The governors' role in managing staff performance

Date Published


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5 minutes

Picture the scene. You’ve agreed to be a school governor. You're familiar with the three core functions, and you’ve got your head around them.

You know the amount of time you need to commit to being a governor and you can find it. But then, you’re reminded that, as a governor, you employ the school’s staff, which means that you’re responsible for their appraisals and for deciding on their pay awards.

Blimey. That’s a bit scary, especially if you don’t come from an education background and don’t feel qualified to judge whether staff have met their targets.

Maybe there’s more to being a governor than you thought…

Fear not, we’re here to dispel some of the myths about being a school governor and guide you through the processes involved.

The way that performance management is carried out and governors’ responsibilities do vary depending on the type of school. In maintained schools, governors are totally responsible as they are the employers in law. In academies, the trust board are the legal employers, not the local governing board. The Scheme of Delegation will tell you whether the governors have the delegated powers. For the sake of this article, let’s assume that they do. Otherwise it would be a very short article!

There are two main areas of performance management: the staff and the headteacher. Let’s look at the area of staff performance management first, and its two categories - teaching staff and non-teaching staff. All staff need an appraisal, and the process is the same for everyone.

The main point for governors to consider is that they delegate the day-to day operational responsibility for managing staff performance to the headteacher. They don’t actually carry out the appraisals, set the targets or check if those targets have been met. So that makes things a bit easier straight away. But they are responsible for ensuring that performance management takes place fairly and equitably for all staff.

There’s a basic principle to keep in mind and that is one of no surprises. No staff member should get to their performance management meeting and be surprised that they have not met their targets. There should be professional review meetings happening throughout the year.

The acid test is whether any member of staff is being treated less fairly than their colleagues or is being favoured. How do governors know that a particular staff member is not personal friends with the headteacher and that they meet every Friday night for a swift half? I’m not suggesting this happens, but how do they know?

Governors need to receive anonymised performance management data from the headteacher and then they decide whether to ratify the headteacher’s recommendations about pay awards. They make the decision as they are the employers in law.

Ofsted will look at this information and use it to decide whether governors are holding the headteacher properly to account for pupils’ educational performance and the school’s financial effectiveness.

Whoa, hold on a minute – where does data come into this? Ofsted’s starting point is to look at data trends. If they show that outcomes for children are improving, Ofsted won’t really go into too much detail about why pay increases have been agreed. But what if outcomes have worsened? Ofsted will then want to know why pay rises have been agreed. That’s not to say that governors can’t ratify increases in this situation, but Ofsted will want to know that they’ve challenged sufficiently and listened to reasons why increases have been proposed.

The final point to remember is that all decisions need to be recorded in meeting minutes. If the discussions are taking place in a committee meeting, that’s fine but record outcomes in the minutes. And remember, the full governing board needs to ratify the committee’s decision, so, again, record it in the minutes. This may need to be a confidential minute, but names must be kept anonymous, so it will depend on the circumstances.

Performance management is arguably the most important process that governors are involved in. But it is important to remember that they are there to make sure the process is happening fairly and professionally, not to actually carry it out. If we keep this in mind, it’s not quite so scary after all.

For further help and advice, you can sign-up to GovernorSpace – a DfE funded professional development programme for governing boards.

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