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The role and functions of the governing body: an overview

Ref: 4525
Last updated on 23 Jun 2014
What is the role of the school governing body? We set out the key functions and legal obligations of the governing body. We also look at an article from The Key which links to annual work plans.

DfE: the role of the governing body

The Department for Education (DfE) sets out information on the role of governing bodies in the Governors' Handbook. It says:

Ensuring clarity of vision, ethos and strategic direction

In all types of schools, governing bodies should have a strong focus on three core strategic functions:

  • Ensuring clarity of vision, ethos and strategic direction
  • Holding the headteacher to account for the educational performance of the school and its pupils, and the performance management of staff 
  • Overseeing the financial performance of the school and making sure its money is well spent

In other guidance, the DfE explains that the purpose of having a governing body is to:

  • Help the school to set high standards by planning for the school's future and setting targets for school improvement
  • Keep the pressure up on school improvement
  • Be a critical friend to the school, offering support and advice
  • Help the school respond to the needs of parents and the community
  • Make the school accountable to the public for what it does
  • Work with the school on planning, developing policies and keeping the school under review
  • Exercise its responsibilities and powers in partnership with the headteacher and staff
  • Not intervene in the day-to-day management of the school unless there are weaknesses in the school, when it then has a duty to take action.

It adds:

A school's governing body is a corporate body

A school's governing body is a corporate body. This means it has a legal existence separate from that of its individual members.

As long as governors have acted honestly, without ulterior motive, and reasonably, within the law and regulations, the governing body can't be held to account as individuals for any liabilities incurred by the governing body.

Governors' key tasks and legal responsibilities

Section 1.2 of the Governors' Handbook contains a table which outlines the different responsibilities of the governing body, dependent on the category of the school it serves.

Chapters 2 to 8 of the handbook set out guidance on the key tasks and legal responsibilities of the governing body.

Areas covered include:

  • Constitution and procedures
    • The constitution of governing bodies
    • Collaboration and federation between governing bodies
    • Procedures governing bodies must follow
  • Education and school performance
    • The curriculum
    • The education of children with special educational needs (SEN) and looked after children
    • Ofsted inspections
  • Pupil wellbeing
    • The wellbeing of pupils, including school safety and security
    • Behaviour, attendance and discipline
    • Reviewing decisions by the headteacher to exclude pupils
    • Food and uniform policy
    • Safeguarding pupils
    • Supporting employees or volunteers facing an allegation
  • Teachers and support staff
    • Annual appraisal of the headteacher’s performance
    • Pre-employment checks
    • Teacher appraisal, grievance, discipline and capability processes
  • Organisational changes to the school and the use of school premises
    • Converting to academy status
    • Making other changes to the school
    • The admissions process and appeals
    • Relationships with parents
  • School finance
    • Accountability for how school money is spent
    • Financial planning, expenditure and accounting arrangements
    • Benchmarking spending against others to improve efficiency
  • Information sharing
    • Sharing information with the secretary of state and, in some cases, with local authorities
    • Responding to requests for information under the Freedom of Information and the Data Protection Acts

These articles from The Key take a closer look at specific governor roles in different categories of schools.

Year planner for the governing body

An article from The Key links to annual work plans which outline the tasks that should be completed by the full governing body and committees throughout the school year.

Another article from The Key contains an up-to-date year planner including key tasks, upcoming changes to education policy and other important dates for schools and governing bodies.

Sources and further reading

A report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation explores the challenges faced by the governing bodies of schools that serve disadvantaged areas.

An article from The Guardian reports on a roundtable discussion about the challenges faced by governors in their role.

Last reviewed on: 23 Jun 2014 by AshleyD

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