Ashton West End Primary Academy is a single academy trust that started using Governors for Schools in 2019, and since then we have worked together to appoint four trustees and six members within the trust governance structure. Many of these volunteers have come from our outreach and partnership-building work, with three specifically from our brilliant corporate partners, and others being inspired through our work with Universities and their alumni networks. Ashton West End have also utilised our work promoting remote governance, appointing people from outside the local community who bring valuable skills, knowledge and external perspectives with them.
In November 2023, we caught up with Kim Pizuti, Head Teacher, to talk about governance within the trust, and how working with Governors for Schools has helped to build effective governance boards within the school.
Kim, thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to meet with us. To begin with, could you tell us a little about your academy?
Ashton West End Primary Academy is a two-form entry school in Ashton-under-Lyne, which is within Tameside in Greater Manchester. The school is situated within a deprived area of the town, and you can see this reflected in our pupil population, with 37% of pupils receiving free school meals. It is also a highly diverse community with 88% of our pupils speaking English as an Additional Language.
As a result, students will often start at the school with low levels of English, and there is a strong focus on building their confidence with English at early years level. In 2021, we introduced a new phonics scheme into the school, which has led to 90% of our Year One pupils passing their phonics check. This was the highest score ever achieved by the school and something we’re delighted with.
The school was inspected by Ofsted in July 2023 and retained its Good status. The report highlighted a lot of the strengths we’re proud of as a school, and reflected well on the knowledge and involvement of our governance volunteers.
As head teacher, what is the benefit your governance boards bring to you and the school?
Our trustees are involved in school life, and will make regular visits to the school to engage in learning walks and see what learning looks like in practise. This term we have had visits to see the curriculum being taught and have planned visits around science and PSHE before the Christmas holidays.
While we are careful for these visits to be learning opportunities for our volunteers, as opposed to assessments of what they observe, they are still highly beneficial to me in my role. Having the trustees report back on what they have observed, and their reflections on it, gives me further sets of eyes and perspectives to view the school with. It creates constructive dialogue and feedback and enables me to build their insights and recommendations into our School Development Plan. Our trustees will also support with tasks like shortlisting and interviewing, which again gives the school external perspectives on key appointments within the trust.
Having a full complement of twelve governance volunteers is helpful, and Governors for Schools has been the key partner in helping us ensure we are at full capacity. It allows us to have a wide variety of skills and perspectives on the board, which leads to balanced discussions and allows the workload to be shared out amongst the volunteers.
Our school survey in summer 2023 highlighted that schools, on average, find that governors sourced through Governors for Schools are more motivated and have a higher impact than governors sourced elsewhere. This is something we are delighted to see.
Do you find the governance volunteers appointed via Governors for Schools to be highly motivated? Are they having the desired impact on the school?
We will go to Governors for Schools with requests for volunteers with certain skillsets and backgrounds, as well as looking for general new members of the board. It is great to have the opportunity to connect with people we would not be able to access outside this service.
The Chair of the Finance Committee, and the Chair of the Curriculum and Standards Committee are both volunteers that came to us through Governors for Schools. Both brought the skills and knowledge to make them effective in these leadership roles on our board and their inputs are valuable to the school. We also recently appointed a volunteer with a background in engineering via Governors for Schools who is already helping us review and refine planning documents, which makes excellent use of their professional knowledge.
All members of our board make an effective contribution to the school. In any school, there is always more that could be done and this is certainly true of governance in our setting. However, all things considered, it is great to have an engaged, committed set of volunteers who have the school’s best interests at heart. Around 80% of our current governance volunteers were sourced via Governors for Schools and it has been an invaluable resource to the school.
How do you find having some members as remote volunteers working for the school?
For us, it has been a fantastic opportunity to engage people with different perspectives and skillsets to what we might have found within our local community. Many of our remote volunteers serve as Members within their Trust, which has a requirement to attend three meetings per year. Post Covid, we have seen an increase in meetings being held either virtually or in a hybrid format, which has made this process so much easier.
Some of our members live in the South East and one is predominantly based in Asia but has decades of experience in governance, and so being able to tap into talent pools based further afield brings clear benefits to the school. All our members possess strong professional backgrounds and are able to ask insightful questions and provide excellent support.
Having a blend of community-based and remote governance volunteers allows us to both retain that important local knowledge while also benefitting from an almost complete outside perspective in our discussions.
What would you say to anyone considering taking on a school governance role?
I would certainly recommend to anyone considering the role that you do need to be committed to it, and to have the time to become a part of the life of the school. It can be a lot of work for those who volunteer and I know, as a head teacher, that there is always more I could use from my board.
While it is perhaps not the easiest volunteering opportunity out there, I believe there is a lot to be gained from the experience and you can make a genuine difference to leaders and their schools. Make sure you take advantage of volunteering policies your employer may well provide and get as involved as you can in the role.