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There is a problem in governance – too many people are leaving boards not long after they joined. While of course some people leave due to circumstances outside of their control, there are myriad other reasons why volunteers leave their governor position before their term is over.

Consistent churn can leave boards with skills gaps, which in turn can lead to less robust decision making. And while turnover is healthy, a completely new board with less collective experience, especially in working together, may not be well enough equipped to effectively support and challenge the school’s leadership team.

There are some things boards can do to help make sure new governors stay for their 4 year term – and if you’re considering becoming a governor, read on for the things you should know before you commit to the role.

Why do people leave before they finish their term of office?

  • The level of commitment doesn’t align with expectations

For some people, the level of commitment expected can be a bit of a shock. It shouldn’t be, as whether you apply through your local authority, through a matching service like Governors for Schools, or directly through the school, the expectations should be made clear. You should also do your research to find out exactly what’s expected.

As with all volunteer roles, there is a balance, and boards should be conscious of the fact that governors are volunteers and often the role is one of many things they’re juggling.

However, becoming a governor is a commitment and new volunteers must be aware of the expectations. In order to get the most out of the role, you should be willing to spend a few hours a month preparing for and attending meetings. Our volunteers spend an average of 6.7 hours a month on governor duties, which can vary throughout the school year depending on when meetings are held and whether there are any specific activities coming up, such as recruiting a new headteacher, or preparing for an Ofsted inspection.

  • New governors can find it difficult to get up to speed in a new sector

Without previous experience in education, joining a governing board can be a steep learning curve. The majority of our volunteers don’t have a background in education, so this can be a common problem. There are lots of acronyms to come to terms with and it can feel like everyone else is 10 steps ahead. But outside perspective is often what the board needs, so don’t let concerns about not having experience in education put you off.

All governors placed with us receive 12 months’ free access to The Key for School Governors, an online resource and knowledge bank.

How can effective onboarding help?

A good induction can be the thing that helps a new governor stay in the role. So how can boards go about ensuring an effective onboarding process is always carried out, and for new governors, what does good onboarding look like?  

  • Building relationships is key

Like everyone when they start a new job, new governors need someone they can go to for advice and to help them settle into the role. A ‘buddy’ can also give new governors confidence in asking questions, and can assure them that they’re focusing on the things they need to.

  • Know where a new governor will bring skills and make it easy for them to make a difference in that area

If a governor has particular experience in an area, make sure they’re able to input effectively from the beginning. Not only will the board benefit from their expertise, but by feeling that they’re contributing effectively, new governors will feel more confident in their abilities and input where they’re needed.

  • Don’t let them get bogged down with admin

Make the admin easy for new governors – they’re already got a lot to learn! Simple things like making sure governors have the dates of meetings well in advance can help people feel in control and plan their time to prepare well. The amount of reading necessary can be overwhelming at first, so send out the reading as soon possible and cherry pick the most important documents to read. This way, new governors know what to work through first.

New governors have plenty to offer, so get an effective governor induction process in place to ensure your board makes the most of the skills they bring.

Learn more at the Governors for Schools Conference 2021

Interested in learning more? Sign up to our session at the Governors for Schools Conference 2021 about creating a positive induction and how it can lead to more engaged and effective governors.

This interactive session will explore the experience of new governors when joining a board. How do you introduce them to your board, provide support and get them up to speed? We’ll ask you to think about your school’s on-boarding activity, and we’ll discuss best practice with The Key for School Governors. You’ll leave the session with your own plan to take back to your board.

All attendees will also receive free access to The Key’s induction checklist and a free trial of The Key for School Governors.

Sign up for the free session on Monday 20th September at 12pm.