Katie Carr: Department for Education and volunteer school governor

Katie Carr works as part of the ESFA team at the Department for Education and also volunteers as a co-opted governor at a London secondary school. We spoke to Katie about why she decided to become a school governor, the benefits of having knowledge of the education system and the skills she brings from her volunteering role back to her workplace.

“My name is Katie Carr and I work in Academies and Maintained Schools Directorate in the ESFA, leading the team that works with schools across the South West of England. I have been a co-opted governor at a large Church of England secondary school in Stepney, London for a couple of years now.

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

I had wanted to volunteer as a school governor for a while, but had never quite got round to it. One day I just decided to put my details onto the Inspiring Governance website, and I received a few initial contacts within days. I wanted to do something to support my local community, and I thought that with my knowledge of the school system, I could bring a different perspective to a governing body.

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

This is a tricky question to answer about oneself, but I think I bring a level of big picture understanding of the school system that others on the governing body do not have access to. This enables me to provide some unique support and challenge on all aspects of the governing body’s business. My specific role at DfE involves work on school governance and finance, which has helped me to know what sorts of questions to ask on the Finance and Premises Committee, and how to spot when things are not going well. I also think I bring my professionalism with me and have helped the school to improve the running of the meetings, the quality of the papers, and the focus of the discussions that take place.

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 think I’ve gained lots of skills from being a governor – it’s a really difficult balance to be able to provide adequate challenge without coming across as unhelpful or negative. Through practise I think I’ve been able to develop a much better grip on that balance, which I can also now use at work. It’s also definitely helped me to understand more about our ‘customers’ – ie how schools work day-to-day, how challenges play out in real life, and the sort of support and interventions that are helpful from DfE.

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

Definitely! It’s hugely rewarding as you can see the direct impact of your work on real children. It can be challenging and a bit scary, but working through that and coming to positive outcomes that benefit the children is absolutely worth it. Most of the time it’s not too time-consuming, so I can fit it around my full-time role quite easily, and it has really helped me to develop some key skills which I can use in my career as a civil servant.”

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

Read more about the role of school governor here