School governors 'crucial' within new education system

The increased importance of school governors under the new education system and the challenges of recruitment will be outlined today (Thursday 15 May) when the largest ever report on the state of school governance is presented to Government.

The findings from the National Survey of School Governors, carried out earlier this year by the University of Bath and National Governors’ Association, will reveal that overall school governing in England is working well and moving in the right direction.

However, it will stress that governing bodies need a larger pool of willing citizens who are ready to become school governors – and that the need is greatest in precisely the areas where good governors are needed most. This includes schools in disadvantaged settings, with low pupil attainment and with low Ofsted grades and poor reputation.

The report will also cite the enormous contribution made by school governors as well as the autonomy over school budgets governors hold. The research suggests that as volunteers, school governors contribute in excess of £1 billion to the education budget in England and, collectively, are also responsible for up to £46 billion in education spending.

For lead author, Professor Chris James from the University of Bath’s Department of Education, increasing understanding about the role school governors is fundamental to increased recruitment efforts.

He explained: “The recruitment of governors would be helped by greater recognition and valuing the contribution that school governors make. Central Government has a role here in acknowledging and appreciating the responsibility governors undertake on its behalf.

“Employers have a role too in making it easier for their employees to be involved. What is very clear from our research is that recruiting governors can be very difficult and we need more volunteers with the right qualities.”

In other findings, the new report highlights general issues about the make-up of school governors, 96 per cent of whom are white, as well as specific challenges in terms of the skills of school governors.

It finds that school governing draws heavily on the experience and expertise of those currently in management and professional occupations; however more people from those sectors need to be more involved in special schools, in primary schools and in schools in disadvantaged settings. With school governance heavily reliant on retirees, it also suggests that more should be done to organise governors on work-friendly lines, so that people in paid employment can participate easily.

Professor James adds: “The research confirms that governors need to be assertive and ready to ask challenging questions, willing to take responsibility for the conduct of their schools, committed to their schools and education generally, and able to work effectively in a group.”

Today’s report will be presented at an event at the Guildhall in London to coincide with the launch of a new alliance to celebrate and promote the importance of high quality school and college governance.

At the event, Emma Knights Chief Executive of the National Governors’ Association will say: “Governance, whether of the BBC, the Co-operative Bank or your local school, is very challenging, and only to be embarked on with your eyes wide open. The survey of school governors in England published today, the largest ever, reports that the majority of current volunteers have professional or management backgrounds.  They volunteer because they are committed to making a difference to their communities.”

For media enquiries:

Andy Dunne
University Press Office
44(0)7966 341357