NGA and Tes have been carrying out a joint survey on all things school governance since 2011 and it has been my privilege to lead on this for the past two years. Over five thousand governors, trustees and academy committee members took the time to respond to this year’s survey and our thanks go out to each of them.
The report from this year’s survey was published last week and NGA brought together key organisations in a roundtable to discuss the findings.
The voices of those governing schools are often overlooked by policy makers and the education media and the survey provides a unique opportunity for NGA to make them heard. Over a quarter of a million people across England volunteer their time, skills and expertise to support schools, and work very hard to improve education for young people. Despite the positive purpose of their role, the mood expressed by respondents was one of general dissatisfaction, with three quarters of respondents giving a negative verdict on the government’s performance in education over the past year.
The leading cause of this unhappiness was, as you may have guessed, school funding. Just one in five respondents were confident that they could manage budget constraints without compromising the quality of education. This is bound to be difficult to stomach for a volunteer workforce, the majority of whom were motivated to get involved by the desire to make a difference for children.
Governors and trustees can play an important role in the campaign for increased investment in schools; NGA is here to give support to governing boards taking a stand. We will soon be relaunching our Funding the Future campaign with resources you can use to write to your local MP and to the Chancellor.
Funding was not the only concern raised by survey respondents; attracting high quality teaching staff, staff wellbeing, support for pupils with special educational needs, improving attainment and pupil wellbeing all frequently cited issues. There was a general call for greater stability in the education policy, particularly around curriculum and assessment.
Almost half of respondents’ schools were offering additional services for families in need. In the main, this was supporting families with the cost of school uniform, but some schools offer other support including washing school uniforms, meals outside of the term time, food banks and emergency loans. This follows NGA’s Spotlight on Disadvantage, released in June 2018, which found that 46% still allocated funds above and beyond the pupil premium for disadvantaged pupils in their school. This provoked an important discussion at our roundtable on what the reduction in local authority services will mean for the role of schools going forward.
Our survey provides an in-depth source of information on the demographics of governing boards and this year’s results showed that diversity is still a major concern: 93% of respondents were white, compared to 86% of the population at the last census and 74% of primary and secondary school pupils. It was a similar picture when it comes to young governors and trustees, with just 10% under the age of 40 (compared to 34% of the adult population). Early indications are that NGA’s Everyone On Board campaign is starting to change the demographic of governing boards, but there’s a long way to go.
Despite a trend towards smaller governing boards, recruiting volunteers remains challenging with the proportion of respondents reporting two or more vacancies rising to 38%. The time commitment involved was raised as a potential barrier to some volunteers taking up or continuing in the role, particularly when it comes to chairing. The time required to chair has been a prominent feature of our recent multi-academy trust case studies and NGA plans to build on previous research to explore this in more depth over the coming year.
Other topics covered included staff recruitment and retention, specific challenges around governing a multi-academy trust, the trends in governance practice and NGA’s proposal to make ensuring engagement with stakeholders a core function of governing boards. Look out for further blogs which will explore the findings on these subjects in more depth.
You can read the full report here. Any feedback is gratefully received and will inform our approach to next year’s survey, so please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
NGA will continue to amplify the voices of governors and trustees, using the survey findings to inform our representation and influencing work throughout the year.