Does governor training help governors ‘do better’?

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Currently there’s very little research on the impact of training for governors  – but (good news!)  that’s about to change thanks to teacher, governor and now PhD student Sarah Chung.

We’ve been speaking to Sarah to find out more about her research and how governors can get involved.

Firstly Sarah, what’s your background and how long have you been a governor?

Well I qualified as a primary school teacher in 2004 and have been working in schools on-and-off ever since. In 2015 I became a governor. As a teacher, I had the educational background which helped in the role but I wanted to understand the leadership side better so that led to my Masters in School Improvement and Educational Leadership in 2016. 

I ended up focusing on governor training for my dissertation. I spoke to a number of governors who felt their training had been more of a tick-box exercise. There were others who felt they were being pulled into governing boards because of the skills they had but those skills weren’t necessarily a neat fit and they still needed training to support them.

What’s your own personal experience of training?

I got frustrated with some of the training I did because it was either overly-complex in a short space of time, so you didn’t take anything in, or it was overly-simplistic which wasn’t helpful either. I was also frustrated that I didn’t get any induction training until I’d done a term of governance. I couldn’t marry those two things together – the fact that I had all of these responsibilities as a new governor but no initial training to go with it.

Is there much existing research on governor training?

No, there’s not. There’s research on the professionalisation of governance and how it’s moved from a stakeholder model to a skills-based model but nothing about what training is available for governors and whether it’s seen as having an impact.

I think there’s a lot of confusion from governors about what training they can and should have. Some I’ve spoken to think training is mandatory although it’s not in England (it is in Wales).

I’m hoping to find out what the overall experience of governor training is – particularly in light of the pandemic. I want to see if training has been helpful or whether it’s still the tick-box exercise that came out of my initial research four years ago.

Will you be looking at various training providers – not all training is equal?

Yes that’s one of the questions on the survey – what type of training have you had. In the MA it was a mixture of online training, LA-based training and even some businesses have their own version of governor training as well. 

I spoke to one governor for the MA who said that his school had ended up with quite a financial deficit and although he’d been brought in because of his finance skills, he’d worked in a bank and was accustomed to working with numbers, he felt there was a significant difference between his financial training for work and how finances work in an educational establishment. That’s where he felt the financial oversight came.

How will you undertake the study?

It’s in phases. The first phase is underway at the moment and that’s the survey to gauge governors’ opinions on training.

The next phase is in-depth interviews. It’s a PhD research project and it’s only me doing the interviews, so I’ll need to restrict in-person interviews to the midlands where I live. However now we have Zoom it does give me some leeway.

What I’ll try to do here is get a general overview, speak to governors who’ve found training helpful, governors who’ve found it unhelpful and some in between, exploring it all in more depth.

Are you hoping to identify some sort of correlation between board effectiveness and training?

I’m hoping to make some commentary on it. It’s quite difficult to say I can generalise to a wider population because of the size of the study at the moment but I think it would be a very good stepping stone to further research.

Do you have views on whether training should be mandatory?

From a personal view,  yes – I do. I think we’re taking on an exceptionally difficult role in some cases and you’ve got a group of wonderful, well meaning volunteers but sometimes they get lost in what they’re supposed to do.

It can be quite overwhelming too. Governors need some sort of guidance, whether it’s a mentor or just mandatory induction guidance.

The amount of people I’ve spoken to who’ve said,  “I really wanted to ask this question but I felt stupid”, or, “I didn’t know if it was OK to ask this question” , so they’re struggling with the very basics of how to get involved in the meeting. You’ve got to worry about how effective the meeting actually is in that case.

Do you have a view on accessing training?

What came out of my MA research was that the biggest barriers to training were the time commitment and the financial cost. At the time, a lot of people were saying they’d like online training that they can access in the home when the kids are in bed.

We’ve experienced a year of online training now so we know it’s a workable option.

Finally, how many governors do you need for the survey?

The more governors I can get to take part, the more realistic the overview. There’s a section in the survey where you can put yourself forward for the interview part too.


You can take part in Sarah’s study here.

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