Education CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Martin Matthews


1. This is my personal submission of evidence to the Education Committee inquiry into the role of school governing bodies. The opinions expressed here are my own and do not reflect those of the DfE through my designation as a National Leader of Governance.


2. I have served on a number of different governing bodies as governor, vice chair and chair. Cumulatively I have over 35 years’ experience as a governor and I have lead several schools through significant changes. I have been a teacher, parent, LA, foundation and community governor at different times. I have been a governor in a number of different LA’s.

I was designated as a National Leader of Governance by the National College in April 2012 having served as a Greater Manchester Governor Champion 2009–11. In the next few years I will have served more years as a governor (cumulatively) than I have been alive.

Executive Summary

Governors are generally altruistic and care deeply about their school. Many do their best for their school unaware of the legal, HR and professional boundaries. Some stumble into being a chair and do not know the extent of the role before appointment.

Governor training, support, recognition and reward are poor.

Scrutiny and accountability are poor.

Recruitment and retention are poor.

The lack of a national support structure impedes the spread of best practice.

Wholesale reform of governance is unnecessary the underlying structures are robust.

The DfE and its agencies need to provide leadership in training, support, recognition and reward.


3. The purpose, roles and responsibilities of school governing bodies, within the wider context of school governance and leadership

3.1 The purpose of governing bodies has remained the same since the nineteenth century; to support the very best education for each and every child. This should not change.

3.2 The level of responsibility and professionalism demanded from governors has steadily increased in the last fifteen years. Training and support has diminished at the same time.

3.3 The role of chair of governors is significantly more than that of an “ordinary” governor. Support and training is woeful for new Chairs.

3.4 A definitive list of the statutory responsibilities of governing bodies on the DfE website would be good.

3.5 The DfE should issue a statement that conference calls or video calls for committee meetings are acceptable to facilitate more flexible governance.

3.6 Governance is now too big a role to fit into an hour after work now and again. Increased professionalism and responsibility should lead to increased recognition and reward.

4. The implications of recent policy developments for governing bodies and their roles

4.1 At primary level recent DfE policy developments have had minimal impact on many governing bodies.

4.2 Secondary school governing bodies have to address the raising of floor targets.

4.3 Academy governing bodies have a significantly different role. They are both the head teacher’s line manager and the staff employer.

4.4 The concepts of the Nolan principles are being diluted.

5. Recruiting and developing governors, including the quality of current training provision, and any challenges facing recruitment

5.1 The main issues facing governor recruitment were correctly identified by the recent (2011) University of Bath report. Governance is overlooked, overloaded and overcomplicated.

5.2 Skilled volunteers see governance as complex with a high level of responsibility and very little recognition. This deters them.

5.3 To recruit skilled governors the balance between responsibility and reward has to be urgently addressed for all governors.

5.4 National and local reward and recognition for governors is poor.

5.5 The lack of governor national recognition for long service contrasts unfavourably against most voluntary groups such as the Red Cross, St. John Ambulance, Territorial Army etcetera.

5.6 A new category of award such as the Lord Lieutenant Certificate for Community Long Service or Achievement should be considered. An accompanying award badge would raise the profile of governors among their local community making governance more visible.

5.7 National recognition for exceptional governance is low and the criteria for awards in the honours system are not clear.

5.8 A case could be made to skew the quota of education recognition in the honours list to those who volunteer their time above those who are paid to work in education.

5.9 There is no governance element in the national teaching awards.

5.10 Local recognition varies considerably and is being squeezed by the current austerity measures. There is no good practice measure in this area.

5.11 Paid time off work for governance is difficult to secure. Large companies often support governors more than SME’s because they view the skill transfer back into their company as worth the time investment. A right to minimal paid time off would ease this issue but in the current economy is unlikely.

5.12 Positive publicity by the DfE praising large companies which actively support governance would improve wider understanding and recruitment.

5.13 Individual governor case studies on the DfE website explaining the personal benefits for career progression would help.

5.14 A suggestion in the 2012 National College fellowship report to give a business a £500 allowance against business/corporation tax for each governor is worth consideration.

5.15 Governorline should be protected from closure or significant cuts. There is no equivalent information source.

5.16 Online documents like the governors guide to the law provide empirical advice and should be protected.

5.17 Many governing bodies permanently carry vacancies. It is likely this will remain the same with smaller governing body models.

