Emma Ayton

Location: Newcastle upon Tyne

Occupation: People Business Partner, Sage

School: Stamfordham Primary School, Northumberland

Sharing HR expertise with schools is a true ‘knowledge exchange’

Headquartered in Newcastle upon Tyne, Sage Group PLC is the UK’s largest FTSE100 technology company. With over 13,000 colleagues in 23 countries, it aims to give businesses around the world the information, insight and tools they need to succeed, including payroll and HR, accounting, and payments solutions for small and medium-sized businesses.

Emma Ayton (MCIPD) is People Business Partner, supporting transformation, organisational alignment and effectiveness of the Marketing function across Sage globally, partnering the Marketing senior leadership team. Outside of work she has risen to the Sage challenge to support her local community by volunteering as a governor at Stamfordham Primary School, Northumberland. 

What sparked your interest in being a school governor?

Several drivers encouraged me to reach out to Governors for Schools. Firstly, Sage allows all colleagues to take five volunteer days a year as part of Sage Foundation, which helps build sustainable social, economic and entrepreneurial opportunities in local communities. Secondly, I have ambition to develop my career into a non-executive director / trustee role. Thirdly, I knew my skills in HR would be advantageous to a school and, given my role in the development of colleagues and attracting talent, it made perfect sense. After all, development starts in schools!

So 18 months ago Governors for Schools put me in touch with Stamfordham Primary School, Northumberland – which has just 79 pupils, 35 of whom live in local army barracks. My responsibilities are within the strategic direction committee, which includes buildings, budgets and curriculum, and has been very busy as the school is currently growing to take an additional year group.

I believe that employers definitely have an obligation to support the local community and to give something back.  Sage leads the way with this and takes a corporate philanthropy approach – we’ve won awards in the UK for the work that we do with apprentices and we’re also piloting, on behalf of government, after-school clubs which teach young people to code. Finally, my twins will be starting school next year and what better way to understand more about the journey they will embark on and how I can support them.

Please detail some of the projects in which you have been involved?

Over the past 15 months I have supported the school and the local authority with some in-depth HR support and guidance.

I’ve also helped to make some policy rationalisations, for example I helped the school put an emergency succession plan in place and rationalise and standardise their various policy documents. For historical reasons there were previously 80 different documents which is unmanageable from a business perspective.

I think this is a good example of what a professional perspective can bring to a school. While I am not the most experienced governor, nor an expert in education, I have good ideas and I can question and challenge, which I think is proving useful. I see things in black and white and have no prior emotional attachment.

What have you found to be most enjoyable/ rewarding about being a school governor?

For my part the role is very rewarding and I am learning a lot. I love working with our head teacher who is awesome and inspirational. I have learned a lot from her in terms of leadership and communications – it’s a knowledge exchange in the best possible sense.

I have never worked in the public sector, but feel that my new knowledge of how it works is very valuable. It’s also really helped my confidence.

My advice to a new governor will be to think about the school you choose to work with. Mine is rated as outstanding, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t still some really useful work to be done. We have to maintain standards and make things even better.

I feel my role is really important. There is no financial gain, but it’s rewarding in so many other ways. I feel massively appreciated. I truly believe that all governing bodies should include people with professional finance and HR experience – it makes such a difference.

The Head Teacher of Stamfordham Primary School, Claire McKinney, adds:

“Emma has been a brilliant addition to Stamfordham Primary School and has offered her expertise across a number of activities. Emma has helped to make significant policy rationalisations and has offered her invaluable HR knowledge to ensure the school is maximising its potential. I have great admiration for Emma’s resilience and energy. Her dedication to progression has enabled the school to consistently develop.”