Understanding School Governance

The government have high expectations of governing bodies. They are the strategic leaders of our schools and have a vital role to play in making sure every child gets the best possible education. For state funded schools this is reflected in the law, which states that the purpose of school governing bodies is to ‘conduct the school with a view to promoting high standards of educational achievement at the school’.

In all types of schools, governing bodies should have a strong focus on three core strategic functions:

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

Some governing bodies of maintained schools, and all academy boards of trustees, have additional functions and responsibilities. Depending on the category of school, they may own land, act as employers, admission authorities, or boards of charitable trustees and company directors.

This amounts to a demanding role for governing bodies. Evidence suggests that those that deliver it well do so by:

  • understanding their strategic role – building a productive and supportive relationship with the headteacher while holding them to account for school performance and taking hard strategic decisions in the light of objective data;
  • ensuring governors have the necessary skills and commitment, including to challenge the school to bring about improvement and hold leaders to account for performance;
  • appointing an effective chair to lead and manage the governing body – guidance on the crucial role of the chair of governors, developed jointly with the National Governors’ Association, is available on the NCTL website;
  • appointing a high quality clerk to advise them on the nature of their functions and duties and ensure the governing body operates efficiently and effectively;
  • evaluating their performance regularly in the light of Ofsted expectations and other good practice and making changes as necessary to improve their effectiveness; and
  • governing more than one school to develop a more strategic perspective and create more robust accountability through the ability to compare and contrast across schools.

Effective governing bodies also think carefully about how they are organised. This includes thinking about whether and how to use their powers to delegate functions and decisions to committees or individual governors. Governing bodies may decide to task individual governors to take an interest in a specific area, such as SEN, safeguarding or health and safety, but there is no legal requirement for academies and Free schools to do so. There are many different models and governing bodies are best placed to decide for themselves what will work best in their own circumstances. It is the overall governing body, however, that in all cases remains accountable in law and to Ofsted for the exercise of its functions. We expect every governing body to focus strongly on its core functions and to retain oversight of them.

More information on governance can be found on the OFSTED website.