Themes for discussion

A number of themes emerged from the presentations and the discussion sessions, not least of which was the moral purpose and social responsibility involved in being a governor and whether current changes were threatening this.

This and other concerns that arose are listed below in the form of a series of questions, which we hope will prompt further discussion of the issues.

Should there be mandatory training?
This could give rise to the question of paying governors. Many large companies allow paid time off. But it is more difficult for smaller employers who need to be required/encouraged to allow paid time off. This issue affects who can be a governor, for example many parents may be employed locally by small employers.

What skills do governors need?
Soft skills are important; expertise can be taught but governors should have these skills. Is it easy for governing bodies to recruit people with the right skills? How do governing bodies balance skills and representation? Governors need the skills and confidence to challenge. Is it particularly difficult for parent and staff governors? Succession planning is important for governing bodies. How do governors ensure access and fairness? How can governors stand up to an authoritarian chair or a majority culture of no change? Governors need to be able to assess the impact of their work.

How should governors be regulated?
Should they be regulated differently from professionals? Is it right for non-professionals to be pressured in this way? Is it possible for Ofsted to make a judgement in such a short time and at such short notice? Should Ofsted inspect how much CPD governors have done?

What about the Local Authority’s role?
Are we moving to a situation where schools are accountable at local level only to governors and at national level to Parliament and Ofsted?
Will we end up with fewer governors responsible for a larger number of schools? The middle tier needs support if it is to carry on a role. The National College may be able to support but would need a very wide reach to fulfil the role that local authorities carry out. Relations between the local authority and local schools are very variable across the country. Where do parents go with concerns if they are in an academy and are not satisfied with the answers from the staff – can they reach the governing body or the trust easily?

What support do governors need?
Governors don’t always get the information they need to do the job. Where can governors get an independent external view? Getting advice and support from a clerk is increasingly important. Governors need to know what research is showing for example. Will they have to buy in commercial support? Does the National College of Teaching and Leadership fulfil this role? Are we using the National Leaders of Governance properly? They need coordinating. There has to be investment if governors are to carry out their job properly. HR support is vital, particularly with performance related pay. There is a growth in legal practices looking for work in schools. Is the National Governors’ Association able to support governing bodies faced with DfE enforcers, whose legal powers are questionable?

How can governing bodies take risks when failure is not an option?
For example, how can governors defend a broad and balanced curriculum in the face of pressures?

Fragmentation of the schools system
Could all schools have voluntary aided status? Is this a step of reorganisation too far for any government? Instead perhaps a requirement that all schools face the same regulatory framework would make the situation clearer and fairer. Is fragmentation leading to a polarisation of governance? Where does the power lie in multi-academy chains and trusts? If governing bodies cannot appoint the head what is their influence? Can governing bodies stand up to an overarching trust? Would MATs be a passing phase if schools could withdraw? Are we heading to profit-making schools? What would happen to the role of governing bodies if schools were to become profit making? There is a real need for an impetus in requiring schools to work together.

The role and structure of governing bodies
What does it mean to be a governor in the current situation? Do we need a clearer legal definition of the role of the governor? Governors have to accept that we are in a process of transition. We must look to the future.
Why do we need diversity in the role and structure of governing bodies? Magistrates do not face such diversity. Can governance be more democratic? Was governance ever democratic? International comparisons seem to indicate that wholly elected parent boards can become unmanageable. Generally governing bodies are not good at strategic planning. Is the size of the governing body now not considered as important?

How can governors do a better job?
There is a need to focus on what kind of school governors want their school to become. Their incentive should be to do the best for their children. Governing bodies must be constantly on the look out for good governors. It may be that teaching schools will demonstrate what good governance looks like.

Is an inter-generational ongoing conversation possible?
Certainly young people are not involved in governance as pupils or students. This needs to change. Governors must find a way of interacting with the young people in their schools. Governing bodies must be able to hear from all stakeholders and speak to them.

Governing bodies and their moral purpose
Is this shown by schools taking money to become academies thereby reducing the amount for other local schools, or expanding or setting up free schools when there are sufficient places already? Was this demonstrating social responsibility and a moral purpose? Can governing bodies rediscover social responsibility if they have lost it? How can governing bodies come to agree their moral purpose?

Full report of seminar

Speakers’ biographies

Fiona Carnie
is an educationalist with an interest in how schools can become more democratic in order to meet the needs of their key stakeholders. She has been involved in supporting schools in introducing parent engagement strategies and developing student voice.

