Governance Investigative Research

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What is the research and why is it taking place?

The Department for Education (DfE) has commissioned the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) to undertake investigative research into governance across England’s schools and trusts. The research will be undertaken between October 2019 and June 2020.

The DfE currently holds limited information on who governs schools and trusts and how they do so. This research aims to fill this evidence gap by providing a comprehensive picture of school and trust governance, including who governs and how they govern, and what works well and less well in governance practice. This will enable the DfE to undertake evidence-based prioritisation of resources to support school and trust governance.

What does the research involve and when can I get involved?

The research involves three key data gathering activities:

Feasibility stage

  • October 2019: we will conduct a short feasibility exercise to test the feasibility of undertaking a large-scale survey, telephone interviews and case-study visits in the governance sector.

Large-scale survey of schools and trust governance and follow-up telephone interviews

  • November 2019 - January 2020: survey of governors, trustees, clerks, trust members and headteachers in schools and trusts across England.
  • February - March 2020: up to 30 follow-up telephone interviews with survey respondents to further explore governance.

Case-study visits to 15 schools/MATs

  • February-April 2020: we will conduct case-study visits to 15 schools, observing board meetings and interviewing governors/trustees, clerks and senior leaders.


In November, we will be contacting a nationally-representative sample of schools to ask all those involved in governance (including governors, trustees, clerks, headteachers, CEOs and Members) to take part in a large-scale survey of school governance. The survey will focus on understanding how schools are governed, who is involved in governance and their experiences of governance. Schools that are selected to take part will be sent a link to an online survey. This link can be shared with all governors/trustees, the headteacher and the clerk. For those schools supported by a multi-academy trust (MAT), we will ask that they forward the link to the MAT’s CEO or Executive Headteacher, trustees and members so that we can gain an understanding of governance at a school level and MAT level.

At the end of the survey we will ask participants if they would be willing, in principle, to take part in a 30-minute telephone interview, should they be selected, to discuss in more detail their role in governance and any challenges they have come across.

The second stage of the research is aimed at understanding school and trust governance in practice and how this relates to the current measures of governance that are available. We will visit 15 schools with different models of governance to observe a board meeting and undertake interviews with a range of people involved in school or trust governance. 

The findings from this research will be published in summer 2020.

Who is NFER?

NFER is an independent research organisation with many years’ experience of undertaking research and evaluation with schools. For more information, please visit our About NFER page.

Where can I go for more information?

In addition, Kelly Kettlewell, the Project Leader at NFER, is very happy to answer any questions you might have. Please contact her on 01753 637214 or email: [email protected] or Abigail Bond at DfE email: [email protected]

Thank you very much for your support with this research.