NGA is at the forefront of knowledge and understanding of school governance.
We have been undertaking external reviews since they were introduced in 2013, and since then have built extensive experience of supporting and improving governance practice in all types of schools and trusts, including MATs.
Why should you commission a review?
It is good practice for governing boards to review their effectiveness regularly, but most especially if circumstances change, as outlined in the DfE’s 2017 Governance Handbook:
7.2.6 An objective independent external review of the effectiveness of the board can be a more powerful diagnostic tool than a self-evaluation. This is particularly important before the board undertakes any significant change – such as conversion to academy status or before a MAT grows significantly.
In addition, in the DfE’s Competency Framework for Governance, the sixth feature of effective governance focuses on evaluation:
6.b It is essential for the board to reflect on its own effectiveness including the effectiveness of its processes and structures. This will assist in building relationships and improving accountability, and will enable the board to ensure that there is a clear distinction between strategic and operational leadership. It will also assist in setting the tone and culture of the board.
Specific circumstances that may prompt a board seeking a review also include:
- A new chair, or new governors or trustees, or new leadership of the school or trust
- There has been no history of board evaluation and so a starting point is required
- There are specific issues, for example with standards, financial management, complaints
- Ofsted, or some other body such as the Education and Skills Funding Agency, or the regional schools commissioner, has required an external review
Whatever the reason, commissioning an external review should be seen as a positive step.
What is the purpose of a review?
The purpose of any review is to improve the effectiveness of the governing board in carrying out its three core functions so that the organisation it is governing - achieves its purpose.
Each review aims to develop the board’s understanding and practice of effective governance through:
- Astute diagnosis of the areas where improvement should be focused
- Skilled workshop style development for the board and senior leaders
- Realistic recommendations that can form the basis of an action plan for the coming year
- The option to book a progress review after two or three terms
Within a year of the review having taken place, the governing board should be:
- Effectively fulfilling its three core governance functions
- Sustainable, with routine self evaluation established, and succession planning in place
- Seeing evidence of organisational improvement
How will it work?
The precise methodology for the review will depend up on the context and circumstances of the governing board; the following details are illustrative of the approach taken.
- In order to build an understanding of the context of the school and key relationships, all reviews start with a scoping meeting involving the chair and the senior leader, and if at all possible, another governor/trustee/academy committee member, and/or another member of the leadership team, and the clerk to the board.
- In order to build a picture of how the governance structure works and the quality of the information that the board is receiving, the consultant will carry out a document review.
- In order to see how governors/trustees/academy committee members self evaluate their governance practice, their views are gathered either through NGA’s online board appraisal or, in some specific circumstances, through short face-to-face or telephone interviews.
- In order to share initial findings and to work together identifying approaches that will lead to improvement, the consultant will facilitate a developmental workshop session with the board, the clerk and the senior leadership team.
- In order to provide an assessment of board effectiveness in carrying out the three core governance functions, and to record the evidence that has led to this assessment, plus recommendations for improving practice, the consultant provides a detailed written report.
Once the review is concluded, the board should seek to implement the actions in the recommended timescale, drawing on the three months of free access to the NGA telephone advice service, and/or externally sourced support as appropriate. NGA also has an option for a progress review, two or three terms after the review is concluded. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
The aim is that all reviews are concluded eight to 12 weeks after the initial contact is made to NGA. However this is dependent on the extent of the review, the availability of governors and trustees, and how term times impact on the review timetable.
All NGA consultants are carefully recruited, trained and quality assured. All reviews are quality assured by senior staff.