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A Checklist for Assembling School Governing Boards

Governing bodies are uniquely positioned to improve the day-to-day running and yearly strategies of schools, bringing knowledge and expertise that may not be found in traditional school management. 

two school governing board members talking

It takes a lot to create an effective governing body. The effort required is constant, measured and analytical, including set duties that should be carried out and improved every year. 

What does this look like? How can schools assemble the right governing board? Find the answers in our checklist below.

  1. Conduct Annual Reviews
  2. Create and Delegate Responsibilities
  3. Choose a Governor for Their Experience
  4. Ensure Governors Understand the School
  5. Avoid Conflicts of Interest
  6. Treat Governors Like Job Candidates

1. Conduct Annual Reviews

For any department, team or initiative related to schooling, the aim is to capture the best possible performance. This is also true of governance. A great place to start for maintaining or assembling new board members is to carry out annual reviews of a board’s composition. Is it made up of all the right people? Are there any detractors?

Schools can create governor skills matrixes that identify a governor’s professional ability, skills and experience. Additionally, the matrix works to record their confidence and success within that role.

Additionally, current governors will also have to:

  • Complete pecuniary interest forms. 
  • Keep up to date with the latest national policies, which should be confirmed each year even if not compulsory.
  • Demonstrate knowledge of the Nolan principles of public life, the basis of ethical standards expected of those in public office. 
  • Undertake the appropriate training regarding topics such as safeguarding or accessibility.
  • Attend seminars covering education issues, such as ones given by the Association of Governing Bodies of Independent Schools (AGBIS) if the school is an independent  school.
  • Be vetted by the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) to check for criminal records. 

2. Create and Delegate Responsibilities

Responsibilities for a school’s governing body are covered by a Scheme of Delegation, which sets out who makes decisions and who carries out particular functions. Schools need to determine whether specific governors will take charge of specific topics, such as health and safety or a particular part of a school’s curriculum. 

Governors will also be uniquely placed to help with recruitment, so responsibilities regarding recruitment and recruitment best practices should be adequately delegated to those chosen. 

3. Choose a Governor for Their Experiences

The best governors are those who can bring specialist knowledge to the governing body. Opportune choices are those individuals who display knowledge and experience of particular subjects. This could be:

  • Acquisitions and architecture surveying.
  • Marketing.
  • Financial.
  • Legal.
  • Property.

Similarly, an effective governing board should always include someone with teaching experience. The best choices are ex-heads, who are often in the best position to offer insight and advice other governors may not have. 

4. Ensure Governors Understand the School

This is a rather holistic point, but one that needs including. Governors should take an active interest in the everyday running of the school. A perfect opportunity for this is to have the governors shadow classes, sit in on lessons and talk to pupils and teachers. Working closely with subject leaders is important here, knowing what is happening within your subject is a feature of a good governor.  

Essentially, for an effective governing board to be established, they need to be in touch with the inner workings of the classroom. 

5. Avoid Conflicts of Interest

As both a legal note and one of common sense, no governing board can be created with existing or potential conflicts of interest. This is especially important for parent governors, whose children attend the school and therefore have a vested interest in that school’s success.

Similarly, governors cannot have personal agendas enabled by their position on the governing body. Keeping your governing body fresh is also important, new faces will bring new ways of thinking. 

6. Treat Governors Like Job Candidates

The recruiting of school governors has become a far more formal process. No one would allow an individual onto their staff without standardised procedures for determining their ability — choosing a governor should be no different. 

Today, schools should ask for CVs, application letters and conduct interviews carried out by sub-committees to ascertain a well-rounded view of the candidate. If possible, references should also be asked for. 

While it may sound obvious, it also needs reiterating — governing is an important role, with a very specific impact on the running of the school. Governors need to be able to dedicate the required time commitment to the role.