As the new school year gets underway, schools across Hampshire are looking for volunteers to help them to be the best and make a positive difference to children’s education by becoming a school governor.
With 524 schools and academies in the county, there are more than 6,000 governors supporting them. However, while many schools have a full quota of governors, others have up to three vacancies on their board.
We spoke to two experienced governors in different parts of Hampshire to find out what motivated them.
Debbie Sawyer is a governor at an infant and junior federation in the New Forest. She was on the board, more, she says, for her enthusiasm and willingness to learn than for any specific skills she had.
She has since served as the training and development governor and is currently Chair of Governors. Back in 2014, with a little boy soon to start in Reception Year, Debbie was interested in finding out how the school system functioned. She said: “I asked a lot of questions and was told by the Chair of Governors that that best way to learn about the school was to become a governor myself, so I did. It has really opened my eyes to how it works behind the scenes.
“I get a real sense of achievement and pride when we succeed with something that the Federation really needs, for example the junior school had been trying to get a new boiler for several years and we sorted that.”
Debbie added that she feels the board of governors can instil confidence and reassurance in a school: “To support the school’s senior leadership team, we listen, we challenge and give them confidence that we believe in their decisions and act as a sounding board for their ideas. For parents, it is reassurance that there is a team of volunteers checking that the Federation are doing what they say they do and that the right decisions are being made for their children. We provide that added level of scrutiny.”
Based in Basingstoke, Nicky Parker is a “additional support school governor” – asked to step in when a school needs an experienced person to join the board and help it through a tricky time, whether it supporting them on their school improvement journey following an OFSTED inspection, or when the governors need extra leadership or mentoring.
With nearly 20 years’ governor experience, Nicky, who works in marketing, also said it is most fulfilling when she can start to see things change, such as improved school results, or a new head teacher developing in post. She was drawn to school governance, she added, because although teaching wasn’t right for her, she has always had a keen interest in education. She said:
“A good education can give children the best start in life and a chance to succeed, irrespective of their background. Governors can stand up for all children and make sure they have equality of opportunity no matter where they live or which school they go to.”
Looking back to when she first started in 2001, Nicky said she literally didn’t know what the governors were talking about in her first meetings, but luckily that did not put her off: “Education is rife with acronyms and jargon and it felt like they were speaking a different language. I had no idea what everyone was talking about at first, but very quickly it started to fall into place and make sense. It helps that the training was awesome, and I was assigned to a mentor. With both online and physical help at my fingertips, it meant I didn’t feel out of my depth. If you are prepared to put in the time to do this role, it is incredibly rewarding.”
People volunteering to be governors do not need to have previous experience. All that is required is to be over 18, and to have enthusiasm, commitment and time. Full training for the role is available through Hampshire Governor Services at no cost to individual governors.