Up to one in three of England’s school governing bodies is not fully up to the job, the chief executive of the independent National Governors’ Association has told the Financial Times.

Phil Revell’s assertion, which comes as ministers launch a review into “strengthening school governance”, is likely to shock the nation’s 235,000-plus army of governors.

Whitehall announced plans for the investigation late last year and revealed details on Thursday.

Mr Revell’s estimate also puts pressure on the review to come up with radical measures. He told the FT many governing boards were not aware of issues that “any board of directors would be expected to know”, such as “conflict of interest” problems involving head teachers.

School governors are the largest group of volunteers in the country. Many are highly trained professionals. But Mr Revell told the FT they needed compulsory training as governors.

The NGA's chief executive’s comments come in the wake of the latest in a string of scandals that he says show the need for obligatory initial training of governors. In March a former head teacher was given a “reprimand” by the General Teaching Council. The reasons included failing “to bring to the governors’ attention” that her husband could not legally be deputy head teacher and head of the school’s finance committee at the same time. He said unless there was compulsory training, “time and again you will get cases like this”.

Mr Revell added: “Anything up to a third of governing bodies currently struggle with their role. Too many governing bodies see themselves as cheerleaders for their school, but good governance is about both support and challenge.” Mr Revell said his assessment was based on reports by organisations such as PwC, as well as the NGA’s experience.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, disputed Mr Revell’s high estimate. But numerous government initiatives had made governors’ jobs much harder, since there were now “50 or 60 tasks that governors have to perform”.

Ed Balls, schools secretary, said on Thursday: “We know that some schools have difficulty recruiting governors with the necessary skills and that, in some cases, governing bodies are not able to provide the right balance of challenge and drive.”

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