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New report highlights impact of digital exclusion on access to education and employment in the North East

A new report published by the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (North East LEP) has highlighted the impact digital exclusion in the North East LEP area is having on people’s ability to access education, skills and employment.

Commissioned by the North East LEP’s Skills Advisory Panel (SAP), ‘Digital Exclusion in the North East LEP Area’ looks specifically at the economic and skills-related impacts of digital exclusion in County Durham, Gateshead, Newcastle upon Tyne, North Tyneside, Northumberland, South Tyneside and Sunderland.

Published alongside IPPR North’s ‘Addressing digital exclusion in North East England’ research paper, the LEP’s digital exclusion report was carried out by New Skills Consulting.

Using data from the Office for National Statistics, it shows more than 200,000 people in the North East LEP area have either never used the internet, or have not used it in the last three months. It also reinforces existing findings that show people from disadvantaged backgrounds are most affected by digital exclusion.

Michelle Rainbow, Skills Director at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, said: ‘Whilst we know digital exclusion is a problem in the North East, the coronavirus pandemic has really exacerbated the issue and highlighted why we must address it now.

“This report has allowed us to see the scale of the problem for the first time, and how COVID-19 has extended the gap that already existed in our region.

“If we truly want to level up the country and provide opportunities for all, we must address the issue of digital exclusion, and we must do it in partnership with businesses, education, the voluntary sector, and the public sector.”

‘Digital Exclusion in the North East LEP Area’ highlights that whilst the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the pace of digital adoption, it has also widened the gap in areas like education and employment, particularly for those from disadvantaged backgrounds. A lack of in-person support during the pandemic has made it easier for people to withdraw, and limited access to digital devices has prevented people from accessing online training, job searches, and interviews.

Employers have also raised concerns about a lack of digital skills within the region’s workforce. A survey by the Department for Education in 2019 found 20% of North East employers found it difficult to recruit applicants with computer literacy or basic IT skills. 26% said they found it difficult to recruit people with advanced or specialist IT skills.

The report also looks at the effectiveness of existing initiatives to address digital exclusion, arguing that the current system is complex, with overlapping programmes and gaps in support. It also argues that much of the support available quickly becomes out of date and doesn’t meet the learning needs of people using the services.

Michelle continued: “If we look to countries like Finland, digital literacy is something that’s taught from kindergarten, it has the same level of importance as reading, writing and math’s.

“Whatever our agreed approach moving forward, we need to recognise that this issue isn’t just something that affects young people; it impacts people of all ages and at every stage in their lives. If people can’t access online tools to extend their learning, or can’t search and apply for employment opportunities online, how can they get into work or move up the career ladder from low-skill to high-skill jobs?”

The report puts forward a series of recommendations, recognising that the region’s response requires the support of academia; business; the voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) sector; and the public sector.

Carol Botten, CEO of VONNE (Voluntary Organisations Network North East) and member of the North East LEP Skills Advisory Panel (SAP), said: “Some of the recommendations in our report can be delivered regionally, but others will need the support of Government and other stakeholders.

“We need to address the problem of access to digital devices, and how connectivity can be an additional barrier to people using digital services.

“We also need to prioritise education in digital skills from an early age, and ensure it becomes part of the curriculum in further and higher education.

“And by working with the business community, we can begin to develop a common framework for basic digital skills that meets the needs of employers.”

Michelle concluded: “Using the insights from this report and the IPPR North report, we plan to raise awareness of the scale of the challenge, agree a collective vision for the North East, and draw up the key areas we need to prioritise and address.

“This is a huge challenge for our region, and we won’t be able to tackle it all in one go. But we can start the process and make sure no one in the North East is left behind because they lack access to the digital skills, equipment and infrastructure so many of us take for granted.”

Read the Executive Summary of Digital Exclusion in the North East LEP Area by visiting the North East Evidence Hub.

