Sign Up to Step Up: a rewarding third governor role at my son’s school

Google Trends data shows that searches for volunteering reached a peak in the second week of January 2021. 250,000 fantastic school governors/academy trustees have already signed up to step up and help schools to set their vision, support and challenge headteachers to achieve the best educational outcomes for children, and ensure money in schools is well spent.

In the final part of the series, Dominic Judge, Director of Governance programmes at Education and Employers explores the rewards he has experienced by looking at what has kept him governing for the last 15 years, and why it could be the volunteer role you are looking for this new year.

My third governing role; keeping it close to home.…

After 8 years of governing within an academy trust, I felt it was important to move on. The school was stable, and I wanted to avoid becoming part of the furniture. The primary role of a governing board is one of strategic scrutiny so it’s important to retain a distanced critical eye. This is hard to do when you drift into the role of cheerleader; you can’t see for all the pompoms.

Luckily, this coincided with an opportunity to become a ‘parent governor’ at my son’s primary school.  The school is a feeder into the secondary academy where I started my first teaching role in 1996 – again I had a feeling of coming full circle to give something back to a family of schools I knew well. My experience of being on governing boards gave me a very clear understanding that I wasn’t there as a parental lobbyist, or indeed as an advocate for my own children, I was there for the school.

The school was judged outstanding by Ofsted well over a decade ago but, like many schools in this category that have gone uninspected for years, it felt like inevitably there had been some drift over that time. Luckily, we had a talented new head in his first role, a newly appointed deputy bringing ideas, a new competent school business manager, a diligent and open new chair of governors and an evolving governing board – we had a lot of ‘news’!

We had some olds too – mainly the challenges of buildings over a hundred years old, a split school site and a looming Ofsted. Our biggest challenge as a governing board and school executive (like everyone) has been keeping the show on the road in response to the Covid Pandemic.

Thanks to the immense resilience of the senior management team, fantastic staff, generally supportive parents and a strong governing board, the school has navigated the choppy seas of Covid well…so far. As governors we have definitely had to dial up the ‘support’ mode of our ‘support and challenge’ role and our Chair’s role in particular has been intensive at times, but as a governor who is also a parent you do really see  the impact of how your role as a strategic board helps the school to perform at its’ best for its students – whatever Covid might throw at it.

Schools need your help – sign up to step up…

What’s common about all three of my governing experiences is that for each governor role I’ve undertaken I’ve been able to offer something in every school context; learnt incredible lessons in every role; developed my professional skills on every board; met interesting and different people from all walks of life; and developed a humility, humanity and understanding about schools and our society that no work role alone has allowed me to do.

If there is one single reflection… it is that you cannot define the ‘feel good’ factor from being part of a collective group of people working to further the interest of the next generation. But you can….well… ‘feel’ it. It is the feeling of investing in your community, of being part of something and not living in isolation, about supporting those who come after you and helping equip them to tackle today’s (and tomorrow’s) challenges.

If you govern you know this feeling. If you don’t and have always thought you might want to be a school governor then I’d recommend without reservation that you do it. It’s not the type of ‘one off’ volunteering that is painting a fence or clearing some shrubs for a day, it is a sustained and strategic volunteering contribution to the future of the local community and its children.

Feeling inspired to explore volunteering as your new year challenge? If you want to step up then please sign up. Schools need you!

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