Book extract: Much promise – successful schools in England

In an edited extract from his forthcoming book, Much promise successful schools in England, Barnaby Lenon, founder of the London Academy of Excellence and chair of the Independent Schools Council, looks at the essential, desirable and optional criteria which characterise a successful governing body – as well as providing key tips on how to find the best candidates for the role

Every governor needs to bring something to the table – expertise without cost to the school. The main categories of function or skill are:


  1. Education Every governing body needs an experienced teacher or head on the board who can help the board form a judgement about whether the school is performing well or not. S/he will know about performance data, child protection, Ofsted inspections, teachers’ pay, staff management, strategic plans. They know what a good school looks like. They know how to run appeals.
  2. SEND Pupils with special educational needs and disabilities need particular attention in any school and it is desirable to have one governor with some knowledge of SEND whose job it is to monitor the provision for such pupils. Maintained schools and academy trusts have legal duties relating to SEND under the Children and Families Act 2014.
  3. Finance As more and more schools have moved from local authority control to academy status they need governors who can have oversight of the school’s finance director and budget from a position of experience and expertise. All trustees should have an understanding of the statutory and contractual requirements of financial accountability and the principles of good financial management.
  4. Representatives of the school sponsors/trustees So if, for example, the school is sponsored by the Church of England, you will have representatives of the church on the board. Maintained schools will have representatives of the local authority.


  1. Legal background …to give legal advice.
  2. Local feeder schools …a head of a local school who can give advice about the competitive position of the school in the local area.
  3. For secondary schools, representatives of universities or other institutions the pupils might well go onto.
  4. Local authority…where local authorities retain educational functions, as many do, it is useful to have a representative who makes it easy to access these functions, such as training, legal advice and child protection services.
  5. Human resources…to give advice about staff management including appraisal.
  6. Buildings and estates.
  7. Marketing and fundraising.

 Optional or essential, depending on the school

  1. Parent governors. Parent governors are desirable because they can spill the beans if something is going wrong at the school. They can be elected to serve by the other parents or simply appointed by the other governors. Obviously there is a danger that they will see the school through the eyes of their one particular child. They might not know as much as one would wish about how a school works so they need to be trained. With a parent in the room it may be hard for other governors to be as critical of the school as they wish but parent governors can have many advantages.
  2. Staff governors. Staff governors are normally elected by the school’s staff from amongst their number. They can be useful in that they will present the views of the staff. A good teacher governor can help form a link between the governors and the staff but, with a teacher in the room, it may be harder for governors to be critical of the head or those who work at the school.
  3. Teacher representative governor. Some schools have a governor who has the specific role of liaising with the school staff but who is not a member of the school staff.
  4. It is not a requirement in the DfE model articles that the principal/CEO of an academy is a trustee. Members may decide that, in line with common practice in the charity sector, they want complete separation between the board and its executive. So governors need to be selected on the basis of their potential to contribute to the school and they should be appointed for a fixed term, say four years but renewable once.

 Finding governors

The chairman of governors should have a chart which lists the date when each governor was appointed and the date they retire. Long before a vacancy arises the Governors’ Succession Committee will decide what sort of governor needs to be appointed. Each governor will be appointed because of his or her skills and a skills’ matrix may be a useful tool to help clarify this.

  • The number of governors should be kept to the minimum to do the job.
  • Governing bodies range in size from 6 to 20.
  • It is important that one eye is kept on the gender and ethnic balance of the governing body, reflecting, to some degree, the nature of the pupils.
  • Parent governors can be recruited by asking parents to apply.
  • Alumni are a good source of potential governors and this is where having a school or college alumni association is useful – but alumni may also be more resistant to change.
  • There is a Department for Education website where people can express an interest in becoming a school governor – ‘Become a school or college governor’.
  • SGOSS – Governors for Schools is a free online governor recruitment service for schools in England. Schools can register and then advertise vacancies on their governing bodies.
  • Inspiring Governance is a free service that enables you to find appropriately skilled volunteers interested in becoming school governors or trustees in your area.
  • Academy Ambassadors is a non-profit organisation set up to recruit business leaders to build better Multi-Academy Trust boards.
  • When a potential governor has been identified he or she should be asked to submit a CV and should be interviewed by the chairman of governors.

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