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Role and duties of the governing board

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Last updated on 27 February 2017
School types: All · School phases: All
In-depth article
What is the role of the school governing board? We have created a KeyDoc which sets out the statutory duties of the governing board in maintained schools and academies. We also look at the core functions of the governing board, as set out in the Governance Handbook.

Article tools


  1. 1 The core role of the governing board
  2. 2 Governors' key tasks and legal responsibilities: resources from The Key
  3. 3 Free governor induction from The Key

Article features

  • 6 external links

The core role of the governing board

The Department for Education (DfE) sets out information on the role of governing bodies in its Governance Handbook. We relay information from the handbook throughout this article.

The purpose of governance is to...  provide confident, strategic leadership

The handbook says the purpose of governance is to:

... provide confident, strategic leadership and to create robust accountability, oversight and assurance for educational and financial performance.

It then outlines the three core functions of the governing board:

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

The Governance Handbook refers to 'organisations' rather than 'schools', to cover groups of schools such as multi-academy trusts (MATs) or federations.

Who are the 'executive leaders'?

question mark icon

In many instances, the most recent update to the Governance Handbook has replaced the term 'headteacher' with 'executive leaders'.

Page 7 explains:

Executive leaders should be taken to mean those held to account by the board for the performance of the organisation.

This may be the CEO, executive headteacher, headteacher or principal, as well as other senior employees/staff...

Setting strategic priorities

Section 2 of the handbook sets strategic leadership as the board's first core function, and says this involves:

... setting the organisation’s overall strategic framework, including its vision and strategic priorities. It also includes responsibility for setting and modelling its culture, values and ethos.

Specifically, the handbook says governing boards should:

  • Ensure the organisation has a clear vision – which is articulated in a specific written statement
  • Ensure there is a strategy in place for achieving this vision
  • Set and safeguard an ethos of high expectations
  • Foster a common culture, values and ethos across the whole organisation

This section also identifies the board as the key decision maker, and says it must "make decisions in the best interest of pupils and in line with their charitable object".

Holding executive leaders to account

Advice on the relationship between the board and executive leaders explains that "boards should work to support and strengthen the leadership of their executive, and hold them to account for the day-to-day running of their school(s)".

Executive leaders are responsible for implementing the strategic framework established by the board. The board itself should play a strategic role, and avoid routine involvement in operational matters. 

Everyone on the board should have a basic understanding of the financial cycle

Overseeing financial performance

Everyone on the board should have a basic understanding of the financial cycle and the legal requirements of the school on accountability and expenditure. The board should also include someone with particular financial expertise.

The handbook says this is important in all schools, but particularly in larger schools, MATs and federations, where:

... their larger budgets and greater complexity make it even more critical that the board not only oversees delivery of the best possible education for pupils, but also provides robust governance to ensure the viability and efficiency of the organisation through effective business and financial planning.

It highlights the increased degree of autonomy in academy trusts, and advises that in light of this, boards should establish and monitor policies on related party transactions and executive salaries and expenses.

Governors' key tasks and legal responsibilities: resources from The Key

The Governance Handbook sets out guidance on the key tasks and legal responsibilities of the governing board. These are shown in The Key's 'wheel of governance' infographic below.

wheel of governance snip 2.JPG

You can download a pdf version of the wheel of governance to share with your governing board below:

KeyDoc: statutory duties in different school types

Different types of school have different duties relating to the above responsibilities. To help explain these, we have created a KeyDoc with information from a range of sources, including the Academies Financial Handbook, the School Admissions Code, the Governance Handbook and government guidance on safeguarding, behaviour and governing board constitution.

We have created a KeyDoc with information from a range of sources

The KeyDoc covers:

  • Admissions
  • Behaviour and exclusions
  • Curriculum
  • Finance
  • Governance procedures
  • Parents and the community
  • Health and safety
  • Pupil wellbeing
  • Safeguarding
  • Special educational needs and disabilities (SEND)
  • Recruitment of staff
  • Pay and appraisal 

Monitoring compliance

Page 14 of Ofsted's School Inspection Handbook says that Ofsted will report on any failure by your school to comply with statutory arrangements.

The Key's Compliance Tracker is designed to help school leaders identify gaps and remain compliant. 

Members of our sister service, The Key for School Leaders, can use the tool at no extra cost and download ready-made compliance reports to share with governors or Ofsted inspectors. You can ask your school for your Compliance Tracker report today.

To download a sample report, click below:

Alternatively, you can find more information about Compliance Tracker via the following link:

Go to Compliance Tracker

Year planner for the governing board

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

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

Free governor induction from The Key

Governor Induction is a free e-learning module produced by The Key in partnership with Lloyds Banking Group and Governors for Schools. It is designed to help new governors and trustees in maintained schools, academies and multi-academy trusts to understand their role. It can also be used as a refresher for existing governors and trustees.

The module includes information, activities, videos and practical resources. It provides an overview of:

  • Your role and responsibilities
  • The impact you can make
  • Learning about your school
  • Attending your first meeting
  • Your accountabilities

Governor Induction takes around an hour to complete. The module is free to access and can be completed on PCs, tablets and smartphones.

This article was updated in response to a question from the clerk to the governors of a large urban secondary school in the south east.

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