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Why would you want to be a governor?

Posted on: 12/03/2020

As Chair of Governors at St Birinus School, Didcot, and Trustee of the Ridgeway Education Trust, which also includes Didcot Girls’ School and Sutton Courtenay Church of England Primary School, I am often asked ‘why would you be a governor?’ Our schools carry heavy responsibilities.   They must satisfy many stakeholders, above all their students but also parents and carers, government, employers and universities.  They are in the front line in safeguarding our young people and in dealing with some of society’s most challenging problems, including mental health, deprivation and radicalisation.  They have to work within tough financial constraints.  It’s a big job and difficult job.  As trustees we carry ultimate responsibility and accountability for delivery.  We don’t get paid.  So, why would you be a governor? 

Ridgeway Education Trust has an annual turnover of £15m and employs 350 staff.  We are a medium-sized business.  Trustees and governors bring skills and experience from different organisations, occupations and walks of life.  Many have experience of running medium-sized or very large businesses.   We help schools keep a tight grip on money, manage resources, projects and performance and navigate legal issues.  Through our own networks, we connect the schools to the world of work and introduce them to external speakers and additional sources of income and resources.

Our schools’ senior leaders need to be challenged.  Trustees and governors who are not deep in the day-to-day hurly-burly can see things with a more detached eye.  We are their ‘critical friends’, with the same emphasis on both adjective and noun of that phrase.

We help schools develop a vision and strategy and to stay focussed on what matters.  We ask questions which force them to think hard about what they are doing, why they are doing it and to explain it clearly to us, their other stakeholders and themselves.  In short, we hold them to account.

Since the start of this academic year, I’ve helped set objectives for our senior leaders, recruited senior staff, been grilled by OFSTED, dropped into lessons, spoken to students, teachers and support staff, reviewed the budget and financial forecasts, tracked progress against key building and IT projects, spoken to individual pupils with their parents about behaviour, attended art exhibitions and concerts and much more.  There’s never a dull moment.

Our schools are successful, they have high standards and expectations and strong values of courtesy, inclusiveness and hard work.  I get to see brilliant achievements, collective and individual, and not just among academic high-flyers, but also by our sports teams and elite sportsmen and women, musicians, actors, singers and dancers, budding engineering apprentices, public speakers, charity helpers and ambassadors.  There is serious purpose but also a lot of pride, laughter and fun.  Schools are among our most vital and energetic communities. 

So why would you not be a governor?  If you have skills and experience which schools could find helpful and, most of all, if you believe in our schools, their students and their teachers, volunteer your services.  You won’t regret it.

Stephen White

Chair of Governors, St Birinus School - Didcot

Trustee, Ridgeway Education Trust

 

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