Recruiting governors and trustees

With a range of responsibilities, it’s important that boards consist of governors and trustees with varied skills and expertise. How can schools make sure they recruit the right people? Fiona Stagg advises

Author details

Fiona Stagg is a National Leader of Governance, an independent clerk to governors and chair of trustees for a multi-academy trust.

School governors and trustees play an increasingly important and often complex role in school improvement in ensuring that visions, values and strategic direction is clear and, of course, in ensuring financial probity and transparency.

Before you recruit for any vacancy it is important to understand the model of governance to which you are recruiting; equally it is important that anyone joining a governance board understands what they are letting themselves in for!

Before you start

Think carefully about the skills you need and what you are looking for.

  • How you are going to run an election process?
  • How you are going to ensure the new governor can hit the ground running?

Mind the gap

Every governance board should be undertaking a regular skills audit not just to support effective governance, but also to help them identify what skills are missing. 

Skills needed to effectively govern are not just ‘hard’ skills such as finance, HR or safeguarding knowledge but the ‘softer’ skills of strategic thinking, leadership and problem solving.

Most boards undertake a skills audit once a year. These are often completed in the autumn term as a way of identifying what training or CPD governors need as well as a way of identifying the skills of existing governors.

Skills audits should be a starting point, not an end, and be referred to during the year. They are not ‘tick box’ exercises but live information.

The key question boards could be asking is ‘where is our knowledge deficit?’ rather than ‘what skills are we missing?’ By asking this question it may be easier to tailor the recruitment process and identify potential new places to advertise for governors.

Board composition

It is important that we remember that all governors are equal and there are different categories of governor:

  • some are elected (such as parents and staff)
  • others are appointed (such as co-opted or foundation governors in church schools).

The clerk to the board should keep the end of office dates for all governors under scrutiny so that vacancies can be advertised well in advance.

In a maintained school the composition of the board is set out in both the DfE’s Governance handbook. In a multi-academy trust the composition is refined by the MAT’s articles of association.

All maintained schools must have one local authority governor, while there are some restrictions about local authority employees governing in MATs.

Square pegs in round holes

Schools and MATs are increasingly working in an environment where accountability rules so all positions on a board should be skills led. Governors need to have the skills, capacity and commitment in order to effectively challenge and support school improvement.

If boards are seeking specific expertise such as finance or HR, it is often better to wait until the right person comes forward than fill a vacancy in a rush.

Boards should also be mindful about the category of governor they require. Parents, for example, are elected by the parent body and this is not a skills-based decision as appointing a co-opted governor would be.

It is therefore advisable to frame adverts for parent governors with care. Your advert could include: 

  • the remit of the role
  • the attributes and behaviours expected
  • the level of commitment required.

The same care applies to staff governor roles. Highlight the benefits being on a board can bring in your advert, such as:

  • what the role can bring in terms of CPD
  • how the role can introduce new networks
  • increased knowledge of school improvement.

Finding new governors

There are many ways to find new governors and trustees. There are a number of organisations who will help you find someone:

Other methods which are successful are word of mouth, advertising in the local community, trade organisations and business networks. 

If you are specifically looking for a chair, the Future Chairs programme is an excellent place to start your search. Other networks such as Trustee Leadership work mostly in the third sector but the skills are transferable. Many governors have been recruited through social media platforms such as Twitter.

Some MATs actively encourage teachers and leaders to become co-opted governors in other schools within the MAT and this can be especially beneficial if it is cross phase. However, it is important to emphasis to people expressing an interest in becoming a governor that they do not have to have an education background, but a keen interest in education and school improvement is essential.

Some organisations encourage their employees to become governors as part of their corporate social responsibility so approaching some of the larger employers can often yield willing volunteers.

It is worth reading the government guidance on time off work for public duties which states that employees can get time off work for certain public duties, as well as their normal holiday entitlement, and this includes being a school governor. 

Avoiding groupthink: the importance of diversity

You should be thinking about diversity when advertising for new recruits. If the governors round the table recruit in their own likeness they could end up building in some of the weaknesses they were trying to resolve by filling the vacancy in the first place.

Use new platforms for advertising a vacancy, such as social media, to reach out to wider, diverse audience.

The right people round the table

The National Governance Association in its guidance The right people round the table state that:

‘To fulfil its duties effectively, a governing board needs a balance and diversity of skills, experiences, characters, backgrounds, perspectives, attributes and abilities… without this diversity of thought, governing boards are at risk of suffering from groupthink’.


You do not need any specific qualifications to become a governor. Once you have joined the board you will be expected to undertake training and you will require a DBS certificate.

If you have specific finance qualifications and you are a trustee, you may be asked to provide evidence.

Try before you buy

One of the avenues which maintained schools can use to encourage people to sign up as governors is for them to become associate members of the governing board.

This means that they attend meetings with a particular purpose and role and is a great way to find out about governance before taking the leap.

Top tips

  1. Double check you have a vacancy and which category the vacancy is in – the clerk should be advising the board on your constitution.
  2. Do not rush to fill the vacancy – getting the right person is key. Time spent getting the right person is always time well spent.
  3. Ensure you have strong pre-induction processes – retention matters!
  4. Review your skills audit analysis regularly.
  5. If you want to become a governor, why not submit an expression of interest? There may be a vacancy.
  6. Advertise in various places – think outside of the box! Use social media, word of mouth, local businesses etc.
Last Updated: 
23 Jan 2020