This year marks 10 consecutive years of the annual school governance survey – the biggest and only enduring source of information about the demographics, views and experiences of the country’s largest volunteer force. Although the first survey ran in 2009, it did not become a regular feature until 2011 and during this time the number of responses has grown tremendously from 900 responses in 2011 to nearly 6,000 last year.
Here we take a look at some of the themes and questions we have asked to governors and trustees over the years and the trends revealed by the answers. This exploration is undertaken where the information in our archive allows and where the questions are comparable.
Who governs and their experience
Back in 2011 we asked respondents the extent to which they agreed with the statement “I feel that the wider community recognises and values the work that governors do for schools” – 60% of respondents did not feel that the wider community recognised and valued the work that those governing do for schools. This question has not been asked since but we suspect little has changed. In the current 2020 iteration of the survey, with a (paused) visible governance in schools campaign, we’ve slightly expanded this question and enquiry of thought to see how well you think your role is valued and understood by various stakeholders and the wider school community.
Looking at governor workload, in 2011 77% of respondents felt that the responsibilities given to governors were manageable. In 2013 we tweaked the question to ask whether you thought the role was manageable in 10 to 20 days per year (a benchmark borrowed from the charity sector), and 48% agreed. Fast forward to 2018, when we last asked question, and 52% of respondents agreed with the statement although this varied considerably according to their role on the governing board, with chairs the least likely to agree (42%) compared to other governing board members (60%). Last year we went back to asking whether governors and trustees felt their role was manageable (without specifying a number of days) to establish how long volunteers were really spending on the role. Again, most respondents (77%) said that the role was somewhat or completely manageable, although few were doing it under 20 days per year.
We started exploring the demographic of those governing in 2015 and found that 88% of respondents were over 40 and 93% were white. These figures have remained pretty stagnant over time with the 2019 survey finding that 79.6% of those governing were aged over 40 and 10% were under 40 (with the rest preferring not to say), and 92.8% of respondents identified as white. Promisingly in 2019, 9.7% of volunteers joining boards in the previous two years were from ethnic minorities. We also started to sk about the employment circumstances of volunteers in 2015 and while 43% of volunteers employed received paid time off work for governance duties then, by 2019 it had fallen to 32.4% of respondents being given paid time off by their employer.
Views and response to education policy
Changing the curriculum in response to external factors was topical in 2011 with governors and trustees asked whether they had made any changes because of the new English Baccalaureate – 48% of those asked said their school had altered its curriculum. Last year we asked governors and trustees that had made changes to their school’s curriculum in the past year why they had done so: 30% had altered their curriculum in response to external performance measures and the new Ofsted inspection framework while 40% had made alterations to fit their vision and strategy.
Funding also featured on the agenda in 2011, but not as heavily as it has for the past few years of the survey. A question that has remained consistent for the duration is whether cuts to local authority services, such as school improvement, have had an adverse effect on your school. In 2011, 76% agreed that cuts had, or were likely to have, an adverse effect on their school compared to 65.4% of respondents in 2019. Though the figure remains high, the falling number may be because there is little else to cut for some local authorities. The impact of funding on staffing was touched upon in the early surveys too – in 2011, more than two thirds of governors and trustees said they would need to reduce spending on staff over the coming two years due to financial constraints and in 2012 the majority of schools (77%) had made no redundancies in the last 12 months. Recent surveys explore a much wider range of factors that have been impacted by financial constraints and in 2019, 44.4% of respondents said their school had made at least one non-teaching staff member redundant and 27.7% had made one teaching staff member redundant in the past year.
Recruitment to senior staff posts appears to have become more difficult over the years. In 2011 we asked whether boards found it difficult to attract candidates when recruiting to senior staff posts at their school – 53% said they did not find it difficult to recruit to these posts: by 2019, 41.6% respondents said they did not find it difficult to recruit to senior posts (excluding the headteacher post). This year we are exploring headteacher recruitment in more detail with new questions on how you have recruited a new headteacher (if applicable), how you support them and factors influencing the recruitment and retention of high-quality staff.
We started to ask what the single most important thing the government could do to support the school governance community was in 2013. By far the most common response was “stop making changes”. In 2019, the most common response was unsurprisingly linked to funding and more support for a myriad of different services and groups, though asking the government to “stop interfering” or “introducing changes” to the education system remained a popular response.
Other big themes explored in early surveys included the move to academisation, changes to teacher pay and changes being introduced by the then newly formed government.
The size of governing boards is much changed since 2011, with a dramatic reduction in the number of governors/trustees on each board. In that year, a third of boards had 16 to 20 governors/trustees, 41% had 12 to 16, and 20% had 11 or fewer. In 2019, just 9% had 16 or more governors/trustees on their board, about half had between 11 and 15 with about 40% having 10 or fewer. This reduction reflects the Department for Education’s preference for smaller boards over the past 10 years. Connected to this, 59% of respondents in 2011 and 55.3% of respondents in 2019 said that they had difficulties in attracting volunteers to their board showing that volunteer recruitment is getting slightly tougher too.
Mandatory induction training for volunteers is a longstanding policy position of NGA and upon asking for the first time in 2011 most respondents (90%) agreed that this training should be mandatory. Though the government’s policy on this has not changed, support for the idea remains strong and in 2019 almost 94% agreed.
We first asked whether the board had a clerk who could provide advice on governance, constitutional and procedural matters in 2013: 80.8% of respondents said that they did. In 2018, when we last asked the question in the same way (and with the question extended to include governance managers), 91% of respondents said that they did.
Early surveys also explored the confidence of governors and trustees in their board’s ability to fulfil its role and their views on the external support available to boards, and how the increased autonomy then being given to schools would impact the board.
The 2020 survey
Looking back over the questions we have asked and the answers you have given gives an interesting snapshot of school governance and the education sector over the past decade. As always, the purpose of the survey remains the same: to represent and share your views and experiences of government policy and current events in the national arena, to campaign on the issues that matter to you and your community, and to inform and improve the support that we and others provide to the school governance community.
You can take part in this year’s survey at https://www.smartsurvey.co.uk/s/NGAsurveyweb/ where your responses will help shape the future of school governance.