Category Archives: Diversity

Demystifying school governance matters

On 2nd March 2019 I did a session on governance at researchED Birmingham. I’m very thankful to Claire Stoneman and Tom Bennett for  giving me the chance to talk about governance to teachers. My slides from the session are below. I’m also adding a few lines of explanation so the slides make sense to those who weren’t there in person.

Slide 2:

For teachers who haven’t worked as or with governors, governance may appear to be something mysterious that happens behind closed doors in the evening when all the teachers have gone home. You may hear your head say governors want data on X or governors are coming in to monitor Y. And that’s about it. So today I’m going to try and lift the veil on who we are and what we do and hopefully by the end of the session you will know a bit more about what we do and what research tells us about who governors are.

Slide 3: 

There are about 250,000 governors in England. Legally people can’t be paid to be governors and hence we are all volunteers and this makes us one of the largest volunteer forces in the country.

Slide 5: 

One of our core functions is to ensure the clarity of vision and ethos. The GB appoints the head and this is perhaps the most important thing that governors will do. We appoint someone who we feel will help us deliver our vision. Yes, it is a partnership; it has to be for it to work well but ultimately it’s the governors must ensure there is clarity around the vision, culture and the ethos of the school.

Slide 6:

It’s the governing body which sets the strategic direction of the school and decides where the school will be in 3,5,10 years’ time.

Slide 7:

Our second core function is to hold the executive leaders of the school to account for the performance of the pupils and the school and the performance management of staff.

Slide 8:

Schools are funded by public money. We are custodians of this public money. Our third core function relates to this. We have to look after the financial performance of the school and ensure that money is well spent.

Slide 9:

So, irrespective of what type of school we are governing (maintained or academy) we have three core functions:

  • Ensuring clarity of vision, ethos and strategic direction
  • Holding the school leaders to account
  • Ensuring the money is well spent

Effective governance is of huge importance because governance is responsible for these core functions and also because effective governance can enable and provide a degree of protection to school leaders to try something different. Then there is the fact that although individual governors will come and go, the governing body stays and it’s the governing body which ensures that the vision and ethos of the school carry on long after individuals have departed. Ofsted also recognise the role of governance and it comes under Leadership and Management and will continue to do so under the new framework too.

Slide 10:

We’ve talked about the core functions of governing bodies and why effective governance is important. A question which is frequently asked is how governors bring about school improvement. Tony Breslin has written a report for RSA. He says there are 4 ways governors do this.

  • As they are custodians of the vision and the finances they can allocate resources where needed
  • They have to be aware of various targets. They are aware of floor targets and other national and internal data and use this to ask questions to drive improvements
  • They generally have individuals or committees whose brief is to look at various areas. For example the governing body may have individual governors linked to areas such as safeguarding, literacy, wellbeing, SEN. Or the governing body may have committees, for example a committee looking at teaching and learning and another one monitoring resources and finances. By assigning individuals or committees to these areas and monitoring these areas the GB helps to drive school improvement.
  • Finally, a good supportive GB and a good supportive chair will be able to retain good heads. Headship is a lonely place. If a head feels supported by the governing body and the chair in particular they are in a better position to do their job and stay on post to do the job, hence driving up school improvement.

Slide 11:

Now that we know about what governors do, it would be good to see what research tells us about the people who perform these roles.

There are no official statistics available which look at the demographics of those who govern our schools. National Governance Association, the NGA, is a membership organisation which represents governors.  Since 2012 NGA, in partnership with TES, has been surveying governors since 2012 and these surveys are the best source of data on this topic and I will be referring the results of the last two surveys today.

Slide 12:

If we first look at the age of the people who responded to the survey, then we find that in 2017 53% of the respondents were aged 40-59.

Slide 13:

This reduced slightly to 51% in 2018. The2018 survey compared the age of the respondents and the age of the general public. If you compare the figures nationally then 34% of the population falls into this age bracket. This shown we have some work to do to attract younger people to governance.

Slide 14:

Looking at ethnicity now. The 2018 survey showed that 93% of the respondents were white as compared to 86% of the population and 74% of primary and secondary students. This may r may not be a very bleak situation.