Up until August she was Director of Partnerships at the RSA Academy in Tipton in the West Midlands. Prior to taking up this position she was a Visiting Research Associate at the Institute of Education, University of London where she was involved in projects on innovative school leadership and on student voice. From 1991-2002 Fiona was National Coordinator of the charity Human Scale Education and she is currently Vice President of the European Forum for Freedom in Education (based in Germany).

Publications include The Parent Participation Handbook (Optimus, 2011), Pathways to Child friendly Schools: A Guide for Parents(Human Scale Education, 2004) and Alternative Approaches to Education (Routledge Falmer, 2002).

Christine Gilbert
was chief inspector at Ofsted from 2006 until 2011. Prior to this, she was chief executive and director of education in Tower Hamlets. Christine spent 18 years in schools, eight of them as a secondary school headteacher.

Currently, Christine is visiting professor at the Institute of Education and interim chief executive in Brent. She is also involved in a number of local and national educational projects.

Chris James
is the Professor of Educational Leadership and Management in the Department of Education at the University of Bath. He researches the leadership and management in schools and colleges, the affective aspects of educational organisations, collaborative working in schools and school governing and governance.

Chris has worked with a range of public, private and not-for-profit organisations including numerous local authorities and schools. He has directed a large number of educational research projects and published over 200 items including six books. In the past six years, Chris has completed five research projects on school governing in England. Chris is the vice-chair of the governing body of Ralph Allen School in Bath, which his four children attended.

Emma Knights
took up the role of Chief Executive of the National Governors’ Association in January 2010. The NGA is the representative organisation for school governors from both maintained schools and academies in England, seeking to influence policy at national level and providing independent information and support to governing bodies in order to improve standards.

Before joining the NGA, Emma was joint Chief Executive of the Daycare Trust, a policy and information charity working on early education and childcare for school-age children. Emma has had a number of roles in the third sector, particularly in the advice sector, including at Child Poverty Action Group and Citizens’ Advice.

She has also previously worked for the Legal Services Commission and the Local Government Association, leading projects on performance management, child poverty and educational attainment. She has written on topics from child support to the costs of early education. Emma is vice-chair of governors at her children’s secondary school in Warwickshire.

Brian Lightman
became General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders on 1st September 2010. Brian was Headteacher of St Cyres School – a large, mixed 11-18 comprehensive in Penarth, Vale of Glamorgan, from 1999-2010. He taught Modern Foreign Languages for 16 years in three comprehensive schools in the South East of England before becoming Headteacher of Llantwit Major School in 1995. He was President of ASCL in 2008-9.

With his extensive experience as a teacher, school leader, external examiner, Estyn inspector and representative of school and college leaders, Brian is an acknowledged and high-profile authority on the English and Welsh education systems.

Siobhain McDonagh MP
was the Labour candidate for Mitcham and Morden in the 1987 and 1992 general elections, before eventually winning in 1997.

As a local MP, she has led a variety of campaigns, including ones to open a new train station at Mitcham Eastfields, to improve exam results by replacing three struggling schools with brand new Academies, to introduce new community “Safer Neighbourhood” police teams, and to tackle graffiti, abandoned cars, vandalism and other anti-social behaviour. Siobhain is a member of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Education.

Bridget Sinclair has been involved in school governance for 18 years. With a background in clinical biochemistry, research and education, she has taught in secondary and in further education.

Bridget currently works as manager of Swindon Local Authority’s Governor Services, leading on governor training and development. She is chair of National Co-ordinators of Governor Services (NCOGS), which represents eight regional networks of governor services across 152 local authorities in England. Its membership includes co-opted members from the Church of England National Society and Catholic Education Service. A number of independent providers for governors and diocesan education services are also included in regional groups.

David Wolfe
works as a barrister, specialising in public law, particularly education law. For four years he was also an SEN Tribunal Judge. He is the author of the acanofworms blog, which provides information for people concerned about academies/free schools and the law. He has acted in most of the legal challenges involving academies including, recently, the forced conversion of Downhills Primary School in Haringey.

David has been a school governor for over 20 years. He is currently a governor at a school in Suffolk (which his daughters attend) under threat from a free school which opened this term.

Full report of the seminar

Themes for discussion

The charity is administered by its voluntary trustees with almost entirely volunteer support.

