Looking for a governor?

Written by: Louise Cooper | Published:
Louise Cooper, CEO, Governors for Schools

Q1a) How to solve a problem like finding a school governor... DISCUSS (40 marks) – Louise Cooper tackles this most tricky of questions

School governors – a dying breed or a thriving population; as scarce as hen’s teeth or an army of volunteers simply waiting to be summoned to your school board?

Schools need governors – full stop. In fact, a median of 11 to 12 individuals per governing board.

In 2017 there were estimated to be around 250,000 governors in England, all of whom are unpaid volunteers who give up their time to improve the educational standards in their chosen schools, providing children with the chance to realise their full potential.

They do this by overseeing the management side of a school: strategy, policy, budgeting and staffing, thus enabling their school to run as effectively as possible.

Governors work alongside senior leaders and teachers and when appropriate, constructively challenge the headteacher.

It is a board-level position and demands a variety of skills, such as safeguarding, accountancy, HR, property management and legal skills to name but a few.

So, who are these recruits and how do they become appointed?

According to the TES/National Governors’ Association Annual Governor Survey in 2017, one in three governing boards have two or more vacancies. It’s a significant number. How do we begin to bridge that gap?

At Governors for Schools we work with businesses and universities who have strong educational CSR (corporate social responsibility) policies. These organisations have embedded a culture of employee volunteering and many offer a number of paid volunteering days per year.

These institutions harness the skill-sets of their employees and encourage and support them to be governors in schools. Such institutions include Lloyds, KPMG, Accenture, PwC, Deutsche Bank, A&O and Clifford Chance, to name but a few.

As volunteers, their employees provide a wealth of accountancy, HR and legal skills. We work with universities too, such as, Imperial College, Manchester and Leeds, whose volunteers (through both teaching staff and alumni) provide the highly valued educational knowledge required for governing boards.

Governors for Schools, recently revealed the top three skill-sets governing boards required when recruiting. This data, compiled using annual Governor for Schools registered governor vacancies from April 2017 to March 2018, is based on 3,855 vacancies in total from 2,228 schools.

It shows that the top three skills required by schools on their governing body are:

  1. Finance (41 per cent).
  2. Education (33 per cent).
  3. HR (30 per cent).

Of course, finance, HR and legal skills are consistently in demand by our country’s governing bodies but the appetite for education skills is new and interesting.

We have seen a 13 per cent increase in vacancies requiring education skills over the last two years. This might suggest the need for governing boards to embrace a board member who really understands educational performance data, such as teachers or senior leaders at another school.

With these skills, governing boards are better able to support and challenge the senior leadership team effectively.

Recruitment challenges

What are the reasons that more people don’t apply? Time is the single biggest barrier. Individuals are afraid of over-committing. This is understandable given the pressing demands of our busy lives.

However, the role is only fixed in your commitment to attend six meetings per year. The preparation, participation and travel for these meetings and the training will comprise four to five hours a month for nine months of the year, mainly evenings.

Another challenge to recruitment is that potential candidates don’t consider they have the relevant skills required for the role.

As already discussed in this article there are many skills required to fulfil an effective governing board. Not least, a governor with business know-how is a valuable addition and can transform the running of a school.

In a recent independent survey with some 20-plus of our governor volunteers we discovered that the principle reason why people choose this role is “to give something back” to their community. Many of the governors we recruit want to make a difference. Alistair Cowen a governor we placed at James Brindley School in Birmingham told me: “It’s very satisfying because the school seems genuinely appreciative of my work. The school was inspected again by Ofsted in January 2017 and achieved a rating of ‘good’. It was a great sense of achievement, we felt we had been along the journey together as a school and as a governing body.”

This job satisfaction is also borne out in our survey. When asked whether becoming a governor had been a positive experience for them, 71 per cent rated their experience highly.

This research shows there is much to be gained from becoming a governor. Even more powerful was the fact that 95 per cent said they would be likely or very likely to become a governor again.

  • Louise Cooper is CEO of the charity Governors for Schools.

Further information

Governors for Schools sources and places governors and trustees in state schools. The charity has been operating for 18 years and successfully places around 2,000 governor volunteers each year. It works closely with businesses to help embed a culture of volunteering within their organisations. It is these volunteers that provide the qualified governor candidates for schools. For details or to register your vacancy, visit www.governorsforschools.org.uk/schools/register/ or email info@governorsforschools.org.uk


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