When people hear I’m a governor, they usually respond with surprise. In fact, I had one lady so unconvinced at a recent governors’ conference that she thought I’d better double-check: “Are you sure you’re a governor? You look far too young!”
When I started at The Key, I was encouraged to get involved in the world of governance, and found that plenty of my colleagues had already taken the plunge. So, this time last year I joined the largest volunteer force in the country by becoming a governor at a community primary school in Hertfordshire.
In our most recent governors’ meeting we talked, among other things, about the school’s performance, succession planning, and our vision for the school. I drove home afterwards thinking about how far I’d come since joining, and it left me wondering: what lessons have I learnt during the year? Here are the top three:
My concern as a new governor was that, while I was keen to get stuck in, I didn’t really know the school. I hadn’t met the pupils or staff, and I didn’t live in the community. I quickly realised, though, that I wasn’t alone, and that my contribution would lie in my knowledge of school management and the education sector as a whole.
The second thing that stands out is the moment I became comfortable with challenging not only school staff but other governors too. I knew from the outset that this was part of every governor’s role, but it’s not easy to walk into a new environment and question each item that causes confusion, even when you work in education. However, after a handful of meetings, lots of looking at data, and a couple of visits to the school, I found my feet. I no longer have qualms about contributing to productive debate.
My biggest lesson, though, was one I’m sure many governors will share: I had no idea how much work I was in for.
The time commitment of governance is huge: there’s plenty of reading to do, plus school visits and other duties outside meetings. This particularly affects those who balance the role with work and family commitments. It’s easy to feel it’s too much, and I know of many governors who’ve underestimated the workload and reluctantly had to leave when they’ve barely begun.
I’m proud of my role, and I’m happy to make a commitment to my school. However, with governing bodies being encouraged to professionalise and recruit volunteers from other sectors, the question I want to ask is: when will we get more support?
Luckily for me, my fellow governors are helpful and committed, I have access to plenty of local authority training, and my work colleagues are always there to help with any niggling worries and doubts. Without these, who knows how long I’d have lasted?