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Think about becoming a school governor and using your experience to improve educational outcomes

Think about becoming a school governor and using your experience to improve educational outcomes

People who have experienced and succeeded in life outside of the world of education have something very valuable to offer our schools at a time when money has to go further.

School governance has always relied on assembling a diverse mix of people from the local community, from all walks of life and with different viewpoints. But now, in the face of funding cuts, having the right mix of skills and fresh ideas is critical.

With thousands of schools set to lose money from their budgets, school leaders are addressing costs as a matter of urgency. Earlier this year, the National Audit Office estimated that, on average, state schools in England will need to find £3bn in savings by 2019-20 – equivalent to an 8% real terms reduction in funding per pupil. In July, Justine Greening announced an additional £1.3bn of funding over the next two years, to help the transition to the national funding formula. However, despite this additional funding, pressures from increasing costs mean that many schools still face financial difficulties

Even before these changes were announced, 71% of school leaders surveyed by The National Association of Head Teachers reported that they were either already using reserves or cutting spending in order to balance their budgets.

The difference in the life chances of pupils from those schools which plan for tougher budgets and are able to operate to them, and those schools who sadly come late to change and breach spending limits, will of course be huge.

Spending on school education as a percentage of GDP has been rising for two decades; accordingly few leaders have experience of cost-cutting or fund raising. The good news is that, in the world of enterprise and charities, there has long been an imperative to raise funds and reduce costs – so there is a wealth of experience available.

Commerce and fundraising skills needed

If executives from commerce and fundraising can lend their experience by volunteering at a school they will quickly make a real impact.

Typically, schools look for finance, legal, HR, or IT skills. According to findings from The Key’s last annual survey, more than a third of governors believe that having a broader set of skills would do most to improve their board’s impact. A well-written fundraising plan can make a massive contribution to a school’s overall development and success – some PTAs make seriously useful amounts of money. Schools which encourage their students to get involved in fundraising activities at home and abroad notice that their success makes a tremendous impact on their future learning as they reap the benefits of increased confidence
and a can-do attitude.

Transferable skills

Ideally all potential new governors will appreciate the cultural differences between working in the commercial arena and working in a school environment. People working in education are generally motivated by other factors such as improving children’s lives and their chances of future employment.

The measures of success are also different in a school than they are in a commercial organisation. A school will generally have a basket of indicators looked at holistically, rather than say, needing to report quarterly earnings as a business would.

So it’s about understanding the ethos and what matters in a school, and being able to tailor commercial or fundraising experience accordingly.

What’s in it for the governors?

Becoming a governor provides the candidate with an amazing opportunity for their personal growth, as well as to play a vital role in improving the life chances of local children. It also provides an excellent opportunity to extend a professional network by working and collaborating with people who are not work colleagues.

The professional development opportunity gained from working as a school governor is immense. Someone working in a big organisation probably doesn’t have an overview, nor experience of decision-making across their whole organisation. But a governing body gives a well-rounded board experience encompassing strategy, disputes, budgets, policies, and senior performance reviews for example. Very specifically governors learn to be team players and gain experience of an element of ‘cabinet responsibility’.

Training and support

There is plenty of good and easily accessible training available. SGOSS has worked with Lloyds Banking Group and The Key for School Governors to create a high quality, free, online training module, aimed at governors at the start of their journey. This is the first of a series which are designed and pitched for business people to get up to speed with schools education and governance. This interactive module, ‘School Governor Induction’, is available on any device, at any time – and takes just one hour to complete.

As well as this, new governors should be provided with key documents well in advance of their first meeting, including the School Improvement Plan, all Ofsted reports, the minutes of the last two governor meetings, as well as copies of the latest budgets and progress reports.

Working as a governor is a hugely rewarding and valuable role which, in turn, provides skills and expertise directly transferable and relevant to the workplace. It also demonstrates leadership, commitment and confidence.


Louise Cooper

Louise Cooper is the chief executive of SGOSS Governors for Schools, a charitable enterprise offering a free governor search and selection service for schools keen to bolster the existing skills of their Boards of Governors by recruiting candidates with experience gained outside of education. SGOSS has an unmatched record of 18 years experience in placing such executives into school governing roles. Building on consistent year on year growth, SGOSS helped 2,047 schools by finding them 2,800 governors in the last year alone. Here she advises on the selection and induction of new governors with commercial and fundraising experience.

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