Slide 15:

The 2017 survey had looked at the age as well as ethnicity. This showed that in the younger age groups there were more governors who identified as BAME. Obviously, we mustn’t be complacent but if this trend continues and we are able to attract more governors in the younger age brackets then there is hope for the future.

Slide 16:

2018 was the first year NGA included a question on disability. 5% of the respondents said that they considered themselves to have a disability which is far lower than the 22% of people that reported a disability in the government’s Family Resources Survey 2016/17. This could be because responses were based on respondents’ own definitions of disability, which may not be aligned with that of the government. It may, however, also indicate that people with a disability experience more barriers to volunteering as school governors and trustees. Ensuring that school governance roles are accessible to people with disabilities is an area for future work.

Slide 17:

Now a look at the gender and some characteristics of chairs.

  • 59% of primary school chairs were female (62% governors were female) compared to 48% of secondary school chairs (53% governors were female). NGA 2018
  • I was also interested in looking at the age of the people who chair governing bodies. Prof Chris James of Bath University has researched governance extensively. He found that they were almost all over 40 years of age (94%). If we break this down further then we see 31% of chairs are between 40 and 49 years of age and 28% between 50 and 59. About a third were over 60 (34%). Chris James

Slide 18:

On average, they spend approximately five hours a week on governing matters and over one in 10 chairs spend more than 10 hours a week. Looking at the time   chairs reported spending on governance and the age at which they volunteer to chair governing bodies may indicate that as a fair degree of work is involved older people who may have more time to spare take up the chair’s position. Another thing to consider is whether the time is being spent on strategic stuff and how good are the chairs at delegation.

All I want for Christmas …… are governance things that matter

As Christmas is fast approaching this is a seasonal blog but with a message. The link to Christmas maybe a bit tenuous but I hope you will enjoy it nevertheless.

On the first day of Christmas my governing body sent to me an induction package.

New governors need support to understand the role and their responsibilities. One way we can do this is by having a good induction programme in place. I have previously written about induction for new governors.

On the second day of Christmas my governing body sent to me a subscription to online training.

Professional development is important for new governors as well as those who have been on the governing body for some time. Training ensures that we remain effective. Governors may find online training fits in better with their day jobs and home life. Governing bodies should investigate if their members would prefer online training. My previous blogs discussing training are here, here and here.

On the third day of Christmas my governing body sent to me contact details of my mentor.

One way a governing body can help a new governor understand the role is by asking an experienced governor to act as a mentor. This will help ease the new person into the role. They may feel more comfortable asking questions/clarifications outside of meetings.

On the fourth day of Christmas my governing body sent to me a governor expenses policy.

Governors are volunteers and paying them to carry out their duties is not allowed.However, they are allowed to claim legitimate expenses such as photocopying costs, childcare expenses etc. Governing bodies should have a Governor Expense Policy in place. Having a policy in place and governors being clear that that no individual should be prevented from becoming a governor or carrying out their duties because of expenses incurred doing so is important as it ensures that the governing body is inclusive.

On the fifth day of Christmas my boss told me how much time I could have off for governance.

Employees can get time off work for certain public duties as well as their normal holiday entitlement. Governance falls into this category. Employers can choose to pay them for this time, but they don’t have to. We should make sure our governors know this. We should also try and encourage employers to make it as easy as possible for their employees to carry out their governance duties.

On the sixth day of Christmas my governing body sent to me the bio of our new, young governor.

Younger people continue to be underrepresented in school governance. The graph is taken from School Governance in 2018, a report of the annual survey by the NGA in association with Tes.

Having younger people on governing bodies means we get a different perspective and the young people who join us get valuable experience.

On the seventh day of Christmas my governing body sent to me news of the appointment of an independent, professional clerk.

A good clerk is pivotal in ensuring that the governing body is as effective as it can be. It is true that good schools will have good governing bodies. It is, I think, equally true that good governing bodies have good clerks. It is considered best practice to have independent and professional clerks. Having school staff clerk governing body meetings can give rise to conflicts of interest so is best avoided. We must also realise that good clerking is much, much more than minute taking. The clerk should be able to advise the chair on matters of governance and help ensure that the governing body works in an efficient and effective manner.

