School governors have a vital role in managing your child's school and there are 30,000 governor vacancies across the UK. How does it feel to be on the other side – a parent governor?
Being a governor means you can have some influence in the management of your child's school including recruitment, finances and raising school standards. Other governors will include the Head Teacher, teachers, local authority representatives and parents. The commitment
How much of a commitment is it and what's involved? Jackie Cutchey, a retired head teacher and now Chair of Governors at Westwood Primary School, says: "Governors sign up for a four-year term, although each governing body sets its own terms. A governor can resign at any time though in my experience most gain enough from it to want to stay for a second term. Parents don't have to resign when their child leaves the school; they can complete their term of office is they wish." Most school have six meetings each year.
Lorenza had her own reasons for becoming a parent governor. "I'd returned to the UK after 20 years abroad. I had no job and with two small children it was an opportunity to become involved in the community and gain some skills. I applied when a vacancy arose and was voted into the role.
"I think having been involved in the PTA helped because many parents knew me through that. I did have some training through my local authority.
"One of my first roles was to help produce an advertisement for a new head teacher and vet the applications, though I wasn't on the interview panel as others were more experienced. I did manage to implement one small change: instead of the school giving children sweets on their birthdays, they bought a selection of books and the birthday child would choose one for the school library. This was a very popular move with parents and children." Training
It may feel daunting to be involved in important decision making so are governors trained? "Training is not compulsory," Jackie says, "but it's usually arranged by the school to meet the needs of governors. Training can help governors with their own professional development. It's not necessary to be an expert although experience is always welcome, as is an interest in other aspects of the school such as gifted and talented, special needs and finance. Anyone with an interest and a professional background can become a governor even if they don't have children."
Kerry became a governor of her son's school a year ago. "Very few parents were interested in applying so in the end I did, had an interview with the Head and was appointed. My background is in business journalism, so as well as the termly meeting for governors, the business committee meets twice a term. Some full governors meetings start around 6pm and last for up to three hours."
Training is usually during the day. Susan is a parent governor at a school within the Active Learning Trust. "My employer allows me time off for training although they are not obliged to do so. Government guidance states that employees are allowed a reasonable amount of time off for public duties: being a school governor fits the criteria. When I first became a governor I was partnered with a more experienced governor who acted as my mentor; we spent a couple of hours one evening looking at what the governors' role is and I did some online training."
If other parents know you have access to information about school development, some of which may be confidential at that stage, isn't there a chance they will accost you in the playground and ask you?
Susan admits: "There are always going to be times when a parent will ask you an awkward question. When faced with this I usually smile and tell them politely that it's confidential and even if I knew something I'd not be able to tell them because I'd get myself into trouble. I hope that by telling them this it will appeal to their better nature. If they persist in asking awkward questions I suggest they made an appointment with the Head Teacher to discuss it with them."
Lorenza explains: "We had a child in the school who necessitated a lot of discussion at our meetings and although names were not mentioned in the playground, I knew that as a small school with only 80 children, parents knew that a lot of our time and resources were spent on this child, but at the same time I felt it showed we cared about individual children."
What you gain from it
So would these parents recommend becoming a governor? Kerry says: "It's rewarding to know I am involved with my son's school. All the governors are passionate about ensuring that decisions are made that are beneficial to all the children. There's never a feeling that we have to rush through meetings and I think it's an admirable voluntary role."
Lorenza advises: "Don't feel that as a new governor others know better than you; sometimes fresh eyes bring a new outlook and as long as you are tactful you should say what you believe in."
Susan describes the role this way: "A critical friend to the Head Teacher and staff. They support the school but governors don't simply rubber-stamp decisions and can challenge decisions in a constructive and non-adversarial way."
Have you been or are you currently a school governor?
More on Parentdish: Is being on the PTA the most thankless job?
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