The trustees

David Gordon is the editor of the RISE Reviews and manages the RISE web site. A former Chair of the Campaign for State Education, he is a journalist, author and qualified further education lecturer and was the editor of School Governor Update, the magazine for school governors, from its launch in 2000 to its closure in 2013.

Martin Johnson Martin Johnson was a secondary teacher specialising in pupils with behaviour difficulties, mostly in inner London, and a trades union activist. He has been a staff and parent governor of a number of schools. A sociologist by vocation, he joined the think-tank IPPR in 2001 as an education researcher and was responsible for education policy and research at the ATL (Association of Teachers and Lecturers) until 2013.

Melian Mansfield has experience in all sectors of education, including early years, primary and secondary. She works with schools and local authorities across London training headteachers, teachers, governors and parents. Her areas of expertise include working with parents, children’s rights, roles and responsibilities of governors and school development planning. Formerly a teacher, she is a governor of two primary schools. Melian has written two books on home-school links and is the Chair of the Campaign for State Education, London Play and the Early Childhood Forum at the National Children’s Bureau.

Margaret Tulloch started her interest in education campaigning when campaigning about school meals and the need for a local comprehensive in the early ’80s. She was on the national executive of the Campaign for State Education for 16 years, much of it as a spokesperson. She has been chair of the Advisory Centre for Education. Currently she is a school governor and secretary of Comprehensive Future, a national group campaigning for fair admissions.

Liz Williams worked at the Advisory Centre for Education on fundraising and development. For 17 years, including nine as Chair, she was a governor of the large north London comprehensive school attended by her two daughters. After a science degree, she worked mainly in and around publishing and she was actively involved in the ’80s with the All London Parents Action Group (ALPAG).


Libby Goldby joined RISE as correspondent in 2003 when she moved back to London after retirement. She had been principal of a Leicestershire community college and before that headteacher of a girls’ comprehensive in Barnet. Her earlier teaching career included posts in grammar, secondary modern and comprehensive schools and four years at an independent school in New York. She is a governor of a Haringey comprehensive school and has represented governors on several committees in the borough.

On-line Information Centre researchers

Mary Andrews has an English degree that included Phonetics and Linguistics, so her career developed teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages, both in colleges in England and in less formal situations abroad, and then teaching English to all age ranges in secondary schools in London. For 20 years she was the British Inter-Cultural Advisor at an American school. She now works on a voluntary basis under the auspices of the English Speaking Union, helping primary school children whose first language is not English.

Ian Helm studied philosophy at the University of Essex, completing a PhD on Theodor Adorno in 2008. Following graduation he undertook various roles in state education administration, specialising in examination and school data management. Since November 2011 he has been Senior Project Manager at Granada Learning, a leading education publisher of assessments and self-evaluation systems for schools and child mental health providers.

What we do

RISE is distinctive in commissioning research and providing information focused particularly on issues that are of interest to non-professional stakeholders and users in schools, for example parents and governors, but which also have policy implications.
RISE has published research since 1994. RISE research has covered many issues of particular interest to parents, for example class size, school reports, home school agreements, the role of parent governor representatives and school admissions. Research has been funded by trusts such as the Nuffield Foundation and the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation.
RISE reviews are short, accessible briefings about issues in education. The first two are What parents think about schools, Roberts (2010) and School systems across the UK, Croxford (2011).

RISE is working on a pilot of a new type of seminar which will present some recent educational research to an audience of stakeholders (parents, pupils, teachers, governors, local authorities). A large amount of research on education issues is carried out each year. Much of it is of direct interest to school practitioners and non-professionals, but there are few opportunities for them to hear directly from researchers or to engage in conversations with the researchers about their findings. Academic seminars are normally only open to fellow academics. If you are interested in the idea please get in touch.

Who we are


Welcome to RISE

Research and Information on State Education (RISE) is an independent charity which produces and publicises research and information about state education.

RISE Reports

These cover many issues such as class size, school reports, home-school agreements, parental involvement in OfSTED inspections, school complaints procedures, the setting up of new schools, school admissions, parent governor representatives and UK comparisons.
RISE has commissioned two types of reports:

  • RISE research projects, many focused on schools and the involvement of parents and governors
  • RISE Reviews, short accessible briefings by experts about issues in education


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Since 2003 all our reports have been published on line. Copies of the earlier, printed reports are still available by post. An order form can be obtained by clicking on the link below.

The Research and Information on State Education Trust (known as RISE) was set up to assist public understanding of education issues by maintaining an educational information service and to promote and encourage research. It was set up in 1981.