You are here:

Last updated on 13 March 2018
Ref: 3334
School types: All · School phases: All

Understand the core role and functions of the governing board by reading our summary and using our downloadable KeyDoc on the statutory duties of the board in maintained schools and academies.

Article tools


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

This article summarises guidance from the Department for Education's (DfE's) Governance Handbook.

The core role of the governing board

The purpose of governance is to:

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

The 3 core functions of the governing board are:

  • 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 (section 1.1).

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

The board's first core function of strategic leadership 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, 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
  • Promote the fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance, which should be reflected in school policy

The board is the key decision maker, and must "make decisions in the best interest of pupils and in line with their charitable object" (sections 2.1 to 2.3).

Holding executive leaders to account

Governing boards should work to support and strengthen school leaders and hold them to account for the day-to-day running of their schools. 

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" (section 3.1). 

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.

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 and effective governance to ensure the viability and efficiency of the organisation through effective business and financial planning.

In light of the the increased degree of autonomy in academy trusts, boards should establish and monitor policies on related party transactions and executive salaries and expenses (paragraph 37 in section 3.5).

Key tasks and legal responsibilities: resources from The Key

The Key's 'wheel of governance' infographic shows the key tasks and legal responsibilities of the governing board as outlined in The Governance Handbook. Share the wheel of governance with your governing board by downloading a pdf version:

Statutory duties in different school types

Different types of school have different duties relating to the above responsibilities. To help you to understand what your responsibilities are, we've created a KeyDoc with summarising information from a range of sources. 

It covers areas such as admissions, curriculum, finance, governance procedures, and recruitment of staff.

Monitoring compliance

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

Planners for the governing board

Ensure that your board and its committees covers all its key tasks with our downloadable annual work plannerand keep on top of upcoming changes to education policy and other important dates with our up-to-date year planner

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. Designed to help new governors and trustees in maintained schools, academies and multi-academy trusts to understand their role, existing governors and trustees can also use it as a refresher.

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.

More from The Key

The Key has taken great care in publishing this article. However, some of the article's content and information may come from or link to third party sources whose quality, relevance, accuracy, completeness, currency and reliability we do not guarantee. Accordingly, we will not be held liable for any use of or reliance placed on this article's content or the links or downloads it provides. This article may contain information sourced from public sector bodies and licensed under the Open Government Licence.