Governors are demanding mandatory training to help them scrutinise headteachers' performances and tackle the fraud and mismanagement they say exist in hundreds of schools. The National Governors Association's (NGA) call comes as a new ministerial working group investigates ways to make school governance "robust". The group, which met for the first time last week, is to consider funding training for governors.
The association stressed that only a tiny minority of heads were out of control, but it said many governors found it difficult to challenge them.
Research published by the Government this month showed that governing bodies at 75 schools had been replaced by interim executive boards, partly because of problems in monitoring their heads.
The NGA represents 200,000 governors who are responsible for hiring and firing heads but not for the day-to-day management of schools. Phil Revell, its chief executive, said he was not suggesting the average head was dishonest or incompetent. "But we believe there are hundreds of schools where governors and leadership have failed to meet the standards we should expect of public bodies," he said.
Mr Revell said cases such as Colleen McCabe, the headmistress of St John Rigby College in south-east London who stole pound;500,000 to fund a life of luxury, were "just the tip of the iceberg. "The existence of these cases indicates systems to prevent fraud and mismanagement are not robust enough," he said.
Chairs of governing bodies receive training in some local authorities, and the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) is developing a national programme. But training is not compulsory, and there is little for other governors.
"Governing bodies need to ensure the school is meeting proper public standards," said Mr Revell. "In many cases that isn't happening."
The ministerial working group on school governance is expected to make its recommendations for training in the autumn.
The DCSF said it disagreed with the claim that hundreds of schools were affected by fraud. "This is not a picture we recognise," a spokesman said. "Our review will set out clearly what training governing bodies need to do an effective job."
Headteacher associations were angered by the claims. Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "It is a shame that the NGA is coming out with this nonsense. Our view is that the probity of heads is strong."