Not enough time off work for school governors


Many school governors also in paid employment are not getting time off to undertake governance duties despite their legal entitlement to do so, a new survey by the National Governors’ Association and education magazine TES has found. 

Key findings also include:

·         93% of governors in favour of mandatory induction training

·         Almost half of respondents would support moves to radically reform Ofsted and the school inspection system

·         The majority of academies are not making use of the main freedoms available to them

The largest survey of school governors and trustees this year (5821 individuals took part) reveals that just over half of respondents juggle a job with volunteering and 40% of governors in employment get no time off work to undertake their voluntary role.  This 40% figure is the same for Local Authority (LA) maintained schools and academies, even though the former are legally entitled to reasonable time off to commit to governing. What is defined as reasonable has in the past been left to employers and employees to negotiate but, as most jobs are suited to allow flexibility for voluntary activity, this figure suggests that a significant number of governors do not receive their lawful entitlement.  Of those who do receive time off, more than one quarter have to take it all as unpaid leave.


This is particularly striking in light of recent efforts made by the Inspiring Governors Alliance to encourage employees to support their staff to volunteer as a governor; founding members of the alliance include the Department for Education, NGA and the CBI.

Reticence from the business community may make it harder for prime minister David Cameron to deliver on his party’s manifesto pledge to make volunteering for three days a year a workplace entitlement for people working in large companies and the public sector.  And speaking in April this year Cameron said: "What I want to do here is help people who want to do more to help their communities, to help others to volunteer to build a stronger society…It will be great to have more people volunteering, more people being school governors, more people putting back into their community.”

Nicky Morgan MP at the NGA summer conference 2015

Speaking at NGA’s summer conference in June this year, the secretary of state for Education Nicky Morgan encouraged governing boards to recruit members from business: “In many cases, schools are already reaping the rewards of recruiting more governors from business backgrounds. And I’d call on more schools to reach out in a similar way.”  The survey results suggest, however, that we will need more support from employers to make this happen.

We estimate that the time commitment for governance duties is between 10-20 days a year, although according to the NGA/ University of Bath’s The State of School Governing in England 2014 report, 35% of governors said they spend between 17-36 hours or more every month on governing duties. The NGA is currently engaged in a separate research project looking at how chairs of governing boards manage their time.

Neil Carberry, Director for Employment & Skills policy at the Confederation of British Industry, said: “Governors with experience of business can bring effective skills and knowledge to any school and help improve overall performance. That means business, schools and the government must do better to attract potential new governors – and firms should make staff aware that they are open to releasing them to carry out these duties. Ensuring employees feel enabled to have this conversation is important, and businesses can help by promoting this kind of volunteering as a valuable opportunity for their staff. It’s important that the obligation for firms to release staff for governor duties is extended to academies and free schools.”

John O’Brien, an academy vice-chair, told NGA: “I work as an NHS consultant. In Radiology we can work more flexibly compared to many colleagues that have a fixed timetable. When I have needed to go into the school I have either scheduled it when I have no work commitments, or I have worked flexibly and made up the time. We happen to be very short in our department, so I do not want to make our capacity problems worse. We arrange our meetings at 7pm for full governing body or some other committees meet just before school pick up or as soon after work that those required can attend.”

Emma Knights, Chief Executive of the National Governors’ Association, said: “Governing is a challenging but rewarding experience. Smart employers support staff to govern because it’s fabulous professional development. As the City of London Corporation discovered in their report, school governing is the best form of volunteering for giving employees experience of strategic planning, budget oversight and high level decision making. It’s also a chance for employers to demonstrate commitment to the community and to the education of the future workforce. Most importantly, skilled governing boards improve schools and so I want to thank those employers supporting staff to volunteer with paid time off.  

“NGA welcomes the CBI’s call for more support from businesses but it is exceptionally disappointing that so many employers are not yet heeding this call.  We urge the Prime Minister to come good on his manifesto commitment to promote employee volunteering. As well as the promised change in the legislation, this is very much a campaign for hearts and minds. We need those in places of influence to make it clear that there is a moral obligation as well as gains for employees and employers both.”

Chairs of governing boards are exceptionally important in ensuring good governance. The survey shows that chairs are less likely (40%) to be in employment than other governors (60%). Compare this with self-employed chairs (18%) and other types of self-employed governors (11%).Unless volunteering is made easier we will miss out on many talented chairs.

Governors back mandatory training

Today’s figures reveal overwhelming support for high quality mandatory induction training for new governors, the likes of which are expected for other responsible voluntary roles, such as magistrates.  Mandatory induction training is something that the NGA has long campaigned for and 93% of respondents to this survey agreed or strongly agreed that it should now happen.

Emma Knights, NGA’s Chief Executive, said:  “High quality training should be made mandatory for all new governors. No-one is suggesting that one size fits all and such a requirement will need to be thought-out and implemented in a sensible way. But it simply cannot be right that a volunteer appointed to serve as a governor can begin to discuss and vote on a range of critical, and sometimes confidential, issues which affect pupils and staff without fully understanding the role, the data or the context of their decisions. Governing boards are a critical part of the school accountability system; if they are fulfilling their role properly, schools should not fail. Their members must know what they are doing and induction training can make a contribution to this.  

“The introduction of mandatory induction training is comprehensively supported by practicing governors, trustees and headteachers but the Department for Education continues to try and make do with recommendations. If high quality induction training is ‘vital’ as it says it is then surely you have to insist on it for that minority who do not take the case seriously.”

Ofsted and academies

As in previous years, over 80% of respondents said their school’s most recent Ofsted report gave a fair and accurate picture. Despite this, half would still support moves to reform Ofsted and the school inspection system in a radical way. There were calls from respondents for Ofsted inspectors to be more constructive, for there to be greater consistency between inspections and for there to be less focus on data.

From the 1,400 academy governors taking the survey we found that the majority aren’t making use of the main freedoms available to them. Just a quarter have altered the length of terms or school days, less than half (45%) take the opportunity to set their own pay and conditions for staff as opposed to those nationally negotiated , and less than a third have changed the curriculum.[1]

Full details of the National Governors’ Association and TES survey will feature in the September edition of Governing Matters and online: but further information on specific issues can be given to journalists on request including regional figures


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[1] The latter contrasts with findings from an online survey of 750 academies organised by the DfE in July 2014 which claimed that 79% have changed or plan to change their curriculum and that 36% have changed or plan to change staff pay structures. The NFER’s survey of teachers shows while more than half believe their academy adopts an innovative approach for curriculum development, teaching and learning, resource deployment and partnership working, these figures are only slightly higher than for maintained schools. However the House of Commons Education Select Committee concluded in January that: “Most academy freedoms are in fact available to all schools” and that: “Evidence available so far suggests that academies are making limited use of the freedoms available to them”.