Bath University 2014 survey: Most school governors are white and professional

25 Aug

I           Recruitment

A nationwide survey carried out by Bath University in partnership with the National Governors’ Association (NGA) revealed that 96% of governors were white and 67% (about two-thirds) either in full or part-time employment with the majority working in professional or managerial capacities.  A quarter, who responded, described themselves as retirees having also worked in professional and managerial capacities.

The 2011 census revealed that 84% of the nation is white.  The governors surveyed failed to reflect this demography.  However, it’s worth sounding a health warning here as (only) 7,500 governors responded to the survey and we know that there are 350,000 governors (circa) across the country. It could just be possible that many governors from the ethnic minorities failed to complete copies of the form and/or send them in.

However, it was heartening to learn that, given the demands placed on governors, so many were professionals or had been in professions prior to their retirement.  Altogether, 89% of respondents considered it important to use their professional knowledge and skills to support and challenge their schools.   Altogether, 87% mentioned that their governing bodies had required them to embark on induction training. 

Governing bodies generally found it daunting to recruit members. Only 34% of those surveyed stated that it was relatively easy to do so. The statistical breakdown was as follows.

  • 37% in mainstream and 24% in special schools;
  • 57% in secondary and 35% in primary schools;
  • 38% in advantaged and 17% in disadvantaged areas;
  • 58% in schools with pupil attainment above average and 26% in schools where pupils’ attainment was below average; and
  • 49% in schools with the outstanding Ofsted grade and 22% in schools requiring improvement.

When governors were questioned about what would make recruitment easier, 66% stated that having their contribution recognised and validated would help.  Another 62% suggested that it would be that much easier to recruit governors if employers promoted their involvement.  Only 46% said that raising the school governance profile would attract more volunteers into membership.

Lead author, Professor Chris James of Bath University, said: “The recruitment of governors would be helped by greater recognition and valuing the contribution that school governors make. Central government has a role here in acknowledging and appreciating the responsibility governors undertake on its behalf.

“Employers have a role too in making it easier for their employees to be involved. What is very clear from our research is that recruiting governors can be very difficult and we need more volunteers with the right qualities.”

According to the survey, nearly 25% of school governors in full- or part-time employment were given paid time off work when discharging governance functions.  Altogether, 9% were given unpaid time.   Another 5% were not allowed any time off and 16% had not asked.

Employers should note that under Section 50 of the Employment Rights Act 1996, employees are entitled to reasonable time off to undertake public (volunteering) duties, including school governance.   The time does not have to be paid.  However, the law is silent on what’s “reasonable”.  Where employers are reluctant to give employees time off for school governors, the latter should point their mistresses/masters to the Inspiring Governors’ Alliance website. (See the next paragraph.)

On 15 May 2014, the former secretary of state, Michael Gove, and Lord Nash, parliamentary under-secretary of state for schools, launched the Inspiring Governors’ Alliance “to help celebrate and promote the importance of skilled and effective school governance”.   (See here)  Lord Nash also met over 100 employers to persuade them of the benefits of supporting their staff to become governors.  The Alliance aims to

  • inspire more high calibre people to volunteer as governors;
  • convince employers of the benefits of supporting their staff to be governors; and
  • ensure governing bodies recruit governors for their skills.

Most governors responding said that each of their governing bodies had from 11 to 15 members.  Only 10% had a governing body size of 10 or fewer members and 6% had 20 or more.

The government has been keen for governing bodies to reduce in size. The minimum permitted by the regulations is seven, albeit there is no maximum number.   However, the Bath-NGA survey revealed that there was a greater chance that larger governing bodies are judged outstanding by Ofsted and more chance that pupil attainment in these schools is higher than average.

II          What governors do

Governing bodies have four key tasks, i.e.

  • developing school strategy;
  • promoting accountability;
  • acting as their schools’ critical friends; and
  • complying with legislation as it affects their schools.

