Contributing to meetings: tips for new governors and trustees

Follow these top tips to get off to a good start in governance and know what your board should do to support you. Find out how you can be well prepared for meetings, make a positive contribution, and overcome feeling intimidated.

Last reviewed on 24 May 2024
School types: AllSchool phases: AllRef: 4150
  1. Get a good induction
  2. Prepare before your meetings
  3. Bring any issues to the board the right way
  4. During the meeting 
  5. Know how to disagree 
  6. Speak to the chair if you're finding meetings intimidating

It's up to your board, and particularly your chair, to make sure that you're given space to contribute and that your voice is valued. Below are some of the things you can do to help yourself feel more prepared and knowledgeable about governance, ahead of your first few meetings.

Get a good induction

  • Ask whether your governing body has a buddy system
    • If not, ask if someone more experienced would be willing to support you.
  • Ask whether your school/trust has an induction programme
    • If there isn't one, ask to meet the headteacher/CEO and the chair of your board and go on a visit to your school to meet some staff and pupils
    • This will help you to increase your knowledge of the school
    • Asking the headteacher about the school's strengths and weaknesses is a good place to start.
  • Check out training opportunities
    • Our induction course for your school type is a great place to start
    • If you're a staff governor or a parent governor/trustee, our courses will help you understand these unique roles
    • Your board might also require you to take a course provided by your local authority (LA) or trust. 
  • Meet other governors/trustees. 
    • They might share your anxieties and ask similar questions
    • Attend any face-to-face opportunities you're offered in your area
    • Join governance groups on social media.
  • Read up as much as you can. In particular, ask to see:
    • The school improvement plan or trust improvement plan 
    • A recent headteacher's report
    • The school's latest Ofsted report
    • Any other documents the school/trust thinks would help you, such as policy documents
    • The scheme of delegation, if you're in an academy trust

Prepare before your meetings

  • Talk to more experienced board members to get a sense of how it will go
    • It'll also be less intimidating if you've met and spoken to them before the meeting itself
  • Use our article to help you prepare for your next meeting so you can contribute effectively
    • You'll feel more confident if you're well prepared
  • Read the agenda and any other documents (for example minutes of the last meeting or reports from the committee/headteacher) thoroughly
    • Take time to understand as much as you can, but don't worry if you don't get it all straight away
  • Use our articles to read up on an agenda item you're interested in
    • You'll have more confidence and be able to make more of a contribution
  • Prepare questions in advance
    • This will ease any nervousness, as you'll know what you're going to say
    • Try using our 'challenge and support' questions to make sure yours are useful
  • Email questions to your headteacher/CEO, if you'd find that easier than raising points in the meeting

Bring any issues to the board the right way

Ask for items to be added to the agenda

The usual procedure is to email the chair and the governance professional, and ask for an item to be added to the agenda for discussion at the next meeting. This is best because:

  • It gives the chair time to ask any questions to fully understand the issue
  • If you're new, you might not be aware that this issue has been previously discussed.
    • If this is the case, the chair can simply update you and provide the information you need

It's best not to bring an issue up at a meeting without first asking for it to be added to the agenda. This is because it doesn't give the chair or headteacher/CEO time to prepare the necessary information, and can derail a carefully planned meeting.

Parent and staff governors: know which issues are appropriate

If you have a child at the school and you want to discuss an issue relating to them, make an appointment with the class teacher or follow the school's complaints procedures. Issues relating to individual pupils aren't appropriate to discuss at governing board meetings.

If the issue is particularly serious or urgent (for example, a safeguarding issue or a problem with bullying), then you should arrange to speak to the headteacher as soon as possible, also in the capacity of parent rather than governor.

Read more about being a parent governor and see our list of meeting dos and don'ts.

The same goes for staff governors. If you have a grievance or question about your role in particular, the governing board meeting isn't the time to raise it. Talk to your line manager or follow your school's grievance or whistle-blowing procedures. 

During the meeting 

  • It can be daunting, especially during your first meeting, but try not to be afraid to ask questions
    • Remember that you have a fresh perspective that's very valuable, and sometimes what feels like a silly question can shed light on something nobody has thought about before
  • Take along a laptop or notes you've made before the meeting, so you don't have to think on the spot 
  • Take responsibility for following things up
    • Start with areas that match your specific skills or knowledge (such as in HR or health and safety) 

Know how to disagree 

With an agenda item

If you don't think a topic should be on the agenda, speak to the chair and the clerk in advance. They should be able to explain why it's there and discuss it further with you.

With a proposal or plan

If you disagree with an item proposed in the meeting, you should discuss your views with the rest of the governing board and vote against the decision. The vote may not go your way, but debate and discussion is a key part of good governance. 

With the outcome of the vote

If you want to show that you disagree with a decision the governing body has made, ask the governance professional to write this in the minutes.

Speak to the chair if you're finding meetings intimidating

Hopefully your chair will check in with you after your first meeting anyway, to catch up on how you felt it went.

It's common for new governors and trustees to find meetings intimidating. If this is you, speak to the chair about it. If it's a specific board member or the headteacher/CEO that's causing the issue, the chair should speak to them about how they could change their conduct during meetings.

The chair should also take their own steps to make contributing to meetings easier - being an effective chair includes making sure everyone is able to contribute, so they should be on the lookout for those who are being quiet and find ways for them to engage.

For example, they could ask individual governors directly for questions and contributions after presentations or during discussions. This way, governors don't have to feel they are interrupting other board members or being overly critical of executive leaders.


Vicky Redding is a governance trainer and consultant. She provides training, advice and support on effective school governance.

Kate Foale is an adult education lecturer with specialisms in effective communications, strategic planning and managing change. She has extensive experience as a primary and secondary school governor and is a national leader of governance.

Murray Steele has over 30 years' experience as a non-executive director on a diverse range of boards, from school governing bodies to FTSE plcs. In addition, he has been involved in the development of non-executive directors through his work with, among others, the Financial Times and Cranfield School of Management.

Harry James is a national leader of governance. He is currently chair of governors of a primary school in London, and is part of the steering group for an academic research project looking at school accountability and stakeholder education.

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