NGA is a charity which aims to improve educational outcomes for children by improving school governance. This core charitable aim underpins all our views on education and governance policy.
We have position statements on the following issues.
C. School types
D. Groups of schools
F. Revenue funding
G. Capital funding
J. Qualifications and assessment
K. Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND)
L. Early years
The governing board is responsible for the conduct of the school and must do so in a way which promotes high standards of educational achievement. In particular, the governing board has three core functions to:
- ensure there is clarity of vision, ethos and strategic direction;
- hold the executive leaders to account for the educational performance of the organisation and its pupils; and the performance management of staff; and
- oversee the financial performance of the organisation and makes sure its money is well spent.
The governing board is the accountable body in schools. The level of responsibility is different depending on the type of school. This is the case even within local authority maintained schools, where in community and voluntary controlled schools the governing body exercises employer responsibility, but the local authority is the actual employer of staff, whereas in foundation and voluntary aided schools the governing body is the direct employer of staff. All types of academies are charitable companies limited by guarantee and the Academy Trust is the responsible body.
The governors' role is largely strategic and the headteacher has responsibility for the operational day to day management of the school. The distinction between governance and management needs to be clearly understood by all parties to ensure an effective working partnership.
The NGA has identified eight key elements of effective governance:
- the right people around the table
- understanding roles & responsibilities
- good chairing
- professional clerking
- good relationships based on trust
- knowing the school – the data, the staff, the parents, the children, the community
- commitment to asking challenging questions
- confident to have courageous conversations in the interests of the children and young people
Composition and conduct
Governors and governing boards need to be clear about their role and the responsibilities that come with it – whether in a maintained school or an academy. School governance is a voluntary role, but having volunteered, governors must accept the full responsibilities of the role and carry out their duties in a professional manner.
Although there is no legal constraint on the length of time a chair of governors can serve, the NGA’s view is that an element of regular reappraisal and renewal is beneficial to all schools, and that all chairs should normally expect to step down after a maximum of six years in post.
In line with good practice in the charity sector the NGA thinks that governors should serve no more than two terms of office (eight years) in any one school.
NGA does not think that it is good practice for any individual to serve on more than two governing boards at one time – unless there are exceptional circumstances (e.g. being requested to sit on an Interim Executive Board).
Those sitting on governing boards need to have the skills, knowledge and attitudes to govern well. Governing boards should adopt formal recruitment strategies, with a role and person specification, and interview prospective governors. Even where the position on the governing board is an elected one – the role and responsibilities need to be made clear.
NGA thinks that parents, of children at a school, bring an important perspective to governing boards and that they should remain a compulsory part of the composition of boards with two exceptions:
- In multi-academy trusts this could be at academy level rather than trust board level.
- In special schools and alternative provision there should be flexibility as to whether parents are a mandatory element of the composition of the board.
All governing boards should adopt a Code of Conduct which is rooted in the seven principles of public life. This should include clear strategies for dealing with conflicts of interest. NGA’s view is that conflicts of interest should be avoided, whether or not these are financial. If governors adopt open and transparent recruitment strategies then such conflicts should be identified earlier and more easily avoided. Some governing boards either fail to identify a conflict, or think that because it has been identified and registered it has been dealt with.
In the NGA’s opinion the dual role of the headteacher/Chief executive in presenting plans, giving advice and providing information to the governing board while at the same time being a member of the governing board creates an inherent conflict of interest. The NGA does not think that the headteacher/chief executive should be a member of the governing board, but should be required to attend governing board meetings.
Payment for governors
The NGA’s view is that school governors sitting on normally constituted governing bodies should not be paid. The NGA does think that all members of Interim Executive Boards should be paid – this is a different role and requires more time and involvement.
NGA’s view is that chairing the board of state funded schools should remain a voluntary un-paid role. This chimes with the view of our members, the vast majority of whom in recent (spring 2015) discussions were opposed to payment, although a minority were open to the possibility of small honoraria. Additionally, there is currently no evidence to suggest that payment of chairs would contribute significantly to the effectiveness of governing boards and payment would undoubtedly change the dynamic between other governors and the chair and the senior leadership team.
NGA supports further strengthening of arrangements to ensure proper payment of expenses and time off with pay agreed with all employers to support governors in their valuable work.
