Dominic McGonigal is a trustee of Governors for Schools and a chair of governors at a school in London. He shares his experiences of volunteering both as a governor and as a trustee, the time commitments the roles demand, and why being part of a board is a great thing to do both personally and professionally.
I’ve been a chair of governors for many years and had non-exec pro bono roles for a number of years. It’s a part of my work that I enjoy enormously.
As a governor, you’re contributing something with a very valuable end result – there’s not much more you can do than to educate young people and give them a really great start to life. It helps that the work is also interesting – it’s a privilege having an impact and being able to improve the effectiveness of an organisation as a trustee or a governor.
The biggest challenge that comes with being Chair is to actually play the role effectively. It can be difficult because you’re not part of the executive, you’re not part of the team that’s actually teaching the children, and yet you have a very important role to play in encapsulating the vision for the school. Finding the best way of playing that role can be difficult – there’s always a balance of being a part of the school but not actually running it.
It’s a similar challenge being trustee. As part of the board, you’re not getting involved operationally yet trustees have an important role to play. Finding the best working relationship with other trustees and with the CEO leads to a productive relationship that supports the organisation in the best way.
I first joined the board as a governor as my children were at the school. Since then, I’ve taken on the role at a few more schools and have become chair. Non-exec roles should take around half a day to a day a month, but it has to be flexible. Sometimes it’ll be more than that – for example, as Chair, if you’re appointing a new headteacher, it’ll take more time. Then there are the crisis moments that require more time and energy.
Professionally, I’m a musician, composer, entrepreneur, and director. I’ve spent my career working in the creative industry which over the last 30 years has become digital. My field of work has given me a huge amount of experience in start-ups, SMEs and corporates, at both national and international level. I’ve also been lucky enough to cover business functions throughout my career. It’s valuable in a non-exec role as while I’m far from an expert in every area, I have some knowledge about how things should be done.
It is a steep learning curve when becoming a governor for the first time – there’s a lot to pick up about the role, the school, and the broader educational context. A good induction is vital and helps get people up to speed quickly, so they can then learn more about the school and understand the dynamics.
Volunteering as a governor has been a great part of both my professional and personal life. There lots of reasons for deciding to become a governor – from directly contributing to your local community to professional development. As a volunteer, you’ll benefit from your time in the role, and so will the school with your contribution.