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Effective Governance:
Question and Challenge
10th February 2015
Clare Collins
NGA Lead Consultant
© NGA 2013
NGA is a membership organisation
Representing the governors and trustees in all state funded schools in
Our aim to improve the effectiveness of governing boards by providing expert
and tailored information and advice, and challenge when appropriate
NGA is one of the organisations named by the National College for Teaching
and Leadership as being able to carry our reviews of governance
Standard governing body membership is £75
GOLD governing body membership is £260
and includes an advice line
© NGA 2014
Purpose of the session
To develop governors’ knowledge and understanding of how governing boards
question and challenge by:
1. Understanding the current background and context for governance
2. Identifying the sort of governing board you are
3. Balancing being strategic with knowing your school
4. Looking at questioning and challenge in practice
5. Reflecting on making an impact
© NGA 2014
1. The current context for governance
© NGA 2014
HMCI: ‘without strong and effective governance, our schools simply
won’t be as good as they can be’
© NGA 2014
The message from government
The ‘board of governors’ should operate at a strategic level, leaving the
head teacher and senior school leaders responsible and accountable to it
for the operational day-to-day running of the school.
The governing body provides non-executive leadership. Its role is to operate
as a board akin to the board of trustees of a charity, or the board of directors
of a company.
The board should avoid its time being consumed with issues of secondary
importance, and focus strongly on three core functions:
o Setting the vision and strategic direction of school
o Holding the headteacher to account for its educational
o Ensuring financial resources are well spent
DfE advice, January 2014
In other words, they want all GBs to operate as non-executive boards
© NGA 2014
2. What sort of governing board are you?
The eight elements of effective governance
The right people round the table
Understanding role and responsibilities
Professional clerking
Good chairing
Good relationships based on trust
Knowing the school – the data, the staff, the parents, the children, the
Committed to asking challenging questions
Confident to have courageous conversations in the interests of the
children and young people
© NGA 2014
© NGA 2014
The consequences of a failure to challenge
undermine the running of the school
Governors fail to provide enough challenge to the headteacher
Improvement planning does not address the
real priorities or is not rapid enough
Governors do not know what is needed to
probe more closely and gather further insight
Governors do not know if their actions are
having any impact or how good the school
really is
Performance management of the
headteacher is weak because it cannot be
based on any meaningful analysis
Governors do not know what training they
need or what additional governors to appoint
Performance management of teachers is
ineffective, as it is not linked to achievement
The school is incapable of stopping its own decline
© NGA 2014
Where does your governing board sit?
High support
Supporters Club
Partners or critical friends
‘We share everything – good or
‘We’re here to support the
High challenge
Low challenge
‘We leave it to the
‘We keep a very close eye on
the staff!’.
Low support
© NGA 2014
Governing the School of the Future
On your table …
Discuss where you think your GB currently sits
– Where are we now
– What is working well
– What would make things even better
Remember, you need evidence of what is working well … and examples of how
things could be even better
© NGA 2014
The characteristics of strong governing bodies
demonstrated in recent Ofsted reports
 They understand their role and how it complements that of the headteacher.
 They have a range of skills that brings something extra to the school and to
develop a strategic vision.
 Technical knowledge – of education, data, statutory responsibilities and
performance management in particular.
 They want to see and hear from middle and senior leaders about their work and challenge them on it.
 They have the skills and time to be a visible presence in the school.
 They set challenging targets for performance at all levels, including in
achievement, teaching and senior management work.
 They can form their own analysis of the school’s performance without
relying on the headteacher.
Because of all these they are ‘exceptionally well informed’ about their school.
© NGA 2014
Open not closed
– Tell me about
– How do you
– What is important about
– Have you considered
– I’m curious, please explain more
– Can you compare this to last year
Work through Bloom’s hierarchy of questions
– Invite analysis and evaluation as well as information
– Look for recommendations about what to do next
© NGA 2014
and if you are really stuck …
Two stand-by questions:
What went well? (WWW)
And it would have been even better if … (EBI)
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…and if you are really, really stuck …
…is there anything else you want to say?
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4. Question and challenge in practice
There is going to be a meeting between the head and the chair
to discuss a report
Step 1
(2 minutes)
Organise into groups of 3, 4 or 5
© NGA 2014
Step 2
(2 minutes)
Assign roles (try not to take the role you actually have):
GB chair
Observer / note taker
Vice-chair (if a 4 person group)
Deputy head (if a 5 person group)
© NGA 2014
Step 3
(5 minutes)
1. Read the role description for your role
2. Read the visit report
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Step 4
(5 minutes)
Get into ‘role’
Discuss your approach to the meeting with your partner (chair
and vice, head and deputy, or observer if no partner)
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Step 5
(10 minutes)
Conduct the meeting …
(led by the chair of governors, to explore the implications of the report,
and to agree what strategic steps now need to be taken)
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Step 6
(5 minutes)
Identify www/ebi
Prepare very brief feedback to the group
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Step 7
(10 minutes)
What have you learned from this exercise?
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Governors in these schools know how to challenge
and have the right skills
‘The governors receive regular and comprehensive reports from the head teacher and have also
requested that heads of subject areas attend meetings of the governing body where they are
challenged to explain any remaining gaps in attainment for different groups of students.’
‘The members of the governing body are extremely well informed and possess a range of skills and
expertise to challenge leaders and managers about the performance of the school - there are many
established members who are critical friends of the school's leaders and have effectively challenged
many aspects of the school's performance including the new curriculum developments.’
‘The governing body has the knowledge and skills to ask the necessary questions, so that governors
can effectively hold the school to account.’
‘The Chair of the Governing body is capable and astute. He has used his wealth of business
experience to support the school in challenging underperformance.’
‘Governors have an excellent understanding of the link between performance management and the
salary structure.’
© NGA 2014
5. Governance making an impact
Set the vision and ethos, including what the children should leave the school
having learned
Stay strategic and focused on improvement priorities: leave the operational to
school leaders, and delegate
Don’t get overwhelmed by compliance and reviewing policies: focus on principles,
delegate procedures
Recruit good school leaders (a future challenge) … and trust them to recruit good
Ensure school leaders are equipped to do their jobs, including HR, procurement,
legal advice, and CPD
© NGA 2014
More resources
See on under the heading “Guidance Centre”:
Holding your school to account
This is a ‘how to’ guide with some examples of questions governors might ask
Knowing your school
This is a longer more complete set of questions with supporting resources
detailing the scope and range of issues the questions should be seeking to
Monitor – Evaluate – Act
© NGA 2014
Reviewing the session
The session has covered:
1. Understanding the current background and context for governance
2. Identifying the sort of governing body you are
3. Balancing being strategic with knowing your school
4. Looking at questioning and challenge in practice
5. Reflecting on making an impact
Any questions?
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Thank you
© NGA 2014
[email protected]
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© NGA 201

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