Governors! Make it your mantra to question everything

Every school governor must always remember to ask “how?” if he or she is to effectively monitor the quality of teaching and ensure every student receives the best possible education

The role of the school governor has changed – and continues to change. Aside from juggling work and family commitments, we must know our school inside and out and meet the expectations set by the Department for Education and Ofsted. We need to take full responsibility for our school’s performance.

Do not be afraid to ask for information

It’s a big ask for a voluntary job, so how can we make sure we do it well? Here are a few things I have learnt.

The “now” is just as important as the “then”

Access to good data is essential, but you need to consider when the data was sampled. Reviewing last year’s exams results or RAISEonline data tells you a great deal, but just gives you a snapshot of how your school was performing last year, not how it is doing today. You need to access in-year data and details of teacher assessment to get fully to grips with what is happening in school now. Do not be afraid to request this information if it is not being provided.

Seek help

Take the time to ask all the questions you need. Governors need to understand what the measures are – what an average point score is, if relevant, or what is expected of that particular year group. If governors don’t know how student progress is measured now that levels are out or what each measurement figure stands for, how will they know if it is a good or a bad score? Greater understanding also gives you confidence to ask challenging questions.

Do not look at anything in isolation

If you are looking at RAISEonline, make sure you examine how your school is performing against schools with similar characteristics in other parts of the country. This will give you a much clearer indication of whether you could be achieving more. Talking to the head alone will not give you this sense of perspective.

Teachers are learners too

The quality of teaching is critical to helping pupils progress, so we must ensure all staff have access to effective career development. Governors can accurately measure the impact of teaching across the school using progress data, lesson observations and by reviewing lesson material alongside a helpful head of department. Not only will this help you to make decisions about staff pay rises, but also whether all staff are being given good professional development opportunities. A confident teaching profession will, in turn, nurture curious, confident and independent pupils.

Be brave in challenging the leadership of the school

You will need to take the time to ask questions of school leaders if you are to get an outstanding Ofsted judgment – not only at governors’ meetings, but before and after too.

We have had some very challenging meetings where we have sent headteachers away for more information because we haven’t been satisfied with their answers. You must be confident to do the same.

A good check that you have the information you need is to think about what would happen if Ofsted visited today. Would you know how you address the underperformance of pupil premium students? If not, it is time to go back to the head.

The role of the school’s governing body is to challenge the status quo and to ask “how will you do that?” With education changing apace, it is vital that “how?” becomes the mantra adopted by all governors to ensure the progress of students who we have been entrusted to care for.

Christine Homer has contributed to the Top Tips for Governors white paper available to download from www.capita-sims.co.uk/governors-top-tips


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  1. Risk of asking so much of governors is that it skews the available pool of citizens to the retired, the self employed and the contrarian who loves to pull things apart. What schools need is a broad range of people of all ages and occupations who have an interest in supporting their local school in a practical way. Too much data, too many meeetings and onerous accountability for things beyond their control is driving away many people. I’ve been a governor in the 80s -great in the 2000s less so and from 2015 definitely not.

  2. No wonder there is a shortage of people wanting to be Headteachers.

    Over zealous governors who want to question EVERYTHING, and OFSTED / DfE changing the rules of the game every few minutes. Whilst Headteachers are working 80 hours per week just to stand still.

    How about someone supporting Headteachers for a change instead of sucking the life out of them. Now that would be a novel idea.

  3. Governors shouldn’t question everything. Challenge and questions need to be appropriate. Asking questions before and after the meeting also needs careful handling and needs to be thought through. This may encourage individual governors to ask questions which they, on a personal level, would like answers to. And always remember we have a duty of care towards head and staff.

  4. Guest

    Firstly, governors should be elected not appointed. There can never be any real challenge under the contrived academies programme (applies to converter academies, grammar school academies, free schools, and sponsored chains). Secondly, schools should not become academies so as to be able to appoint governors to be spokesperson puppets for what they think parents need to hear. And thirdly governors should not question everything. They are there to support their school in the local community, to be a critical friend.

  5. Kevin Quigley

    It is interesting that these comments are made by a person working for a Foundation that runs a multi academy chain, and who is a sponsor governor, probably attending meetings as part of the job or on expenses. So I do question everything. I question the value of advice from such a person. I question why I would assume to make judgements on a teachers ability to deliver a lesson when I know very little about standing up in front of a class day in day out, after all would I want a lay person to come in and judge my professional capability in a 20 min shadow session? No.

    As governors we have to trust our headteachers and senior management teams to do the jobs they were appointed to do. It is not our job to micro manage every decision the school staff makes. It is our job to provide the platform by which quality teaching can be delivered and ensure that the environment it is delivered in is safe, supportive and well run.

    Any good governing body should be comprised of a range of skillsets, not just drones of data crunching nitpickers. To expect each governor to be an expert in data analysis, to understand the detail, to be an expert in school finances, to see the nuances in curriculum changes and to identify good or not so good teaching is ludicrous. Where, in the question everything mantra is the visit the school, talk to the teachers, talk to the students, the parents, join in with the celebrations and life that makes a good school good?

    No, I have no time for soundbite commentary from empire builders.