'Our children represent the future. What could be more important?’
Three school Governors - and UEA graduates - share their experiences.
Governors are there to have an overview of strategic decision-making in the school, and to hold the school leadership to account, acting as a critical friend
I graduated from The University of East Anglia (UEA) in 2017, having completed a BA degree in Geography and International Development. I have so many great memories of my time in Norwich and I really enjoyed the community feel to campus. Whilst at UEA, I worked on the outreach GEO-TEAM project supporting local school pupils to better understand social justice issues and global development. It was a really rewarding experience, and combined with my studies I left University with a desire to contribute towards society.
I work at Governors for Schools, as a Senior Partnerships Manager. We find and place volunteers on school and academy governing boards across England. I am responsible for our work in the South East, ensuring schools have access to a diverse range of skilled and committed volunteers who can help a school to run effectively. We collaborate with Universities like UEA to encourage employees and alumni to take up a governor role.
I became a governor myself at Cage Green Primary School in Tonbridge, Kent earlier this year. I attended school in the same town and grew up nearby, so it felt right to take up a governor role here. The school has a number of disadvantaged pupils, and a special needs provision that really drew me in. Being a member of the team at Governors for Schools, I have a good understanding of governance and I wanted to utilise this, but it is also an opportunity to develop my skillset, and work in a team to ensure the school is supported.
A big part of being a governor is asking challenging questions, and not being afraid to bring your perspective to the table. The vast majority of volunteers we place as governors have no prior experience in governance, but just a desire to help a school make effective decisions. I am still very much learning, and being able to interpret data is an area I am keen to develop as a governor. The other governors have been very supportive of this, and our performance data e-learning helped too.
I studied Chemistry at UEA between 1970-73. I come from Liverpool, and so living in Norwich was quite different from the diverse urban environment I had grown up in. I thoroughly enjoyed both being at UEA and getting to know Norwich and Norfolk. As an amateur musician, I made many musical friends in the city and in fact stayed for a further three years after my degree finished, using some of my chemistry skills working in the Norfolk and Norwich hospital pharmacy.
I have been in London ever since then. In 1978, I began a PGCE in Science teaching for the then Inner London Education Authority. In 1979, I started my first teaching job in Battersea, and continued teaching in mainstream London secondary comprehensives until 2000, when I took a post teaching in a special school for pupils with physical disabilities and medical needs. Through this role, I ended up leading a team of advisory teachers for physical disability across Kent, which was incredibly rewarding and endlessly interesting. I finally retired at Easter 2018 – where did those 40 years go?!
My experience in teaching, and in learning about disability, equality and inclusion motivated me to maintain a connection with education and, more specifically, with the area of special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). Becoming a governor was a way of achieving this, and in December 2019 I was offered a place on the governing body of a local primary school. I soon took on the SEND responsibility and began to work with the SENDCo in the school. It was great to be able to share my experience and knowledge with colleagues and also to learn from them, and still have some contact with pupils (for example, I gave an assembly on physical disability).
Being a governor means I am constantly learning and meeting people. Governors are there to have an overview of strategic decision-making in the school, and to hold the school leadership to account, acting as a critical friend. I am also up to date with developments in education, which is important to me as I also contribute to All Party Parliamentary Groups for Education, the Teaching Profession, and the one for Disability.
It is vital that people from across all groups in society are proportionately represented not only in staff rooms and leadership teams, but also on governing bodies so that equality and inclusive practices become normalised. I can thoroughly recommend being a governor and would encourage everyone to consider applying for one of these very fulfilling posts and making a positive input into education. After all, our children represent the future. What could be more important than that?
I studied MA International Relations and European Studies at UEA around 15 years ago. I have worked with The Home Office and the British Embassy in Beijing. My current role is with a bank, with exposure to clients, legislation and the orderly conduct of markets – including the use of data analysis to investigate financial crime.
It is very interesting, but I have an eye on progression to senior management and gaining managerial experience is difficult to get sometimes. You have to be in the right place at the right time. I am therefore making my own opportunities – to “future-proof” myself. I began to think ‘what are the steps which could help me professionally, but also help others?’ I was President of the Students’ Union before studying at UEA and that role gave me an early exposure to Board Committees in an educational environment.
I was looking for a voluntary role which I would find interesting, at a senior level, and one which I could work well in, and I saw being a governor as personal and professional development. I have now been a governor for about nine months at a non-selective day school, and I am still settling into the role. There’s a phenomenal amount of information to take on board in terms of the principles and procedures.
Teachers, parent governors and people like myself are on the board. I am a parent myself, although not in any way personally attached to the school.
There are monthly governor’s meetings, with around one per six meetings a year being “big ones” – i.e. taking a half or whole day. And then, depending on what panels you’re on, you have supplementary support meetings. The monthly Board meetings are around two hours long.
The challenge is attractive. My experience so far has been that there is a different mind-set and approach to meetings, action points and outcomes. Sometimes there just isn’t a solution to a problem put before you – you have to ask for more information before making final decisions. I take away thoughts about my own approach to risk assessment.
As a Governor, you are there to improve the school environment. I am on the finance committee at the moment and have special responsibility in the Exclusions Panel. I’ve already had some difficult situations to deal with. One has to consider all aspects of the situation – including what is best for the whole student cohort.