Sitting on a Governor Panel – what does that mean?

October 21st, 2021

Caroline Davies gives us her top tips – the first being, yes you can do this! Here’s how:

Your Clerk has asked, will you sit on this Governor Panel? It could be a panel for parental complaints, pupil exclusion, staff disciplinary, admission appeals or something else!

Help! What does this mean for you? You already give up plenty of your personal time to attend meetings, training and visit the school and now, a Governor Panel, something of which you have little or no experience. Are you feeling a little overwhelmed, thinking about the responsibility that this involves, what process needs to be followed, your role, making a decision that will have impact? How will I know what do, what decision is the correct one to make? I’m not ready for this, I can’t do it.

Stop! Of course you can do this!

So, what does sitting on a Panel actually mean?

Modern governance work has moved extensively beyond the traditional remit of attending Board and Committee meetings – at some point in your term of office, you are likely to be asked to sit on a formal Panel on behalf of your Governing Board. You won’t be able to avoid it altogether!

Your Panel Clerk will have endeavoured to constitute a Panel that is as diverse as possible, in terms of experiences, skills, ethnicity and gender, to reassure the complainant that a fair hearing will be conducted. So, what do you need to know to guide you along the way?

Here are 4 key steps to consider when agreeing to sit on a Governor Panel.

1. Be prepared!

Agreeing to be a Panel Member is not just about committing a few hours on the agreed day. It means:

  • Setting aside a number of hours beforehand to comprehensively read through the written evidence pack that both the school and the complainant have contributed to, understanding the core issues at hand and identifying areas of questioning that you would like to pursue further. And that’s reading all of the evidence pack even if it does run to over 100 pages!
  • Attending the Hearing itself, which may only last an hour or potentially run to four plus hours, depending on the complexity of the issue at hand, as well as the closed session afterwards where the Panel members will deliberate and reach a final decision based on the written and oral evidence presented to them. Needing to run out of the door to fulfil another commitment will only add unnecessary pressure on you!
  • Being available in the days immediately after the Hearing to help review and approve the final Panel outcome letter, responding on a timely basis to all requests and questions from the Panel Clerk and your fellow Panel Members.

2. Attend Training! 

The decisions you may be asked to make as a Panel Member can have a significant and long lasting impact: 

  • Do you agree with the Head’s decision to permanently exclude a child/young person? 
  • Is the staff member’s conduct worthy of gross misconduct and thus dismissal from the school?  

It is essential that you have recently attended training which looks at your role as a Panel Member, brings to your attention all of the issues and technicalities that you must take into consideration and clarifies the decision making power that you have. And, yes, you can overturn a Head’s decision to exclude a child if the Panel determines that due process has not been followed! 


How recent is recent? Within the last two years of the Panel being constituted.  


3. Be Open Minded, Objective and Mindful of all Parties 

A formal Panel Hearing is not a process for “rubber-stamping” the Head’s decision; the Panel can decide to agree or disagree with the decision being asked of them. As a panel member you will want to ensure that the Panel’s decision making process is fair, objective and reasonable in the decision that it reaches.   


Tips to consider? 

  • Think about the questions that you are asking – are they open-ended, leading, is the language that you are using indicative of you having already made your mind up? 
  • Is the parent/member of staff being given the same time and opportunity as the school to present their case to the Panel? 


Yes, it is absolutely essential that due and proper process is followed so that the right decision is reached by the Panel Members. But always remember, for the parent, child or member of staff involved, the reason why a formal panel is required can be deeply personal and incredibly emotive. Empathy, consideration and providing the independent forum for listening to the issue at hand (often the issue at hand for many parents), can go a long way in ensuring a smooth as possible Panel Hearing. Simple, but often important things, like not interrupting, fully engaging and actively listening to the complainant, not tapping your pen/foot when they are speaking, can all work towards reassuring your complainant that the Hearing is not a simple rubber stamping of the Head’s decision. 


Think about how you would want to be treated and heard by a Panel if you were the complainant. You would want to leave that Panel Hearing reassured that you had been listened to, your views considered and the process adopted fair. 


4. Collaborative 

Remember, the Panel does not need to reach a unanimous decision; a majority decision will suffice and no one Panel Member has more power or sway over the decision making process. Dissenting views of Panel Members must be heard in a professional and courteous manner with the decision reached by the Panel respected and adhered to by all. 


So, an effective Panel Member in a nutshell? 

Well prepared, recently trained, open minded, objective and willing to make difficult decisions, if and when the need arises!  


Remember, with the appropriate training that can be you!  



Need help or training? Please contact the Governance team
Email: or Tel: 020 8241 5487 

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