Reflections on School Governance

I’ve been researching models of governance to link with our commitment to explore and consider community ownership of schools.

In the course of the next few months I will be reflecting upon governance models throughout the world. The first of these relates to School Governance within the Scottish Independent school sector – further reflections will include, Scottish Further Education Colleges; New Zealand state schools; Swedish community schools; some examples from England; and other international examples.

I’m indebted to Judith McClure, Convenor of SELMAS, and former Headteacher of St.George’s School, Edinburgh, for giving up so much of her time to write the following.  I have to admit to being slightly hesitant to name Judith and publish an example from the independent sector as it has the potential to be misinterpreted by some as an attempt to promote a form of education which many in Scotland have real concerns.  Nevertheless, it seems churlish not to attempt to listen to, and learn from someone with such exceptional experience in an area where those of us who have lived our professional lives in the local authority dominated regime have little, or no experience.

What follows is a distillation of Judith’s experience on school governing bodies, either as a Depute, or as Headteacher of two schools, and a member of four other school boards – a period of 25 years! A great deal of it does represent her St George’s experience, and in particular all she has learned from three Chairs of the Board: the Rt Hon The Lord Clyde, Sir William Reid (who was the UK Ombudsman) and the Hon Lady Smith.

I’m particularly attracted by the notion of the matrix for selecting Board members.

I suspect I will be returning to this again and again over the coming year.



Judith McClure, Convener of SELMAS

November 2009


 The purpose of a Board is to provide governance to support the senior executive team:

 1. In defining and pursuing the strategic mission and aims of the School or Schools, by means of a regular planning process setting out key educational priorities and a programme of improvement and development;

 2. In managing staff, estate and finances to maintain the capacity to respond effectively to the changing demands of the education of the children and young people of the community.


 1. New Members of a School Governing Body are elected annually by the Governing Body to replace retiring members;

 2. Members remain on the Governing Body for a period of four years, extendable on election to a further and final period of four years;

 3. The process of selection of Governors should involve discussions of persons nominated or applying through advertisement by a Membership Committee of the Governing Body;

 4.  In the process of selecting Governors, account should be taken of a Matrix of Skills, Experience and School/Community Connections: 






Local Community





Former Pupil



Local Government


Civil Servant





Legal Skills and Experience









Financial Skills and Experience

Accounting and Audit









Business Skills and Experience

Company Leadership and Management









Architectural/Building Skills and Experience










Educational Skills and Experience

School + College + University









Experience of National and Local Government









Medical Skills and Experience








 1. The Headteacher(s) and the Finance Director attend all meetings of the Governing Body and its Committees; other staff may be invited to attend when relevant, as may pupils to give particular reports. No-one employed by the School can be a member of its Governing Body.

 2. The Finance Director/Business Manager may be employed by the School(s), but given the size of the budget and the level of financial responsibility, there is great merit in out-sourcing the financial function to a firm of Chartered Accounts. This gives the Headteacher (or Senior Headteacher), who is effectively also the Chief Executive Officer, the right level of advice from the senior partner of the firm (appointed as Finance Director) when advising the Governing Body on financial strategy and in assuring them of effective financial management.


 1. Although Members of a Governing Body may properly be selected to reflect a wide range of groups in the community, they are not representatives but trustees, acting in the interest of the school(s) and of the education of all children and young people in the community.

 2. They do not receive remuneration for their work. The question of expenses is one to be decided with proper guidelines.

 3. Members of Governing Bodies should adhere to the Nolan Principles for conduct in public life:



Holders of public office should take decisions solely in terms of the public interest. They should not do so in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family or their friends.


Holders of public office should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might influence them in the performance of their official duties.


In carrying out public business, including making public appointments, awarding contracts, or recommending individuals for rewards and benefits, holders of public office should make choices on merit.


Holders of public office are accountable for their decisions and actions to the public and must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office.


Holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions that they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands.


Holders of public office have a duty to declare any private interests relating to their public duties and to take steps to resolve any conflicts arising in a way that protects the public interest.


