The Governance handbook Section 2: Working out what’s new matters. Part 3

In this post I discuss Section 2 of the new Governance handbook and Section One of the old Governors’ handbook (Jan 2015) as these sections discuss the core strategic functions of governing boards.

Duties which boards have to perform in addition to their core duties had been listed in a Table in the old version and are missing from the new version. The table, I suspect, probably was quite a useful thing to have.

Anything which is an addition in the new handbook is in red, black text indicates that the text is unchanged and my comments are in green. The numbering used is that of the Governance handbook.

2.1 Setting vision, ethos and strategic direction

3. The board should ensure that the school has a clear vision – which it may be helpful to articulate in a specific written vision statement. This should include ambitions for current and future pupils, as well as for the school’s relationship with other schools. For multi-academy trusts (MATs), the vision should set out the level of ambition they have for future growth. This includes considering the type of school which would offer the best opportunities for achieving future aims

I thought this omission was interesting. I think this may indicate that the “type of school” considered best is perhaps an academy in a MAT.

4. The board should make sure there is a strategy in place for achieving this vision. The strategy should provide a robust framework for setting priorities, creating accountability and monitoring progress in realising the school’s vision. The focus should be on significant strategic challenges. The detail of all the actions that will drive school improvement should be contained in a separate school improvement plan. Avoiding unnecessary detail and peripheral issues will prevent the board’s attention being spread too thinly and help create a practical and powerful tool for facilitating its core business. The National Governors’ Association (NGA) and the Wellcome Trust have jointly developed guidance to help boards develop a robust strategic Framework for Governance.

There is no mention of KPIs or SMART targets, perhaps because boards are now expected to have regard to these anyway.

8. Boards are able to suspend any governor for acting in a way that is contrary to the ethos of the school. This would include undermining fundamental British values. Swift action should be taken to suspend from office any governor that acts to undermine fundamental British values or the board’s commitment or ability to deliver on its Prevent duty. The board, or where applicable other appointing body, should also consider removing from office any governor acting in this manner.

Prevent duty is mentioned for the first time. “Swift action” is recommended to suspend a governor who undermines British values.

9. If you are concerned that a governor or potential governor may have links to extremism or that child might be at risk of extremism, or if you have any other concern about extremism in a school please contact our helpline on or 020 7340 7264.

2.2.1 Boards’ relationship with school leaders

In the older version this was discussed in Section 2.4 (Ways of Working; 2.4.2 Governing bodies’ relationship with school leaders)

11…….. Boards should work to support and strengthen the leadership of the headteacher or executive headteacher, and hold them to account for the day-to-day running of their school(s), including the performance management of staff.

The MAT theme continues.

13. One of the key characteristics expected of headteachers, as outlined within the National Standards of Excellence for Headteachers, is that they should welcome strong governance and actively support their board to understand its role and deliver its core functions effectively. Headteachers should therefore welcome and enable appropriately robust challenge by providing any data the board requests and responding positively to searching questions.

Those governors who have not read the National Standards of Excellence for Headteachers would find the above interesting and useful.

2.2.2 Asking the right questions

  • How is the school going to raise standards for all children, including the most and least able, those with special educational needs, those receiving free school meals, boys and girls, those of a particular ethnicity, and any who are currently underachieving?

The above was third on the list of questions in the older versions whereas now it is the second bullet point, perhaps indicating the importance of asking for and receiving this information.

  • Is the school adequately engaged with the world of work and preparing their pupils for adult life, including knowing where pupils go when they leave?
  • How is the school ensuring that it keeps pupils safe from, and building their resilience to, the risks of extremism and radicalisation? What arrangements are in place to ensure that staff understand and are implementing the Prevent duty?

Reference to Prevent Duty again

  • Are senior leaders including (where appropriate) the chief executive and finance director getting appropriate continuous professional development?
  • Are teachers and support staff being used as effectively and efficiently as possible and in line with evidence and guidance?
  • Is the school encouraging the development of healthy, active lifestyles by using the PE and sport premium for primary schools to fund additional and sustainable improvements to the provision of PE and sport?
  • Is the school encouraging the development of healthy, active lifestyles by using the PE and sport premium for primary schools to fund additional and sustainable improvements to the provision of PE and sport?
  • How effectively does the school listen to the views of pupils and parents?

The last question has been modified to indicate that not only should the board know if the school listens to the views of pupils and parents but also how effectively does it do this.

2.3 Overseeing financial performance

19. The board’s third core function is to make sure money is well spent. It should do this by ensuring it has at least one governor with specific, relevant skills and experience of financial matters. However, all governors should ideally have a basic understanding of the financial cycle and the legal requirements of the school on accountability and spend. This is important in all schools, but particularly important in MATs or large schools or federations. Their larger budgets make it even more critical that the board not only oversees delivery of the best possible education for pupils, but also provides robust corporate governance to ensure the viability and efficiency of the organisation through effective business and financial planning.

Governors should note that although the board should have at least one governor with financial skills, the handbook now makes it clear that all governors should understand financial cycle, legal requirements of accountability and spend. The handbook makes it clear that this is especially important for governors of MATs, federations or large schools.

