Supporting new governors: 10 pieces of advice

Written by: Paul Baglee | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

The hunt is always on for prospective school governors and supporting those new to the role is crucial to ensuring they stay the course. Paul Baglee offers 10 tips for new governors

Be an expert on your school

Even before you have attended your first meeting as a new governor, the work can begin by getting to know your school. Is your school maintained by the local authority, a free school, standalone academy or part of a multi-academy trust? Talk to your school community – pupils, parents, staff, the head and fellow governors.

You need to get a feel for the culture within your school, the diversity, strengths and areas for development. This will come from a range of sources and just spending time in the school building will help you pick things up.

The school’s website will also be of use. Here you will find the visions and values, performance data, school policies, the latest inspection report, details of school events, newsletters and more.

Understand your role and the expectations

When starting out in any new position, it’s important to understand the expectations of the role. Use the time leading up to your first meeting to do some preparatory research into the role, and what it entails. A great place to start is the National Governors’ Association (NGA) website. The site provides useful information on the role of governors and trustees.

You may also want to familiarise yourself with the Department for Education’s Governance Handbook and Competency Framework for Governance (2017). These contain guidance on effective governance, strategic leadership, accountability, governing board membership, structures, compliance and evaluation.

Assess your gaps in knowledge/training

There are a wide variety of training options for school governors, with introductory courses available for beginners and more specific, advanced courses in topics such as finance, SEN and preparing for Ofsted available for those with one to two years’ experience.

Introductory courses are highly advisable as they will set out the responsibilities, expectations, skills and knowledge required to be an effective governor. Speak with your chair of governors if you are interested.

Read and understand your paperwork

You will be provided with vital paperwork, including details of your school and governing body’s structure, known as the instrument of government. You’ll also receive a list of all governors, committees and their terms of reference, previous meeting papers, the school’s strategic plan and links to your school’s performance data.

This can be a lot to absorb, but it’s vital information if you are to be an effective governor. Set time aside to read this paperwork and prepare questions to clarify any details you are unsure of. Reading the paperwork forms part of knowing your school. By knowing your school you are better placed to ask those questions later down the line that provide much needed challenge and support for your school leaders. Courses can be online or face-to-face.

Respect confidentiality

Being aware of confidentiality is imperative in a school setting. So much of what you hear and see will need to stay within the four walls of the school, whether that be information about meetings with staff, pupils or the views of other governors. Schools, and what goes on inside them, are of huge interest within communities, and even nationally in some instances. If you receive confidential information – which you will – ensure you don’t share it with the wrong person.

Be prepared to ask challenging questions

As outlined by the DfE’s guidance, a governor’s three core functions are:

  • Ensuring that the vision, ethos and strategic direction of the school are clearly defined.
  • Ensuring that the headteacher performs his or her responsibilities for the educational performance of the school.
  • Ensuring sound, proper and effective use of the school’s financial resources.

To carry these out effectively, you will need to be prepared to challenge what you see. This may mean asking difficult questions of the headteacher and other senior members of staff. It also brings us back to getting to know your school – it’s vital that you have all the information and the context to support it, if you are going to hold senior leaders to account.

Be visible and accessible

You need to be visible. The greater your presence around the school, the more confidence staff will have in the commitment of the governing body – and you will get to know the school better. Good governing bodies expect governors to visit the school regularly and report back on what they have learned. It is important to be active and attend all meetings, governor events and complete tasks and actions requested of you. Non-attendance at meetings means a lack of engagement and reduces your effectiveness as a governor.

Set yourself goals

As with the majority of new roles, it is a great idea to have a vision of where you would like to be in six months or a year’s time. It may be that you would like to become linked to a subject or you have a personal training plan to complete. You could share your goals with your chair, other governors, or just keep them to yourself. Either way, make sure they are achievable.

Offer your skills, experience and knowledge

Whatever your experience of schools and school governance, you will no doubt have an abundance of skills and knowledge gained from previous roles. Think about how what you have done in the past could be of use to your school and your colleagues. Have you worked in finance? You may be able to share your knowledge with the school business manager. Have you worked in IT? You may be able to help with the school’s use of technology. Similarly, when you feel confident in your role as a governor, you could begin to think about taking a more responsible role on the governing body.

Keep up-to-date with change

Last, but certainly not least, you need to be up-to-date with the latest developments in the schools sector. The more information you have, the more able and prepared you will be to ensure the school runs smoothly. If there’s about to be a change in the way your school is funded, or the curriculum is going to be altered, you need to know about it. This will enable you to gain vital context around discussions with the headteacher and other senior leaders, or even be proactive in your questioning of how your school is going to react to a change.

Paul Baglee is head of governance at Newham Partnership Working. NPW has developed a road map – entitled Governor Training: What should I do? – to help governors plan their development needs. Visit

Further information

Governance Handbook and Competency Framework for Governance, Department for Education, January 2017:


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