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A closer look into the 20 questions for governing bodies

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Since being first published more than two years ago, 20 key questions for governing bodies has consistently been in The Key’s top five most-accessed articles. With over 2,000 governing bodies using the questions, we take a closer look into the history of this hugely popular and long-lasting guidance document.

What are the 20 key questions for governing bodies?

The '20 questions for governing bodies' document was first developed by The Key, National Governors’ Association (NGA) and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Education Governance and Leadership. It aimed to encourage governing bodies to challenge themselves, reflect on their methods of working and increase their effectiveness. For example:

  • ‘Do we have the right skills on the governing board?’
  • ‘Does the school have a clear vision and strategic priorities?’

Lord Bichard, non-executive director of The Key, was closely involved in composing the questions. He explains, “Ultimately the questions were intended to provide support and guidance to governors at a time when they had little.”

“There were concerns that governing bodies were dominated by long-standing members who shied away from change. In light of this, we wanted to provide a self-assessment tool whereby governors could regularly challenge themselves, audit their skills and make sure they were not petrifying but adopting change and advancing their schools' performance.”

But what skills do governors need to be able to do this?

Professional skills such as financial expertise to oversee budgets have always been valued, and they continue to be so. However governors also need a range of less-easily verified skills, including the ability to make decisions, work in a team, build relationships with the local community, network and share good practice; also the confidence and capacity to challenge headteachers and staff. In an environment when schools are expected to be self-improving, these skills are at a premium.

How are the 20 questions used?

Since their publication, The Key's articles on the 20 questions have been accessed more than 6,700 times. Governors at schools rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted are more likely to view the questions than at schools ‘requiring improvement’.

One ‘outstanding’ school that has made use of the 20 questions is George Abbot School, a founder member of the Guildford Educational Partnership (GEP) Multi Academy Trust.

Executive headteacher of George Abbot Partnership (GAP), Danny Moloney, details how the trust’s governing bodies and schools have benefited.

“We have used the 20 questions as a useful checklist against which to ensure we have strong governance. We carried out a skills audit when schools first joined the trust to establish we have the right set of governors to move things on and this has been used in two of the four governing bodies effectively.”

The audit results led to the creation of two smaller governing bodies led by strong chairs with the correct expertise, and to the employing of professional clerks.

“George Abbot School has been rated ‘outstanding’ twice and the governing body has been really instrumental in sustaining our ‘outstanding’ badge in the sense of driving ideas forward and not allowing anyone to become complacent.”

The NGA provides the 20 questions to its members as a resource to help governing boards use their limited time efficiently. Alongside the Wellcome Trust, they have incorporated the questions into the new guide: Framework for School Governance.

What does the future hold for the 20 questions?

Speaking on what the future holds for the 20 questions, Lord Bichard says, “The education sector is always changing; the questions too will need to change and reflect the circumstances”.

The questions were updated somewhat at the all-party group meeting in late 2014. Among users of The Key they remain extremely popular.

Members of The Key can view the 20 questions for governors here.

Join the discussion on LinkedIn or follow us on twitter @TheKeyGov #20questions

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