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What’s the point of governors?

  • Governors
  • Leadership
  • Schools
Governors 07 copy 2
Martin Matthews 08 July, 2018

What’s the point of governors?

I often use this question when interviewing people for senior leadership roles. The gold-fishing and waffle can display a lack of strategic understanding of what we do and who we are. It’s not an easy or simple question to answer. Many countries have effective education systems high in the PISA rankings which don’t have governors. Indeed, very few countries have a model including governance like England and Wales. So why do we bother?

In Singaporethe education ministry registers all schools, allocates budgets and devises the syllabus. It’s a very direct, hands on operational model where both civil servants and their political masters exert specific control at a very local level. See the similarities with the multi-academy trust model? The difference is the size of Singapore and the number of civil servants who run this system.

It could be argued we have the worst of this model – intense operational controls without the civil servants to provide scrutiny, support and accountability. I use Singapore as an example precisely because it is quoted as a model for increasing attainment.

Finland is often cited as a European example we should aspire to mirror. If you read what their National Agency for Education says, “Local administration is the responsibility of local authorities…. Local education providers are responsible for practical teaching arrangements as well as the effectiveness and quality of its education.” (Finnish National Agency for Education: Services: FAQs: administration and funding).

Sound familiar? Combined with extensive delegation of matters to school level it’s a hybrid of what we call academy and maintained status. Still no governors though.


To return to my original thought, what’s the point of governors? If we look carefully at many of the most successful models of education we aspire to match or excel there is a layer of scrutiny, and accountability between the national politicians and the senior educators in each school.

At this point I must be clear, I’m writing about governors and trustees not any form of local governance which has no legal status. Our current governance model is about as British as things get. It’s a Heath Robinson contraption cobbled together from a mixture of things long gone and extras bolted on. No one would deliberately design a system like ours. I know at least two people who have part written PhDs on how we have reached this point so I’m not going to drone on about it.

Governance links the local and the national as we are accountable to both the school stakeholders and agencies like Ofsted. We ensure the myriad of statutory responsibilities are completed. We performance mange the head teacher, set the budget, hire senior staff and strive to support and challenge school. In short we provide the same function as the intermediate layer of civil servants in other countries but with the added twist of being both volunteer and professional. That means the cost to the state and the school is tiny compared to others.


Governors counter balance the power of the head teacher within school. We are the appeal panel, the scrutiny committee, the arbiter of big spending who can and do say “no”. Without us too much authority would rest with a single individual unless they were frequently audited by the state.

Governors are not here for self-aggrandisement, CV fodder or being a worthy in the local community. The number one reason governors exist is to champion the very best education for every child in school, nothing more. The child with the runny nose, worn clothes and no friends deserves the same life chances as any other. Anyone who has lost sight of this, needs to read “Timothy Winters” by Charles Causley. There are ‘Timothy’s’ in every school and we must never forget that.