West Green Primary School are improving inclusion and tackling inequality with Inspiring Governance

When Penny Rabiger became chair of the governing board of West Green Primary School in January 2018, one of the first tasks was to recruit governors to replace the departed chair – a community governor – as well as to encourage another parent to stand for election.

A strong team consisting of a parent and people from the community were already in place, and after conducting a skills audit, Penny identified gaps in two areas – data and equalities. “I actually found someone in my professional Twitter circle who has lots of experience and passion for data so I contacted them directly to find out more and they agreed to join our governing board,” says Penny. This left a need to find someone with experience of championing equalities and effective community engagement, which Penny says is “important because we want the board include people who represent a diverse range of thought and action. They need to not only reflect our diverse community in terms of background, but we also have a commitment to ensuring we understand the issues and constantly challenge ourselves on this.”

Using Inspiring Governance to access a pool of people keen to volunteer as school governors, Penny sent out an invitation to local volunteers whose profiles reflected the skills and experience that Penny was looking for. Penny describes the response as “amazing”. “Fifteen people responded to my invitation. They had a real variety of backgrounds and experience and each of them had skills that matched our need as a governing board.”

Penny then narrowed down the responses to five people that she was interested in speaking to further and conducted a phone interview with them. “For me this is a really important part of the process” says Penny, “getting volunteers is not just about filling seats and I don’t think governing boards should be overly grateful to have the interest of anyone who wants to volunteer. Before appointing volunteers, governing boards need to understand people’s motivation and what they can offer. While it is a big ask and is a voluntary position, there are direct benefits professionally and in terms of social capital for people that do sit on governing boards, so I feel taking the process seriously as you would any recruitment process, is important”. When interviewing, Penny wanted to know more about people’s skills but also wanted to uncover their passion and long-term commitment to getting involved.

From the phone interviews, Penny narrowed it down to two candidates that had the specific skills and drive the board was looking for. “Neither had been governors before, but that was okay because we need a mix of people and we already have a number of governors with direct professional education experience on our board,” Penny says.

Of the two shortlisted, the governing board decided to appoint the candidate who is a director of a charity that aims to address economic and social inequality. Penny says, “this is someone who really understands inequalities and inclusion; someone who knows what it means to think with that hat of diversity on and can champion it on our governing board. It’s important to be actively committed to inclusion to make change happen.”

At the same time, the governing board needed to fill its Local Authority (LA) governor role, and so having found someone with the specific skills they needed, Penny asked the LA to approve their appointment, which it duly did. Summing up the experience of using Inspiring Governance, Penny says “it’s a good service and really easy to use: I’ve been recommending it to fellow governors who need to find volunteers.”