Holders of public office should promote and support these principles by leadership and example.


 1. The selection of the Chair of the Governing Body is of the greatest importance, as the key relationship is that between the Chair, embodying the governance of the School(s), and the Headteacher/Senior Headteacher, embodying leadership and management.

2. The principles upon which the Chair operates and the tasks for which s/he is responsible must be clearly understood from the first.


Tasks of the Chair

 To preside over Meetings of the Governing Body and to chair the Annual General Meeting;

 To oversee generally the work of the Governing Body, to chair such of Committees as may be appropriate and to appoint Members of the Governing Body to chair its Committees;

 To nominate for election the Vice Chair (who should ideally be a Member of the Governing Body of some years’ experience and of the opposite sex to that of the Chair);

 To maintain close links with the Headteacher/Senior Headteacher and with the Finance Director;

To arrange for the annual personal assessment of the Headteacher/Senior Headteacher (including a Review of the aims and objectives of the previous year and a Forward Job Plan) and to interview the Depute Headteacher/other Headteachers once a year;

To agree with the Chair of the Finance and General Purposes Committee, in consultation with the Finance Director, what should be the annual remuneration of the Headteacher/Senior Headteacher;

To inspect termly/regularly the Complaints Folder and the Child Protection Folder held by the Headteacher/Senior Headteacher;

To deal with such Complaints as are not settled by the Headteacher/
Senior Headteacher;

To chair the proceedings at the end of the School’s/Schools’ Academic Session;

 To interest her/himself in the activities of staff and pupils and in the achievements of the School/Schools;

To take part in the corporate work of the appropriate educational services at national and local level and to participate in meetings of other educational bodies and schools at strategic level;

To be available for any inspection undertaken by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Education, the Care Commission, and any other appropriate review body. 


 1. The Governing Body should meet regularly, usually each term in the Academic session with an Annual General Meeting preceding one of the meetings to receive and approve the Report of the Directors, to sign the Accounts and to elect new Members.

2. The Governing Body may meet from time to time, perhaps for an away day, to consider strategy. This could be part of the planning process for the rolling Three-Year Plan, or in response to particular circumstances.

3. The key Committees of the Governing Body will be: 

Education Committee meeting termly

Finance Committee meeting termly

there may be a separate Estate Committee, but bearing in mind the essential partnership between the two, it may be that a Finance and General Purposes Committee would be more appropriate;

 The Finance Committee may sit as an Audit Committee to receive the independent Audit Report, or in the case of a large enough Governing Body a separate Audit Committee could be convened;

The Finance Committee, if combined with the Estate Committee, may set up a Project Group to manage a particular new build.

Health and Safety Committee meeting termly

This Committee could also undertake responsibility for the implementation of the Accessibility Plan.

Membership Committee meeting annually, before the AGM

The Headteacher/Senior Headteacher, in attending all meetings of the

Governing Board and its Committees, would ensure that appropriate reports were made to Governors from internal committees (e.g. Learning and Teaching, Pupil Welfare) plus those with the wider community (e.g. the Parent Teacher Council, the Pupil Council)

Remits for the Committees of the Governing Body will be carefully

drawn up to facilitate corporate governance and collaborative leadership.




External audit (HMIe, Care Commission, Local Authority)

Review of principal goals and key priorities

 Strategic Planning

  • Three-Year Rolling Development Plan
  • Annual Improvement Plan
  • Outreach (including International Education, Education for Work and Enterprise, Community and School Partnerships)

 Staffing (Teaching and Support) 

  • Staffing structure and its development
  • Faculty and departmental leadership
  • Recruitment of staff and senior appointments
  • Continuing Professional Development
  • Professional Review
  • Staffing issues

 Learning and Teaching 

  • Curriculum Review, Development and Flexibility
  • Use of new technologies
  • Development of open learning and virtual learning environment 
  • Support for Learning
  • Continuity and Progression: pre-School, Primary, Secondary, FE/HE/World of Work 
  • Development of educational facilities 

