Helping your governing body to be effective

Governing Bodies will be able to challenge much more effectively if they have established good working relationships with the headteacher and staff at the school, they do this by asking questions. Questions should do more than just seek information. If governors are not getting evidence of progress in the school, they should be prepared to ask those challenging questions to get a clear picture of what is happening, and probe the reasons why the school is not progressing.

An effective chair also has a role to play so that:

  • agenda items are focused on strategic school improvement issues;
  • necessary information is circulated in advance;
  • there is adequate time for discussion of important items;
  • all governors have an opportunity to contribute and decision making processes are clear, are prompted to ask questions about reports and data; and
  • accurate minutes are kept.

An effective clerk will understand the governors’ role, and will reflect their questions and challenge in the minutes of the meeting. Clerks will encourage governors to scrutinise paperwork in advance of meetings to be better prepared and feel more able to take part in discussions.


  • Opportunities for challenge – how outcomes are recorded
  • Governing body / committee meetings – through the minutes
  • Target setting / analysing data / policy review – through the minutes
  • Headteacher’s Performance Management – through appraisal meetings and monitoring of targets
  • Link governor visits – recorded through link governor visit reports, and reflected in governing body minutes
  • Self-evaluation exercises – recorded through a use of a skills audit and GB self-evaluation

Summary:

  1. Ensure that the minutes of meetings record any occasions when governors question and challenge the headteacher or the school. Possible phrases to use in the minutes to highlight challenge:
    The governors asked for further clarity on …
    One governor asked if there were any specific reasons that the xxx results in xxx were not as good as anticipated …
    The chair of the Staffing Committee questioned why …
    The governors queried whether …
    In response to a question from a governor, the Headteacher explained …
    The governor with responsibility for health and safety raised a concern about the …
  2. Don’t forget that governors not only challenge, they are there to support the school. This support should also be reflected in the minutes.
  3. Ensure governors have undertaken the necessary mandatory training and also encourage them to undertake further training that will increase their knowledge and confidence to ask informed questions.
  4. Make sure that supporting papers are sent out with the agenda at least five days in advance of the meeting, so that governors can familiarise themselves with reports and feel better equipped to ask relevant questions.
  5. Discuss with the Chair the need to encourage governors to ask questions and participate in discussions during meetings.
  6. Remind governors of the need to write a report following any link governor visit and suggest that a bank of questions is developed by governors to ensure that they are asking relevant and challenging questions when visiting the school. We have produced some templates for link governors to use
  7. Encourage governors to undertake a skills audit to assess any gaps on the governing body
  8. Encourage governors to reflect on their own practice by carrying out self-evaluation exercises

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Sam MacNamara 07943 887275 Jane Morris 07957 969708