The ability of 300,000 school governors to carry out their work has been called into question by a confidential document, drawn up by education department officials.
The 25-page paper comes at a time of increasing concern about governors' role in a number of high-profile cases involving problems of indiscipline. There is also concern about an increase in management disputes between school heads and governing bodies.
Among the "weaknesses" of the present situation the paper lists governor overload; the poor quality or unrepresentative make-up of some governing bodies; reluctance to take on "the more arduous role of chairman", and governors' unwillingness to tackle serious poor leadership by the head or a teacher's competence.
Governing bodies find cutting budgets, sacking staff and handling appeals difficult and stressful, it says.
The paper also highlights the lack of trust between many heads and governors. Without trust their relationship would be "vulnerable on sensitive issues such as exclusions or the setting of headteacher performance pay," it says.
It canvasses such ideas as professional clerks, compulsory training for all governors and enabling government officials or local training and enterprise councils to appoint business governors to bolster the governing bodies of LEA schools.
It also examines the case for "fall-back systems" to allow for intervention where governing bodies are not up to the job. It suggests a system of formal warnings by local authorities for schools with serious problems, and the extension of "hit squads" to grant-maintained schools.
The dilemma is how to improve the standard of governing through better recruitment and increased training without frightening off volunteers. The paper recognises that much of the work they do for the education service would otherwise have to be done by paid staff.
Governors organisations are furious that the document has been discussed with chief education officers but not with them.
Walter Ulrich, of the National Association of Governors and Managers, said: "It is liable to cause confusion and resentment to discuss the performance of one partner in the education service with another without giving governors an opportunity to comment."
Leader, page 16