Katie Garman was appointed as a governor through Governors for Schools in 2014 in, Southwark. Over time her school became the Bridges Federation, a group of three primary schools based in central London and she became Chair of the federation before stepping down in June 2022. We caught up with Katie to talk about her experiences of being a young governor and the many benefits governance has provided throughout her career so far.
What was your initial inspiration/motivation to become a school governor?
I had moved to central London to work after studying at the University of Bristol, and felt no connection to the local community in which I was living. I have always had an interest in education, and wanted to find a volunteering role that enabled me to use my skills to positively contribute on a long-term basis.
I originally applied to be a governor via Governors for Schools shortly after completing a graduate programme at a global investment bank. After a short wait, I was delighted when a vacancy arose at a school only a few minutes from where I was living.
Thinking back to when you first became a governor at age 24, how confident did you feel going into your role?
Not at all confident! I initially became a governor at a one-form entry primary school in Southwark, London. This school then federated with a second and, subsequently, third school, creating the Bridges Federation that exists today.
I remember feeling nervous attending my first governors meeting. I expected other governors to be older and more experienced than me, and therefore doubted whether I would have any valuable contributions to make. I needn’t have worried. I received a warm welcome and quickly realised that a governing body’s strength is in its diversity of thought.
I was similarly apprehensive when asked to lead the Curriculum and Standards Committee and, subsequently, become Chair of the governing body (four years after becoming a governor). I didn’t feel confident in my abilities, particularly given the level of accountability and responsibility that comes with the Chair’s role. I took a leap of faith and had to rely on the Executive Headteacher’s and outgoing Chair’s trust in me!
I stepped down as Chair in June 2022 following the arrival of my second baby boy. It wasn’t long before I wanted to volunteer my skills again (more on that later!)
What were the key highlights in your time as a governor?
The Executive Headteacher of the Federation is inspirational in her passion, ambition, and dedication to raising standards and providing children with the very best start in life. I felt so privileged to work so closely alongside her as Chair of the governing body. I learned a lot from her and know she valued the support I provided, particularly during the coronavirus pandemic. Being a headteacher can be a lonely role at times, and I particularly enjoyed providing the ‘critical friendship’ required to deal with a range of complex situations.
We took on a second and then a third school into the Federation that had previously been rated as ‘Requires Improvement’ by Ofsted. After joining the Federation, these two schools both achieved ‘Good’ ratings at their next inspections – testament to our unrelenting focus on raising standards and improving outcomes for our children. There was a real sense of shared pride following the successful inspections. When being interviewed by the Ofsted inspectors, I was determined to ensure I represented the schools in the best possible light so as not to do a disservice to the incredible work undertaken by staff on a day-to-day basis.
Why do you think people should get involved in school governance in their 20s?
Being a governor helps you work strategically and think in big-picture terms. At the start of your career (and particularly when working in large organisations), it’s tricky finding routes to leadership roles that help develop the skills required for career progression. As a school governor, you work directly with a school’s leaders to a) ensure clarity of vision and strategic direction, b) hold its leaders to account, and c) oversee a school’s financial performance. School governance therefore provides you with the opportunity to play a significant part in the successful running of a school, and in doing so you develop skills that are directly transferable into the workplace.
Younger governors are in many cases more recent recipients of formal education and training – from attending university to completing an apprenticeship – and are therefore well-positioned to challenge convention and think creatively when approaching the governor role. I am passionate about bridging the gap between education and the world of work, and becoming a governor early in your career can help schools consider how their teaching equips children with the knowledge, skills, and experiences they need for life beyond the classroom.
Have the skills you developed in governance helped you in your professional career?
Definitely. Governance provides the opportunity to develop a wide range of skills, from teamwork and influencing to decision making and financial acumen.
I am a naturally inquisitive person and, as an introvert, prefer listening to talking. Being a governor developed my confidence in challenging the status quo and asking questions of school leaders who are the subject matter experts in the topic at hand.
Governors come from such a range of different personal and professional backgrounds and therefore each bring their own perspective – everyone’s contribution counts. This taught me to continually self-reflect on the culture of our governing body to ensure the voice of each governor was heard and respected. This practice is equally important in a professional context.
I am passionate about social mobility and this is a key focus in my professional role, primarily focusing upon the entry point into the workplace. Being a governor at schools in central London improved my understanding of the need to focus on social mobility and close the disadvantage gap at primary school level.
I have had unfailingly positive support from my employer in managing my school governance commitments alongside my professional role.
How did your governance role set you up for your current position as a trustee at the Children’s Workshop? Are the skills you developed in your eight years as a governor transferable?
It is common for governing bodies to assign link governor roles to individual governors to oversee a specific aspect of the work of the school, such as safeguarding, early years foundation stage (EYFS), and pupil and staff wellbeing. For many years, I was the EYFS link governor for the Federation, an area of particular interest to me as I believe our early childhood experiences shape the adults we become.
The Children’s Workshop is a preschool for children aged 2-5, so my link governor responsibilities have provided an excellent foundation of knowledge for my trustee role (for example, my knowledge of the early years statutory framework). Whilst I’m only 6 months into my role as a trustee and still learning, my initial observations are that the general principles of effective school governance apply to the successful functioning of a committee of trustees.
Is school governorship something you’ll come back to at a later point in your life?
Definitely – I’m enjoying the new challenge of being a trustee at a brilliant charity, but am sure I will take on another governor role at some point in the future.
I am currently undertaking a part time Masters in Educational Leadership alongside my professional role. This degree combines my professional, personal and voluntary experiences and interests, and the knowledge I gain from my studies will undoubtedly help in any future governance position I hold.
Any final thoughts?
Governance requires you to commit your time, energy and enthusiasm to a worthy cause. However, it gives you so much in return, from developing your skills to expanding your network.
Being a governor was such a rewarding experience that I can recommend wholeheartedly. It gave me the opportunity to develop myself and, most importantly, play a part in achieving the best possible outcomes for our young people.
Inspired by Katie’s story? Volunteer as a governor today!
As we can see from Katie’s story, governance is perfect for professionals looking to expand their skillset while giving back to their local communities. If you’re keen to volunteer, submit an application today! One of our friendly team members will be in touch.