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School Governorship: is it worth it?

Hi all

I have recently seen a few adverts for the opportunity to be a governor of a number of local schools. They often want someone with HR experience. 

I know that this would be tough - they say it would be around a day a month but I am sure it would be much more. However, I would like a place on our Company's board and felt that this would potentially give me a (safer) stomping ground and an opportunity to work strategically, whilst offering my skills which I'm sure would be rewarding.

Does anyone have any insight into this?

  • David

    | 20697 Posts

    Chartered Member

    13 May, 2017 09:12

    Hi Laura

    Other colleagues I'm sure will have deeper and more current experience, but based on some past experience on governing body of a small local primary school, I wouldn't bank on getting a great deal of strategic general management experience from it. That said, it probably depends on the particular school and on the realpolitik of the head teacher / governing body relationship. HR expertise I think is now much-needed on school governing bodies though, as many head teachers I think struggle in this regard and increasingly no longer have external support mechanisms such as local government HR departments to rely upon ( not that it was ever necessarily too good a thing to treat school teachers exactly like local government officials ).

    There probably would be extensive generic central governor support and training available to you as a new governor, which may well be of help to you re the company Board aspirations.

    So, it may be either rubber stamping or strategic direction-setting and navigation as a school governor or probably a bit of both, but whatever, think it's unlikely not to add in some ways to your career development and has the potential to do so considerably. And in any event is likely to be an asset to the effective governance of our schools.
  • No real insight, but just to say I'm very glad you asked this question! I've been increasing my involvement with our local high school in my role as the lead on our apprenticeship scheme, and it has been suggested that I might like to become a governor. I've been thinking it over and to be honest I'm no closer to deciding one way or the other, so I'll be reading the replies to this thread with interest
  • Keith

    | 10473 Posts

    Chartered Fellow

    15 May, 2017 09:01

    I have spent the last seven years as a Governor / Director / Trustee and can say that its one of the most frustrating and also worthwhile things I have done. Frustrating because increasingly the power in local schools/academies is centralised in the Principal who generally knows best (or thinks they do) and many have a very limited view of the support/help and guidance that a well run and involved Governing body can add.

    Deeply rewarding because every so often you made a difference and you know that difference may affect hundreds or even thousands of students futures. There are many set backs but enough small wins to make it worthwhile.

    The model is very different from that of Non Execs although shouldn't be) and it took a good 3 years hard work to get the meetings into a sensible order and focusing on the key things (big picture rather than toilets) and even then nothing like a well run Board.

    If I were you I would only look at secondary's.

    I would say go into it with your eyes open. Interview the Head / Principal closely and the Chair of the Governors as to how they operate and what they are looking for and be willing to dedicate a couple of days a month in term time to it.
  • Geraldine

    | 1 Posts

    Chartered Fellow

    16 May, 2017 18:08

    Hi Laura

    I have been a governor for 2 years now at the secondary my children went to. I signed up as I wanted to give something back and also experience a totally new environment.

    I fully agree with Keith's response. If I'm honest I don't feel I do the role justice as I'm always so busy and sometimes my HR help is needed during school hours albeit many of the meetings are after or before school, but if you can commit to approximately 2 days a month, I am sure you will certainly learn from it as well as find some rewards in the midst of frustration that Keith refers too.

    Schools are having a hard time at the moment and I've been involved in management of change projects on a couple of occasions. The initial governor training is generic and there's a lot of regular reading and additional training opportunities .

    I'm lucky that the school is well run albeit it struggles with the cost of maintaining an old school, increasing costs and decreasing funding. Just like many businesses, so plenty of cross over!

    All the best, whatever you decide.
  • From my experience, Laura, I would try and find out who is driving the need for HR expertise. Is it the Governors wanting to improve the HR practice of the Head? Or a Head genuinely interested in improving HR practice? If the latter it could be personally rewarding, and for me such a role would have been a chance to develop my time management skills - one day a month and no more!

    If the Head is not the driving force it could be a nightmare. In my experience school HR is well behind on the curve of modern HR law, custom and practice. Although you could do a lot of good there it might be very challenging. You might prefer other challenges!
  • Yes and No! Much has already been covered by others. I spent 7 years as a school governor of a local state Primary School - the last 5 as Chair - and have seen many changes. The current climate requires schools to be run as a business and therefore business skills are much sought after by any school. Most are lacking in real strategic skills and these are vital now. I disagree that you need a secondary school; it'll more depend on how the Board is run as to how much frustration you encounter (but frustration will be inevitable, even if mainly due to central government initiatives!) and many schools are part of Academy Trusts which have been grounded in a business model. I would say only take this route if you have a genuine interest in improving education as that is your primary function as a governor, if not it will be very hard work. You may find an independent school has a more business-like Trustee Board. I found it very enjoyable (mostly), challenging (nearly always) and of great benefit to my CV - ultimately it was my time as a governor that led me into the world of HR. As with most voluntary roles; it will consume as much time and energy as you are able to give it...
  • Steve Bridger

    | 7358 Posts

    Community Manager

    18 May, 2017 11:31

    Great to get so many views from people who have 'been there'.

