Matt Long is the Charity Development and Projects Manager at Governors for Schools, and also a chair of governors at a multi-academy trust (MAT) primary school in London. He shares his experience of becoming a governor, stepping up to become chair of governors, and how a good induction can make a big difference.

When I first joined the board, it was made up of a real mix of people from different professional backgrounds, including some who were retired. I really enjoyed the mix of personalities and perspectives and was made to feel very welcome.

Since becoming Chair, I’ve enjoyed interacting with the headteacher and feeling like I’m supporting them and contributing to the school. My relationship with the headteacher has changed since becoming chair and I’ve found the role fun and rewarding. As I’m a governor at a MAT, we’ve had some MAT-wide training sessions in person and I’ve really got a sense there that I’m part of a wider mission.

There’s definitely a steep learning curve that comes with being a governor. The language can be hard to get to grips with and for someone without a background in the English education system (I grew up in Zimbabwe) it can be a lot to get to grips with.

Covid has been a challenge in some ways, but I’ve found virtual meetings more helpful than not. It’s made getting to meetings easier, and has given me more time as I’ve not had to travel.

Getting involved properly with everything the board is there to do can be a challenge too, but it depends on how the chair approaches it. A good chair will match your interests and experience with areas you can make a tangible difference. That way, you can give what you can to get what you want out of the role.

Being a governor at a MAT is less time consuming than at a maintained school, I would say. When I was a ‘regular’ governor and not chair, I was spending a few hours a month on the role, depending on when meetings were held and what working arrangements I had at the time.

Since becoming chair, my workload has increased. There’s lots of training you can and should do which in itself equates to a few hours a month. Remote working does free up time and it’ll mean that I can go into school and make the most of that time to do learning walks rather than travelling just for meetings. Remote meetings have worked well for our board and we’ll keep some meetings that way. It’s also made some staff more accessible.

I was lucky to get a great induction into the role and was recruited by Governors for Schools, so I felt well supported. Having an experienced chair made a big difference as they were very involved and helped get me up to speed. I did also accept that it would take some time to get acclimated and I believe having that expectation is helpful. It didn’t stop me putting in some work to accelerate the process, but I didn’t put too much pressure on myself to know everything. It takes time, and you pick lots up the more meetings you attend.

It’s felt like a step up since becoming chair as I do have that extra level of responsibility. I was confident I had the soft skills needed to do the job well, but I had some significant knowledge gaps so have been attending a lot of training to help.

Overall, I’d recommend becoming a governor. I’m a huge believer in education as a driver of individual development and success and think strong governance leads to stronger schools, helping make sure schools deliver for all pupils. It’s rewarding and worthwhile to get involved in and is also entirely manageable to fit in around your regular job.