21st January 2014

What skills are required to be a school governor?

Phil’s Blog – 21 January 2014

A consultation conducted by the DFE is going on at the moment about changing the school government constitution regulations to strengthen the skills base of school governing bodies. The consultation can be found at:


The main headlines in the media coverage of this is to raise alarm at the potential unpicking of the close relationship between a governing body and the community served by the school, as governing bodies must become ‘more professional’. However the move has also been widely welcomed, for example by the National Governors’ Association.

The main provisions being proposed are:

  • A requirement for all schools to reconstitute under the 2012 regulations by September 2015
  • A requirement for all bodies responsible for appointing governors – local authorities, dioceses, governing bodies themselves and sponsors, to have regard to the   skills required to be an effective governor.
  • No change to the rules about elected governors – staff and parents. However, when the governing body appoints a parent governor, as they can if insufficient parents offer themselves for election, they should also appoint people with the right skills, and it is also recommended that when an election is taking place, the governing body should inform parents of the skills needed to be an effective governor.
  • Where surplus governors are to be removed, this should again be done on the basis of skills, rather than juniority (‘last in, first out’) as is the current arrangement.

There are several very helpful aspects to these proposals.

First, it lines up maintained school governing bodies with academies, and frees them from the somewhat complex and restrictive proportional arrangements in the old regulations;

Secondly, where a school struggles to attract parent governors, they can change these empty seats into co-opted governor seats, and have freedom to appoint the best people they can find;

Thirdly, where parents are keen, they can retain high numbers of parent governors;

The most significant thing in my view, however, is that it show real faith on the part of government in stakeholder governance. This is a real move to strengthen governance in schools, not allowing it to wither or be quietly swallowed by large academy sponsors.

It also ties in with the strengthening focus from Ofsted in expecting schools to be well governed, with the governing body having real accountability for the quality of the school. Governors need to be good at what they do, and governance is a hard job. If all a governing body does is tick boxes and follow guidance, they may be valued, and very supportive, but one thing is for sure – they ain’t governing!

The days of paying lip service to good governance seem to be disappearing, and a good thing too.