Given the wide range of responsibilities facing governors, it is not surprising that governors, from time to time, have concerns over the workload faced by their governing body.
This is a potentially difficult issue to get hold of but progress can only be made if specific issues and difficulties can be identified.
Generally, workload issues tend to arise in relation to particular aspects of the job or when certain incidents/issues occur.
There is a feeling that policy and initiatives have grown considerably in number over past years and the greater emphasis placed on named governors (i.e. those responsible for specific areas such as special educational needs (SEN) or safeguarding) has led to an increase in work for the whole governing body. Workload pressure tends to be experienced or magnified when the governing body needs to deal with specific issues or incidents, such as pupil exclusions, significant staff illness, Ofsted inspections, pupil outcomes, staff appointments and dismissals, structural changes such as partnership working or academy conversion.
While concerns over workload can be an issue for governors, it is important to acknowledge that many governors would see a reduction in workload as a limitation to their responsibility and their role in the school. Callers to the service have overwhelmingly confirmed that governors are genuinely passionate about their school and do not want to act or be seen to act as a rubber stamp.
The vast majority of governing body functions can be delegated to a committee, an individual governor or the headteacher, subject to the restrictions on delegation in regulations 16 and 17 of the School Governance (Procedures) (England) Regulations 2003. Governing bodies are accountable in law for all major decisions about the school and its future. However, this does not mean that they are required to carry out all the work themselves.
For example; governing bodies have a responsibility to ensure that their schools have a pay policy, but they would not be expected to draft it themselves. This task can be delegated to a member of the school staff or the governors could use a model policy produced by the local authority. The governors will then discuss and amend/endorse and adopt the policy as necessary. The same principle can be applied to the production of any required policy.
Governors should always consider how effectively responsibilities are being shared and if there should be better delegation of some responsibilities to other members of the governing body. Often, the lion’s share of the work of the governing body is carried out by the chair and/or only one or two other governors, with the remaining governors making little contribution other than attending meetings.
There is no legal requirement for the chair and/or vice-chair to be involved directly in all aspects of governance and most of the responsibilities carried out by the chair, can be shared out among other governors or committees.
The most efficient governing bodies agree very clear areas of responsibility and ensure these are matched with individual governors’ specific skills and experience, together with the appropriate delegated authority to make effective decisions, rather than expecting all governors to be directly involved in all of the decision making. This can also have the positive effect of reducing the number and length of governor meetings.
Where delegated responsibility is exercised by committees or individuals, there is a duty to report back to the governing body (usually via minutes or reports) but there is no need for the full governing body to revisit or ratify such decisions, and this avoids unnecessary duplication of governors’ time and effort.
Alternatively, consider if it is appropriate to delegate the task to the headteacher or another member of the leadership team. On larger governing bodies there is usually some slack and many governors will be happy to assume more responsibility for a stretched colleague if they know what is required and when it needs to happen.
If workload issues are affecting the governing body as a whole, governors should also consider accessing any support mechanisms that exist though their local authority.