The chair of the school governing body in England

Chris James, Steve Brammer, Michael Connolly, David Eddy Spicer, Jane James and Jeff Jones

This research by Professor Chris James of the University of Bath documents the results of an extensive survey of chairs of school governing bodies and headteachers and has a number of new and substantive insights.

The role of the chair is under-researched, which is surprising given its importance. The research documented in this report sought to remedy that by investigating:

  • the role
  • the characteristics of the role holders
  • the nature of the responsibilities
  • the chair-headteacher relationship
  • chairs' development needs.

The research is based upon a survey of more than 3,000 chairs and headteachers and in-depth interviews with the chairs/headteachers from 25 schools (including both primary and secondary).

The report has made a number of key findings which, although not necessarily surprising, represent a worrying state of affairs. These include the fact that:

  • 94% of chairs are over 40
  • only 3% of chairs are from minority ethnic groups
  • a quarter of the chairs surveyed had not undertaken any role-specific training
  • 5% of chairs felt their relationship with the headteacher was 'poor'.

The outcomes of the research have important implications for policy, practice and development, including the following recommendations:

  • The engagement of members of minority ethnic groups in school governing needs to be widened.
  • The demanding requirements of the role, and the responsibility chairs carry and its significance should have a much higher profile and should be more widely recognised and appreciated.
  • Chairs and headteachers need to understand the importance of making their relationship work, be able to acknowledge when it is not working, and know how to access support to repair and renew the relationship.
  • The qualities that help to make the chair-headteacher relationship work need to be more widely understood. The expectation that employers allow chairs paid time off work for their particular governing duties, especially with regard to the chair's relationship with the headteacher, needs to be more clearly established.
  • The training for chairs and the governing body generally could be more closely scrutinised by Ofsted. This would elevate the importance of governing body/chair training. Priorities for chairs' training should be: giving and receiving constructive criticism and suggestions; managing differences of opinion and conflicts; and delegation.
  • The chair's responsibility for the functioning of the governing body should be made more explicit in regulations.

This report builds upon a literature review conducted by the same authors which explored the role of the board chair.