Yvonne Barker-Layton is a MAT trustee at Educate Together Academy Trust in Bath.
“We all know how schools are struggling with funding and managing tight budgets. But most people don’t do anything to help, often because they don’t know how. My son’s school had a new headteacher and it wasn’t until he spoke about the need for people with business experience – in finance or marketing or general exposure to how business works – that I realised I had something to offer.
Becoming a trustee felt like the right thing to do. I’d spent enough time listening to frustrations about the funding crisis that I decided to do something about it. Modern schools are run like businesses but teachers and school management don’t have business experience.
I’m a trustee of a new multi-academy trust. Lots of schools in Bath are becoming part of MATs but many people don’t actually know what that means. In reality, the structure is similar to businesses and a large part of our role is balancing the books.
Lots of people I spoke to about the role thought governors were always parents, but you don’t need to have children or have any knowledge of education. I’ve met amazing people from all walks of life, each with different backgrounds and ideas. There are lots of strong opinions around the table, but that’s why we’re there. It’s our job to be as critical as you would be in business. We need to hold management to account or it’s the children that suffer.
School budgets really are shocking. As a board we have to think long and hard about where we spend money – there’s so much to cover. Business people need to talk more about school budgets and the constraints they bring. By getting those with experience onto a board the issue would be taken more seriously.
As my background’s in finance and marketing, I’m on the financial and risk committee. But soft skills like listening are equally as important. Having the ability to listen and persuade people in a non-dogmatic way is important.
Being a trustee doesn’t take over your life – it adds to it. The people you meet, the children and families you’re helping all make it worthwhile. From a business perspective, it’s good to work in different areas. I’d never thought about financial services in an education setting and it’s opened my eyes.
When you’ve been working over 20 years and you get to your 40s, it’s easy to feel like you’ve stopped learning. As a trustee, I’ve reused skills I thought were out of date and pushed myself with new challenges. The trustee role has exceeded my expectations. I’ve seen first-hand how much of an impact you can make and it’s so much more than I thought it would be.”