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The Annual Governance Survey: an invaluable source


NGA has undertaken an annual governance survey of schools and academy trusts for 12 years. It has become part of the furniture in terms of the information available on the activities, views and challenges of governing boards in the sector.

Governors and trustees don’t have to be NGA members to respond, and while there is no sampling undertaken, we do check the respondents against the national and regional profile of schools and trusts, and report on the survey’s representative nature.  Moreover, the longitudinal nature of this survey with many questions asked annually or biannually really does enable us to spot trends. We do of course encourage the Department for Education (DfE) to fund governance research, but there has not been much for quite a while, so we will keep filling the gap.

But when I say we – yes, NGA’s team undertakes the analysis, but we rely completely on the good will and time provided by volunteers without whom there would be no results. Once again the system relies on the hidden givers, the phrase coined by Professor Chris James of the University of Bath in his 2010 report.  So thank you to the governors and trustees who do provide this vital information and please do share far and wide.

We must set up an absolutely definitive list of how we and others use the findings, but here’s a starter for ten, well eleven it’s turned out to be:

1.We published a comprehensive MAT-specific report which has informed:

  • insight into local governance, not held anywhere else, which then in turn informed our work on the role of the local tier
  • Schools Week coverage of the trends with MATs
  • the DfE understanding, particularly relevant to the inclusion of local governance in the School White Paper
  • and pretty much every conversation we have about trust structures and practice with other organisations in the sector!

2. We published a comprehensive policy-specific report which identified the issues of most concern to governing boards: to find out more, we also covered the issues in our magazine Governing Matters and in a Governing Chatters podcast no. 15.

  • Trends were also useful in making it clear to us we needed to increase the profile of our work on behaviour and attendance, and that premises were much more of an issue for governing boards than ever before. At first we interpreted this as due to COVID, but more digging has made it clear that there is a broader issue with the state of school buildings and the resources available to maintain and improve them.

3. Deprivation and the pupil premium: Provided insights contributing to our webinar.

4. Pupil wellbeing: Submitted written evidence to House of Commons debate on pupil mental health and wellbeing.

5. Stakeholder engagement: as well as informing our understanding of which methods are being used and own resources for boards, we produced a blog for Parentkind on parental engagement by governing boards.

6. Workforce issues: again informed a range of work, including our evidence to the STRB (school teacher review body) on pay and conditions.

7. We published a comprehensive practice-specific report and discussed these findings directly with representatives from the DfE, education sector organisations and at many NGA events, including our annual conference and SEND network. The report:

  • provided demographics, recruitment and inclusion findings to support the publication of the Increasing participation in school and trust governance report
  • aided advice line queries relating to board constitution and procedures
  • was quoted in the report 'Governance professionals: 2021 and beyond' in relation to appraisals and comparing the results to the GP survey
  • and set the scene with data in the Young Governors Network podcast.

8. Data was included in our June 2021 report on Governance Professionals which has been instrumental in influencing both the DfE’s understanding of the governance professional role and has shaped our own work in the intervening year, including the development of a career pathway for the profession which is currently being co-created and to continue to encourage good board practice, such as the appraisal of their governance professional.

9. Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI):

  • Data was included in our June 2021 state of the nation report on Increasing Participation in governing boards in order to improve diversity and inclusion, which has in turn been used by the DfE in a number of ways to promote this issue and used as a resource by the wider sector, and has informed our own work in providing resources.
  • Supported my blog on gender in governance
  • Provided data to a research project being published tomorrow by NFER on racial equality in the teacher workforce.

10. Environmental sustainability: key statistics have informed our Greener Governance campaign launched at our Annual Conference 2021, which also drew from those who had expressed an interest in sharing their work in this area in the survey.

11. Recruitment of governance volunteers: the analysis of the longitudinal data has shown that recruiting volunteers is becoming harder year and year, and this has enabled us to have substantive discussions with the DfE about the need for a national recruitment; I am hoping that this year’s results will absolutely clinch that argument.

Emma Knights OBE
Emma Knights OBE

Co-Chief Executive

As NGA’s Co-Chief Executive, Emma promotes the interests of the school governance community nationally with legislators, policy makers, education sector organisations and the media. Emma is an accomplished writer and speaker on a range of school governance policy and practice topics.