With another term now under way, new governors at schools across the borough will be settling into their roles. But what exactly do they do? Eleanor Jones found out…
Stephen Pollard has been chairman of governors at a Tunbridge Wells junior school for about a year, but he has been on the board for just over two decades.
He first put his name forward for election as a parent governor when his own two youngest children were at the school and although, as he says ‘there were three vacancies – and I came fourth!’, the then chairman of governors knew Mr Pollard had experience in budget management, thanks to his job as a senior civil servant, and co-opted him to be an extra, non-voting member. When another governor resigned, he was invited to put his name forward as a community governor.
Grandfather of two Mr Pollard, who spent some years as vice-chairman before he was elected to his current role, explained what a governor does.
“The simplest way of putting it is that we set the strategic direction for the school, and hold the school to account, on everything it does,” he said. “From its results to the way it manages the budget, looks after the premises and provides broader opportunities for pupils such as sports and arts. We act as a critical friend, if you like.”
Mr Pollard explained that the board of governors holds a full meeting three times a year but there are three sub-groups, each looking after and monitoring a specific area such as curriculum or resources, which each also meet three times a year.
“We also regularly visit the school to look at what goes on,” Mr Pollard added. “We usually go round in pairs, looking at how literacy or science is taught, for example, or how the school manages safeguarding children, which is terribly important, from making sure they can use the internet safely, to making sure they’re not being neglected.
“Governors aren’t normally education professionals, so we shouldn’t be making judgements about whether teaching is good or bad, but we might ask a few follow-up questions of the subject leader, such as asking them to show us how they are implementing the curriculum, and see what answers we get.
“We might want to look at some issues in more detail with the subject leader, or perhaps with the head teacher.
“We might also ask teachers how they go about safeguarding and what they would do if issues come up. We would expect teachers to pick up on evidence that a child might be being bullied, for example. We aim to ensure that the school has the right procedures in place to deal with something like that if it arises”.
Mr Pollard explained that his board operates a ‘buddy’ system, so each new governor is paired with an experienced colleague at first. New recruits can also take advantage of training courses provided by Kent County Council, some of which are free.
“If a new governor is pitchforked straight in, it can be a bit challenging so we run induction courses for new ones,” Mr Pollard said.
“We aim to let new governors know what skills we need on the governing body, we can’t expect them to have all the skills straight away but there’s lots of training available.”
Anyone considering becoming a governor must be 18 or older and be able to commit his or her time to the school.
Mr Pollard added: “It can be hard work, and it certainly requires commitment, about half a dozen evenings a year for meetings, and the same for training, two or three school visits and a bit of homework such as reading papers.
“The paperwork can be time-consuming – schools have to have written policies for everything now and they all have to be written and agreed and approved, and of course there’s a lot of data on the school’s performance that we have to be able to analyse and understand – and we all like getting away from that to pay a visit to the school.
“But every time I do go to the school, I see lots of happy little faces and children who are proud of what they’ve done – not just academically, there’s a display board celebrating the children’s achievements and it records things from passing a piano exam or getting a part in a panto to triumphs on the sports field. I talk to the children and they’re very polite and forthcoming and always very enthusiastic about what they’re doing.
“I get a great kick out of seeing children make the most of themselves at that age.
“The best bit of the job? I’m proud when the school gets good results, or when it achieves in arts or sport. And although so much depends on what our excellent teachers do, and on the support from parents, at the end of the day it’s about what the children themselves achieve.
“The main part of being a governor is to support the school enabling children to become the best they can in all they do.”
EMMA KNIGHTS, CHIEF EXECUTIVE OF THE NATIONAL GOVERNORS’ ASSOCIATION, SAID:
“Governing a school is a great responsibility, but one in which you will learn a large amount as well as contribute much in the interests of pupils. There are few other volunteer roles in which you as part of a team will set the vision, ethos and strategic priorities for young people’s education, as well as ensuring the efﬁ cient spend of a large budget.
“Few people understand that the governing board recruits the headteacher, holding them to account for their performance. We need strong governing boards if all state schools are to become as good as the best.
“The school should ensure you get the training you will need and the NGA exists to help volunteers undertake this role in a professional fashion.
“Governance is at its strongest when the team on the board is diverse with a range of experience and skills. You do not have to be a parent to volunteer and do not rule yourself out because you don’t know much about the education system. We are actively looking for more young people to volunteer and many employers recognise the development that governing provides – so do ﬁ nd out more about the role and how to get involved from www.nga.org.uk”
THE NGA DEFINES THE ROLE OF A SCHOOL GOVERNOR:
To contribute to the work of the governing body in ensuring high standards of achievement for all children and young people in the school by:
■ Setting the school’s vision, ethos and strategic direction;
■ Holding the headteacher to account for the educational performance of the school and its pupils; and
■ Overseeing the ﬁnancial performance of the school and making sure its money is well spent.