Guest blog: five skills I’ve developed as a trustee
Setul Mehta, trustee at Pegasus Partnership Trust shares his experiences of governing and the skills he’s taken back into his professional life.
Trustee at Pegasus Partnership Trust
A quick bit of background for you, I’m a financial services professional of 19 years. I’m privileged to be a committee member for The Openwork Foundation who support disadvantaged children, follower of Arsenal FC and proud dad to a wonderful 10 year old and a very testing 7 year old (the former being the current favourite).
I ‘fell’ into governance when my girls’ school published a request for anyone who wanted to be part of the local stakeholder group in September 2019. I saw this as an opportunity to be able to play a part in my girls’ educational future. Following 12 months in this role, I was appointed to the Pegasus Partnership Trust board where I’m able to have a direct impact on the education sector in our local community and it’s a real honour. This has then widened when asked to support GLF schools. Reflecting on the last 3 years in a governance role, here are my five take-aways that governance has supported me with:
Balancing support and challenge
I’ve learnt to hold the leadership team to account, but to do so in a collaborative fashion and continue to ‘have their back’. I’ve never been uncomfortable with collaborative working and challenging individuals, however, challenging in an area I have no experience or previous knowledge was a learning curve. Whilst I could use generic questions to dig a bit deeper, I needed more knowledge and this is where the NGA site was invaluable, particularly the questions to ask. This is now very transferable into the day job when discussing areas I’m new to – there is now no fear of a lack of confidence, but I’m more cognisant of where to seek and absorb help from.
The ability to work as part of a team
As a board, we all come with our own experiences, backgrounds and personalities and its about bringing out the best parts of those traits, being comfortable with a difference of opinion and then accepting the collective decision. This is quite different to other corporate forums, where collaborators on projects may have their own aims, for example when you’re trying to deliver safe outcomes whilst having to have a commercial lens on – you are always going to have a difference of opinion. In a school or trust environment that balance of safety and commerciality is very aligned. This aspect of different backgrounds coming together is a significant positive of governance and one the community should embrace and be proud of when comparing to other industries and forums.
A willingness to challenge
This has been key and even more so for me as I’m not from an education background, so some of the concepts and ways of operating seem unusual and at times illogical – but it’s the challenge and discussion that draws out why something is done in the way it’s done to then be able to make an informed decision. As a board trustee, my challenges must be made on decisions from a 50,000 feet level and try not to get involved at grass roots matters – which I may do in my professional role.
Data analysis and interpretation
This comes easy to me as there is plenty of it in a corporate environment but utilising it in an educational setting has been a genuinely enjoyable experience and it has shown a different method of approaching data analysis. #RedAmberGreen. There are often very specific measures that need to be reviewed and managed, and in most cases you can apply a simple red/amber/green filter. It almost doesn’t matter as to why the rationale for a red is red, it is something that cannot be tolerated and needs to be resolved in many cases much quicker in education than elsewhere. I’ve very much enjoyed picking out the ‘reds’ and seeing how quickly intervention plans are setup and issues resolved i.e. CPD/ pupil numbers etc.
Finally, observing is so important in this role - observing subject matter experts, the approaches and group dynamics, and when you’ve been given an answer that needs challenging or clarity. Quickly in the role you can really get to know people and their traits and they will often use the same words or challenge with the same set of questions. You’ve got those who will always jump in first and those who you need to draw in. This in reality is no different to any other working environment but when you observe in an area you have little starting knowledge on, you can get to grips with who knows what very quickly, who are the silent yet very knowledgeable ones and those that talk for a little longer than needed but have the real golden nuggets in what they say.
All five of these have enhanced my existing skills and enabled me to be a better version of myself in my corporate setting. For anyone reading this and is new to governance, based on my experience:
- It is going to be impossible for you to learn everything about education and you don’t have too! Utilise the NGA resources and the areas of expertise others bring to the group.
- Be inquisitive and ask questions no matter how irrelevant they may feel at first – as someone new in, you often remind others of the simpler approaches to matters.
- The role of a clerk is invaluable! Go to them about anything you are unsure about.
- Finally, and the most important for me is The Pegasus Partnership trust’s motto but is so relevant - #ChildrenFirst in any decisions you make any discussions you have.
As part of NGA’s Visible Governance campaign, we are working to raise awareness of the value governing brings to schools, trusts those who govern as well as the benefits to employers in supporting the role.