An annual survey by NGA in partnership with TES

The National Governance Association (NGA) has been running a survey of school governors and trustees in partnership with Tes since 2011. The aim of the survey is to gather the views of those who govern in order to inform and shape education policy and, in the absence of official data, to provide an overview of the state of school governance in England.

Over the years, the scope of the survey has increased and so too has the number of responses: 5,218 governors, trustees and academy committee members shared their views in this year’s survey, almost four times as many as in 2012.

The findings in this report are the result of an online survey carried out between May and June 2018. The survey was open to anyone who governs in state-funded schools in England. Many thanks to all those who took the time to share their views and experiences. 

Download full report.

The key findings from the report are: 

  1. Three quarters of governors and trustees have a negative view of the government’s performance in education over the past year, with those governing calling for more funding and more stability in education policy.
  2. Funding is the biggest issue for governing boards, especially being felt in secondary schools, sixth forms and in early years. Just one in five are confident that they can manage budget constraints without compromising the quality of education. Indeed, only half of respondents said that they were balancing income and expenditure with almost a third drawing on reserves. 75% of those drawing on reserves said these would be exhausted within two years.
  3. High needs funding is a big concern, with 74% of respondents saying they disagree that current funding is sufficient; secondary schools especially are reporting being particularly badly hit.
  4. Diversity on governing boards is a major concern, including when it comes to who is elected chair, and not enough boards are actively considering the issue.
  5. Almost half of schools covered by the survey are providing additional services for families in need, including washing school uniforms, meals outside of term time, food banks and emergency loans. 38% of schools are providing financial support with purchasing school uniforms. This follows NGA’s Spotlight on Disadvantage research report, released in June 2018, finding that 46% still allocated funds above and beyond the pupil premium for disadvantaged pupils in their school.
  6. Volunteering to govern a school or group of schools is a form of professional development, yet the majority of governors and trustees are not getting paid time off work for governance.
  7. The time commitment involved in governing roles is a potential barrier to some volunteers taking on or continuing governance roles, particularly when it comes to stepping up to chair.
  8. Despite a trend towards smaller governing boards, recruiting volunteers to govern schools remains challenging with the number reporting two or more vacancies rising to 38% in 2018.
  9. It is concerning that despite the prominence of the need for effective clerking rising in recent years, 9% of respondents still either did not have – or did not know if they had – a clerk who could provide the board with advice on governance, constitutional and procedural matters.
  10. Staff recruitment is particularly challenging in regions surrounding London and in schools with lower Ofsted grades; many secondary schools are struggling to recruit teachers to core subjects.
  11. Only a little over a third of standalone schools are currently considering or in the process of forming or joining a multi-academy trust or federation, meaning that, in the absence of any clear direction from central government, maintained schools are likely to make up a substantial proportion of the schools sector for the foreseeable future.
  12. The majority of multi-academy trusts delegate significant responsibilities to their academy committees; this finding appears to contradict other reports in the sector that local governance is increasingly being overlooked by MATs.
  13. Most multi-academy trusts have overlap between people involved in different layers of governance, which poses a risk to effective governance as individuals are effectively responsible for holding themselves to account.
  14. NGA’s proposal for a fourth core function of governing boards - ensuring effective engagement with stakeholders – has the support of a majority of governors and trustees with only 17% saying they did not support the proposal.

Emma Knights, chief executive of the National Governance Association, said:

“Funding, one of a governing board’s three chief responsibilities, is providing some very tough challenges. It is deeply worrying that only one in five respondents were confident that funding pressures could be managed without any adverse impact on the quality of education provided to children and young people. This survey provides evidence, from the people who sign off school budgets, that schools are increasingly unable to provide a good quality of education because of funding. If we want to avoid negative effects on pupils, then simply, we need to increase the amount of money available to state funded schools overall.”

Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said:

“This survey provides further evidence of the impact of the school funding crisis. The government should take particular note of the finding that only one in five governors and trustees are confident that they can manage budget constraints without compromising the quality of education. This response reflects our concern that hard-won educational standards are being put at risk by real-terms cuts to school funding. Ministers must recognise the urgency of the situation and improve the level of investment before it is too late.”

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