Should we pay school governors in the UK?

6 December 2023 | Applicable law: England and Wales | 5 minute read

Directed chiefly at the maintained sector, but with broader relevance for schools, the National Governance Association has published its Taking Stock of Governance Workload report this year. 

You can read more here

The report is particularly interesting in how it resonates with a wider discussion in the charity sector about the possibility of a practical (and cultural) move towards boards that are unitary in the sense of combining a governance and executive function or if falling short of that at least including some or even in some cases all paid trustees or governors.

Many in the charity sector have been advocating for paid trustee roles for some time, partly because this may be a route to increased diversity on boards.  It can be easier to recruit trustees from a wider range of backgrounds when there is a degree of remuneration and one perhaps needn’t rely so heavily on the retired cohort of the population.

The independent schools sector is obviously in many ways somewhat distinct from the wider charity sector and has its own concerns and characteristics.  Certainly, however, it shares one key aspect with many other charities, which is that the demands of charity trusteeship or school governorship are substantial and can be challenging to fit into a busy life. 

One example given in the NGA report which resonates with experience from our own caseload is the time commitment and in some cases strain that can be associated with handling a stage three complaint. We have seen some clients looking to introduce additional stages to their complaints processes so that governors may only be involved perhaps at a new stage four with staff handling prior stages.  This naturally carries its own challenges, including managing the expectations of parents who may wish to proceed to speak to governors straight away.  But it illustrates the difficulty, schools not being in the habit of introducing additional layers of complexity without good reason, in this case being to protect governors’ time and only involve them where necessary, while still providing a good and fair complaints mechanism. 

Part of the context of a conversation about paying school governors at the moment is, of course, that many parents and schools are finding it more challenging to meet expenses given the cost of living crisis.  They may also be expecting things to get worse in light of current Labour policy around adding VAT to school fees and potentially to withdraw the current business rates relief.  Nonetheless, it’s obviously incumbent on all boards of governors to think about how their school can function most effectively as well as efficiently.  In some cases, looking again at the current governorship model may be appropriate.

If you'd like to discuss our Education offering, please get in touch with Philip Reed, Alison Paines or Hugo Walford.

This document (and any information accessed through links in this document) is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Professional legal advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from any action as a result of the contents of this document.


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