Carol Shutkever is a trustee of a multi-academy trust in Hertfordshire.
“Stepping down from my full time role as a lawyer to do part time consultancy got me thinking about local charity work. I’d previously been working very long hours but now with some more time to spare, I knew I wanted to do something community-focused.
Being a school governor, or in my case a trustee of a multi academy trust (MAT), is a meaningful way to give back. I have found the role challenging but very rewarding.
The law firm I used to work for offered employees the chance to become governors but I didn’t have the time at that point to help out. It did make me realise that professionals are needed on governing boards – until then, I had always thought it was just a role for school parents or for those who had worked in education or local government.
Before I started I was a bit concerned about not knowing much about education regulation. As a lawyer, I’m used to only to advising in my areas of expertise. This was totally different – I was going into something that I didn’t have any experience in. But I quickly realised that’s why governors and trustees with professional and management experience are valuable – we bring an outside perspective. I have brought the skills that I have developed over my career onto the board, which provides the board with different insights.
My corporate governance and company law background has been useful, partly because other board members aren’t experienced in those areas. It is common to see accountants on school boards but lawyers equally have a lot to bring. Governing boards are best when the people on them have a diverse mix of skills.
We get good notice of meeting dates so I can plan my diary accordingly. You can plan the work around you – the board papers take a bit of getting used to but there is support online and a lot of guidance, which makes it easier.
There’s always so much going on. As soon as I joined the board there were major changes to deal with, but that made it interesting. It’s never just a case of business as usual. There are always new challenges emerging in the sector and challenges for schools themselves.
The new academy structure relies on people from business backgrounds to help out. Teachers and school management do a brilliant job, but they are reliant on those with business experience to support them in the areas outside their expertise. The governors, and in MATs the trustees, set the strategy, help spot issues and risks and focus on financial stability as well as supporting the vital work of giving the children in the schools the best possible education.
Any business experience you can bring to a school or MAT is useful. You don’t need educational experience or knowledge – you can pick that up. I have enjoyed meeting a whole range of different people from educational backgrounds as well as the other trustees, as I wouldn’t have come across them in my professional career. Their insight is helping me in my professional work – I’m seeing things from different angles and dealing with issues that I would not have been exposed to otherwise.
Joining a governing board as a governor or trustee isn’t something to be afraid of. It is not complex once you get your head around the basic structure – anyone with a corporate background will recognise the management structure and the duties of the board. The role does require a bit of time and commitment, but it is worth it. Being a trustee has its challenges but I am enjoying it.”