20. Asking the right questions is equally important in relation to money as it is to educational performance. Appropriate questions might include:

  • Are other schools buying things cheaper or getting better results with less spending per pupil?
  • Are resources allocated in line with the school’s strategic priorities?
  • Does the school have a clear budget forecast, ideally for the next three years, which identifies spending opportunities and risks and sets how these will be mitigated?
  • Does the school have sufficient reserves to cover major changes such as re-structuring, and any risks identified in the budget forecast?
  • Is the school making best use of its budget, including in relation to planning and delivery of the curriculum?
  • Does the school plan its budgets on a bottom up basis driven by curriculum planning (i.e is the school spending its money in accordance with its priorities) or is the budget set by simply making minor adjustments to last year’s budget to ensure there is a surplus?

The questions are more detailed now and in the present financial climate governors would be well advised to start asking these.

2.4 The importance of objective data

22. While governing bodies
boards may decide to establish a committee to look in detail at performance data, all governors should be able to engage fully with discussions about data in relation to the educational and financial the performance of their school. If they cannot, they should undertake appropriate training or development to enable them to do so. This includes MAT boards who should not leave this function solely to LGBs, where they are in place, but should themselves be familiar with and interrogate key performance data.

Important point about the necessity of MAT boards understanding data and not leaving this function to LGBs. Training is mentioned twice in this sub-para! It also makes clear that the board should understand the financial as well as the educational data.

2.4.1 Sources of education data

23. It is the headteacher’s job (and in maintained schools it is their legal duty) to give provide their governing body board with the information it needs to do its job well.

I would have liked to see the “it is their legal duty” left in.

This might include data on:

• pupil learning and progress;

• pupil applications, admissions, attendance and exclusions;

• staff deployment, absence, recruitment, retention, morale and performance; and

• the quality of teaching.

Addition of staff “deployment” is interesting!

24. The governing body
board, not the headteacher, should determine the scope and format of headteacher’s termly reports. This will mean that the board receives the information it needs in a format that enables it to stay focused on its core strategic functions and not get distracted or overwhelmed by information of secondary importance. As MATs grow, their scale means that they have greater opportunity to employ a central executive team to help them discharge their oversight responsibilities, including by compiling and analysing pupil progress and financial performance data and using a standard template to present data from each school in the MAT.

The suggestion that MATs may want to employ a central team which can compile and analyse data using a standard template across the schools is interesting. On one hand it may make it easier for the board to understand the data and compare the schools within the MAT, on the other hand a standard template may be difficult to use when trying to allow for local variation/data.

The headteacher and school should not be the only source of information for the board
governing body. That would make it hard to hold the headteacher to account properly. Governors need to make sure that at least once a year they see objective national data from other sources so that they can feel empowered to ask pertinent and searching questions. A board
governing body can get annual performance data direct from a number of sources

26…… Reports are available at key stages 1, 2 and 4. Key stage 5 reports are being developed and will be available later this academic year.


34. The Inspection dashboard has been created in RAISEonline to support new inspection arrangements from September 2015. The dashboard is a tool showing historic data for inspectors to use when preparing for inspections. It is designed to show at a glance how well previous cohorts demonstrated characteristics of good or better performance. It contains a brief overview of published data for the last three years using clear visual displays that are quick to interpret.

36….. All governors must be able to engage in a discussion about RAISEonline or equivalent data and if not should attend a course to enable them to do so

Training seems to be getting mentioned more in the new handbook and rightly so!

2.4.2 Sources of financial data

40. The department provides a range of financial information about maintained schools and academies. EFA’s toolkit for schools provides information for academy trusts about the support available to improve efficiency, including a new financial benchmarking website. Boards
Governors can use this information to compare spending against that of similar schools. Benchmarking financial information in this way helps governors to question whether resources could be used more efficiently. For example:

  • Are other schools buying things cheaper or getting better results with less spending per pupil?
  • If the cost of energy seems high compared to similar schools, are there opportunities for investment in energy-saving devices to reduce the cost?
  • If spend on learning resources seems high compared to similar schools, are there opportunities for collaborating with other local schools to bring costs down?
  • If your spending on staffing is higher than other similar schools, are these schools achieving more in terms of attainment? If so what might be learnt from them about how they deploy their workforce?
  • If the spend on teaching assistants is higher than other schools, are Governors sure that they are being used effectively and efficiently to support pupil outcomes?

42. There is a wide range of information sources and tools available to help schools secure the best value for money. The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) have published their Basic tenets of sound financial planning to ensure that your school is running at maximum efficiency.

2.4.3 School visits

Governors need to know their school, if accountability is going to be robust and their vision for the school is to be achieved. Many governors find that visiting, particularly during the day, is a helpful way to find out more about the school. Through pre-arranged visits that have a clear focus, governors can see whether the school is implementing the policies and improvement plans they have signed off and how they are working in practice. Visits also provide an opportunity to talk with pupils, staff and parents to gather their views, through [sic] are unlikely to be sufficient for these purposes.

Part 1 looked at the Contents

Part 2 loooked at Section 1

Shena Lewington has an online version of Section 2 on her website.


4 thoughts on “The Governance handbook Section 2: Working out what’s new matters. Part 3

  1. Pingback: The Governance handbook Section 3: Working out what’s new matters. Part 4 | Governing Matters

  2. Pingback: The Governance handbook Section 4: Working out what’s new matters. Part 5 | Governing Matters

  3. Pingback: The Governance handbook Section 5: Working out what’s new matters. Part 6 | Governing Matters

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