Share your skills, expertise and life experience to make schools successful and inclusive for everyone.
When I took early retirement from secondary teaching, I started researching volunteering in my local community now that I had more time. There are certainly plenty of organisations crying out for help – from the Samaritans, Refugee Support Groups to the local Hospice. Finally, I decided to apply to be a school governor because I wanted to continue to make use of the skills I had acquired during my career.
I had been a staff governor back in my teaching days – an experience I found rather dispiriting. But I really missed working with children and teachers – there is such a buzz in a happy school. I contacted an organisation called “Governors for Schools”, completed an application form, and waited for them to match me with a school.
Set your criteria
The first contact was from a local Church of England Primary, clearly as a humanist I was totally unsuitable – It also surprised me that they had offered me a primary. Evidently people see more kudos in governing secondary schools and so there are fewer vacancies. I realised somewhat shamefacedly what little thought I had given to the sort of school with which I wanted to work.
So, I created some criteria. Clearly not a religious school, and certainly not an academy chain. As a trade union activist, I have been horrified by the detrimental effects of academisation. I decided primary would be a great idea – going back to school but in a completely different setting.
Finding the right school
I was quite quickly matched with another primary school, this time with no religious affiliations. So I had a chat with the Chair of Governors and then went in to meet the Head. I was bowled over by that visit. This was a school where children were not just educated – you could see how much the staff valued and loved them. It struck me as soon as I walked through the doors. The children were open and friendly, at ease with the staff, clearly having a lot of fun and the building was full of dramatic displays.
The community is one of the most disadvantaged, not only in Kent but in the country as a whole. Currently well over 50% of the pupils are eligible for free school meals and 25% have special educational needs. The demands on the teachers at this school are daunting. The way they have worked through the pandemic to educate and protect the children has been admirable. When I read Dan Wooton’s remark that teachers have had a year of doing almost nothing my blood began to boil. Do the readers of the Daily Mail believe these lies?
Duties of governors
Governors are responsible for oversight of a variety of areas including Pupil Progress, Early Years, Health and Safety, Wellbeing and Equality. I am the Safeguarding Governor, a vital area in which the school seeks to protect the children both inside the classroom and out in the wider community. The Pastoral Team also works to help support parents in understanding the many hazards posed by the world online.
I have learned about the difficult lives that some of our children lead and the challenges they and their parents face – this winter will be a particular trial for the poorest in our society who will struggle to pay for heat and food as price inflation gathers pace. The school provides food to a number of local families who are struggling to feed their children. In some cases, staff are supporting children whose only structure and security is inside the school: lockdown was particularly traumatic for them.
Everyone is part of the safeguarding effort – not just teachers and teaching assistants but also the cleaners, the dining hall, office, and ground staff: all train to learn how to recognise safeguarding threats and how to report them. All staff are trained to understand the nature of these threats from neglect to physical, emotional, and sexual abuse.
Ours is a wonderful school but it knows it can be better and the whole staff are working towards that goal, and governors are helping by acting as a critical friend. That means we are there to support the school, but also to be firm, and challenge if we see things which don’t seem to be effective in promoting the best outcomes for children or even, more importantly, if they compromise children’s safety.
What makes a good governor?
You don’t need to have an interest in education to make a real contribution as a governor. Schools need people who are able to read and review policies, understand data, and how to support improvement. Your school will provide an induction and there is a wealth of training available now very conveniently online.
It is wonderful to have been able to go back into school after such a long time and see the children who were delighted to return. I am learning so much about children’s development, at the moment about phonics and how children learn to read, which keeps me up to date as a grandparent. I am excited to be working with a school which is making such a contribution to children’s lives but looking to do so much more!