Challenge Accepted: Shirley
Posted on 25th October 2019
“I’d been thinking about becoming a school governor for a while. I hadn’t been a governor when my daughters were at school and had always regretted it – but as a single parent with a career, I didn’t have the time. Approaching retirement, I wanted to give something back and to do something outside of my immediate professional life. I knew that being a school governor would give me an extra string to my bow to help with non-executive experience.
It’s very early days for me in the role – it’s taken a little while to get to grips with the terminology and the way the academy operates. I’m a trustee at a special needs academy which has a challenging pupil list as almost all the children have behavioural problems. Attendance is a big issue and some of the children come from difficult backgrounds so I’ve learnt to understand the interaction between social services and the overlap between healthcare and education.
I wasn’t actually aware of the academy until applying for the role. I knew there was a strain on local authorities and was aware of how important governance is as a result. Now I’m part of the governance structure, I’m increasingly concerned that schools need whatever support they can get to run effectively in a challenging environment.
I now appreciate how difficult it is for academies that aren’t mainstream. The pupils at my academy aren’t high academic achievers so it’s good to see the Ofsted framework change to reflect the wider quality of education and its holistic benefits rather than focusing on academic achievements – education isn’t just about results.
I’m an employment lawyer so I can relate to HR issues. With my professional background I can drill down into the analytics and ask for clarity on what we’re doing and why.
Everyone needs to be governed – no one’s above the law. Schools benefit from a different perspective. There’s always a danger that any expert in their field can get too embroiled in their own bubble. But looking outside gives you the ability to learn from other sectors, so having governance that brings in additional skills and perspective is helpful. No one thinks they’re above being challenged that way. Headteachers and Chief Executives of Multi-Academy Trusts are the equivalent of Chief Executives in the corporate world and as with anyone in charge of an organisation, the board is there to challenge and make sure no one person can make decisions without considering the wider implications.
It’s a very fulfilling role and I’d encourage others to get involved. I went to one of the trust school’s celebration events in the summer and it was lovely – it brought me to tears. The teachers and children were so grateful that the governors were there to recognise their achievements and it was fabulous to celebrate their achievements. Seeing the good coming out of the school is rewarding and it’s a brilliant feeling to give something back to the community. In the grand scheme it’s a small thing to do but hopefully it can make a little bit of a difference.”