Nicolas Dowler retired from full time employment in late 2018 after a career in leveraged finance and became a school governor at Cirencester Primary School in Gloucestershire in 2019. He is now Chair of Governors and was recently elected into a second term of office at the school.
What drew you to a school governance role initially?
I attended a volunteering event at Richmond CVS as I was looking for volunteering roles. Governors for Schools had a stand there and I spoke with their representatives about the role and decided to apply. I hadn’t really considered becoming a school governor before this encounter, as my expertise were in banking and finance and my previous volunteering experiences were linked to this experience. The school governance role attracted me because I was required to broaden my knowledge and skills.
School governance takes me out of my comfort zone and is a fantastic thing with which to be involved. I can perform treasurer type roles without too much difficulty but governance gives me something on which to focus. I enjoy researching and watching webinars about the education landscape – a world with which I was previously unfamiliar. The Chair of Governors when I joined the school specifically avoided putting me on the finance committee so I could learn about other areas of the school.
How was your first term of office at the school?
We had a mini-Ofsted visit within the first two weeks of my joining the board and this highlighted several areas that required some improvement. However, it gave the senior leadership team some actions to take on board and specific goals to work towards. The school knew they were due a full inspection in the next two or three years so there was time to work on these areas. The school was fortunate in that they had a governor who was an ex-Ofsted inspector and former headteacher and was excellent at steering and educating the board.
The pandemic started shortly after this inspection and changed certain aspects of my role. I joined a three-person committee which met online with the headteacher every other week to help them handle the situation. As well as providing online learning for the majority of its pupils, the school had to teach around 100 pupils in-person every day.
The school received its full Ofsted inspection in the spring of 2022, and I was much more involved with the process compared to the mini-inspection. At that point, I was the Safeguarding Governor. The school maintained its ‘Good’ rating, which was a very pleasing result and testament to the hard work put in by the school and governing board.
When did you become Chair of Governors? How have the first few months of this new role been?
I became Chair of Governors in September 2022. I have always been a vocal member of the board, prepared appropriately, and am always asking questions and highlighting areas of weakness in thinking or performance so the school was very happy with my candidacy. Having had the recent Ofsted inspection it felt like a good time to become the Chair as the school now has a clear focus on its strengths and we are continuing with our journey of improvement as a school and as a governing board. Following the Ofsted inspection, a number of board members moved on and I’ve filled their positions, so there is a sense of freshness to the work we are doing and we’re working with the SLT to nurture an effective and cohesive leadership team.
While the school is currently in a good position, there are a number of challenges we have to navigate. A key one is falling pupil roll. This has a number of knock-on effects, but most importantly it means the school has significantly less money coming in and no longer has two forms across all of the year groups. This presents the SLT and governors with a number of challenges. As governors, we have to ensure we’re supporting the school to do all it can with these operational challenges.
As Chair, I view a key part of my role as helping to develop the new governors into board experience utilising the experience I have developed. I enjoy working alongside them and ensuring they are utilising resources such as induction courses. I am also a big fan of Governors for Schools’ webinars, attending them regularly and sharing them with my board. To have gone from someone who hadn’t really considered governance to having some responsibility in helping others develop in their roles is highly rewarding.
What would you say to someone else considering getting involved in school governance towards the end of their career/early in their retirement?
Go for it! If you don’t want to sit around doing nothing all day and remain intellectually stimulated then governance is an excellent role to take on. It is very rewarding, but is relatively hard work – not all governors are able to give the same level of commitment to the cause, but retirement certainly allows you the chance to do this effectively.
Give it thorough consideration – it is challenging if you haven’t been involved in school governance before, as there is a lot to learn. Give it a whirl, give it a go – do your research and enjoy yourself. I can promise you that you will find it a very rewarding experience.
Fancy trying your hand at governance?
If you’re looking to follow in Nicolas’s footsteps and take on the challenge of a new governance role, we’re ready to hear from you. Apply today – our friendly team will respond quickly and guide you through the matching process.