5. Pupil Welfare 

  • Personal and Social Development
  • International and Enterprise Education
  • Personal learning and tutorial system
  • Wider opportunities
  • Citizenship and pupil leadership
  • Relations with parents
  • Care and welfare of residential pupils (if relevant)
  • Pre- and After-School Care and Holiday Provision
  • Individual pupil issues
  • Multi-agency co-operation and support 


Members of the Governing Body perhaps 3 of these would be parents

Former Chief HMIe (Chair)

Assistant Principal of a University

General Practitioner

Former Teacher


In Attendance

Headteacher/Senior Headteacher

Senior Deputy Head (equivalent in business terms of Chief Operations Officer)

Depute Head (Learning and Teaching)

Depute Head (Pupil Welfare)

Headteacher of Primary School(s)

Heads of Faculty (from time to time, reporting on specific areas)

Pupils (in regular sequence, reporting on different parts of the school(s), for their item on agenda only

 Note: the Chair and the Headteacher/Senior Headteacher would determine those in attendance for confidential matters in advance



Institutional self-evaluations are taken from the Committee of University Chairmen Report on the Monitoring of Institutional Performance, 2006.


Do the mission and aims of the School(s) make sense as business and educational propositions?

Is the School (are the Schools) performing as well as they should in the main educational and pupil-related activities that are important to its/their mission and community?

 Does the School (do the Schools) have sufficient cash to allow  strategic investments and to manage risk and uncertainty?

Is the infrastructure of the School(s) fit for purpose and does it generate a realistic return on past investment?

Does the School (do the Schools) attract and retain the calibre of staff needed to realise its vision?

Does the School (do the Schools) manage technology and information systems effectively and innovate successfully in this area, both for its/their own business needs and for the support of teaching and learning?

Do comparative data and benchmarking show that the School(s) is/are broadly keeping pace with the schools regarded as its/their peers?

Does/do the School(s) have the confidence of parents, the main Agencies in Scottish Education, the Scottish Government, the Local Authority, the local community, and local and international partners?

Are there major threats to the School’s/Schools’ viability and are there strategies for managing these?

Does the Governing Body have confidence in the School’s/Schools’ as an institution/trust to focus on the essential challenges and to adapt to the changing environment?

Does the strategic plan map out a clear development plan?

Key Priorities and Performance Outcomes

These should emerge from consideration of the Quality Indicators in How Good is Our School: the Journey to Excellence Part 3, HMIe 2007.

The outcomes for each year (including attainment in national examinations) should be reviewed each year and be presented to the Governing Body at its first meeting of the new academic session, together with the targets for that year.

 Key Risks

These should be assessed annually, using an appropriate Risk Management Framework and auditing performance against the Register of Key Risks.



Governance, Leadership and Management



Managing parental choice of school

Educational Facilities

Health, Safety and Security

Loss of Reputation

Law and Regulation

Note: The potential risks within each category should be carefully defined. For each of them, a control procedure and planned actions should be described, and the responsible person(s) identified. The annual Register of Key Risks should define the most significant risks, name the responsible person(s) and record any major incident or problem in each category with the action taken.






Headteacher and Senior Team



Finance (and Estate) Committee



Education Committee


Governing Body




 Analysis of outcomes; drafting of Director’s Report; consideration of Plan target   Management Accounts for Summer Term and Final Budget for session; Audit meeting  Analysis of exam results and leavers’ destinations; outcomes and targets of educational Plan  Approval of Budget; presentations and consideration of outcomes and targets




 Staffing vacancies and deployment for next session; development plans   Management Accounts for Autumn Term; estate strategy and projects   Focus on reports from senior team and key faculty developments  Monitoring of outturn and targets; consideration of Plan for succeeding years




 Staffing issues and Summer estate works   Management Accounts for Spring Term; Preliminary Budget; Summer works   Review of key priorities and outcomes; discussion of targets for next session  Approval of Preliminary Budget and plans for next session