Contributing to meetings: tips for new governors
Top tips from our experts on how new governors can make a positive contribution, bring issues to the governing board and overcome feeling intimidated.
Our governance experts Kate Foale, Vicky Redding, Murray Steele and Harry James helped us with this article.
Make sure you get a good induction
- Ask whether your governing body has a buddy system, or if not, whether a more experienced governor would be willing to support you
- Ask whether your school has an induction programme, or if not, whether you can meet the headteacher and chair of governors and go on a visit to school in the day to meet some staff and pupils. This will help you to increase your knowledge of the school. Asking about the strengths and weaknesses of the school is a good place to start
- Check out governor training opportunities. Induction courses are often offered by local authorities or other providers, and it's helpful to join a group of new governors who will share your anxieties and ask similar questions
- Read up as much as you can. In particular, ask to see:
- The school improvement plan
- A recent headteacher's report
- The school's latest Ofsted report
- Any other documents the school thinks would help you, such as policy documents
Prepare before the meeting
- Talk to more experienced governors before the meeting to get a sense of how the meeting will go. Knowing the other governors on the board may also make the experience less intimidating
- Don't feel you have to understand everything all at once. Read up on something you are interested in or feel passionately about, and do some training to increase your knowledge of a specific area. You'll then have more confidence and be able to make more of a contribution
- Once you receive the agenda, read the information properly and thoroughly
- Prepare questions in advance - this could make contributing easier and may ease nerves, as you'll know what you're going to say. Our examples of 'challenge and support' questions will be help
- Email questions to your headteacher in advance, if you'd prefer that to raising points in the meeting
- Read our article on how to prepare for your next governing board meeting and see our list of items that are likely to be on your next meeting agenda
Raise issues for discussion in advance
Ask for items to be added to the agenda
The usual procedure is to email the chair of governors and the clerk, and ask for an item to be added to the agenda for discussion at the next governing body meeting. This is best because:
- It allows the chair to ask you some questions and understand why you want to discuss the issue
- If you're new, you might not be aware that this issue has been previously discussed by the governing body, and the chair can simply update you and provide the information you need
Do not bring an issue up at a meeting without first asking for it to be added to the agenda, as this doesn't give the chair or headteacher 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 are not 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
- Remember you have a fresh perspective that is 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
- If you don't want to ask questions in the meeting, you can ask them afterwards - either in person or via email
- Take responsibility at times for translating your ideas into actions. Start with actions that match your specific skills or knowledge (such as in HR or health and safety) - this will be warmly welcomed by the school!
Know how to disagree
With an agenda item
If you disagree that a topic should be on the agenda, speak to the chair and the clerk in advance who 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.
All governing body decisions should be made by a vote and all categories of governor have equal voting rights. This is set out in the School Governance Regulations for maintained schools and article 120 of the model articles of association for academies, which say that every question to be decided will be decided by a majority vote of governors present, and able to vote on the matter.
With the outcome of the vote
If you want to show that you disagree with a decision the governing body has made, ask the clerk to write this in the minutes.
Speak to the chair if you're finding meetings intimidating
If you find the meetings or any member of the board intimidating, which is very common as a new governor, speak to the chair of governors about it. If it's a specific board member or the headteacher that is causing the issue, they 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 look out 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 would mean that governors are prompted, and therefore don't have to feel they are interrupting other board members or being overly critical of the headteacher.
Self-assess your performance
After you've been to a few meetings, challenge yourself by considering these questions:
- Do I feel accountable to the public, and fully understand the purpose of what I am doing?
- Do I allow enough time to read and analyse papers before the meeting?
- Do I stick to the meeting's agenda, and raise any other business in the correct way?
- Do I respect requirements around the confidentiality of governing body proceedings?
- Do I allow the chair to take the lead, and show that I want to talk in the appropriate way?
- Where I disagree with another governor, do I do this courteously and respectfully?
Speak to the chair if you think you need help in any specific areas.
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.