Shaping governance insight

What are the challenges facing school Governors?

Shaping Governance has just turned five – happy birthday to us! 

So, what better time to share with you what I’ve discovered about the challenges facing school governors – and how these can be overcome.

Since launching Shaping Governance in 2017, I’ve been working with hundreds of schools every year that use my framework to improve their governance.  During my sessions, I help governors to uncover their confidence in aspects of their role. I then help the governing boards to plan the steps they need to take to improve and become more confident.

Insight into school governance

Looking back over the last 18 months – from 2021 to early summer 2022 – I’ve pulled together my findings from my sessions with all the schools I worked with during that period.  This research offers valuable insight into governors' confidence at the start of the Shaping Governance process – before I share my key recommendations and advice with them.

So, here’s what I found…

Governor confidence

  • For almost half (47%) of the schools I work with in England – including primary, secondary and special – workload and well-being of staff is an area that governors are not confident in. 
  • So to is pupil and parent voice, with my research revealing that more than two-thirds (69%) of governing boards struggle with this important theme.
  • Meanwhile, 41% of governing boards were not confident about their role in providing strategic vision and direction;
  • When it comes to the most confident areas of governance, safeguarding was listed by three-quarters of schools (75%), while more than half (53%) said behaviour and attitudes, and 38% cited financial probity.

What does this tell us?

  • Pupil and parent voice: these findings show most boards struggle to hear the voices of their pupils and parents in all types of school. But pupil and parent voice is a key way for governors to learn about the school and to hold leaders to account; we've helped schools to identify the best ways for governors to use voice to triangulate;
  • Workload and wellbeing: this should also be a big focus for boards – and not just because of Covid 19. Staff are a school's biggest asset (apart from the children, obviously), and governors are concerned for their wellbeing; we've helped them to explore this important area;
  • Strategic vision and direction: one of the three core roles for governors, but our findings show that it’s an area that governors can struggle with because they either don’t have a long-term vision for the school or don’t have a way to monitor progress towards this goal.  'Strategic governance’ has also been named by the Department for Education (DfE) as one of the pillars of strong multi-academy trusts. However, our research shows that this is an area in need of development and, as you will read later, an area that we specialise in;
  • Safeguarding and behaviour: most boards are more confident in more well-defined areas such as safeguarding and behaviour.

How can Shaping Governance help?

I created Shaping Governance as a time-efficient, multi-tasking development tool for governing boards. With my support, school governors learn what they should be doing, share what they actually do, and identify improvements. Whilst I run every session similarly, using a strength-based approach, the conversations differ considerably. As part of the process, I give each board a full detailed report with recommendations to help them overcome their challenges. 

Turning governance around for the better

When governing boards implement my advice and recommendations, they see big improvements in their confidence and effectiveness.

Among my success stories is Westminster Primary School in Ellesmere Port, where governors told me in January 2019 that their least confident area was holding the headteacher to account. But after working with me, this issue became their most confident theme by February 2021. The governors got to know the school better and became far more robust in challenging and supporting its leaders.

At Archers Brook School in Great Sutton, my support helped the board to boost their confidence in strategic vision and direction. This issue moved from being their least confident area in 2019 to most confident in 2021. The governors became more professional in their approach and developed a full understanding of the school and the direction it needed to take.

And at Hebden Green Community Special School in Winsford, governors have implemented and exceeded my recommendations. The headteacher said recently that my insight and advice had helped them overhaul their approach and become much more strategic.

Could your board benefit from better governance?

All governing boards that use Shaping Governance benefit from regular reflection – with the added advantage of external moderation by me (which costs less than a traditional external review of governance). 

The DfE recommends boards evaluate how they govern and the skills of governors; Shaping Governance does this for you.

It’s striking how so many of the challenges facing governors are being felt by boards up and down the country. If you’re experiencing any of the challenges discussed here, Shaping Governance can help. And my insight shows you’re not alone.

By working with me and using my training and improvement framework, your board will benefit from my expertise and large bank of good practice. There are very few governance challenges we haven’t encountered, and we can help you deal with the issues you might face.

To get started or find out more, email 



Posted in Shaping Governance.