Welcome to governance and thank you for volunteering! Being a school governor or trustee is a significant responsibility and an incredibly rewarding experience, where you will make a positive difference to the lives of children and young people in your community. Whether you have been co-opted to your board, elected by the parents or staff, nominated by your local authority or appointed by a foundation body, you will want to feel confident and effective in your role. Like any new role there is lots to take on board, and your knowledge and understanding of education and governance will grow with time. Volunteers tell us that it takes them about a year to feel confident in the role, so do not worry about grasping everything right away. Here are some ideas of what to expect and what you can do to navigate your new role.
Your school and board
- Being inducted – a high quality induction which includes information specific to the school/trust and training on your role and responsibilities is essential for effective governance. Your board will arrange and conduct this, and it should include meetings with the chair, clerk and headteacher along with documentation to read.
- Getting to know the school/trust – before your first visit or meeting, get to know the organisation by reading information on the website, the prospectus, and the most recent Ofsted report(s), alongside the strategy, vision and values information and the school development plan to give you an idea of the priorities and challenges facing the school/trust. Additionally, if you are governing in a multi academy trust you should read the scheme of delegation to understand exactly what powers the local board has.
- Visiting your school – to get acquainted with the school and to get used to a school environment do arrange to visit in person. You should have a tour of the school and the opportunity to speak with some leaders, staff and pupils, as well as to learn more about parents and the community. [At the time of publication, due to COVID-19, this is not currently advised and instead you may be able to meet people and tour the school virtually.]
- Before your first meeting – you should receive an agenda and papers a week in advance. This will give you time to read through, look up anything you need to and to prepare any questions you may want to ask. Some boards encourage questions to be submitted in advance and you could ask if this option is available to you. You can also ask for minutes of recent meetings to get an idea of the kind of topics and discussions that take place and the format of the meeting.
- Asking constructive questions (and listen to what others ask) – boards should have a balance and diversity of views around the table and will value the fresh and different perspective you bring, so if you have a question at your first meeting, don’t shy away from asking. NGA has some sample questions that can help you think about what you may look for on different topics.
- Request a buddy/mentor – having the support of an experienced governor/trustee to check things with will be helpful. They will also set an example of governance practice and encourage you to reflect on your role as you go along.
- Training – whether you are brand new to the whole thing or bring governance or education experience to the role, engaging in a wide range of training – from local face-to-face sessions to eLearning – is strongly recommended. There is general training about the role and responsibilities, and in-depth training from curriculum and pupil success to finance and resources. You may wish to build on an existing interest and knowledge of a topic, fill a gap in your knowledge or concentrate on an area which is a priority or challenge for your school/trust. Ask your board what is available locally and what services – like NGA – they subscribe to. If your board subscribes to NGA Learning Link you will be able to access a range of eLearning from comprehensive induction modules to thought-provoking bitesize modules.
- Acronyms and terminology – education, like any other sector, is full of acronyms and technical words. They will be used abundantly in meetings and in papers: do ask for clarification and you can also delve into NGA’s handy glossary for descriptions of a wide range of education terms.
- Knowing your role – it’s important that boards stay strategic in overseeing the big picture, not getting involved in the minutiae of running the school. Think eyes on, hands off. There are four core functions of governance plus important responsibilities as the employer of staff. Visit our essential reading list for new governors and trustees which includes a model role description, model code of conduct and links to key Department for Education documents.
The bigger picture
- Networking beyond your board – social media is great for building connections and sharing ideas and information with the governance community – on Twitter you can use #UKgovchat and on Facebook search for school governors’ groups. And do follow NGA at @NGAmedia for regular updates.
- Reading widely – there are oodles of blogs, webinars, research, podcasts, books and magazines available on governance and various education and leadership topics. Be inquisitive: read and listen to things that take your fancy and reflect on how you can apply what you learn to your role.
- Stay updated – reading (or watching or listening to) education news is useful to understand the context that the school is operating in and the external events that are going to impact your school/trust. All the main news websites have an education section, and there are dedicated outlets like Schools Week and Tes too. Each week, the NGA team helpfully interpret the education news for a governance audience and share this through the member newsletter. You can also subscribe to the Governance Update from the Department for Education.
- Telling your employer – if applicable, do let your employer know that you are volunteering as a governor/trustee and check if they can support you with time off to carry out the role. Discussing your governance role with your manager as part of your professional development will help your employer value the benefits both to you and to them. You may also find that some of your colleagues govern and you can share experiences and learnings with them, by joining or setting up a staff governance group.