Governing bodies

Purpose of this advice paper

Head teachers and school leaders ask how they can work best with their governing bodies. The reasons can range from situations when they encounter professional differences and subsequent difficulties working with particular governors through to circumstances where they believe they are being treated unfairly and unreasonably held to account. Difficulties can also occur when governors stray into operational matters that are typically the domain of the head teacher or school leader; governors should focus on the strategic direction of the school, the school’s overall performance and its financial stewardship.

This paper sets out a framework for school leaders to put in place effective governance arrangements with the support of their employers. While the nature of this particular paper is geared towards maintained schools, the broad contents amount to what NAHT considers best practice and can, therefore, apply to all school settings.

The aim of this paper is not to get into the absolute detail of governance for members; instead, it seeks to highlight what we consider the principal resource documents that school leaders must and should rely on to review and shape effective governance arrangements at their school, a process that typically occurs across the summer term.

There are seven principal resource documents, which together provide any school leader and governing body with the framework to put the most appropriate governance arrangements in place for their school:

  1. The constitution of governing bodies of maintained schools (2017)
  2. Leading governors: the role of the chair of governors in schools and academies (2014)
  3. The governors’ handbook (2019)
  4. Code of conduct (2019)
  5. What governing bodies and school leaders should expect from each other (2019)
  6. External review of governance (2016)
  7. The right people around the table (2020)

There are summaries and links to each of these documents below, so you have the latest versions at your fingertips to support you in your role and to work effectively with your governing body and those that hold you to account.

The constitution of governing bodies of maintained schools

This is statutory guidance, which means that governing bodies and local authorities must have regard to it when carrying out certain functions relating to the constitution of governing bodies in maintained schools.

Leading governors: the role of the chair of governors in schools and academies

A useful and practical guide for chairs of governing bodies that’s complemented by checklists and four very illuminating case studies on principal aspects for chairs of a diversity of school types: building the team, relationship with the head teacher, improving your school and leading the business.

The governors’ handbook

This is guidance from the Department for Education that sets out its vision and priorities for effective governance by outlining the core role and functions of a governing body; it is your first point of reference on all the legal duties on bodies, and it gives information on the support available to governing bodies to be effective.

Code of Conduct

The code sets out the expectations on and commitment required from school governors for the governing body to carry out its work within the school and community properly. The code may be modified to suit each school and its structure and ethos.

What governing bodies and school leaders should expect from each other

This paper, produced in collaboration between two respective government associations and the two principal school leaders’ trade unions, aims to improve the effectiveness of school governance. Underpinning it is an expectation that governing bodies and school leaders will jointly develop effective working practices that are mutually supportive and respectful of each other’s roles and responsibilities.

External review of governance

This practical non-statutory guidance is for any school that wishes to conduct an external review of its governing body and governance arrangements. The review tool draws on Ofsted’s school inspection handbook. Full compliance indicates the governing body can answer ‘yes’ to each question in the four cores areas of strategic direction, educational performance, financial stewardship and effective governance.

The right people around the table

A guide to attract, recruit and retain school governors.

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