5.18 Many governing bodies have a very small number of governors actively engaged in governance. This is the same in any voluntary organisation.

5.19 Some sponsorship/foundation bodies/LA’s do not fill all their vacancies in a timely manner. Appointing bodies could be given a three month window to appoint and then the right passed to the governing body.

5.20 Governing bodies should be able to refuse foundation/sponsorship appointees in the same way they can with LA appointees.

5.21 Governing bodies should be able to remove LA/foundation/sponsor governors for misconduct.

5.22 The change to a smaller governing body model will help some schools and make no difference elsewhere.

5.23 Governor training in my experience is poor; this is reflected by the low level of training completed.

5.24 Few governor trainers have sufficient subject knowledge.

5.25 There is no subject knowledge accreditation for governance trainers.

5.26 There is a significant lack of training in questioning skills, challenge, the boundaries of governance, national trends and national context.

5.27 Leadership training for chairs and governors does not exist. Subject knowledge training is being addressed by the National College.

5.28 Online training is available but does not reflect industry best practice.

5.29 Middle and senior teacher in service training is often accredited at undergraduate or postgraduate level. Governor training is not accredited.

5.30 The University of Bath research (2011) correctly identifies that the majority of chairs of governors are over 45. The DfE does not have an email list for chairs of governors. This compares badly with head teachers where the DfE has a complete list in Edubase. There is space in Edubase to add a chairs email address.

5.31 A single governance RSS feed combining data from the DfE, Ofsted and agencies would be a step forward.

5.32 A comprehensive list of what excludes people from being governors should be on the DfE website.

5.33 The DfE needs to decide which new criminal offences should bar someone from being a governor and it needs to be clear on the DfE website.

5.34 The DfE needs to decide about CRB checks. The current position where individual governing bodies decide if governors are CRB checked is a grey area which could be abolished at a stroke.

6. The structure and membership of governing bodies, including the balance between representation and skills

6.1 In areas where the local community skill base is low the dilemma will grow where either more skilled non locals are parachuted in or a less skilled local governing body remains. This will widen the gap between less skilled communities and the average and have questionable sustainability.

6.2 The move to multi academy trust or academy chains will diminish local accountability and local representation. There are fewer governors in these structures.

6.3 There is no method of allowing a governor to suspend their role for a given time to cope with family/work pressures and then return to governance.

7. The effectiveness and accountability of governing bodies

7.1 Many governing bodies rely heavily on one or two governors to facilitate their smooth running. Effectiveness is quickly eroded by the loss of these governors.

7.2 LA monitoring of governance is poor. I have never seen LA monitoring and assessment of governance as part of the overall mandated monitoring of school performance.

7.3 LA’s do not exercise their intervention option until a crisis is reached.

7.4 LA’s frequently appoint additional governors who do not facilitate a local sustainable solution.

7.5 LA’s should be more proactive and appoint experienced additional governors from a pre-approved list both to report back to the LA and support local improvement.

7.6 Anecdotally Ofsted inspections can be poor at understanding governance, their strength lies in assessing education. The new Ofsted framework does bring governance into the leadership strand but from personal anecdotal evidence the variability of lead inspectors understanding of governance is too wide.

8. Whether new arrangements are required for the remuneration of governors

8.1 The current economic climate precludes any kind of payment to governors.

8.2 Most governors never claim expenses even though they know they are entitled. If remuneration was to come from schools budgets most governors would refuse.

8.3 I suggest giving governors an additional personal tax allowance through tax coding.

9. The relationships between governing bodies and other partners, including local authorities, Academy sponsors and trusts, school leaders, and unions

9.1 Governing bodies are frequently insular. Governors often have experience of serving on one governing body and do not know of options open to them.

9.2 NPQH training does not give a rounded and accurate understanding of the benefits of a good governing body to a head teacher and school.

9.3 LA departments often do not understand that there is a different relationship between community schools, academies and the LA.

9.4 LA’s charging for services or access is not differentiated according to school type. This is subsidising access for non-community schools.

10. Whether changes should be made to current models of governance

10.1 The current model of governance reflects many organisations in British public life; it is a Heath Robinson contraption that works but few people know why or how. The model does work so leave it alone.

December 2012

Prepared 2nd July 2013