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This guest blog is by Elizabeth Holmes of Eteach. After graduating with a degree in Politics and International Relations from the University of Reading, Elizabeth completed her PGCE at the Institute of Education, University of London. She then taught humanities and social sciences in schools in London, Oxfordshire and West Sussex, where she ran the history department in a challenging comprehensive. Elizabeth specialises in education but also writes on many other issues and themes. As well as her regular blogs for Eteach and FEjobs, her books have been published by a variety of publishers and translated around the world.

Being a school governor or trustee

Working in the world of education offers myriad opportunities for sharing and developing skills that support teaching and learning in the classroom. This has the fortuitous benefit of enabling teachers to carve blended careers, honing, and developing their skills yet further and contributing to enhanced enjoyment of the profession. It hardly needs saying that the profession needs wide-ranging expertise to function effectively and being a school governor is an opportunity to play a significant part in the bigger picture of education.

The role of school governors has shifted somewhat over the years from the days of being a professional friend to the school, showing up for end of term assemblies and nativity plays and meetings, to being “non-executive strategic leaders”. The current role and importance of the school governor should not be underplayed.

The education charity, Governors for Schools, makes clear the distinction between the day to day running of a school (the operational aspect) and the strategic aspect. It explains, “Governors don’t get involved with the day to day running of a school, instead supporting and challenging the school’s leadership team to drive school improvement.”

The National Governance Association explains that the title of someone in a governor role can vary; “It all depends on the type of school you govern in – if the school is controlled by the local authority or is a faith school you will be known as a governor, and if you govern on the board of a single or multi academy trust you will be a trustee. If you govern on the board of a school that is part of a multi academy trust, you may be known as a local academy committee member. The role of governors and trustees are largely the same but there are important distinctions. When governing in a multi academy trust, some responsibilities will lie with the trust board and others with the local academy committees.” You can check the scheme of delegation of the trust to find out more about this.

According to the Government, Governing boards have three main functions, to:

  • help the school or college with its strategy
  • hold the headteacher, principal or CEO to account for a school or college’s performance
  • make sure the school or college budget is properly managed

Several years ago, I spent a decade as a community governor at a school I had no prior connection to. I had never taught there and had no children attending it. Being a governor there was a privilege. Getting to know staff and being able to offer support informed by my personal experience combined with what I was learning in the excellent governor training sessions I attended was an honour.

Being a governor does involve donating a significant amount of time to a school, as well as your skills and expertise. But whether or not you are in a teaching post or working in a non-classroom-based aspect of the teaching profession, your experience will be warmly welcomed. This is an excellent way of adding a new dimension to your blended career, potentially opening doors and presenting opportunities you may not have had otherwise.

As a governor, your term of office will usually be for four years, which will enable you to become directly involved in the education being offered by a school. You get underneath the skin of the needs and successes of the school and help to develop objectives that would assist the school in moving closer to its goals.

Being a governor is a chance to give back to the world of education, but it is also a chance to hone and develop skills that will be useful elsewhere in your blended career.

These days, however, with so many demands on our time, it is hard to feel that we have space in our schedules to devote to a role like this, however beneficial it is in our blended careers. Yet the National Governance Association states that you would need to give around five to eight hours a month to governor duties. Anecdotally, however, many governors report giving more time than that, but for many, the benefits are mutual and the time invested worthwhile.

The role of governor is voluntary, so this truly is an opportunity to give to a community through sharing and building on your skills, knowledge and expertise. For many governors, the opportunity to make connections and relationships with others in the locality can be hugely beneficial. The chance to undertake training and development is a draw, too. Governors for Schools offers eLearning modules covering a wide variety of key topics in governance. These modules are free to complete once registered as a user (see below).

Is there a downside to being a governor? If you are finding that the time required to prepare for and attend meetings is more than the time you have available, then this needs to be addressed, but for many this is the only potentially negative aspect. Would I be a governor again? Absolutely, when my son is a little older!

Becoming a governor – five points of action

  • Consider whether you would like to be a governor in a school you are familiar with or have connections with, or whether you would like to support somewhere entirely new to you.
  • Explore the types of school that you can work with as a governor; primary, secondary, nursery, sixteen plus, all-through 4-18.
  • Contact your local authority and local academies for governing opportunities near you.
  • Find out more about the different types of governors and governing bodies here: Types of school governor and governing boards | Governors for Schools
  • Take a moment to jot down what you could bring to a governing body, and what you would hope to get out of being a governor.

Find out more…