    (I'm also a past member of this club).
  • Hi Laura
    I am a School Business Manager in a secondary school. Unless the school in question is an academy who has moved away from the current teacher/support staff pay and conditions, HR practice in schools is often determined by the statutory provisions in place. I question your thought that a school is a safer stomping ground than industry....just different, I would say. We are open to the same risk of tribunals and litigation as a company, in fact more so in a way due to the protections in place that i've referred to above. Also, you would probably find that initially, HR issues are dealt with by the Business Manager and Headteacher, and Governors only involved if the process escalates (then of course, the responsibility is significant). I would suggest though that from a strategic and policy point of view, your input would be very valuable. I also think you might be surprised at the fast pace of schools nowadays and the variety of issues that we deal with, across the board not just in relation to HR. I have worked in schools for 9 years after 15 years in industry, and it has been a real eye opener - and so rewarding. I have been a School Governor too, but some years ago; this role has definitely moved on and is under far more scrutiny than it used to be. Good luck! and best wishes.

    All views my own.
  • Steve Bridger

    | 7358 Posts

    Community Manager

    18 May, 2017 12:04

    In reply to Katherine Scott:

    Special thanks to those of you new to this Community... or posting for the first time. It is much appreciated.
  • I've done it before and I would never do it again. In my experience many of the decisions were made between the Head and the Chair prior to the meetings and woe betide you challenged the Head! There is a lot of red tape and I never felt I was making a difference.
  • Annabel

    | 410 Posts

    Chartered Member

    19 May, 2017 14:33

    In reply to Ann Ashcroft:

    Interesting that the majority of this discussion has been along the lines of "what can I get out of this"? "what does it mean to me / my career"? You never know, try and you might make a valuable contribution to a school, which should be reward enough. (And yes, I can comment on this, as I've recently become a school governor)
  • In reply to Annabel:

    My comment wasn't? Mine was around how I felt I couldn't make a difference. At the time I was mainly a full time mum so it had no impact on my career or future career as that wasn't my focus.

  • In reply to Annabel:

    Hi Annabel. Thanks for your feedback. I suppose we're all driven by different things at the end of the day, whether that's personal development, making a difference or a combination of the two and I think that's okay as long as the person is fulfilling the requirements of the role.
  • Jacqueline

    | 1982 Posts

    Chartered Member

    23 May, 2017 14:51

    In reply to Ann Ashcroft:

    I'm really sorry to hear you've had that experience, Ann. I know it can be like that in some schools but equally, it can be a very different and valuable experience. I'm a school governor for my local primary school and I was co-opted specifically for my HR experience. Although we have local authority HR support, to which I am quick to defer if something is outside my ability to advise on, or has the potential to get difficult, the Head really appreciates my input - for example I recently was able to advise on the impact of the Apprenticeship Levy and explain the situation about childcare vouchers during a period of nil pay when these discussion arose during our Resource Management Committee meeting, which meant that we could deal with the issues immediately rather than waiting for further advice. I've also chaired a rather difficult pay appeal hearing which centred around performance issues - great experience for me and it meant that the problem was dealt with thoroughly - as acknowledged by the union rep. ;-)

    I really feel like I've had a positive impact on the school - the governors are very focused on being strategic and our recent Ofsted report referred to us as a'shrewd and formidable body' which is exactly what we were aiming for! ;-) I would heartily recommend becoming a governor, but visit the school and speak to the head and the chair of governors first to see if it feels like the sort of place you could really add value.
  • Louise

    | 1 Posts

    Associate

    24 May, 2017 10:43

    I am currently a Parent Governor at a Secondary school. My main involvement is attending the quarterly Governor's meetings with any HR support limited to specific projects, mainly around absence management.

    My reason for getting involved was to be more informed on the whole education system and practice - from both a parental and employer perspective (the students are our future talent pool).

    My experience is generally positive and this is a well performing school. I would agree with a previous reply that it is quite clear that the Chair and the Head have discussed and decided outcomes on many topics prior to the meeting. This means the meeting is typically a formality however there is the opportunity to challenge any area and this is welcomed.

    I wouldn't imagine you would get much opportunity to work strategically if that really is the main objective for you.
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