School governors: Call to recruit more widely

Children in the classroom A study found school governors are overwhelmingly likely to be white and middle class

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A campaign to improve the quality and number of school governors has been launched by a group of school leaders, employers and governors' organisations.

The Inspiring Governors Alliance wants to encourage more "high-calibre people" to volunteer.

A report found many schools in England - often in deprived areas - struggle to recruit governors, while bodies did not always represent the "wider community".

Education Secretary Michael Gove said the "school system is in their hands."

The recruitment drive is supported by the ASCL and NAHT head teachers' organisations, the National Governors' Association, the CBI employers group and the Department for Education and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

Under scrutiny

There are 350,000 governors in England - volunteers who have a major role in overseeing £46bn of school spending.

The Inspiring Governors Alliance says that the expertise provided by governors to the school system has the value of £1bn per year.

But the accompanying report says that recruiting can be difficult in the disadvantaged areas where effective governors are most needed.

Governors in England are responsible for holding schools to account for their academic performance, overseeing school finances and ensuring the ethos and "strategic direction".

However, the role of governors has been put under scrutiny with the so-called "Trojan Horse" allegations in Birmingham, where there are claims that hardline Muslim groups have sought to gain influence over school governing bodies.

Birmingham City Council has frozen the recruitment of governors while the allegations are investigated.

A child in a deprived area It can be harder to recruit governors in disadvantaged areas

There have also been questions about governors' scrutiny of spending in academy chains.

A study from Prof Chris James at the University of Bath, published as part of the Inspiring Governors project, provides the biggest profile of the current state of school governing bodies, based on a survey of about 7,700 governors in all types of state school.

The study shows that governors are overwhelmingly likely to be white - 96% - with little difference between wealthy and poor areas or between urban and rural schools.

They are also likely to be middle class. A large majority of governors are in professional or managerial jobs - and that those who are retired are likely to have been in such professional careers.

About a third of governors are not working, usually because they are retired.

This means that governing bodies are often not representative of the local communities served by a school - and this could be a weakness when appointing a head teacher.

Time off work

The report says governing bodies can have problems recruiting new members - with many saying there were shortages of people from the "wider community" wanting to become governors, as well as shortages of parent and teacher governors.

To encourage more people to come forward, governors say that there needs to be a clearer public recognition of their value.

"Employers have a role too in making it easier for their employees to be involved. What is very clear from our research is that recruiting governors can be very difficult and we need more volunteers with the right qualities," says Prof James.

About a quarter of governors who had jobs said they were allowed to take paid time off - with one in 20 not allowed any time off by their employers.

The typical amount of time spent on school governance was between four and 16 hours per month.

Introducing the report, Nick Chambers, director of the Education and Employers Taskforce, said it acknowledged "the work of hundreds of thousands of individuals who volunteer their time, free of charge, to provide leadership and accountability within our schools".

He said there should now be "a new call to action to make it as easy as possible for all schools to find people, willing and able, to strengthen governing bodies across the country".

"There has never been a more important time to be a governor," said Mr Gove.

The education secretary has previously criticised governors who were "local worthies who see being a governor as a badge of status not a job of work".

Neil Carberry, the CBI's director for employment and skills, said: "There's no better or more strategic way for business to support and influence the education system and our future workforce than through school governance."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 119.

    The trouble with a Governor's role is that it is too vague.

    As a teacher I've seen governors who played a positive role and those who tended to drag a school down. The worst governors are those on an ego trip.

    Potentially Governors have power - but no clear job description.

    The old, Victorian, 'gentleman amateur' (or woman) is a cute ideal but it can be a disaster in practise.

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.

    I am sure much good comes from our volunteer governors, but it is a very strange structure if you consider it.

    You have a volunteer, with no specific skill set relating to schools or education running a school and telling education professionals what is best.

    It seems to working at my kids school, but it must be hit-and-miss. I would imagine things can go badly wrong.

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    I was Chair of Governors for 5 years at a school. I recently resigned as I am disabled and having few health issues. When I left not even a thank you. No recognition whatsoever from anyone. At the end of the day Heads work with Governors because they have to rather than want to. Most heads that I have met want to run their school the way they see fit and governors just get in their way

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    Being a Governor needs to be a nominally paid Role due to the responsibilty everybody on the Board has. No Government will ever do this however as the Dept of Education would become bankrupt. New Governors are also usually shocked at the committment that they're expected to make so very few last more than 1 year.

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    I am currently a school governor. Governors are there to assist the school community through listening, advising, recommending courses of action. Some of the best schools I have seen are where the staff are committed to their roles, know their governoring body is there to offer both support and accountabilty. Teamwork is the key; to supply the best educational experience for the children


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