Being a School Governor

Posted by iChild, October 17, 2018 8:45 AM

Could you volunteer to support and challenge a local school?

By Judith Hicks, Head of Inspiring Governance

Whether you are reading this as a parent or a teacher or as someone with an interest in education, you are already invested in improving the educational experience and outcomes of children. If you are passionate about influencing education and are motivated to take on a challenging but rewarding role then you might consider becoming a school governor or trustee to support and challenge a local school so that it further improves for both pupils and staff.

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People choose to get involved in school governance for many reasons but by far the most common reason is to make a difference for children. You could be a parent or guardian wanting a greater understanding of how the education system works, or someone who has an interest in education and wants to use their skills to help all young people reach their full potential. Whatever your motivation, schools do need committed volunteers to draw on a range of skills and experience so that they can be successful for everyone. Ofsted (the national inspection body for schools) has repeatedly noted that the most effective schools demonstrate effective leadership and management – including by the governing board.

The governing board provides strategic leadership and accountability in schools. It has three key functions:

- Overseeing the financial performance of the school and making sure its money is well spent.   
- Holding the headteacher to account for the educational performance of the school and its pupils.
-  Ensuring clarity of vision, ethos and strategic direction.   

In practice, governors and trustees undertake a varied range of tasks in pursuit of improving the school.

These may include:

- Looking at data and evidence to ask questions and have challenging conversations about the school, such as about attainment.    
- Managing budgets and deciding how money is spent.     
- Engaging with pupils, staff, parents and the school community to understand their views of the school.    
- Addressing a range of education issues within the context of the school including disadvantaged pupils, pupils with special needs, staff workload and teacher recruitment.     
- Reviewing and agreeing policies on matters such as curriculum, behaviour, uniform and homework.

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Schools need their governing board to have a balance and diversity of knowledge, skills and experience to enable it to be effective. Skills such as human resources, education, strategy and finance are essential to a governing board because of the nature of the matters it needs to consider; there also needs to be a breadth of lived experience – in particular from young people and people from ethnic minorities who are currently under-represented in school governance. The more diverse the skills, experience and passions of the people on a school governing board, the more questions will be asked and the more different perspectives will shape conversations, leading to better decision making.

Attributes including confidence in asking challenging questions, commitment to the best interests of young people and being curious with an enquiring mind are also essential characteristics of a school governor or trustee.

There is lots to be gained too. As well as the fulfilment of making a difference to the education of young people, being a school governor or trustee is also a great way to use and gain board level skills. 76% of governors and trustees currently in employment agree that volunteering in school governance is a valuable form of professional development, according to the school governance in 2018 survey by the National Governance Association and Tes.

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Misconceptions about the role of school governors and trustees – and indeed who can be one – are rife. The role has changed significantly in recent years. Many of you may have a picture of school governors having cosy chats over cake and tea, attending school events and reading with pupils. Today being a school governor/ trustee is a highly responsible role, contributing to the strategic leadership of the school and an intrinsic part of the effectiveness of the school and the outcomes of pupils (though of course cake and tea are still welcome!). We hear many assumptions too about who can volunteer. Generally, anyone over 18 can be a school governor/ trustee; you do not need to be a parent; you do not need to have an understanding of the education system (there is lots of support and training available). All that is required are the right skills, attributes and time to contribute. You must also pass a DBS check, and not be declared bankrupt.

There are several options about where you can govern. There may be a particular school that you would like to be involved with, or you may be willing to govern in any school that needs support and is looking for the skills and experience you have to offer. If you are a parent then the board of your child(ren)’s school may have a parent governor vacancy or you could be co-opted to the governing board (or that of another school) if you have skills that match their needs. If you are a teacher, aspiring school leader or education professional, we encourage you to govern in a different school (rather than as a staff governor in your own school); it is a great form of CPD and will enable you to understand the strategic nature of governance in a different setting.

Although a quarter of a million people already volunteer as school governors and trustees, we estimate that one in every ten school governor/ trustee positions are vacant. Through our dialogue with governing boards, we know that many find it difficult to recruit volunteers – especially in disadvantaged, rural and coastal areas. Schools need committed volunteers and as someone who wants to see a positive change in education, you could be a valuable and strengthening addition to a governing board.

Begin your school governance journey at inspiringgovernance.org.

Judith Hicks, 
Head of Inspiring Governance
National Governance Association

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