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School governor essentials

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Knowledge gaps and limited time mean it’s sometimes hard to feel confident making decisions and holding leaders to account, particularly if you're new. Before you start, it's important to get a good understanding of what your role entails and what will be expected of you. 

Understanding the purpose of the board

The 3 core strategic functions of governing boards are to:

  • Ensure clarity of vision, ethos and strategic direction
  • Hold executive leaders to account for the educational performance of the organisation and its pupils, and the performance management of staff
  • Oversee the financial performance of the organisation and make sure its money is well spent

There are specific responsibilities that governing boards have. For example, you need to: 

  • Approve the school budget
  • Performance manage the headteacher
  • Recruit a new headteacher when necessary
  • Approve certain school policies
  • Hear appeals for things like exclusions, staff disciplinary and grievance issues, and complaints

School visits

Governors should visit their school regularly. This will allow you to see whether the things people say are happening are actually happening. You might go in to:

  • See how a specific aspect of the school works in practice
  • Check progress is being made towards the school’s strategic objectives

Asking questions

One of your key roles is to hold senior leaders to account for the running of the school. A key way you can do this is by asking good, challenging questions in meetings and on school visits. A good question: 

  • Is open – you shouldn't be able to answer them with a yes or no
  • Usually starts with 'what', 'why' or 'how' 
  • Isn't leading, and doesn't have one specific answer in mind
  • Focuses on the strategic impact of the item in question, not on day-to-day operational concerns
  • Is challenging, but not negative or antagonistic

Download a Governance Essentials pack

Our free booklet contains all the basic information and guidance you need to get up to speed quickly and make a positive impact in your school. It covers everything from the function of the board and the different roles through to the commonly used acronyms and governance jargon. Download it at:

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