Julian Kennett: Department for Education and volunteer school governor

Julian Kennett works for the Department for Education, delivering new school buildings in England, and volunteers as chair of governors at Joseph Norton Academy in West Yorkshire. We spoke to Julian about his motivations for volunteering as a school governor, the experience and insight he brings to the governing board of a Special School, as well as the valuable skills he brings back into the workplace.

“My name is Julian Kennett and I am a Project Director in Free Schools Capital, managing the specialist teams that deliver new school buildings across the East Midlands and North of England. I joined the governing body at Joseph Norton Academy three years ago and was elected chair in September 2020. Joseph Norton is an all-through Special School in Scissett, West Yorkshire, which provides a broad academic and vocational curriculum for 60 pupils with social, emotional and mental health challenges. Our pupils come from across Kirklees and neighbouring Barnsley with a high proportion of looked after children and those in receipt of pupil premium.

What made you initially decide to volunteer as a school governor?

I had considered becoming a governor for some time and then I visited a Special School in Birmingham, which had a profound impact on me.  The way in which staff at the school had created a supportive environment that could meet the special needs of pupils and allow them to maximise their potential was genuinely inspiring.

What skills and insight have you brought to the governing board from being part of DfE?

I think the key element for me is being a critical friend. The school building projects that I manage need to deliver value for money and that means asking difficult and challenging questions of both internal and external stakeholders. The same skills are equally applicable to my role as a school governor.

What skills have you taken from volunteering as a school governor back into DfE? How has this helped you in your role and possibly how has it led to better policy and delivery understanding?

I have a much better understanding of the additional requirements that a special needs setting can place on the building itself. For example sensory rooms, combining the commercial kitchen with a teaching space or one of our nurture groups with additional ASC needs that is taught in virtual darkness. I have just taken on the lead role for Special and Alternative Provision in Free Schools Capital and this will enable me to use my experience as a school governor to improve the delivery of this type of provision in the future.

Would you recommend the role of school governor to others working in DfE or the Civil Service?

Yes, definitely. I find my role as a school governor very rewarding, and it feels good to be giving something back. I am very proud of the positive educational outcomes that Joseph Norton delivers for some of the most vulnerable children in our society.”

Interested in joining Julian to make a difference by volunteering as a school governor?

Read more about the role of school governor here