Wondering what it’s like to join the governing board of an independent school? What challenges does the role involve? What are the advantages of volunteering within the independent sector? To find out the answers to these questions (and more), we caught up with Manu Gupta, who has been a governor at a preparatory school since September 2020.

Please tell us a little about your school

Banstead Preparatory School is part of United Learning, a group of schools which aims to provide excellent education to children and young people across the country. The schools seek to improve the life chances of all the children and young people, making it their mission to bring out “the best in everyone” – students, staff, parents, and the wider community. From Cumbria to Kent, the schools are inclusive and welcome children of all backgrounds, faiths, and abilities, giving over 55,000 children an inspiring education. The group encompasses 92 schools over 156 locations and includes significant numbers of schools in both the public and the private sectors, working together for mutual benefit.

Banstead Preparatory School is equipped with state-of-the-art facilities to offer the broadest range of opportunities as part of an engaging, innovative and exciting curriculum, helping set the highest possible ambition for every child. The school hosts children from our nursery through to those preparing for secondary school, although it doesn’t operate as a feeder for any particular school. Rather, the school works with parents to identify aspirational but realistic school choices.

What motivated you to become a school governor? Also, why did you choose to support an independent school?

I was motivated by a desire to apply my financial expertise to a good cause and help build better systems that allow children to enjoy the best possible education and school environment. I’m interested in education as a whole, and the role of school governor represented a great starting point for getting involved. It allows me to make a positive difference for young people, give something back to my community, and use my skills in a social environment. My professional experiences as a chief financial officer (CFO) help in setting the strategic vision and direction of the school, managing different stakeholders, providing rigour to financial processes, bringing energy to the school leadership team, and delivering the school’s objectives. My background also ensures the governing board benefits from a diverse range of voices, enabling it to run as effectively as possible.

When I first applied to become a governor, Governors for Schools mainly worked with state-funded schools. However, when they offered me the opportunity to work with Banstead Preparatory School, I was interested. It represented a unique opportunity to work as a trustee in part of a large charitable trust focused on providing excellent education. Having the chance to be part of a board that supports primary education is very fulfilling.

What are the main challenges of being a governor of an independent school?

My main challenge is to consistently live up to the key qualities and promises of the school, ensuring it remains competitive and can justify charging fees to parents.

While Banstead Preparatory School is independent, it is linked to the other 93 schools within the United Learning Trust, some of which are state schools. This offers a unique approach that a standalone school might not. On top of inspections by the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI), the school is subject to additional group checks to ensure it lives up to its promises and those of the wider group.

How would you describe being a governor – in terms of the importance of the role, what you have gained from it and how you feel you have impacted the school?

The role involves challenging the school leadership to ensure optimal outcomes for children. Such responsibilities help to improve your influencing skills and allow you to harness your unique insights for the greater good. For example, a key task is to ensure the school markets itself in the best light possible. Independent schools operate in a very competitive landscape, so we have to make sure the school stands out as an educational frontrunner, offering students, parents, and staff the best in terms of performance, technology, and outcomes. We must also ensure all the school’s unique selling points are clear to potential parents. As well as promoting the school to incoming cohorts, this task involves justifying our fees to current parents and ensuring we offer the best solutions for everyone.

What would you say to those considering becoming a governor at an independent school? What are the advantages of supporting an independent school?

As a governor of an independent school, we benefit from access to increased funding. As part of the United Learning Group, my school can also use lessons learnt by other member academies to ensure that Banstead Preparatory School offers a complete and competitive educational package.

Interested in trying your hand at independent school governance?

As Manu’s experiences demonstrate, volunteering at an independent school represents a dynamic volunteering experience that will allow you to apply your unique experiences to enhance children’s education. If you’re interested in finding out more about the role, please get in touch with Shaun Paskin at shaun.paskin@governorsforschools.org.uk.