Good Governance for School Boards: Trustee Professional Development Program

Read Trustee Professional Development Program

Module 5b: Board Self-Assessment: Governance Performance

  • Assist the Board of Trustees to build capacity in self-assessment in terms of school board governance functions, principles and practices

“Board development is an aspect of capacity building that focuses on enhancing the ability of board members to function as a group. A useful approach to building this capacity is through board self-evaluation, which can serve a number of purposes, including developing a shared understanding of effective governance, enhancing the board’s strategic capacity, improving decision-making processes and identifying governance information needs. Board evaluations generally focus on core areas of the board’s mandate. They can be conducted by the board itself or through engagement of qualified consultants. Ideally, either approach will result in a governance improvement plan which is executed by the board.”



Governance is the work of the board of trustees and involves the purposeful exercise of collective leadership. Good governance doesn’t just happen. It requires the elected board to take responsibility for the effectiveness of its governance practices. Effective Boards of Trustees will have a governance review policy which includes processes that can contribute to the continuous improvement of board governance.

The Education Act requires the elected board to develop a multi-year plan strategic plan, and develop and maintain policies and organizational structures which:

  1. Promote student achievement and well-being;
  2. Ensure effective stewardship of the board’s resources;
  3. Deliver appropriate education programs and services to its pupils; and encourage pupils to pursue their educational goals.

An important aspect of the responsibility of the board of trustees is to annually review the board’s multi-year strategic plan. This requirement also provides an opportunity for the elected board to look at its governance policies and actions and how successful it is in focusing on what matters most to student achievement and good governance.


Self-assessment is a valuable process that results in a range of benefits. In addition to improving communication among board members and building an understanding of the effectiveness of the directions taken by the elected board, the key outcome is greater certainty around what works for the benefit of students.

The process that boards of trustees undertake to review their performance will vary from board to board. Collection of the information to inform the review can occur in a number of ways including:

  • surveys of board and committee members;
  • focus groups with community members and other stakeholders;
  • interviews with board members and the director of education;
  • use of an outside facilitator/consultant.


Elected boards should consider the development of a policy which is parallel to the policy for the performance review of the director of education. The following principles form the basis for the development of a board policy:

  • It benefits students based on the shared responsibility of the director and the elected board for improving student achievement and well-being.
  • It is conducted on an annual basis and it assesses board effectiveness in carrying out the core governance functions. Assessment relates to board responsibility for having a plan in place, following the plan and annually updating it.
  • It relies on a process and evidence agreed upon by the board of trustees in advance and collected for the purpose of informing the Board Governance Review Process. It is essential that it be determined and agreed by the elected board in advance:
    • what information will be collected;
    • how it will be collected and by whom;
    • who will have access to the information;
    • how it will be analyzed and compiled;
    • when and how it will be discussed and whether a facilitator will be asked to assist in the discussions;
    • how reporting and feedback will occur;
    • how the assessment results will be acted upon; and
    • how recommendations related to agreed-to changes will be monitored.
  • It is a mutual learning opportunity to affirm successful governance practices and to improve areas of identified need.
  • It is results-oriented and focuses on continuous improvement for the board as the governing body.
  • It is characterized throughout by transparency and open communication, balanced by professional confidentiality and respect for all parties.
  • It leads to the development and implementation of a specific plan for the improvement of governance practices.


The basis for the elected board’s self-assessment includes its job description (see Module 3 – Roles and Responsibilities) and reflects the following leading governance practices:

  • Setting the Vision
  • Establishing Goals
  • Developing Policy
  • Allocating Resources
  • Assuring Accountability

Self-assessment includes examining how well the board works together and how effective the group dynamics are. Day to day examples of this include:

  • do board members come to meetings on time and well-prepared?
  • do they contribute constructively to the meetings?
  • do they follow board policy including conflict of interest policies?
  • is conflict handled well?
  • are political dynamics and constituency-based interests handled constructively and appropriately?


Expert Facilitator/Consultant assistance in developing and implementing policies in these areas are available from the Centre for Governance Excellence at OESC-CSEO:
The Centre for Governance Excellence also maintains a portfolio of self-assessment tools that can be considered by boards.

An expert Facilitator will work with a board to complete a comprehensive governance review (Audit) of all or selected board governance functions.

Chartered Public Accountants of Canada has published a useful resource: “20 Questions Directors (Trustees) of Not-For-Profit Organizations Should Ask about Board Recruitment, Development and Assessment”.

OESC-CSEO has developed a Pre-Assessment Survey on Governance, ( specifically designed for elected school boards.