An entrepreneurial approach can help to attract younger governors and trustees, says Alain Desmier

With an average age of below 40, our governing body is likely to be one of the youngest in the country, and at 33 I’m a younger than usual chair of governors.

For the most part, the schedule of the average school does not fit well with an urban 30-something. We’ve been able to attract and keep younger governors by copying tactics more traditionally found in internet startups. We allow flexibility in types of attendance at meetings, we use secure, cloud-based technology to store papers that can be accessed from desktop, tablet or phone and we’ve developed a clear sense of mission so that governors understand the role they individually play and how important they are to the governance of an effective school.

Our school has over 70% of students eligible for free school meals and 65% of our intake speak English as
an additional language. The needs of our school are very different to many of the schools in our borough and so drawing governors from across a range of ethnicities, backgrounds and age groups is at the heart of who we are as a governing body and a school.

Different tactics

We help governors manage their fulltime work commitments by holding meetings at a range of different times. All our main governing body meetings are out of work hours and we hold finance meetings at 7.30am to allow governors with a corporate, city-based job the flexibility to come before work. The main standards and curriculum meetings are at 5pm to encourage the attendance of parent governors. We give governors as much notice as possible to ask their employers to be able to leave work a little early.

Governors can dial into meetings via Skype when necessary. We held an emergency finance meeting with three of us in different parts of the country, dialling into the school community room from a car, a hotel room and a boardroom respectively. Of course we prefer to meet in person but flexibility over type of attendance means we can keep governors engaged and aware of what is going on, even when they aren’t in the country. Fundamentally, it’s about understanding that an effective governing body runs well when its committees carry the responsibility for doing the specific work they are tasked with.

Our governing body reflects the changing way that people work. I run a digital advertising business and spend a lot of my time with clients and staff across the UK. The entrepreneurial flexibility of running my own business means that I can focus fully on being a governor, when it’s appropriate. It’s not essential to have self-employed people on your governing board but it can certainly be helpful.

Support from the head

Our head for the past seven years, Nick Tait, is himself a younger than usual headteacher. All new governors are able to spend time with him before they’ve attended their first meeting and when we recruit new governors, we encourage candidates to speak to Nick to get a true reflection of what the school stands for.

Finally, understanding what a young governor wants to get from the role is helpful to recruiting and keeping them. No one wants to volunteer their time just to sit in long meetings under stacks of paper, disconnected from the students they are trying to help. We hold regular open mornings for governors to meet teachers and students as well as a yearly school assembly where governors introduce themselves to students, take questions and stay for lunch.

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