Funding, staff recruitment and the government’s performance on education are the major issues facing volunteers governing state-funded schools, according to School governance in 2018 – an annual survey by NGA and Tes.
5,218 school governors and trustees took part in the survey, which is the only large-scale research in to the views of the quarter of a million volunteers governing state-funded school in England. In the absence of official data, the report, which reflects the experiences of all types and phases of state-funded school across every region of England, gathers the views of those governing order to inform education policy and school governance practice.
Amongst the key findings of the report are:
- 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.
- Just one in five are confident that they can manage budget constraints without compromising the quality of education. Only half of respondents said that that they are 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.
- 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.
Three quarters of respondents gave a negative verdict on the government’s performance in education over the past year. This is likely to be in large part because of funding constraints: 71% of respondents to the survey said funding is the main issue facing the school they govern. As governors and trustees are responsible for overseeing the financial performance of their school, their response to the survey provides strong evidence that funding pressures are damaging children’s education at every stage from nursery to sixth form. When asked about the single action they want the Department for Education to take in the next year, 48% of respondents asked for increased funding. A key recommendation of the report is that the Department of Education should urgently address the insufficiency of school funding by increasing the overall school budget in the next spending review to protect children’s futures and ensure pupils get education they deserve. 47% of respondents have cut support staff and 30% have reduced the number of teaching staff in response to funding pressures.
Teacher recruitment and retention is also a key issue for governing boards, with 38% of respondents saying they find it difficult to get good candidates for headteacher positions and 48% saying their school finds it difficult to recruit to teaching posts. Schools with a ‘requires improvement’ or ‘inadequate’ Ofsted rating find it more difficult to recruit overall, though it is unclear if this is a cause or a consequence of their Ofsted rating. Governing boards are finding it challenging to recruit to core subjects, with maths and physics selected by 62% of respondents respectively as the most difficult subjects to recruit to. Despite the difficulties in recruiting staff, only 13% of governing boards have introduced incentives to retain teachers. Teacher workload was recognised as an issue by 67% of respondents, and despite some governing boards trying to take action on this issue, respondents said their ability to do make a difference is impacted by funding constraints.
Almost half of governors and trustees responding to the survey said that their school provides additional services for families in need, including washing school uniforms, meals outside of term time, food banks and emergency loans. 38% are providing financial support with purchasing school uniforms.
The report also reveals important trends about who is governing in state-funded schools and the sustainability of the role. The underrepresentation of people from ethnic minorities and young people on governing boards continues to be a major concern with the survey indicating that not enough governing boards are actively considering the issue. There are vast regional differences in the degree to which governing boards are ethnically diverse: in London, 82% of governors and trustees responding to the survey gave their ethnicity as white, in comparison to the North East where 98% of governors and trustees responding to the survey gave their ethnicity as white. This compares to 86% of the adult population being white according to the Census 2011. Overall, recruiting volunteers to govern schools is increasingly challenging with the number of governing boards reporting two or more vacancies rising to 38% in 2018.
Emma Knights, chief executive of the National Governance Association, said: “Despite the vital role they play in the education system, the views of governing boards are often overlooked in conversations about national education policy. Governors and trustees are an enormous group of people who know a lot about state schools, including the tough challenges caused by sustained funding pressures – these are the people taking the difficult decisions like not replacing teaching staff or cutting the curriculum offer in their schools. 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.”