On the eighth day of Christmas my governing body sent to me a protocol for virtual meetings.

Governing bodies are allowed to meet virtually, via Skype, for instance. This is a good way to involve people who may find it hard to get to the meeting on time. It can also help where the governing body is discussing something of an urgent but important nature and one or more governors cannot get to the meeting. I would recommend that the governing body agrees a protocol for this.

On the ninth day of Christmas my governing body sent to me papers well in advance of the meeting.

In order to have an effective meeting, it is essential that governors are sent papers to be considered at the meeting well in advance. This allows them to study them and come prepared to the meeting. We all should take responsibility for this. Reports which have been requested from the school should be sent out on time. If governors are writing a report, they too should ensure that it goes out on time.

On the tenth day of Christmas my governing body sent to me a promise that meetings would run to time.

Everyone’s time is precious. Heads, SLT and governors would either have put in a whole day’s work before coming to the meeting or will be heading to work after the meeting ends. In both cases it’s important that the meeting runs to time. There is also the fact that if the meeting is a very long one then concentration may start to wane. If the discussion goes on and on then chances are that its going around in circles. The role of the chair is very important. The chair should ensure that everyone stays on topic and that the discussions are sharp and focused. Timed agendas are one way of trying to keep to time.

On the eleventh day of Christmas I met a head who understands governance.

The vast majority of heads do understand governance and the important role played by governors and they work with them to bring about school improvement. They understand that one of the roles of governors is to provide challenge.These heads relish these opportunities to show the work being done by them and their teams. But there are a few heads who think in terms of us and them. When a head understands governance and when the governing body understands the role of the head then they work well together and the children benefit. The National Governance Association (NGA), the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) and the Local Government Association (LGA) collaborated to produce a guidance document on what do school leaders and governing boards expect of each other which is well worth a read. The National College(as it was then) had also produced a resource, Working effectively with a Governing Body.

On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love sent to me the Ofsted myth busting document.

There are lots of myths around how many governors (and which ones) can meet inspectors during an inspection, who is allowed to attend the feedback meeting and who is allowed to see the draft inspection report. Ofsted has helpfully published a myth busting document addressing all these myths. Have a look also at two of my blogs where I’ve talked about Sean Harford addressing this issue. These can be accessed here and here.

What twelve  governance related gifts would you like your true love to send to you?

Head recruitment matters; in defence of governors.

Let me state, right at the start, what I am not saying in this post. I am not saying that all governors are aware of unconscious bias and take steps to mitigate this when appointing heads. What I AM saying is that the perceived lack of female heads is a very complex matter and cannot be explained by simply saying governors serving on panels are biased. Unconscious bias on part of governors may be part of the problem but only a very small part, if at all.

Below are some questions I would like you to think about.

1. Looking at number of women serving in schools in 2014

At primary level there were            72.3% heads         86.9% teachers

At secondary level there were        37.1% heads        63.9% teachers

Does the fact that there are fewer female heads in secondary schools mean that the governors serving on head recruitment panels in these schools are subject to greater unconscious bias than those at primary level?

2. Looking at the number of female teachers in both sectors we see there are more female teachers in primary schools than in secondary schools. Governors are usually only involved in appointing SLT members and heads and recruitment of teachers is usually done by heads. So,

a) Are both primary and secondary female heads unconsciously biased against men and hence there aren’t that many male teachers? Also, is this unconscious bias more pronounced at primary level than secondary?

b) Do female heads at secondary level appoint fewer female teachers than their colleagues in primary schools because of the same unconscious bias?

I can probably guess what your answers to the above questions would be. Now, two more questions.

3. How would a newly appointed head feel when they are told that they were appointed because the panel unconsciously favoured them? Now imagine that head is a woman because if we say that panels may suffer from unconscious bias then it follows that some female heads would also have been appointed by such panels. Are we in danger of undermining the confidence of newly appointed heads? Women already suffer from impostor syndrome more than men. How would they react to this?

