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Factsheet
Becoming a primary school governor

Introduction

Have you ever thought of becoming a school governor? Well, if you have then read on. If not, why not? It's a great way of using your business and work-related skills in a broader way, and truly giving something back to your local community.

The benefits of volunteering for the individual are well-documented — not only do you get to gain new skills and experience but your involvement could make a huge difference to that school and the future of young people in your local community.

A business that encourages its employees to volunteer also gains. Studies show that employers who enable their employees to carry out volunteering duties see more motivated employees and also tend to gain from being seen as a progressive employer within their local community. Such things can be vital in attracting the best people to join, and stay, with your company.

Could you be a Governor?

OK, so you've pondered on becoming a school governor (or a trustee¹) but maybe you thought you were not qualified because you don't have children at all or don't have children at a local school. This does not mean that you cannot become a school governor. The only specific requirement to become a school governor is that you are over 18 years of age.

There are different types of governors — a "parent governor" is elected by the parent body. It is worth noting that to become a "parent governor", you do not need to have a child at the particular school, only have a child of school age under 16. To be a "co-opted governor" you need to have the skills and experience that the governing board require.

With regard to skills, it's worth noting that business management, finance skills and leadership  have been found to be the most desired skills for school governors. Indeed, the Government set up the Inspiring Governance  scheme with the specific aim of

' increasing the number of volunteers, especially those with business-related skills and with diverse backgrounds, serving as governors and trustees in schools '

So, by taking your business and finance skills onto a school board, you are not just playing your part, you are filling a real need of your local community.

¹ You will often see 'governor' and 'trustee' used together in much of the literature. This is because for MATs (Multi Academy Trusts — Trusts that are responsible for the operation of more than one Academy), the role of school governor is termed a 'trustee' as the governing body is called a trust board. To keep this document easy to read, we have used 'governor' throughout but everything written here applies to the role of trustee too.

What does being a Governor entail?

It is important to recognise that the role of a governor is not a 'doing' role — you will not be involved in the day-to-day running of the school. You will, however, be involved at the strategic level in a 'thinking and questioning' role.

Let's start with the purpose of the Board itself as it relates to the school

  • Ensure clarity of vision, ethos and strategic direction
  • Holding executive leaders to account for the educational performance of the organisation and its pupils, and the performance management of staff
  • Overseeing the financial performance of the organisation and making sure its money is well spent

Your role as a governor is to contribute to discussions on these matters. Obviously, you will need to familiarise yourself with the school and gain an understanding of its strengths and weaknesses if you are to contribute fully. For much more detail, take a look at the National Governance Association (NGA)'s excellent Model Governor Role Description  . Of course, as you become more experienced as a governor, you will be able to volunteer to fulfil additional duties if you wish to extend your role in the school.

Let's move on to the nitty-gritty — the average time commitment is between 5 and 8 hours per month — although this will vary from school to school. But this time should be enough to attend the meetings, do the background reading and visit the school during school hours. Being a school governor is a voluntary role and you do not get paid for your time. Governors may receive out-of-pocket expenses incurred as a result of fulfilling their role — eg travel and childcare — but not loss of earnings.

Each school sets a term of office for its governors, usually 2-4 years although many governors serve multiple terms. Most governing boards hold their meetings in the evenings. As far as your normal employment goes, employees have a right to reasonable time off to work for their public duties (like being a school governor) — although this time may be unpaid.

How does being a Governor benefit me?

Well, if we're starting from a philosophical perspective, being a governor is a "good thing". You are giving up a little of your time to benefit the broader community that you live and work in. OK, you're not making your fortune doing this but you should feel that you are making a real and sustained contribution to society.

Let's just take a look at the range of skills that a governor will need:

  • Strategic leadership
  • Budget control
  • Data analysis
  • Staff recruitment
  • Building relationships and networks
  • Effective teamworking
  • Problem solving

If you are someone who is not currently in a leadership role at your company, being a school governor can be a great way of showing that you're ready to take more responsibility.

So, as well as being a place for you to use your existing skills to assist the running of the school, being a school governor is a golden opportunity for you to develop new skills and enhance existing ones in a different environment from your workplace. This will not only help improve your standing with your current employer but will also contribute to an enhanced CV for the future.

How does being a Governor benefit my employer?

It is true that some employers can be reluctant to support their staff in volunteering to be a governor. But this is often because of a misunderstanding about the role, believing that it will involve numerous daytime meetings, take up a lot of time and prove a distraction for the employee from their work. This is rarely the case.

Your employer will benefit from you further developing your skillset, becoming more experienced at strategic planning, financial management, influencing and teamwork. Research by the CIPD  (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development) showed the full potential of employee development that can be demonstrated through volunteering.

By enabling and supporting employees to volunteer as school governors, an employer is building a more motivated and loyal workforce. Research has shown that 76% of volunteers said it had a positive influence on how they feel about their employer, 87% believed that volunteering improved their understanding of issues affecting their community and a whopping 95% said that volunteering had a positive influence on them.

So, by supporting your employee to volunteer to be a school governor, you are contributing to a happier, more skilled and more motivated workforce. See Employee Volunteering  for more details on the benefits for business. Further, it is always good for an employer to be seen to be supporting their local community.

How to apply to be a Governor at a school in Cumbria

We have looked at the overall national picture. But there is plenty of help locally for people wanting to become a governor at a school in Cumbria. Cumbria County Council have many website pages that can be helpful — their Governor Support Team  pages are a good source of essential information.

If you want to apply then this page  is the most important as this is where you can effectively apply to become a school governor. Please note though that if you have a particular school in mind or have already made contact then you often will not need to go through this website.

There is assistance and training available from the County Council for school governors. You can see from this year's training programme  the sorts of training on offer — there is a one-day conference and two two-hour evening sessions to get you started. Thereafter, there are specialised training events for various aspects of being a governor.

For obvious reasons, if you do accept a role of becoming a school governor, you will need an Enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service  — don't worry as the school will normally arrange this.

Resources: Useful documents for people considering becoming a Governor

Inspiring Governance is the Government-backed scheme to connect skilled volunteers with schools

The National Governance Association is an independent charity that represents and supports governors and trustees

Modern Governor Role Description

Frequently Asked Questions about being a Governor

Cumbria County Council's pages on Governor Support

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