Recruiting school governors: breaking a vicious cycle

School governors play a vital role, but recruitment difficulties are most acute in disadvantaged areas where effective governance is most needed. A new national survey looks at possible solutions.

Schools often struggle to recruit governors with the necessary backgrounds and skill sets, new research by the University of Bath Department of Education has found.

The skills which made school governing bodies effective can be found in workplaces across the country, and governors who bring experience from paid employment commonly make a significant contribution, according to findings from a national survey of governors.

The survey, carried out by researchers from the University of Bath in conjunction with the National Governors Association, focuses on governor recruitment, retention and effectiveness.

Governing is improving

The survey reveals:

· School governing is functioning well overall and is improving
· Governors contribute in excess of £1 billion per year in unpaid services to education
· School governing is becoming more challenging and governors require a range of important qualities and skills
· Being a governor can help to improve work-relevant skills and expertise
· Coherent strategies are needed to combat recruitment difficulties
· Governing bodies frequently prioritise short-term core functions such as educational and financial activities over long-term strategic issues such as defining the ethos, vision and future strategy of the school
The report follows an earlier study published in 2008, which concluded that the role of the governor and the process of governing was overloaded, overcomplicated and overlooked.

Since the earlier study significant changes including the introduction of academies and free schools have taken place, increasing the significance and impact of governing bodies.

School and college governors now oversee a national annual expenditure of more than £46 billion – a significant proportion of the UK education budget.

Employers can play a vital role in enabling employees to volunteer as school governors, the researchers conclude. Being a school governor can also provide individuals with opportunities for personal and professional development.

However, governing bodies find it difficult to recruit, particularly in primary and special schools. And the schools most in need of good governors – those in disadvantaged areas and with lower pupil attainment – struggle most to recruit governors, resulting in a ‘vicious cycle.’

Voluntary governors from ethnic minority backgrounds are particularly difficult to recruit, and governing bodies typically do not reflect the ethnic diversity of their area.

The research suggests increased efforts to train governors may be needed; for instance in the appointment of head teachers and senior staff.

Policy implications

The principal challenge facing governing in England is enlarging the pool of citizens willing to become governors, particularly those in professional and management occupations. Meeting this challenge may involve:

· Better national recognition of the contribution governing bodies make
· Raising the profile of school governing to inspire a new generation of potential governors
· Emphasising the opportunities governing can provide for personal and professional development
· Encouraging employers to make it easier for employees to volunteer
· Broadening the diversity of ethnic backgrounds represented on governing bodies
· Creating a balance between work-friendly and family-friendly governing operations

Collaboration

Governing bodies in the same area or region can work together to improve school and college governance overall. For example, long-serving and capable governors of successful schools could be encouraged to volunteer as governors for schools that face greater challenges.

Given increasing levels of institutional autonomy and independence, particularly in the case of academy schools, governing bodies need to be encouraged to give greater priority to strategic issues.

Greater emphasis needs to be placed on the skills and training required for governing bodies to be able effectively to recruit head teachers and senior staff.

The survey questionnaire was developed jointly by the Association of School and College Leaders, the Education and Employers Taskforce, the CBI, the NAHT, National Co-ordinators of Governor Services, and SGOSS Governors for Schools and Colleges – a charity which offers free services to volunteers, schools and employers. Overall, 7,713 responses were received and analysed.