Governors: a vital role as critical friend & supporter
While we are already in the second month of 2021, you may still be looking for a resolution or a way to ‘do your bit’. If so, have you considered becoming a school governor or trustee?
Martin Barlow from Mawnan has been a governor at the local primary school for the last nine years. He became Chair of Governors last September.
Martin’s decision to become a governor stemmed from a desire to give something back to the community in which his family lived. “My daughters had a lovely time at the school and I felt it had given them a really good start. Both have gone on to achieve great things. I was asked to become a governor and it was an opportunity to help.”
As the owner of the Budock Vean Hotel in Mawnan, Martin feels that it is important his business supports its local community.
“Running my own business means, I believe, that I can bring experience and expertise to the school through the board of governors. Areas such as finance, management, leadership and property maintenance have all proved relevant. Confident leadership skills and good communication are essential to any organisation. We have a really nice group of very good people, who are willing to give their time. We all want to do the best we can for our school.”
Martin says Mawnan School is fortunate in that it has an excellent head teacher and a full contingent of governors. “I am involved in a school which is in a very positive situation. I know sadly it’s not the same for every school.”
Despite the lockdown, the school has remained open for certain children, including those of key workers and governors have kept up their monitoring by joining in with live zoom lessons and holding their board/committee meetings online. For Martin, the governor monitoring visits are a highlight of the role. “We obviously haven’t been able to go into school for a sometime, but whenever I do, I always find it very uplifting. Mawnan is a small school with a special, warm atmosphere, a wonderful group of dedicated staff teaching and developing a delightful group of young people.
“The last 12 months have been very challenging”
“The last 12 months have been very challenging. Our teaching staff have, understandably, found it very stressful at times and it has led to great anxiety and there are times as a governor that you can feel very powerless. However, when we see the incredible work our teachers have done to provide online live classrooms, we feel inspired to give them all the support we can. We are proud of what they are achieving.”
Martin says being a governor has also helped him. “I find it refreshing to be able to focus on something else other than my own business and to be involved in decisions and applying my knowledge in a different situation. I learn as well, so its’ definitely a two-way thing. There are some very interesting insights that people bring that spark thoughts. It’s rewarding, fulfilling and positive. I think I have improved some of my skills as a result.”
For anyone considering a becoming a governor or trustee, Martin points out that, although there is a minimum commitment you must be prepared to make, “it’s more about how much you are prepared to give. You need to be prepared to turn up for all the meetings, including four board meetings a year plus committees every term. “Most of our meetings are in the evenings, so you do need to think about working those around your family life, plus there may be monitoring visits, so you may need to do the odd thing during the normal working day.
“Other than that, it’s about how much do you want to give. Being a governor does demand commitment. In our school, we all have responsibilities for specific areas of the school operation, so there is a governor focusing on the STEM subjects, another for the curriculum, someone specialising on SEND and another on safeguarding etc.”
With a new chair, deputy chair and a new clerk, the board is evolving the way it works, aiming to ensure that meetings are much more collaborative and governors, as a result, much more engaged. “With each of us having responsibilities, we can all report on different things and we have lots of people talking, asking questions and contributing.”
“I am really delighted with how we are developing the way we work together. We want things prepared early in order to give people ample time to read the paperwork, because there are a lot of things to read. Governors can come to meetings having had a chance to prepare, so instead of the head teacher needing to read through things, we can get straight down to important questions and discussions.”
Martin says, “If you are someone with time and you have skills you want to lend, even if that is giving moral support and being an excellent listener and asking pertinent questions, then this can be a really rewarding thing to get involved in and it is essential. Governors play a vital role acting as the critical friend and providing much needed support, and that has never been more true than it is today, during these incredibly challenging times.”
If you are interested in becoming a school governor or trustee, you can find out more by contacting Clare Kendle, Education Governance Lead.