NGA comments on the findings from the biggest governance survey of the year


Full results of the 2015 annual survey of school governors & trustees

Earlier this summer we reported some of the headline findings from the NGA/TES survey; the largest annual survey of governors and trustees in England. This year, the survey received a record breaking 5821 responses, giving us a better insight into what governors and trustees think than ever before. The findings are invaluable to our work lobbying the government, and also help us to ensure we’re producing guidance and support on the issues that are important to you. 

Headteacher recruitment

Over a third of respondents said that they found it difficult to recruit staff to senior posts. Of the 4383 respondents who had recruited to a senior leadership post over this last year, 43% agreed that it was hard to recruit. This is not a new problem – as Gillian Allcroft explains in her article about recruiting a headteacher there has been a shortage of good quality candidates for a number of years. NGA is currently working with colleagues at the University of Bath and York St John University to research governors’ experiences of the headteacher recruitment process. We are also independently researching the role of executive headteachers, as we believe this form of leadership represents an important part of the solution to the headteacher recruitment issue. Indeed, our research into governing bodies that consider federation found that recruiting a headteacher was a key driver for many schools. However only 17% of survey respondents said they govern in a maintained federation or multi-academy trust, so if you are struggling to recruit a headteacher and your school is not currently part of a group, you could consider exploring collaborative working as a solution.

Governor recruitment

Half of all respondents said that they found it difficult to recruit governors to the governing board. Special school governing boards appear to find governor recruitment most challenging, with two-thirds of respondents agreeing it is difficult compared to 54% of respondents from primary schools and 42% from secondary schools. The most common strategy for recruiting new members was word of mouth, with only 22% of respondents having used SGOSS (Governors for Schools) and 3% having used the Inspiring Governors Alliance. This dependence on word of mouth may, to some extent, explain the lack of diversity on governing boards - the survey reveals that 93% of respondents are white (compared with the national figure of 85% for adults) and 88% are over 40.

However, it is also possible that people of working age are finding it difficult to balance governing with their work commitments. Just over half of respondents classed themselves as employed, but of these two fifths get no time off work for governance. This week Emma Knights, Chief Executive of the National Governors’ Association, met with Cabinet Office officials in No. 10 Downing Street. On the agenda was an update on what progress had been made on the Conservative manifesto pledge for three days paid leave entitlement for voluntary activities for those working in large companies and the public sector. In April, prime minister David Cameron said: “It will be great to have more people volunteering, more people being school governors, more people putting back into their community. Britain is a nation of volunteers and this is going to take this further and faster." We’ve been assured that delivering on this pledge remains a top priority for the Prime Minister, but progress has been hindered by regulation, which would mean a change to the working time regulations, and as such it does not form part of the new Enterprise Bill. The first step will be for a consultation to take place; on a timeframe yet to be given. While we are obviously disappointed by the lack of progress on this we will continue to work with the government to bring it about as quickly as possible in order to support more skilled volunteers to be governors.

Governing in multiple schools

Overall 63% of respondents have not governed at any school other than their own, with a quarter having previously governed in other schools. 11% currently govern in two schools, and 4% in more than two. In his Trojan Horse report, Peter Clarke recommended that: “unless there are genuinely exceptional circumstances, there should be a presumption that an individual will only be a governor at a maximum of two schools at any one time.” This recommendation has been accepted by the Secretary of State, Nicky Morgan, and added to the DfE’s Governors Handbook in January. NGA has been lobbying the government since the publication of the Trojan Horse review to be more explicit about what “exceptional circumstances” are; however this is unlikely to be forthcoming. The aim behind the recommendation (the independent review group set up by Birmingham City Council at the same time was even stricter than Clarke, suggesting governing at one school at a time was sufficient) was to reduce the influence individuals could have over the local school system. So the very small proportion of governors and trustees who do govern on more than two governing boards should already have considered their position.

Messages from governors to the government

In response to the question ‘What are your main asks for the new government?’ the following quote succinctly summarises the three most common requests:

“Stop changing everything. Trust the professionals. Fund schools properly and introduce a fair national funding formula.”

There was a really strong message that the Government needed to stop meddling and listen:

“Fully engage people who actually do the job in decision making”

“Trust schools to do what is right by children”

In particular, there was huge support and respect for the teaching profession demonstrated, perhaps even more than in previous years, with a lot of respondents asking the government to better support the teaching profession, including reducing teachers’ workload, for example:

“Improve pay and conditions for teachers so that we don't lose any more talented, dedicated, hardworking staff who can no longer face the day to day pressure and workload of classroom teaching.”

The fourth very clear consistent message which came through was a plea for the Government to stop telling all schools to academise without more evidence that it was the best course for their pupils.  The tension between giving more responsibility to governing bodies and then relentlessly telling them to convert to academy status was highlighted by many; there was a clear feeling that autonomy and praise was really the order of the day for those who did what the government wanted.  This was a particularly strong message given that over a quarter of respondents govern in academies, which is slightly higher than the number across the country as a whole.

Emma Knights, Chief Executive of the National Governors Association said:

“Governors and trustees of schools have diverse opinions but we are all committed to improving the education of young people - that is why we volunteer. But we do not all have exactly the same vision or approach to education.  As the organisation representing those voices, we aim to relay the diversity, richness and nuance where we can.  This year’s survey, however, was quite remarkable in the strength of feeling coming from thousands of you across England: ‘Leave us to govern schools; allow the teaching profession the space to improve teaching; stop telling us which structure to adopt; distribute funding fairly.’”

NGA has already raised these issues with the Department for Education on your behalf, and will continue to ensure we represent your views in future discussions with the government and other education policy makers.  Because of the number of respondents, we are able to cut the data in many ways – by region, type of school or role on the governing board – so this is a rich seam we have also begun to share with others researching and developing policy in the education sector.  If you have a question we might be able to answer then please contact our research and information officer Ellie.

Read about the full findings in this Governing Matters article. NGA members will receive a hard copy of the magazine to either their school or home (depending on membership type). If you are not an NGA member, join here