What Makes School Governors Effective?

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Phil Naylor

Phil is a Deputy Headteacher , a Science SLE and a Local Authority Primary School Governor. Phil is the host of the podcast Naylor's Natter.
Read more about Phil Naylor

Are your school governors ‘evidence informed’?

The most recent OFSTED report on school governors, found that often governors lacked expertise in an increasingly complex system, yet were also found to make an essential contribution, particularly in areas of deprivation.

This was something I wrestled with ahead of my application to be a primary school governor in the summer of 2017.

As a secondary teacher with 20 years of experience, if I can still be daunted by the responsibility and I am aware of my lack of expertise, is it any wonder that schools find it difficult to recruit governors?

It is good to hear that governors do have the motivation to make a difference; supporting schools can be very powerful in driving school improvement. However, we need governors to be confident in both aspects of the role.

Evidence informed Governance

Within the first 12 months as a governor, I learned a great deal from an experienced and expert governing body.

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF, 2019) produced a report on becoming an evidence-informed governor. It can short-cut the valuable process of learning and can help governors support and challenge schools. The report headlines said …

Is your school evidence informed and should they be?

In times of stretched budgets, limited capacity and teacher workload issues, it is incumbent on governors to be aware of what works.

There are more similarities than differences between our schools and from this, we are able to ascertain ‘best bets’.

If governors are aware of these, they will be better informed to challenge any well-intentioned – but potentially misguided (often costly) initiatives. Governors should be aware of what leads to improved outcomes and how they can monitor this. This, in turn, will allow for more investment in the quality of teaching.


Arguably one of the biggest barriers to governors being able to challenge schools is the use of complex internal data.

This can be evaluated in so many ways by data managers that it is difficult for governors to see the woods for the trees.

With access to:

  1. Analyse School Performance (ASP) – formerly RAISE online
  2. Fisher Family Trust (FFT) Governor dashboard

Governors will be able to sift through the external and consistent data to scrutinise carefully the school’s overall action plan and support them to effectively close the attainment gap.

Teaching and learning

  1. What is the vision for teaching and learning in the school?
  2. Do school leaders use their valuable expertise and wisdom supported by the best available evidence to make decisions?
  3. Are leaders aware of the EEF guidance reports?
  4. Do they use evidence-based guidance to provide practical support and challenge?

These guidance reports are extremely accessible for busy teachers and governors. They help governors to be informed about the latest developments in teaching and learning.

Money and budgets

This is often the responsibility of business managers and authority experts.

As a layman, I would not attempt to give advice here other than on pupil premium (PP). The EEF report asks whether governors are aware of how the PP funding is spent and what the evidence suggests.

All schools are required to present a summary of the spending and this can convince governors that every penny is spent effectively. However, often a little more unpicking is needed.

As the EEF report states, the quality of teaching is the biggest driver in pupil attainment, particularly for disadvantaged students. Governors can support and challenge interventions to ascertain the validity of underpinning evidence and the impact on workload.

School governors make an essential contribution, bringing their experience and commitment to the running of schools. The more informed they are, the better the decisions they can make. The more support and challenge governors can provide, the better the outcomes for all …


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