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Governing board roles

School governance in 2020

Reports setting out the findings of the 2020 NGA annual governance survey

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The annual school governance survey in 2020 resulted in a series of reports covering the experiences, views and demographics of school governors and trustees, drawing on their valuable and unique insight to inform and shape education policy and, in the absence of official data, to provide an overview of the state of school governance.

The findings of the survey are reported in six different reports:

  • Staffing and leadership
  • Finance and funding
  • Governance volunteers
  • Governance practice
  • Multi academy trust governance
  • Pupils, communities and accountability

6,864 people took part in this year’s survey – the highest ever response rate – against a backdrop of the partial closure of schools and ongoing uncertainty caused by COVID-19. This is the 10th year of the annual school governance survey, which also provides longitudinal data about the education landscape and the volunteer force overseeing state education in England.

Topical mini reports

Interested in a particular issue? View our topical mini reports:

All governing boards have some responsibilities as employers. The level of responsibility differs depending on the type of school. Governors and trustees told us about their experience of overseeing senior leader and staff recruitment, supporting and developing leaders and staff workload and wellbeing, and their views on the government’s policy on teacher salaries.

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One of the core functions of governance is the oversight of a school or trust’s financial performance to ensure that public money is well spent. Governing boards therefore play a pivotal role in how funds are maximised in the best interests of all of their organisation’s pupils, and have a deep understanding of the state of school finances. Governors and trustees told us about their school or trust’s financial position, the actions their board has taken in response to funding constraints, the role of the business professional in advising their board and their view on the government’s funding package for schools.

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An extraordinary quarter of a million people volunteer their time and skills to oversee state schools in England in the interests of pupils. They come together in governing boards that set the vision and ethos for schools and trusts: what children should leave the school knowing, having done, and being. They make important decisions
about staffing structures, what limited funding is spent on, as well as recruiting, supporting and challenging headteachers and executive leaders. To make the best decisions those boards need to be diverse in background, skills, experience and perspectives. Governors and trustees told us about their characteristics, their motivations for volunteering and their board’s experience of recruiting volunteers.

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Governing boards provide strategic leadership and accountability in schools and trusts, monitoring and evaluating the progress schools make and providing a source of challenge and support for the executive leader. Important aspects of governance practice include having a good chair for the board, being supported by a professional clerk and undertaking training and development for the role. Governors and trustees told us about the manageability of the role, recruiting a chair, the role of their clerk and their approach to training and  development.

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53% of pupils studying in state-funded schools in England are in academies and free schools. 84% of those academies are now part of a multi academy trust of two or more trusts (MAT). This has significant implications for governance. Academy trusts must have a board of trustees who also act as company directors and are accountable in law for all decisions about their academies. As well as the questions asked of all governors and trustees, MAT and academy committee respondents were also asked about local governance and the role of trust members, communication between the layers of governance of the MAT, perceptions of being within a MAT, how trust boards determine CEO pay their views and experiences on MAT growth.

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Every governing board, no matter the type, educational phase or size of the organisation must ensure clarity of vision, ethos and strategic direction. Governing boards champion the needs of all pupils, working closely with senior leaders to develop a strategy that serves the best interests of all the children and young people within the school or trust. Governors and trustees have shared their views and experience on a range of topics relating to pupil success and wellbeing, their school/trust’s vision, strategy and ethos, accountability and stakeholder engagement.

Read the report

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