The National Governance Association (NGA) has published “Taking stock of governance workload”, the summary of findings from a yearlong study into the workload challenges of the 250,000 governance volunteers in England.
Rising workload concerns
NGA has been monitoring the workload challenges governors and trustees face for many years. Recently, there have been indications that the heightened governance intensity is threatening sustainability, straining volunteers, and hindering recruitment. Over a quarter of all governance volunteers and a third of chairs are considering resigning due to role pressures. To delve deeper, we conducted our governance workload study to assess workload pressures, identify contributing factors, explore areas for responsibility reduction, and propose solutions.
The case for remuneration
The report highlights a shift in the argument for governor and trustee remuneration among other findings and recommendations. Advocates for remuneration contend that compensating school and trust leaders could catalyse positive change, enhancing recruitment diversity, increasing visibility, fostering accountability, and aligning governance practices with other sectors. This perspective, however, faces resistance from those who express concerns about potential changes to the fundamental nature of governance, apprehensions regarding conflicts of interest, and the perceived departure from the traditional ethos of the charitable sector.
NGA, the leading voice in the governance sector, plans to initiate a comprehensive debate among its members and the wider sector, focusing on exploring the case for remuneration. This initiative aims to engage stakeholders in a thoughtful debate of the potential benefits and challenges associated with compensating governance roles in England.
The report also highlights the need for a fundamental shift in the role of governing boards concerning exclusions – as one of the aspects adding to an already increasing workload. The existing approach is no longer tenable, necessitating a fresh perspective. While strategic governance involves holding school leaders accountable for pupil exclusions, boards traditionally do not engage in the specifics of individual pupils. Aligning exclusions with this principle is overdue.
Other key findings and recommendations:
- A rising number of exclusions.
- Escalation of complaints to the governing board complaints committee, with increased numbers and complexity.
- The broader challenges within the system intensify difficulties for governing boards.
- The expanding expectations on schools to support families apply equally to governing boards.
- Growing board vacancies create pressures.
- Chairs face heightened responsibilities, managing additional tasks and hindering succession planning.
- Inefficient board practices and dysfunctional dynamics frustrate volunteers, leading to poor time use.
- Training expectations beyond induction become overwhelming.
- The considerable time commitment for governance poses challenges reconciling with other responsibilities, contributing to a mental load on committed volunteers.
Sam Henson, Director of Policy and communications at NGA, said:
"This report marks the culmination of extensive engagement with the governance community, shedding light on governors' and trustees' incredible yet mostly unrecognised efforts. While their invaluable contributions have long helped drive improvement and sustainability within the sector, there's a pressing need for a more comprehensive understanding of what is involved currently and the levels of commitment needed. NGA calls for the government, its agencies, sector organisations, and school and trust leaders to listen to this account of an urgent issue that is finally gaining traction.
The high cost of losing experienced and new board members, largely due to excessive workload pressures, leads us to advocate for both central initiatives by the DfE and collaborative efforts at the board and leadership levels to alleviate workload burdens. "