The NGA’s view is that if governors are going to carry out these serious and demanding responsibilities effectively then they need to be trained. In keeping with other voluntary roles that carry important statutory responsibilities, school governance should properly be perceived as a professional undertaking. Therefore the NGA thinks that the government should commit to ensuring the governors are equipped to operate effectively from the outset by making induction training mandatory for all new governors. This training need not be identical for all recruits, but as a minimum must ensure governors have a clear understanding of what governance is.
Governing boards should set an expectation that, throughout their term of office, governors must have regard to their own professional development. Governing boards should ensure that they have set aside a budget for their own development needs and source high quality development and training from a range of sources.
The NGA has campaigned for a number of years for the role of clerk to governors to be professionalised. It is widely recognised that an effective clerk is a key element in the success of any governing board.
All governing boards should seek to recruit high-quality professional clerks and pay them appropriately. NGA does not think it is best practice for a clerk to be employed in the school in another role, but where this does happen, there must be a clear job description and time allocation for when the individual is acting as clerk. In particular, the PA to the headteacher or chief executive should not be given the clerking role. All clerks must be performance managed, receive an annual appraisal with the chair and be provided with professional development.
C. School types
The NGA welcomes all state funded schools into its membership: local authority maintained schools, academies, free schools and university technical colleges.
The NGA is not of the view that any one school structure is better than another in bringing about school improvement. Where schools are underperforming governing boards need to be honest and realistic about their own performance and ensure that an appropriate plan to improve the school is put in place. This will almost certainly involve assistance from outside agencies, including in many cases a successful local school. The NGA does not think that sponsored academy conversion is the only route to school improvement.
The NGA is of the firm view that it is right that the decision to convert to academy status should rest solely with the governing body. Any decision should be taken after full consideration of what academy status entails and with a clear vision as to how the conversion will improve teaching and learning in the school.
D. Groups of schools
NGA’s view is that formal partnerships between schools can be extremely valuable in improving outcomes for pupils, as well as offering increased opportunities for staff. Such partnerships have also been shown to improve governance – whether these are in Local authority federations or Multi-academy trusts (MATs). A federation is a group of two or more local authority schools which are jointly governed by a single governing body.
NGA’s view is that these benefits are more likely to be achieved when schools are in reasonable geographical proximity to each other.
NGA would like to see the same financial incentives offered to establish LA federations as are currently offered to primary MATs.
NGA is concerned that a number of MATs have expanded too rapidly and across too wide an area to be truly effective. More research needs to be done into the maximum effective size of a MAT.
The governance arrangements of MATs have not always been properly thought out and there is often a lack of clarity as to the level of responsibility between the over-arching trust board and that at local governance level. More work needs to be done to ensure that MATs operate effectively both at board and management level.
Future growth of multi-academy trusts should be based on a demonstrable track record of school improvement.
NGA would like to see more encouragement for small schools in close proximity to federate or join a MAT. Very small schools cannot offer the range of opportunities for pupils, or indeed staff, of larger schools, but the funding system continues to support their standalone viability.
In appointing the headteacher the governing board sets the scene for the leadership and management of the school. Governing boards need to be properly trained to ensure that they are equipped to make this most vital of decisions.
School structures have changed enormously over the last ten years and particularly over the last five years and especially in relation to leadership structures. In many cases legislation and some regulatory authorities have failed to keep up. New structures mean that in many cases we have executive headteachers with responsibility for more than one institution. NGA would like the next government to review references to ‘the headteacher’ in legislation and make amendments which recognise the school system as it is today.
Governing boards have a clear strategic role to play in appointments at senior leadership level (headteachers, deputy/assistant headteachers and school business manager), but all other appointments should be delegated to the headteacher.
Having set out its vision for the school, put in place a strategy of how this will be achieved and appointed a headteacher to deliver the strategy, the GB should then trust the headteacher to make other appointment decisions for the school and governors should not seek nor be routinely requested to sit on such recruitment panels.
Governors do have an important role in ensuring proper recruitment procedures are in place, so that schools recruit in an objective and transparent manner.
NGA is concerned about the shortage of high-quality applicants for senior leadership positions and particularly headships. There is also evidence of a growing shortage of teaching staff across the board. NGA calls for the government to take affirmative action to prevent a serious staffing shortage.
With their over-arching responsibility for the financial well-being of the school, governors must ensure that there is appropriate financial expertise within the staff of the school. They should seek to appoint a properly qualified/trained business manager either on a full/part or shared basis to seek to use their finite resources in the most effective way possible.
F. Revenue funding
A fundamental principle for the NGA is that all revenue funding should be objectively, transparently and equitably distributed. This does not mean that all schools should receive the same amount of funding, but that schools should receive funding to ensure equality of opportunity for all pupils.
