School governance in 2017: An annual survey by NGA and TES
The National Governance Association (NGA) has been running an annual survey of school governors and trustees in partnership with TES since 2012 – with the overall aim to use the findings to improve the education of young people. The key findings of 2017's survey are presented below.
Who governs our schools?
The survey found that 61% of governors were over 50, whilst younger people were hugely underrepresented in school governance. Governing boards were also not seen to be reflecting the ethnic diversity of the communities they served, with 94% of respondents giving their ethnic group as white.
The DfE promote the importance of having skilled governance, as governors and trustees have important decisions to make. The findings of this survey found that 25% of respondents are or were employed as managers, directors, or senior officials and 51% are or were professionals.
The survey found that there were many motivations for being a governor, including:
- wanting to support the improvement in a particular school (26%)
- having a child at the school (24%)
- wishing to give back to the community (21%)
- their own learning or continuing professional development (9%)
- an interest in education
- whether they attended the school.
How are schools governed?
Governors are finding it difficult to recruit new governors and trustees, which is reflected in the increased amount of vacancies on governing boards, and the decrease in board size over the past year.
Recruitment of a Chair is particularly difficult, even for those currently on the governing boards, with 51% of respondents not even considering chairing due to the responsibilities and time commitments involved.
Funding and finance
Funding pressures on schools was seen to have the greatest negative response by the respondents, with 72% feeling confident that pupils' education would be damaged by the pressures. Cuts to school budgets included: making redundancies, reducing support staff, limiting the number of subjects on offer and reducing the number of qualifications on offer. Despite the funding pressures, 93% of respondents were confident that their school offered a broad and balanced curriculum, which appears to contradict the findings that the funding pressures are limiting the choices and variety on offer to pupils.
Funding pressure and teacher recruitment was not as concerning compared to 2016; this may be directly related to funding pressures meaning schools are not replacing staff, so there will be less pressure on the recruitment process. There remains to be difficulty recruiting teachers for mathematics and science.
Fulfilling the core functions
There are three core functions of school governance:
- to set out the school's ethos, vision and strategy
- to hold the headteacher to account for the quality of education provided
- to ensure financial management.
- (NGA have suggested a fourth): engaging with stakeholders, although the respondents were confident that their governing board engages effectively with, parents, pupils and staff.
Governing boards have had to work closely with school leaders following the removal of national curriculum levels, to adapt new systems. 41% of governors and trustees disagreed that the removal has had a positive change, whilst 42% did not have a view, suggesting that it is too early to make an accurate statement. Those who disagreed, felt it had created a lack of clarity for parents to understand the change, it had created uncertainly for staff and had become more difficult to compare the results against other schools. Governing boards would like "A period of stability… so that schools can plan forward with some certainty".
The survey highlights and addresses that many governing boards were dissatisfied and concerned with the current education position. Funding pressures were seen to be the main area for dissatisfaction, as many of the resources needed to improve education are being limited or are no longer available. The governors and trustees would like more stability for the education system and to ensure that the expertise of teachers is valued and listened to. Hopefully steps will be taken to address the issues highlighted from this survey.