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Education: Should you become a school governor?

22 September 2023

Church schools need governors, so who should think about volunteering? Mike Simmonds considers


I WENT as a child to a C of E primary school, but can’t recall any impact on my life either of its religious designation, or of the governors, of whom I was blissfully unaware. Not so today, I think. Church schools have become what Lord Dearing declared to be “The Church’s mission to the nation.”

Church schools, it is hoped, have a positive influence on the daily lives of everyone in their school community. They welcome people of all faiths and none, but prioritise the worship of God, especially through daily acts of worship.

Volunteering as a school governor is rewarding, challenging, and makes a difference. Becoming a foundation governor in a Church of England school has the benefit of developing the link with the Church, the diocese, and the Christian faith.

The new framework for the SIAMS (Statutory Inspection of Anglican and Methodist Schools), which comes into effect this month, calls for governors and leaders to collaborate in developing a “theologically rooted Christian vision”, and demonstrate its impact across all areas of the school. The foundation governors will play a crucial part in this process.

For such a vision, governors and leaders will need to understand the historic purpose of the school: usually, to “educate the poor in the parish”. This needs to be applied to the contemporary local context. It should be informed by appropriate biblical understanding, discerned through the process of defining the school’s Christian vision.

In a voluntary aided (VA) school, the majority of governors will be nominated by the PCC of the parish church, and appointed by the diocesan board of education, as foundation governors. One of these will be the incumbent, known as an ex-officio foundation governor. A voluntary controlled (VC) school will have a minority of foundation governors. Church schools that have become academies will usually have the same proportion of foundation governors as they had before conversion, although this may differ, depending on the multi-academy trust that they joined.


ANYONE can potentially become a governor. There are no qualifications required, and governor colleagues represent a wide range of skills. Church schools need people who are committed to their church to become foundation governors, and to share their faith, wisdom, and life experiences. Governors are there to offer support and proper challenge to school leaders, to ensure the best provision for the children.

One does not need to be retired to join a school governing body. Many find school governance to be a voluntary position that suits their lifestyle (governance usually requires about five to ten hours per month), and governance teams benefit from diversity of age, gender, and ethnic background. Governance boards often work in a way that is flexible, taking advantage of virtual/hybrid meetings and also adapting their meeting times to be accessible to everyone (for some, this is alongside a full-time job or child-care responsibilities).

Each governing body also has elected parent governors to bring a parent voice into the discussions. They are not there to speak on behalf of their individual child’s needs (they can do that one-to-one with the head teacher), or on behalf of other parents; but they can make a positive contribution.

Community governors (appointed by other governors, and often, though not always, from the local community) and foundation governors (nominated by the church), bring their different perspectives. This collegiate approach is designed to explore different avenues and ask appropriate questions of school leaders, helping the school on its continual journey of improvement.

The responsibilities of the governing body are many and varied. Having begun with the Christian vision, each term, reports will need to be read, some school visits undertaken, and appropriate questions asked in order to hold school leaders to account for the progress being made. These will generally be based on a school-improvement plan that sets the aims and tasks intended during the year.

Another area of governance will be financial planning and the use of government funds provided. Usually, a finance committee, made up of some governors, will help to set a budget (approved by the whole board) and monitor it throughout the year, making decisions about any significant expenditure proposed.


WHILE foundation governors engage in all of the above, their priority will be to ensure that the Christian distinctiveness of the school continues to develop, including — but not exclusively — in collective worship and Religious Education. They will want to enable creative partnerships with the local church(es).

Where a school is part of a multi-academy trust, the local governing board (for an individual or group of schools) may well include the above, though modified by the details in a Scheme of Delegation. This is because, technically, they are a committee of the trust board, and therefore have limited responsibilities.

A governor is not alone. They are part of a board that is likely to include experienced governors. A church school is also part of a family of schools in their diocese whose education team will provide support, and offer training and advice. Training sessions are often held online, and usually various times are offered.

If you have a passion for helping children and families to experience an education that is intentional about people discovering “life in all its fullness” (the Church of England’s Vision for Education), and want to contribute to improving outcomes for children, then becoming a church-school governor could be a perfect fit for you.

Mike Simmonds has been a governor for more than 30 years, and specialises in training and supporting governors in the dioceses of Chichester and Chelmsford. He helped to write, and tutors on, the online Church School Governance Training Programme at Liverpool Hope University, and is the author of Church School Governance (Grove Education). He hosts the Governance podcast, available on several platforms. 


Ruth Hale chairs the governors of a C of E voluntary controlled junior school in Chelmsford diocese, which has 105 children on the roll

Ruth Hale

I WAS a primary-school teacher until I had my own children. As they grew up, I became a part-time SENCo [special educational needs co-ordinator] at the school. I started my journey into school governing as a staff governor in January 2018. When I retired the next year, I was co-opted. And, in November 2020, I became chair.

I was reluctant to lose contact with the school, and felt that, with my relationships with staff and pupils, and my understanding of the strengths and challenges facing our small village church school, I could offer something to the school community by remaining a governor.

All school governors have three core functions: setting the school’s vision, ethos, and strategic direction; holding the head teacher to account for the educational performance of the school and its pupils; and overseeing the financial performance of the school and making sure that its money is well spent.

During lockdown, we worked on a new vision for the school. OFSTED inspected us just before Christmas, and used the vision acronym LIFE (learning, inclusion, faith, and environment) as the basis of their report.

In our school, we have two staff governors (including the head teacher), two elected parent governors, one local-authority governor; one foundation governor, one associate governor, and four co-opted governors. Co-opted governors are people who, in the opinion of the governing body, have the skills required to contribute to the effective governance and success of the school.

