to join the governing board of your own school.

It is important to note that anyone over the age of 18 can be a governor. There is no requirement for specialist knowledge, nor knowledge of the education sector – you just need to be committed to your role, and to have time to contribute. You will usually commit five to eight hours of your time per month to the role, over a term of four years. However, as a volunteer, you can choose to resign before the term is finished, or to serve multiple terms. 

No matter their background, all governors have the same roles and responsibilities once they join the board. These roles and responsibilities will be further clarified within the next section.

What Do School Governors Do?

As a governor, your responsibilities would be split into four main categories:

  • Finance. The governing board has to set the annual budget for the school and determine how it will be spent, as well as the three-year financial plan. This means that you should be able to prioritise where the money should go first, as well as in the long term.
  • Educational performance. You would be responsible for ensuring that the school’s agreed curriculum is being taught well, and deciding how the school could encourage students’ spiritual, moral, and cultural development. Besides this, you will hold the headteacher to account for the educational performance of the students. Any education issues – for example, ensuring that the school provides adequate support for disadvantaged students or those with special needs – should be addressed in your meetings.
  • Strategy. The board sets the aims and objectives for the school, and works out how the school will achieve them – for example, by setting targets to be hit. These aims are determined as a group, and everyone should agree with them, so that everyone is motivated to work together to achieve them.
  • Management. One of your most important responsibilities would be to look after the wellbeing of the headteacher, providing support to them (such as ensuring that their workload is manageable, and defending their decisions when necessary), but also challenging them if they are not performing as they should be, not being transparent, or are making questionable decisions. You would also help to appoint senior leaders in the school (including the headteacher), performance-review them, and make decisions about pay. In cases of staff disciplinary action or student exclusions, you would sit on a panel to come to a conclusion.

Overall, the role of a governor can be described as monitoring and evaluating the progress of the school. This involves being curious, critical, and confident in asking difficult questions. As a governor, you should be good at problem-solving, and prepared to give and take advice. You must also be professional – many of your decisions will be made in strict confidence.

On top of attending regular meetings, governors can also perform voluntary activities, which might make you more effective in your role. For example, school visits could help you to get to know the school and understand its strengths and weaknesses. In addition, you will be sent the agenda for each meeting in advance, as well as any relevant papers, and the minutes from the last meeting. Reading these documents before meetings helps to ensure that you will be engaged and well-prepared for discussions.

What are the Benefits of Being a School Governor?

There are several reasons why you might want to become a school governor.

Firstly, it is a way to contribute locally, and to society as a whole, through improving children’s education, opportunities, and futures. Your actions and your skills could help a school to develop and become more effective in teaching and providing for its students.

You could also have an impact on the important decisions that are being made in your community. For example, governors have recently been part of the discussions around how their school will continue to provide education – and keep students and staff safe – through school closures due to coronavirus.

Additionally, being a governor allows you to experience leadership, and develop your negotiation, influencing, and teamwork skills. This could help your professional development in any sector.

If you are a teacher, becoming a governor could also give you a better understanding of how and why decisions are made at the strategic level, and you could have a wider impact on education beyond the work you do within the classroom. Aspiring headteachers may particularly benefit from this experience.

If you work in another sector, the experience could help you to become more informed about how a complex organisation is run, besides developing your business skills.

Alison Oldham, an Inbound Sales Advisor at High Speed Training with 22 years of experience as a governor, advocates the position for all of the above reasons. She explains:

“Initially, I was a Parent Governor. I had been a member of the school’s PTA for a while, and enjoyed being involved in school life, so I decided to stand in the parent governor elections so that I could learn and contribute more. When my children left the school, I was asked by the Governing Board to stay on as a Community/Co-Opted Governor and that’s how I’m still there 22 years later!

Being a governor has allowed me to contribute in a voluntary capacity to the school, and also to the village community where the school is located. The position carries a lot of responsibility, but it can really help you to develop new skills and experience that can benefit your own progression. It’s extremely rewarding, and I particularly enjoy having the chance to visit the school and speak to the children about their school experiences and views.”

Alison Oldham, High Speed Training

The role of school governor is both a challenging and rewarding one, and governors are influential over the success of a school. Through monitoring and evaluating progress, governors ensure that a school is running effectively, and can take action if it is not. Plus, being a governor can help you to develop your career and have an impact on education in your community.

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