4. People say that the image of leaders is male and governors often appoint heads in their own image. The NGA survey carried out last term showed that 57% of governors are women so recruitment panels should include women. How do we square this with the assumption that governors appoint in their own image?

Now, like I said at the start, I do realise that some governors may be unconsciously biased but we need valid, reliable evidence that this is the case. So, as governors we would like well designed research into the whole issue of headships which will yield solid, reliable data. If research points to unconscious bias at play we can work with governing bodies to see what can be done about it. We also need to be aware of the fact that there are probably other factors behind women not going for/getting headships as well. Research will help us work out what other factors are. Research will also, hopefully, throw some light on why black men are least likely to be appointed as heads. Research into all of these issues is important for prospective candidates as well as for governors. We are volunteers. We put a lot of effort and time into governance as well as money (governors can claim for expenses but very rarely do). We are committed to providing the best conditions to ensure our students fulfil their potential and one of these conditions is providing the school with strong leadership. It is in our students’, our school’s and staff’s and indeed our own interest that we appoint the best candidate to head our school. As governors we are trained to, indeed it is our job, to deal with, analyse and question hard, solid data. It’s only when we have this data that we will be able to move forward and  have schools where heads  represent our diverse society. Till we get this data, all we are dealing with is conjecture and generalisations which, on one hand blames governors (which may be undeserved) and on the other hand helps no one, least of all the prospective candidates.

Image courtesy of stockimages at

Board diversity matters. Is it time to think about a Young people Board?

I came across Peter Crow’s
website the other day. Peter is non-executive Director and a Board advisor. Though mainly concerned with corporate governance, this website may be of interest to school governors too. The following is a guest blog on Peter’s website and is being posted here with his permission. The original can be read here.

Guest blog: Guy Le Péchon (Gouvernance & Structures, France)

Board rejuvenation is often considered and discussed, but statistics on boards member ages show little progress. The general public thinks a board of directors is a set of relatively old people. Common sense and corporate governance approaches lead one to think that the introduction of new ideas from younger generations would surely be a company asset.

Age diversity within a board is unquestionably desirable, but will one or two younger directors be enough? Probably not. In fact, except in exceptional cases (mainly in new technology fields), board members will probably be least 35 years old—hardly ‘young’ any more—by the time they have acquired the experience needed to be a skilled board director. Also, younger leaders often have full-time jobs, so will there be sufficient candidates available anyway? Recruitment of younger directors may be difficult and generally will not be enough to ensure that potential contribution from truly young people will be brought to the boards. How then to proceed?

One approach to solving this problem might to be create a Young People Board, under the leadership of the official board—a ‘shadow cabinet’ of sorts. With slightly different goals, some municipalities use this approach. A Young People Board could be composed of 18 to 25 year old volunteers—a similar number of members as the official board. Recruitment could be for three-year terms (with renewal of one third every year). The aim would be to achieve multi-faceted diversity.

Periodically (say three times per year), the company board would invite the Young People Board to consider a topic discussed by the official board. The Young People Board would meet to debate the topic and develop proposals. Many ideas would emerge as young people naturally consider new technologies; social networks; data protection; ecology; ethics; and, international perspectives. Each year, a half-day meeting would be scheduled with the official board, to receive presentations and debate the topics studies by the Young People Board.

The Young People Board formula would be light, without any significant expenses or time commitment from the official board members. However, the process would enable official board members to be positively confronted with new ideas coming from truly young people. They may even retain some ideas for implementation!

Members of the Young People Board and, indirectly, their friends and relatives, would derive benefits including learning about the company activities, its executives and, importantly, the ‘corporate governance’ world. Through the process, the company may identify young talents for later hiring. The company could use this approach to improve its image, especially among young people.

Many speeches and writings advocate innovation. As one dwells on this, the realisation that innovation applies not only within technology areas, but also in organizational processes and the social domain. The Young People Board is a concrete example of this type of innovation. Is this something your board can support? If so, please contact Guy Lé Pechon at Gouvernance & Structures.

Guest blog: Guy Le Péchon (Gouvernance & Structures, France)