Each governor has responsibility for a particular area of the curriculum, and visits the school regularly to see how teaching and learning match up to the curriculum documents, and also to talk to staff and pupils about the learning. We look at the school’s progress and attainment data, including those for particular groups of children, and ask questions in meetings to see what additional provision is being made for struggling pupils.

We also oversee the financial performance of the school. This task is currently difficult: many schools are going into deficit budgets, and difficult decisions have to be made. We invited our MP into school to discuss the difficulties that all schools, particularly small ones, are facing. We try to be creative in encouraging leadership, to make sure that money is well spent. Our finance committee explores all the budget sheets, income, and expenditure to see where savings could be made or income increased.

Another significant concern, particularly since lockdown, is staff and pupil well-being. As governors, we want to ensure that the ever-increasing demands placed on schools do not have a negative impact.

Our staff have a secret “buddy” system, in which they write encouraging notes to their secret buddy and leave gifts for them. And our school has been good at accommodating people who wish to see their own children for sports days, etc. In terms of pupils, one thing that we have been asking the school leadership about concerns how many families are struggling with the cost-of-living issues, and what we can do to support them. The school works hard to support parents and welcome them into school.

In terms of tips for other school governors: I would prioritise training. I try to do some of the National Governance Association bite-size courses, and encourage other governors to do one every term. I’ve also recently completed the Church School Governance course run by Liverpool Hope University, and attended diocesan governor-training courses. These are so useful in terms of challenging my thinking around the Christian elements of governance and the school in general.

The local authority, too, runs online and face-to-face training. The more we understand the national and local issues facing governors, the better we can do what is required.

In meetings, we divide into groups to discuss particular issues, which allows everyone to have a voice. We have an enthusiastic governing body with a wealth of different experiences and expertise; but, periodically, it is helpful to do a skill audit to see where your gaps are, and to try to fill them when new governors need to be appointed.

Gaps aside, it’s true that anybody can make a good governor, as long as they’re interested in the school, and they’ve got a bit of time to give. Any interested parties should talk to whoever is chairing the board, and see if their joining would be helpful to the school. But don’t take it on if you’re a parent and you just want to sort things out in school for your child!

Contact with the children bridges any gap between governors and staff. Listening to children read is something that teachers in every school often struggle to fit in. So, when a teacher asked for volunteers to hear readers on a weekly basis, several governors responded.

Another came in to do an assembly on beekeeping, and a couple of us run activities for the children based on our own interests. Even those on the governing board who work full time give as much time as they possibly can.


Stephen Manning is a foundation governor of a C of E aided junior school in Chichester diocese, with 330 pupils on its roll and a similar sized infants school on site

I HAD two careers: I spent about 30 years in financial services, took voluntary redundancy, and worked in primary education for about seven years before retiring, in 2017.

Stephen Manning

At our APCM in 2022, my vicar asked if anyone was interested in becoming a foundation governor at our parish school. My wife and I were relatively new to the church, and I was thinking about what my area of service could be. In my previous church, I had been a churchwarden and a PCC member. Being a foundation governor seemed like one way to avoid doing the same. Later on, I came to see the position very much as a vocation.

I had an informal interview with the former chair. She could get a sense of my skills and expertise, and I could see whether I felt that the job was for me, before going for nomination by the PCC and diocese. And circumstances dictated that, after just nine months as a governor, I was required to step up to become co-chair of the board.

Early on in my governor career, I participated in an online church-school-governance training, facilitated by Liverpool Hope University. This programme helped me to understand how my job as a governor aligned with the Church of England Vision for Education, which places wisdom ahead of knowledge and skills.

At the end of the 19th century, when Joshua Watson established the National Society for Promoting the Education of the Poor, his belief was “that the way out of poverty and ignorance was education, not only to train people in basic skills but also to build character.” Alongside the “character” that Watson sought to build in his students, I would also place wisdom — the wisdom that the writer of Proverbs describes in chapter 8, and the wisdom that the Vision for Education embodies today.

Gaining this vital context elevates the part played by a school governor beyond the limits of business — important though that is — to something that is much closer to responding to God’s calling.

Governors have three core functions: ensuring clarity of vision, ethos, and strategic direction of the school; holding executive leaders to account; and overseeing financial performance. In a church school, there’s a fourth: being guardians of the school’s Christian distinctiveness.

Governors concern themselves with the strategic, and steer clear of anything operational (the day-to-day running of the school). It’s the thick end of volunteering, because the responsibilities can be significant.

We have seven foundation governors, who all have full-time jobs, as well as a parent governor, a local-authority governor, clergy from the two parishes, who are ex-officio members of the governing body, and a teacher governor. In addition, the head and school business manager usually attend our meetings.

Governors with a financial background are valuable commodities, as are those with legal expertise. A governor with knowledge of premises issues can be of value. Having said that, a governing board aligned to a common vision and rooted in its local community is likely to be the most effective group, and will provide a rewarding experience for those committing their time and energy to what is, after all, a volunteer position.

What range of skills makes for an effective governing board? An ability to think strategically, active listening, and an ability to ask the right questions in the right way. But you can learn those skills. There is plenty of training available through the diocese and local authority.

Beyond the required training about church governance and safeguarding, if there’s a specific need in the board, we would look for a couple of people to agree to do the training. But it’s mostly up to individuals to decide how much they want to develop themselves.

As for tips, if possible, try to build a network of “professional friends”. Meet fellow gov­ernors for a coffee: get to know them outside the formality of meetings. My experience is that it will be time well spent. Lastly, engage the prayer support of your fellowship group, or church prayer group — you may well need it.

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