Official reports by the Office for Standards in Education and the National Association of Governors and Managers accuse governors of excessive interference in the daily management of schools, unquestioning reliance on headteachers and unease about financial duties.
The reports, submitted to the School Teachers' Review Body, emerged in a week of growing controversy over unruly pupils and management disputes at The Ridings secondary school in Halifax and Manton Junior in Worksop.
In its evidence to the review body NAGM says that many governing bodies are unclear about their role and fail to do their job as well as they could or should.
OFSTED inspectors have also warned the review body that governors are incapable of assessing headteachers' performance for pay.
The reports are likely to focus concern on the ability of governors to manage schools, at a time when teachers' leaders are threatening further strikes if their members are forced to teach disruptive pupils.
NAGM officials told the review body that neither Government nor the local authorities had faced up fully to the fact that large responsibilities were placed on "ordinary citizens acting as unpaid, part-time public servants".
But NAGM told the review body that shortcomings in school management did not arise because the law was vague but because governors failed to clarify their position with the head or allowed the local authority to dictate.
Governors who were unsure of what they should be doing either intervened too much in the daily running of a school or left everything to the headteacher.
OFSTED doubted governors' capacity to set performance indicators for heads, to monitor these and to make considered judgments on whether the headteachers should have an increase in salaries.
Its criticisms, based on surveys of more than 300 schools as well as a database of 1,579 inspections, follow complaints dating back three years about governors.
Pat Petch, chair of the National Governors' Council, said: "I don't think anyone is saying we are perfect. We have a long way to go, but it may be that OFSTED has too."