When asked about what specific tasks they had carried out in the previous 12 months,

(i)            75% of respondents mentioned ensuring clarity of vision, ethos and strategic direction;

(ii)           83% replied that they held their headteachers to account for the educational performance of the pupils and the schools (generally); and

(iii)          91% had overseen the financial performance of their schools with a view to ensuring that there was value for money.

While it was encouraging that more governors in 2014 than in the 2008, when Bath University carried out its first survey, were overseeing the school finances, fewer were involved in determining the strategic direction, dropping from 82% to the present 75%.

Nearly all governors said that their meetings were well-structured and 90% that attendance at meetings was good.  About 84% said that they worked effectively (similar to the 2008 findings).

A comparison of the two surveys revealed that

(i)            there are a greater number of governors who understand their roles and responsibilities;

(ii)           governors’ self-evaluation process has improved; and

(iii)          the atmosphere at governors’ meetings is much more positive and the business constructive.

When questioned about what would improve governor effectiveness, most mentioned a more equitable sharing of workload. Other suggestions included

  • more and/or better training;
  • recruiting governors with specific skills; and
  • better chair-ship.

Over half (58%) found the role challenging and 54% said it had become more daunting over the last three years.   However, 75% said that they enjoyed being governors and 50% stated that it enabled them to develop their knowledge and skills (thus assisting them in their day jobs).  This is unsurprising given that research in another field discovered that most people found their volunteering roles (when they did volunteer) more satisfying that their paid jobs.

III        Time spent on school governance

When chairs were asked about how much time was spent on governance per month

  • 34% said they spent from four to 16 hours and
  • 23% stated that they spent more than 36 hours.

With regard to the rest of the governors,

  1. 60% said that they spent from four to 16 hours a month doing school governance work and
  2. 10% of vice chairs, 9% of committee chairs and 6% of the rest spent more than 36 hours.

A substantial number of chairs – 94% – thought that the time commitment required of them had increased over recent years and 46% considered that this was unreasonable.  This matter can be addressed if chairs share their workloads with the vice chairs.  Indeed, in certain cases, the vice chairs would do well to show more willingness to volunteer sharing the workload as also the rest of the members of the governing bodies.

A number of governors in the survey remarked that the majority of their governing bodies’ work was carried out by small cadres of governors.  On the other hand, some observed that core groups were reluctant to share their workloads thus establishing elite cabals.  Overall, governing bodies could become that much more efficient and effective especially in the organisation and execution of the work.

When asked on what they spent their time, 92% responded at meetings of the governing bodies and their committees.  Setting the timings of these meetings appeared to be a hard chestnut to crack.  Those in employment found meetings from 6.00 p.m. onwards most convenient; not so the parents (especially mothers).   Altogether, 21% mentioned that family commitments precluded them from spending time at meetings in the evenings.  Conversely, meetings during the normal school day are difficult for those in employment and/or school staff.

Altogether, 65% of governors spend a large or fair amount of time analysing school performance data and 70% some time visiting their schools during the normal working days.   Shockingly, an eighth of the respondents mentioned that they visited their schools to “judge the quality of teaching and learning”, something that is definitely a “no-no” and part of a governor’s bundle of responsibilities.   (See 2.2.2 – pages 28 and 29 – of the Governors’ Handbook.)

Most governors – 68% – spend time keeping up to date with educational developments – mainly through personal study/reading. Some remarked that they took time out to understand statutory requirements and changes in educational policy, which is one of the key functions of the clerk to a governing body.

Variable quantities of time were spent on ad hoc matters such as recruiting staff members, redesigning the staff structure, disciplining staff members, reviewing pupil exclusions and dealing with parental complaints.  Some commented that the time spent on these matters was not unreasonable. What was not appropriate was that their schools expected them to be available at a snap of fingers or a drop of the hat.

A minority spent time on non-governance, operational tasks such as listening to pupils read, fundraising, running school clubs, handyperson’s work and driving the school minibus.  While governors are always welcome to carry out these tasks, they don’t come under the purview of good governance and will not cut any ice with Ofsted inspectors.

You can read the full report here.


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