Nomination of Parent Governors

Foreword by Lord Nash 

I recognise the dedication of the hundreds of thousands of volunteers who serve as school governors. They invest a huge amount of good will and hard work in our education system. My priority is to make sure that all their hard work pays off. This means focusing their efforts on what really matters – improving education for every child at their school. 

I want to make it easier for governors to do a good job. I want to be absolutely clear about the role we expect them to play. I want to strip away unnecessary rules and regulations and make sure governing bodies understand their legal duties.

The significance of governing bodies’ role has in the past been under-valued. I have no doubt that governing bodies are the key strategic decision makers in every school. They are also a key part of the overall system for school accountability. 

Governing bodies have a vital role to play in driving up school and pupil performance and ensuring every child receives the best possible education.

The education system is changing rapidly and school governance needs to change too to play its part. My ambition is that every school has a dynamic governing body. 

That means one that understands its responsibilities and is focused tightly on its core strategic functions. One that is no bigger than it needs to be with all governors actively contributing relevant skills and experience. One that operates efficiently and effectively through appropriate structures and procedures. 

The government’s role is to put in place the framework to enable this to happen. Our reforms set high expectations, based on the principles of accountability and transparency.

I welcome Ofsted’s new explicit approach to governance. I believe that a clear and robust system of accountability is as vital to driving up the quality of governing bodies as it is to driving improvement in the quality of the schools they govern. I want to see even greater focus on the effectiveness and impact of governing bodies in raising standards of education.

I want all governing bodies to feel empowered to provide strong strategic leadership and to hold their school leaders to account. Empowered governing bodies need transparent data on the performance and finances of the schools they govern. One of my top priorities is improve the objective and independent data available to, and used by, governing bodies for this purpose.

This handbook is an important step forward. It distils and sets out clearly the essential information that all governors need about their duties and responsibilities. My hope is that helps governors to be confident in their vital role.

John Nash 

Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Schools


1.2 Governing bodies’ core functions 

We have high expectations of governing bodies. They are the strategic leaders of our schools and have a vital role to play in making sure every child gets the best possible education. This is reflected in the law, which states that the purpose of maintained school governing bodies is to ‘conduct the school with a view to promoting high standards of educational achievement at the school’1.

In all types of schools, governing bodies should have a strong focus on three core strategic functions:

a. Ensuring clarity of vision, ethos and strategic direction;

b. Holding the headteacher to account for the educational performance of the school and its pupils; and

c. Overseeing the financial performance of the school and making sure its money is well spent.

These functions are reflected in new regulations for maintained schools coming into force in September 2013and in the criteria Ofsted inspectors use to judge the effectiveness of a school’s governing body.

Governing bodies are the key strategic decision-making body in every school. It is their job to set the school’s strategic framework. This includes ensuring the school has a long-term strategic vision – including for the type of school that will offer them most opportunities. 

The governing body should agree the strategic priorities, aims and objectives for the school and sign off the policies, plans and targets for how to achieve them. They should check on progress and review regularly their strategic framework for the school in the light of that progress.

Foundation governors, such as those appointed by a church or diocese, have a specific role in preserving and developing the character of the school, including any religious 8 character. 

They must also ensure the school is conducted in accordance with the foundations’ governing documents, including any trust deed relating to the school

Effective governing bodies hold their headteacher and other senior school leaders to account for improving school performance by asking the right questions.

In relation to the performance of pupils, governing bodies might ask:

  • Which year groups, subjects and groups of pupils get the best and worst results and why, and how does this relate to the quality of teaching across the school?
  • What is your strategy for improving the areas of weakest performance as well as standards for all children, including the most and least able, those with special educational needs, those receiving free school meals, boys and girls, those of a particular ethnicity, and any who are currently underachieving?
  • How will we know if your approach is working?

In relation to the quality of teaching, governing bodies might ask:

  • Have we got the right staff and the right development and reward arrangements?
  • What is the school’s approach to implementation of pay reform and performance related pay, and if appropriate, is it compliant with the most up to date version of the School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Document?

In relation to the wellbeing of pupils, governing bodies might ask:

  • Is this a happy school with a positive learning culture?
  • What is our track record on attendance, behaviour and bullying?
  • Are safeguarding procedures securely in place?
  • How good is our wider offer to pupils – are we offering a good range of sports, arts and voluntary activities?
  • Is school food healthy and popular?
  • Do we listen to what pupils and parents are telling us?
  • What are you doing to address any current issues, and how we will know if it is working? 

School visits

Governors need to know their school. Many governors find that visiting, particularly during the day, is a helpful way to find out about the school. Visits can also be an important part of robust school accountability. 

Through pre-arranged visits, governors can check that the school is implementing the policies and improvement plans they have signed off, and see for themselves how their vision and plans for the school are working in practice. 

Visits also provide an opportunity to arrange meetings with pupils, staff and parents about what they think of the school and how it is changing.

While it may be helpful to see classes at work, governors are not inspectors and it is not their role to assess the quality or method of teaching. They are also not school managers and should make sure they do not interfere in the day-to-day running of the school. Both are the role of the headteacher.