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New NGA report reveals getting board size and skills right is governance's biggest challenge

New NGA report highlights the top ten challenges.

school-environment coat hangers filled with children's bags and coats

The National Governance Association (NGA) released a report today on the top 10 school and trust governance challenges. These were revealed through their analysis of 200 government-funded external reviews of governance (ERGs).

The new report, Charting the course to good governance: common challenges, places a spotlight on the importance of external governance reviews 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.

Board composition was found to be the top challenge: identifying skills gaps and recruiting people with diverse experiences and knowledge to suit the needs of the school or trust. Findings also highlighted the importance of boards being the right size to suit the needs and context of the school/trust: too big, and decision-making became difficult; too small and it exacerbated governance workload issues.

Additionally, a lack of targeted and ongoing recruitment planning meant that the rate of individuals leaving governance was often increasing faster than vacancies were being filled.


Other challenges highlighted by NLGs included:

  • Almost a third of governors or trustees in the ERGs analysed not being involved in driving a clear vision.
  • Outdated or overlapping governance structures and unclear communication led to significant confusion, duplication, and non-compliance.
  • Unclear monitoring, scrutiny and accountability led to challenges in areas such as finances.
  • Negative relationships between the board and leaders and board members can act as a barrier or a distraction from priorities. 

The report concludes that where there is one challenge, it is very likely to cause another. It recommends that for governing boards to continually improve and identify challenges to ensure they are meeting the needs of children and young people, it is crucial they engage in both regular self- and external reviews. Whilst the report draws out which of the specific challenges were more frequently faced by MATs, many of them existed to a greater or lesser extent in all governance structures.



Emma Balchin, Director of Professional Development, who led the programme on behalf of NGA, said:

“This report validates NGA’s long-held views and makes for essential reading for all boards in identifying challenges early to ensure governance contributes to supporting the best outcomes for children and young people. Beyond the parameters of this report, NLGs also celebrated the growing prevalence of good practice NGA advocates. This programme conclusively demonstrates the power of external review and compliments the comprehensive support we provide to over 70% of schools and trusts nationally.”


Nina Sharma, Senior Policy and Research Officer, who led on the research said:

“The finding of this research provides us with up-to-date, crucial intel on the challenges that governing boards are currently facing. While the findings support previous research that has been conducted and conversations that we, at NGA have had with members, they draw on the importance of governing boards reviewing who is on their board, what their practice looks like and planning well for the future.”


Charting the course to good governance: common challenges