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Governing board evaluation

Charting the course to good governance: common challenges

A thematic analysis of external reviews of governance by National Leaders of Governance.

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This report, Charting the course to good governance: common challenges, places a spotlight on the importance of external reviews of governance (ERGs) and the value of recognising challenges and strengths to ensure continual improvement.

The ERGs, led by National Leaders of Governance (NLGs) and commissioned for schools and trusts who would benefit most, emphasised the interconnected nature of these common challenges.

Research overview

The research highlights key themes that emerged through a thematic analysis of 200 ERG reports. The analysis identified the top 10 challenges that boards commonly faced which fall under the following five key focal points of the reviews:

  • Governance structures and practices: mainly emphasising board composition, skills, high-turnover, and structures, though separation, and board dynamics are also emerging common issues.
  • Vision and strategy setting: highlighting the board’s responsibility in establishing the organisation’s vision and strategic direction.
  • Executive Accountability: focusing on how effectively board’s held executive teams to account.
  • Financial Oversight: addressing the board’s involvement in overseeing effective financial management.
  • Governance Support and Development: encompassing activities and initiatives which support or enhance governance practices.

Key findings

  1. Weaknesses in board composition, skills, and high turnover were reported in nearly a third of governance reviews.
  2. Many boards showed evidence of a lack of effective scrutiny and focus in holding executive leaders to account.
  3. Lack of clarity, involvement or oversight of a well-defined vision or strategy, created challenges in fulfilling the core governance functions.
  4. Outdated governance structures posed a risk to compliance and made duplication and lack of efficiency common place.
  5. Weak scrutiny and accountability in fund utilisation jeopardise financial stability.
  6. Unclear communication and overlapping governance layers in trust governance can lead to confusion, duplication, and non-compliance.
  7. Negative board culture and weak dynamics were found to impact decision-making and relationships between the board and leaders, and board members themselves.
  8. Limited engagement with regular sector updates and training weakens board capabilities, reinforcing the significance of induction and training.
  9. There is increasing recognition of the critical role governance professionals play in ensuring effective governance, but some boards still under-utilise or undervalue the role.
  10. Insufficient risk management around issues such as falling rolls, matters of compliance and staffing issues placed schools and trusts in a vulnerable position.


Learning from external reviews of governance

NGA’s director of professional development, Emma Balchin and senior policy and research officer, Nina Sharma discuss emerging themes from external reviews of governance conducted by National Leaders of Governance.

Watch the webinar
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