Release date: 11/09/2020

Governors and trustees adapted rapidly to the short-term challenges posed by COVID-19 and are prepared for an uncertain long-term recovery, according to new research.

‘Governing in unprecedented times’, a joint small-scale qualitative study from Ofsted and the National Governance Association (NGA), explores the views of governors and trustees during the time when schools were closed to most pupils. It looks at how those governing responded to COVID-19, as well as the longer-term challenges they face as all pupils return to school.

While they are uncertain about the longer-term impact of COVID-19 on pupil outcomes, mental health and well-being, governors and trustees said they were confident in their ability to continue to monitor and address these as part of their governance role.

In the immediate aftermath of partial closures, governors and trustees had adopted new ways of working to respond to a fast-moving situation including delegating decisions to chairs and setting up dedicated committees for COVID-19-related issues. Participants also identified that while there are some “drawbacks” to online meetings, these could also “provide governing boards with a larger and more diverse pool from which to recruit governors to fill particular skills gaps.”

In looking at the long term impact, the research looks at governors’ and trustees’ reflections on monitoring pupil outcomes, revising strategic plans, access to remote education and financial management.

The research describes a “strong sense” from governors and trustees “that school leaders need the confidence to ‘write our own narrative’ in response to these priorities”. The report says that “schools faced similar issues to each other around staff and pupil mental well-being and pupils’ loss of learning”, but that governors and trustees “indicated they need to find individual ways to address these issues and in accordance with a school’s own ethos and values”.

Governors and trustees were in agreement that priorities for the new term would be:

  • Catching up on missed learning and children’s mental health and well-being: Governors felt confident they would be able to monitor pupil progress and hold heads to account without exam data from September. But they warned of longer-term challenges in monitoring the progress of pupils who have fallen behind while not in school, and who weren’t already identified as being in need before schools closed.
  • Inequality of access to digital technology and the varying quality of online education: The sudden introduction of remote and online learning raised concerns for several governors about equal access to online technologies and the quality of remote learning. Schools are at different stages in establishing online remote education, but governors suggested that greater oversight of the quality of that learning and pupil access was vital.


Amanda Spielman, Ofsted’s Chief Inspector, said: “Strong governance is good for schools and their pupils. The challenge and support that governors and trustees bring will no doubt be even more crucial as schools reopen to all pupils. Children have missed out on a great deal in recent months. Every part of the system must play its part in making the return to school a success.”

Emma Knights, chief executive, National Governance Association said: “Governing boards have adapted remarkably well to governing remotely, keeping on top of essential business and responding to a fast-changing landscape. They have been ensuring that senior leaders have robust plans in place to enable the successful further opening of schools while supporting the wellbeing of those executive leaders. Over the coming weeks and months, governors and trustees will be taking great care to understand the impact of partial school closures on all pupils, especially the most disadvantaged, and make sure that resources are used in the best way to enable pupils to recover as quickly as possible.”

Read the report

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