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What are the Roles and Responsibilities of a School Governor or Trustee?

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In this blog, Wendy Adeniji, a school principal, practising modern foreign languages teacher and former Ofsted inspector, provides an overview of the roles and responsibilities of school governors and trustees.

The governance of schools in England is an indispensable part of the educational ecosystem. Playing a pivotal role in the decision-making process, school governors have significant responsibilities that influence the quality of education provided to pupils. The essence of this article is to offer a comprehensive understanding of the duties of a school governor, the composition and functioning of a governing body, and the core responsibilities associated with this crucial role.

Understanding the role of governors in schools

A school governor is an individual who is committed to contributing to the educational wellbeing of children. They are over 18 years of age and demonstrate a keen interest in the school, contemporary educational trends, and their local community. Their role requires dedication, including regular attendance at governing body meetings and active participation in school affairs, such as governor visits and attendance at school events, such as concerts.

A school governor is an individual appointed or elected to serve on a governing body, which is responsible for overseeing the strategic direction, policies, and overall performance of a school. Governors come from various backgrounds and bring a range of skills and perspectives to the role. They can include parents, staff members, members of the local community, and representatives from local authorities or trusts and, in the case of church schools, the local priest.

The primary purpose of a school governor is to act as a critical friend to the school, providing support and challenge to ensure the best possible outcomes for all students. They should have a strong interest in education and a commitment to improving the school environment, educational standards, and the overall wellbeing of pupils. Each type of governor brings a unique perspective and contribution. For instance, parent governors provide insight into the parent community, staff governors offer operational knowledge about the school's daily activities, and local authority governors connect the school to broader municipal governance.

Governors are part of the school’s leadership, and, according to Ofsted’s ‘School inspection handbook’, Ofsted inspectors make a judgement as to whether “leaders and those responsible for governance all understand their respective roles and perform these in a way that enhances the effectiveness of the school”.

The responsibilities of a school governing body

School governors have a wide range of responsibilities, and while specific duties may vary depending on the school, there are several core areas in which they are typically involved.

1) Strategic planning

Governors work closely with the headteacher or principal and senior leadership team to develop and review the school's strategic vision and goals. Governors agree on the school improvement plan and they contribute to the creation of policies, oversee their implementation, and ensure that they align with the school's ethos and values. By actively participating in strategic planning, governors help shape the direction of the school and help to ensure its long-term success.

2) Performance management

Governors monitor the school's performance, including academic achievements, attendance rates, and the progress of students. They analyse data, ask challenging questions, and hold the school accountable for meeting targets and delivering high-quality education. By actively engaging in performance management, governors help identify areas for improvement and celebrate successes.

3) Financial oversight

Governors are responsible for overseeing the school's finances. They review budgets, ensure effective financial management, and make decisions regarding resource allocation to support the school's educational objectives. By actively engaging in financial oversight, governors contribute to the efficient and responsible use of resources including using a ‘best value’ approach, ensuring that the school operates within its budget and can provide the best possible education for its students.

4) School improvement

Governors support and challenge the school to continuously improve. They provide guidance on issues such as curriculum development, student welfare, and staff recruitment and retention. They may also participate in inspections and contribute to action plans arising from them. Ideally, governors should be involved in setting the school’s targets, such as for pupil progress and attainment, attendance, closing the disadvantaged gap, and so on. By actively engaging in school improvement, governors help create an environment where students can thrive and reach their full potential.

5) Stakeholder engagement

Governors act as a link between the school and its stakeholders, including parents, staff, students, and the wider community. They respond to concerns and ensure that the voice of different stakeholders is heard. By actively engaging with stakeholders, governors foster a sense of community and collaboration, building positive relationships that benefit the school and its students.

As a governor, one is expected to perform a myriad of tasks. These include:

  • monitoring the school’s budget
  • acting as a “critical friend” by asking pertinent questions
  • reviewing school policies
  • analysing the school’s curriculum plan and its staffing structure
  • scrutinising the school’s performance in various areas
Governors may also act as link governors on specific issues, report to the school’s stakeholders, set the headteacher's pay, and appoint the headteacher and other senior leaders when required.

Committees within local governing bodies (LGBs)

Within LGBs, various committees focus on specific areas of school management, ensuring thorough oversight and effective governance. The achievement and standards committee, for instance, takes on matters relating to assessment, pupil progress, and curriculum. This committee is also responsible for monitoring and evaluating the school's academic performance, identifying areas for improvement, and developing strategies to enhance learning outcomes.

The finance and resources committee plays a pivotal role in guiding and assisting the school in budgeting and other financial matters. This includes monitoring expenditure, ensuring financial efficiency, and making sure the school operates within its allocated budget. Beyond financial resources, this committee also assesses the use of other 'resources', such as staff and facilities, to ensure they are effectively utilised for teaching and learning.

Some schools also have a personnel and performance management committee, which oversees staff-related issues, including the appraisal of the headteacher. This committee plays a crucial role in reviewing and setting performance-related pay policies and progression criteria. It is also typically involved in broader HR issues, such as recruitment, staff development, managing employment disputes, and ensuring the school attracts, retains and develops high-quality staff.

These committees work in conjunction with the full governing body, each contributing their unique perspective and expertise to facilitate sound decision-making and enhance the school's overall performance. Their collective efforts contribute to a comprehensive governance structure that supports the school's vision, ethos and strategic direction.

Governance within multi-academy trusts

Within the structure of multi-academy trusts (MATs), LGBs play a crucial role. In the MAT framework, the ultimate legal responsibility for the operation of the trust lies with the board of trustees. This group is accountable for the performance of all schools within the trust and must comply with the requirements set by the DfE and the terms of the trust's funding agreement.

However, it is common for these boards to delegate some responsibilities to LGBs at individual schools or groups of schools within the trust. The LGB typically handles more school-specific matters, focusing on standards, attainment, and local stakeholder engagement.

The nature and extent of these delegated responsibilities can vary significantly between different MATs, depending on the MAT’s scheme of delegation. Some MATs adopt a highly centralised approach, with the LGB acting more as an advisory body, while others empower their LGBs with substantial decision-making power.

Regardless of the extent of their formal powers, LGBs play a vital role in providing local insight, ensuring that the unique needs and circumstances of each school are represented at trust level. This collaboration between the board of trustees and LGBs ensures a balanced approach to school governance, combining strategic oversight with local knowledge and input.

Being a school governor or trustee is a role of considerable influence and responsibility. It provides an opportunity to shape the strategic direction of a school and make a real difference in improving education for pupils. With an intricate blend of challenge and support, school governors and trustees can significantly contribute to the betterment of schools and, ultimately, the future of the next generation.

If you’re concerned about keeping up to date with the latest education policy, practice and research, consider a membership with The National College. Not only does it provide access to thousands of professional development resources for all staff, but also enables leaders to create training programmes precisely tailored to individual and collective needs, to help ensure compliance and drive up standards.