Governing bodies have statutory responsibilities for many important functions within schools. As successive Education Acts have developed governors' roles and responsibilities, educational researchers and policy makers have shown a growing interest in them. In this paper, the authors examine the research literature to focus on the roles of school governing bodies, particularly their contribution to the raising of standards, and in ensuring a school's effectiveness and continuing improvement. The review starts with a brief outline of the legislative framework within which governing bodies operate, and the rationale for their existence. The more significant research studies into governance are considered, and the paper concludes with a discussion of the governing body's role in relation to school effectiveness and school improvement.