The School Governance Study

A report by the University of Bath, commissioned and summarised by Business in the Community

The University of Bath were commissioned by Business in the Community to undertake research examining the effectiveness of school governance. Their findings were published in a report entitled The School Governance Study and used to inform the production of a publication by Business in the Community entitled Governing our Schools.

Data was drawn from a series of in-depth interviews with key stakeholders between May and July 2008, complemented by a literature review to identify key themes. These two strands fed into an on-line survey which was fully completed by 3,183 school governors; 25% of governors in the sample were serving chairs. Many schools of different types were also represented, giving weight to the “breadth of experience” captured by the survey.

The study concluded that school governing was:

  • Overloaded – governing bodies are responsible for too much
  • Overcomplicated – their work is unnecessarily complex, difficult and demanding
  • Overlooked – what governing bodies are responsible for and how they should function has not received enough of the right kind of attention and the work of governing bodies goes largely unnoticed.

The study differentiated governor types – parent, community, teacher and local authority, for example – yet found little variance in opinion on the overall effectiveness of the body, (although parent and associate governors were slightly more likely to give lower ratings of effectiveness). Ofsted assessments tally with the findings that one in seven governing bodies are perceived ineffective, but researchers are able to conclude that the type of school involved or the views of particular types of governor are not linked to overall effectiveness. The significance of the value of reflection and review, however, was high: it takes place in only one-third of ineffective governing bodies and in about 75% of effective governing bodies.

The report highlights the value of the contribution of the business community to school governing – 36% of respondents agree or strongly agree that there had been a number of times over the past year when contributions from governors with business expertise had been crucial. However, “A number of respondents felt there was scope for enhancing the contribution of employees and ‘whole companies’ to school governing” and 45% agree or strongly agree that companies are not proactive enough about promoting the involvement of their employees in school governing. There was wide recognition that companies have a very important part to play in allowing employees paid time off work to participate in governing. The benefits of being a school governor, including learning new skills, improved understanding of the work of schools and improved self-esteem and self-confidence, were cited by many of the survey respondents and interviewees.

Misperceptions about the role were found to be strong barriers to employer engagement: employers and employees commonly assume that they fall outside the eligibility criteria for school governing and, crucial to further engagement, researchers also found a general misperception leading “many potential volunteers to overestimate the work involved”.

The BITC report makes a number of recommendations based on the findings of the study. This includes asking the government to further clarify and simplify the purpose of school governing boards, to enhance their status and reduce the range of their responsibilities, allowing them to concentrate on scrutiny and strategic development.

Download The School Governance Study

Download Governing Our Schools