Recruiting good quality volunteers to become school governors is a challenge facing almost all schools and academies.
The East Midlands Academy Trust, which has seven academies across Northamptonshire and Milton Keynes, was one of those experiencing low numbers of volunteers on its local advisory boards, an issue that the trust sought to address.
To help the local advisory boards to fulfil their duties – looking at standards and performance, including safeguarding, pupil premium and community engagement – Carole Kirby, Head of Governance at East Midlands Academy Trust, sought to recruit potential volunteers with ‘a passion for education and the community, and analytical data skills and diplomacy’ with the ability to ‘be challenging and professionally curious’.
“We needed to find people that understood and accepted the scope of the role,” Carole adds. “Professional skills are transferable, but soft skills are as important to us as knowledge – we kept our options pretty open because you can teach and train someone about governance.”
Using Inspiring Governance is the first step in East Midlands Academy Trust’s campaign to recruit governors for its academies, which also includes advertising and direct marketing, led by Joni Ager, the trust’s PR and Communications Manager. The trust timed their campaign to take place throughout July when prospective volunteers would have the most time to consider the opportunity and make contact with the trust.
“It was much easier than expected to use Inspiring Governance,” Carole adds. “Seeing volunteers dotted across the community is an important reminder that the skills and experience that they gain as a governor will be given back again through their local employment.”
Carole contacted volunteers through Inspiring Governance, and had a phone conversation with those who showed interest. Volunteers were given a choice of schools that they might like to join based on where their skills were best suited before meeting the principal and chair.
Carole explains: “It is a two-way process – the principal and chair need to see if the volunteer is a good fit and the volunteer needs to decide if it is the right school for them. After the visit, we let the volunteer sleep on it and phone them back the next day. In the case of one of the volunteers, they were looking at multiple governor vacancies and chose to come back to us. Of those volunteers we in invited through Inspiring Governance, one didn’t respond to us, and one we decided wasn’t right for the role. But of all the others we contacted through Inspiring Governance we chose to appoint them all and none of them turned us down.”
Describing some of the volunteers recruited through Inspiring Governance so far, Carole says: “One works for a transport organisation and is incredible – they ask just the right questions. Another has a background in performing arts and so is very passionate about arts in the curriculum. We also appointed one young person initially for a year but they have proved that they will contribute and that they have really good potential so we are very happy with them.”
Carole’s advice for others using Inspiring Governance is to contact lots of volunteers, and to widen the radius of the search from the default. “We went further out, as far as 20 miles, and though it seems a lot, it’s not actually a great distance and volunteers still view it as being local to them.”
She also emphasises the importance of engaging positively with volunteers. “It can take some time to get through the process, so maintain contact with prospective governors, be welcoming, reassure them and be responsive to them.”
Of the NGA support service provided to matched volunteers, Carole says: “We think it’s absolutely fantastic, and we encourage our new appointments to take it up and make the most of it. It’s good to reassure our volunteers who ask that there is support there for them.”