When I started as chief executive at NGA seven years ago this week, I never expected to still be here in 2017. I don’t have a track record of staying in one place for that long. My previous top score was five years at Child Poverty Action Group in the 1990’s, followed by another five-year stint at Citizens Advice but the latter covered two different part-time roles and included maternity leave.
This week the talented Russell Hobby announced he will be stepping down from NAHT at the seven-year point. At NGA we work closely with the headteacher professional associations in a way that I hope models the trusting, respectful but challenging relationships that should exist at school level. To Russell and his colleagues at NAHT, I would say that there is still more our organisations need to accomplish together in the coming months, especially on school funding.
So why haven’t I got bored yet? There has been so much change in the education system over the last decade. NGA has grown and changed with it. When I joined NGA, I had four full-time equivalent members of staff. When the currently advertised post of Chairs’ Development Manager arrives in April, we will be 29 strong. This has come about as the number of school governing boards joining NGA has grown in a similar fashion, allowing us to improve services for our members. The advice team, answering queries from our GOLD members, didn’t exist seven years ago, and we now have a small research and information team who add to our online Guidance Centre and make sure 55,000 folk get their e-newsletter every Friday. Extraordinary to think that seven years ago my deputy, Gillian Allcroft, did that single handed. And that is such a big part of why I remain; I have a fabulous team here at GovernorHQ in Birmingham.
Paul Aber, our Head of Training Development has described how our training offer has grown from a pilot just over three years ago. When invited by local partners, we now offer face-to-face sessions on all aspects of governance; a small contribution to the wealth of training and development on offer across England. Getting governors, trustees and clerks together is an incredibly important part of exchanging practice and improving governance. We want to see more cluster groups emerging locally. Sometimes the old ideas are the best: local associations of governors have existed for years, usually on the goodwill of already busy volunteers so we encourage newer parts of the system – National Leaders of Governance and teaching school alliances – to work with them.
The venture into e-learning is new for us. We absolutely need to improve the reach and the accessibility of governance training. Last year we inherited GEL (Governor e-learning) and so began our adventure into this world. It is timely with the Department’s recent publication of the Competency Framework for Governance. We will do the work of making sure our materials contribute to those competencies, so that thousands of governing boards don’t have to spend their valuable time pouring over 200 requirements. That’s what NGA is here for.
Let’s be honest, NGA knows a lot about governance but technology is not our strength and certainly not mine. So we have just procured a superb partner, Virtual College, to develop NGA Learning Link. You will be hearing more about it in the next few months and this online learning system will be fully up and running next term. This is a big deal for us and we hope it will be a big deal for those who want to improve school governance in England.
NGA’s charitable object is to improve the educational welfare of pupils by championing high standards in state schools and improving their governance. Everything we do stems from that mission and should contribute to it. How grateful I am that we have no shareholders expecting dividends. We can reinvest any surplus into developing services to achieve that mission.
We are also very aware that there is no extra money sloshing around in school budgets, so we keep our prices as affordable as possible. Our standard membership is as cheap as chips and we keep all our events free, while commercial companies continue to charge hundreds of pounds per day.
In the last seven years, governance itself has changed. Its profile has risen gradually as the schools sector has come to recognise that strong organisations need strong governance. Trusteeship has also been firmly established but that is a topic for another day.
The best bit of my job has been meeting governors and trustees across the county who are each giving of their time, heart and soul to do such an important and demanding role. We know it is particularly difficult climate at the moment but keep in touch and let us know what NGA can do to make your job easier.
In 2016 the National Governors’ Association celebrated its 10-year anniversary. Read our impact report, Growing Governance: 10 years of NGA.