Governing bodies: does size matter?

Wednesday 14 June 2017

How many governors is the right number for your school? While most schools have between 12 and 15, there are others that have many more than 20.

What are the risks of a governing body being too big?

  •         It could affect effective decision-making.
  •         A consensus governance could discourage speaking out.
  •         Is there time for everyone to get an equal say?

What are the risks of a governing body being too small?

  •          It may reduce levels of expertise and diversity.
  •          It may also mean that each governor is burdened by doubling up on tasks.

There is no official optimum size for a governing body. But what is too many or too few?

There has been a trend in the state sector towards smaller, more streamlined boards. Research suggests that the average size of primary maintained school governing bodies is around 12 to 15 governors, with some reaching 20 to 25 in size. Maintained secondary school governing bodies have an average of 17 to 18 governors, with some having up to 30. The DfE tends to favour smaller, more skills-based governing bodies, supported by mechanisms through which stakeholders’ voices can be heard – such as parents’ councils. Others argue that smaller governing bodies are not able to carry out all the functions required as effectively, especially with the volume of regulatory compliance now required.

Additionally, the Association of School and College Leaders has pointed out that where the opportunity to move towards smaller bodies has been present for some time, such as in independent schools, it has rarely been taken.

While some schools have reported benefits from reducing the number of governors, there is no statistical relationship between governing body effectiveness and governing body size. Ultimately, it is about the quality of the individuals, how they work together, and how they are chaired. Clear terms of references and full awareness of roles and responsibilities are vital. Whether that is in a board of eight or 25 isn’t necessarily relevant, as long as the governors are fully committed and contribute at meetings.