NGA is disappointed that the funding distribution mechanism has not been reformed and will continue to campaign for its revision. Any new national formula needs to be responsive to the diverse population in schools in England. While the NGA accepts that no formula could or should, cover every possible difference in size and structure, there should be scope for some local differentiation.
NGA accepts that when a new national formula is introduced transitional arrangements will be necessary, but thinks that these should be kept to the minimum possible time period.
Any revised formula should apply to all maintained mainstream schools and academies to cover similar costs (e.g. staffing/heating/curriculum resources). It would be sensible for all state funded schools to be funded on the basis of the same funding year.
Funding settlements should be for a minimum of three years to enable schools to properly plan their budgets.
NGA is also concerned about the funding arrangements for special schools and for pupils with statements/education and health care plans in mainstream schools. We are particularly concerned about the lack of ‘consistency’ in top-up funding for these pupils. We hope that the review of the high-needs funding regime will ensure that funding is appropriately targeted at some of our most vulnerable young people.
NGA supports the continuation of targeted funding, in the form of the pupil premium or otherwise, to help improve the achievement of disadvantaged pupils.
G. Capital funding
The NGA’s view is that the limited capital resources available should be prioritised in areas where there is clear and demonstrable need for new school places.
Remaining funds should be distributed to those schools with buildings in most urgent need of refurbishment.
The NGA will continue to campaign for an open and transparent system of capital funding that allows governing boards to plan for the future needs of their school.
NGA supports an independent inspection regime.
It is vital that inspection outcomes are as consistent as possible; there is currently too much variability, which undermines the credibility of the system.
NGA welcomes the commitment of Ofsted to employing more serving senior leaders as inspectors, but remains concerned about the level of knowledge about school governance within the inspectorate. Inspectors need specific expertise and training which is carried out by leaders in the governance field in order to inspect school governance well and credibly.
NGA thinks all schools should be subject to regular inspection – albeit at less frequent intervals for those performing well.
While the headteacher is responsible for ensuring effective teaching and learning on a day to day basis, the governing board has a key role in ensuring that the school’s curriculum offer is broad and balanced and as far as possible meets the needs of all the young people in the school whether that is an academic or vocational offer.
Governors should also ensure that due emphasis is placed on the responsibility for providing social, moral, spiritual and cultural education so that young people both have the academic wherewithal for life after school but the more general knowledge and skills to participate.
Relationships and Sex Education
The NGA thinks that Personal, Social and Health Education including (age appropriate) Relationships and Sex Education should be statutory in all schools.
NGA’s view is that the requirement for a daily act of Collective Worship should be abolished for schools which do not have a religious character. Worship implies belief in a particular faith - if the ‘act of worship’ is not in your faith then it is meaningless as an act of worship.
J. Qualifications and assessment
In order for governing boards to carry out their accountability role they must have access to high quality and comparative performance data.
Schools’ effectiveness should be judged on both progress and attainment measures to ensure the school’s impact can be properly assessed.
Students need to be given the best possible opportunity for a successful life after school and the qualification system must offer high-quality vocational and academic qualifications.
K. Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND)
NGA supports the reforms of the SEND system, but sufficient resources must be made available for them to be successful.
L. Early years
NGA supports high quality early education provision but does not have a preference for what setting (private, voluntary, nursery school or nursery class) provides this. When we say early education, we mean age-appropriate learning through play.
NGA welcomes the government’s commitment to increase the amount of free hours of child care available to parents, but is concerned that the funding provided does not cover the actual cost of provision. For provision to be sustainable and high quality the funding must be adequate.
Any decision about whether to provide or expand school based early years provision must be for the governing board to determine.
We are concerned at the closure of many maintained nursery schools as these often provide amongst the best quality early years provision. We understand that the legal requirements on staffing maintained nurseries can make them more expensive than other settings, but rather than closure we would urge local authorities and governing boards to explore the possibility of federating nurseries together or with neighbouring primary schools. Where it is deemed appropriate, we would support schools in collaborating with high quality settings such as those in maintained nurseries in order to maintain the provision.
NGA thinks that all young people should be offered the opportunity to reach their full potential and the curriculum on offer should be sufficiently flexible to meet the needs of every child. This should include the full range of EBacc subjects.
We are concerned that the proposals to make the EBacc compulsory will steer all pupils down one educational pathway when another may be more appropriate to their needs. Therefore NGA does not support all pupils having to pursue the EBacc.