Recruiter Reflections: four tips that could help recruit school governors in areas where it can be a challenge

Richard Ellam is the Head of School and Trust Support at Inspiring Governance. Previously a trustee at two academy trusts, he is now Chair of Governors at Rockwood Academy in Birmingham.

Richard has worked with hundreds of schools and trusts across England. Many have been in areas that have traditionally found recruitment of governors a challenge, such as rural or coastal areas, Richard has put together four tips from his experience that could help with your own approach to governor recruitment.

Make school governance recruitment an ongoing priority

To any governing board that has historically found it difficult to recruit school governors, the first tip is to make school governance recruitment a priority – this may sound obvious but with many plates to spin, recruitment can often fall by the wayside. We advise not to leave recruitment until the last minute or until you have too few governors – it really helps to be proactive and keep the replenishing of the governing board front of mind, perhaps by promoting the work of the board at every opportunity, especially at school events such as parents’ evenings.

Over the last 12 months we have worked with a large Academy Trust that historically found governance recruitment a challenge, as many of its northern schools are situated in urban areas of disadvantage. However, since they put together a pro-active recruitment strategy and appointed a new regional governance officer who is trained up to use the Inspiring Governance system, they have had their best year of local committee member recruitment by far.

Use a wide variety of networks and channels and don’t be afraid to think outside of the box

Drum up interest by putting your school or trust front of mind within your local community. We work with schools and trusts that engage with local community groups such as places of worship, community centres or small charities and this can also be a great way to recruit from under-represented groups. A primary school in the Midlands recently brokered a relationship with the faculty of education at their local university and now have a fantastic vice chair who is a senior lecturer in Early Years. It’s a win-win situation – the school benefits from an experienced educationalist joining their board, the faculty forms a new strong local partnership and the member of staff develops strategic leadership skills at the same time as keeping abreast of Key Stage 1 delivery at the coal face.

Results can also come from nurturing relationships with your PTA, professional networks and your Alumni. We know of a secondary school in the South West of England that recently recruited two very skilled school governors from its network of ex-students – all they did was send out a letter highlighting their need and the benefit from the role.

If you have difficulty recruiting parent governors, speak to your teachers, especially pastoral staff. Ask them to identify engaged parents from a range of diverse backgrounds. You may need to have an election but there is nothing stopping you from inviting individuals to put themselves forward.

Parents are stakeholders in your school and can provide a potential recruitment source through their own networks – ask them to help promote your governor vacancies. We’ve worked with schools that discuss staff volunteering on neighbouring school boards – there are huge CPD benefits to educators volunteering as school governors which you can read about here.

Local press can also be a powerful channel to push board recruitment – a recent example, The Diocese of Norwich worked with their local newspaper to promote board vacancies which attracted a lot of interest, across two counties!

Employ good practice when approaching local employers, networks, organisations and groups

It can feel like a mountain to climb when considering approaching an organisation to highlight recruitment opportunities on your governing board. We have found that identifying  who the best person to speak to is, in advance, to maximise your chances of success: for example, in a big local business it might be someone’s responsibility for community engagement. In a university, there will probably be a widening participation team that specialises in events or programmes aimed at schools.

Don’t be afraid to sell the role and the need in your school as an opportunity. Focus on the huge personal development benefits it brings alongside the personal satisfaction of giving something back. You can use content from Inspiring Governance here.

We’ve also found that it helps to respond quickly to any interest, and follow up if you have not heard back for a while. It can take several attempts to make that initial contact as we’ve found over the years, but persistence tends to pay off!

Use all of the national governance recruitment services out there and build relationships with them

We focus on helping schools and trusts with governor recruitment which you can read more about here. Academy Ambassadors offer a free, bespoke service matching business people and professionals with academy trusts looking to strengthen their boards. Some of these services are beginning to explore the idea of placing remote governors in schools – people who live in different geographical areas and who will attend most meetings remotely.

If you are an Inspiring Governance user, log in every few weeks because new volunteers sign up all of the time. You can also attend one of our lunch and learn masterclasses to hear tips and strategies on recruiting better through our online platform – contact Helen Knowles from the Schools and Trust Support Team to find out when we are running our next session.

A top tip for Inspiring Governance users: consider expanding your search area because some volunteers are willing to travel further to govern. I personally travel a round trip of 120 miles to chair a school governing board, very willingly!

Finally, when volunteers express and interest in joining you, sell the opportunity, build a rapport, respond quickly and don’t be afraid to chase up if they go quiet. Polite persistence has shown to get the best results.

Do you have any other tips that you have found help with your governor board recruitment? We’d love to hear them and share with the community – tweet us here.