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Welcome to the start of a new school year

Welcome to the Autumn term. We hope you had a great summer and a well-deserved break and are looking forward to this year’s governance challenges and opportunities alongside us.


As the new academic year begins, a fresh phase of leadership unfolds here at NGA: it is our privilege to share the role of chief executives from September. NGA champions flexible working and we would like to pay tribute to NGA’s board of trustees who are ‘walking the walk’ by taking this step of investing in this model of leadership.

Thank you to those who contributed to our annual governance survey: its findings (initially reported in an interim report at our summer conference with more to come next week) contribute hugely to NGA’s ability not just to document your challenges, priorities and practice, but also to act on them. They give authority to what we hear through all NGA’s work, and of course, we pay close attention to them when planning our work for the year ahead, both in terms of supporting governing boards and prioritising what to lobby the government about. With a general election on the horizon, this year’s results are arguably even more important than usual.

This is what survey respondents across the sector told us were the top challenges for their schools and trusts and their top strategic priorities:


Clearly, that is not the sum total: staff workload, well-being and retention, for example, were knocked out of the top three, not, we suspect, by any diminution of the importance of this critical topic which governors and trustees raise with us regularly, but by the increasing problem of getting all children regularly into school. We hope this gives you some small consolation that your board is not alone in facing considerable challenges in its mission to provide the best possible education for your pupils. Where there are solutions to be shared, NGA, of course, can play a role, but let’s not pretend boards can wave magic wands.

  • "Where there are solutions to be shared, NGA, of course, can play a role, but let’s not pretend boards can wave magic wands."

    What’s more, the daily life of schools is being hampered by changes happening around them. Many of the difficult issues are being exacerbated by the pandemic, the cost-of-living crisis for many families, and the reduction and strains in vital children’s and family support services. Families are arriving at school seeking help with all sorts of problems, from more school-related issues, such as the cost of school uniforms, to wide-ranging family struggles, such as housing, mental health, crime, addiction, and domestic violence. The story told this week in the Financial Times article about a year in the life of Newman Roman Catholic College will be one that is very familiar to many of you.

    Teachers mustn’t be diverted from what they are employed to do and what they do best. Yes, schools are an important part of the community fabric, but no, they can’t do everything. So, instead, we in the schools sector need to be louder in our demands for funding for specialist agencies and experts to refer those struggling families to. NGA will be.

    We know the well-being of children and young people is, of course, at the heart of why you volunteer and what NGA stands for and will continue to be at the centre of our leadership of NGA. We are all particularly concerned about the effects on our most vulnerable children.

    Yesterday, in the ministerial re-shuffle, we had yet another Government minister – this time David Johnson MP  - taking on responsibility for families, children and well-being. As well as continuing to develop practical resources to support your work, we will make sure ministers and opposition politicians hear your stories.

    • "So, instead, we in the schools sector need to be louder in our demands for funding for specialist agencies and experts to refer those struggling families to. NGA will be."

      Feel free to let us know yours: we are always pleased to hear directly from the governance community. Please email us at

      Please also consider whether you would like to work with us to take NGA onto its next state - and, of course, hold us to account! As a membership organisation covering all of England, our own board of trustees includes a trustee elected by members from each of the nine regions. This year, we are looking for nominations from 4 regions: the North West, North East, London and the West Midlands. Please spread the word. The deadline for nominations is 12 October.

      The outcome of the trustee election will be announced at NGA’s AGM on Friday, 17 November. We listened to members who said they didn’t want governing business to eek into the weekend, so this year, for the first time, we have moved the AGM to a Friday. That week of the 13 November is our virtual conference week; please join us then for our annual address and four annual seminars.

      Your new co-chief executive

      Emma Knights has led the NGA as Chief Executive since 2010 and Emma Balchin joined NGA five years ago as Director of Professional Development. Emma B brings more than seventeen years of strategic leadership and management experience in education and has governed for over a decade. She has successfully grown Nga's professional development services, providing oversight of the team and supporting those who govern across the nation with their CPD and board reviews. This also includes our invaluable e-learning platform - Learning Link, the Leading Governance development programmes, our training and consultancy offer, and for the past two years, the DfE’s National Leaders of Governance programme.

      Emma Balchin
      Emma Balchin

      Co-Chief Executive

      Emma has over 25 years’ experience in education, leadership and school improvement and in leading professional development services. Emma has also governed and chaired across maintained schools, academy trusts and local academy committees.

      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.