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Bridging the gap between industry and education

As summer fades into a new academic year, the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) continues its drive to bring industry and education closer, with the ultimate aim of improving skills in the North East workforce. Skills Director, Michelle Rainbow, gives a preview of what’s to come in the three main skills programmes, and how business can get involved.

North East Ambition: Working with schools, colleges and employers to deliver outstanding careers guidance from primary education to employment.

Since the pandemic, we want to harness the positives that have come from new ways of working and highlight the great work that is still being done by businesses to build relationships with schools and colleges.

We’ve produced a work experience framework which will make it easier for businesses to deliver work placements, virtually or in-person, giving young people valuable experience and creating links with the next generation of employees.

The process of embedding age-appropriate careers guidance in primary schools is making huge progress and evidence around the importance of introducing younger children to the opportunities open to them is building.

And business leaders continue to support schools and colleges as Enterprise Advisers, lending their expertise to bridge the gap between education and industry. We’re aiming to partner more Enterprise Advisers with SEND schools in the region, and help businesses develop high quality work experience for pupils with special educational needs, so that no child is left behind when it comes to realising their ambitions.

Education Challenge: Working with partners to support school leaders, teachers and governors to reduce the gap between our best and lowest performing schools.

Businesses are central to this work, as we know that placing employer engagement at the heart of the curriculum has huge benefits for children and young people. That’s why we’re continuing to support the expansion of the Ford Next Generation Learning pilot, which creates employer-led learning partnerships with schools.

We’ve also developed a new, data-driven approach to personalising careers guidance, using live data from students to help schools and employers make sure that the experiences they’re providing are having results and match the interests of young people. So if a school has a large number of pupils who want to go into engineering, we can help the staff work with local employers that fit their needs.

We’re also working to raise awareness around the opportunity to be a school governor. Strong and diverse governance is essential in achieving high quality education, and we want businesses – especially SMEs – to understand more about how they can get involved in governance.

Post-16 skills: Placing employers at the heart of meeting skills needs in post-16 education.

In January the government published its Skills for Jobs: Lifelong Learning for Opportunity and Growth white paper which sets out reforms to post-16 technical education to help people to gain skills they need in the workplace. One of the ways we’re supporting this agenda is through a series of industry insight sessions, which help curriculum staff and careers leaders understand the changes and growth affecting industries from electrification and the wider green economy agenda through to the life sciences and digitalisation of construction.

We’re also involved in supporting the broader technical education agenda through working to promote apprenticeships, supporting the roll out of the new T-level qualifications which involves cross sector working with employers and universities, together with ensuring progression pathways into higher technical skills through our partnership with the region’s Institute of Technology.

The North East is also home to the country’s only College Careers Hub, bringing colleges together to prepare students for the world of work. Ensuring a pipeline of skilled talent is available to business is crucial if we’re to achieve our aim of creating 100,000 more and better jobs for the North East by 2024.

By working with schools and colleges in the North East, your business can create strong links with the next generation of employees. Find out more at www.NorthEastAmbition.co.uk.

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Celebrating careers education in the North East during National Careers Week

Michelle Rainbow, Skills Director at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, welcomes the start of National Careers Week 2021.

Today marks the beginning of National Careers Week, a celebration of the importance of good careers guidance, and the resources available to help students make more informed decisions about their futures.

Running from 01-06 March, it’s an opportunity to highlight the role careers guidance has in helping young people prepare for the world of work, as well as shining a light on the many and varied routes to employment.

National Careers Week is also about supporting teachers and educators to access the wealth of free resources available to help them deliver quality careers education in schools and colleges – something the North East LEP has been leading in our region through North East Ambition.

Finally, it provides businesses the chance to engage with students and the education sector about the employment opportunities available for young people within their organisations.

Throughout this week we’ll be highlighting the different ways the North East LEP is working in partnership with education and business to improve young people’s understanding of the world of work.

Each day we’ll focus on a different audience: primary, secondary, higher education, further education, and businesses. We’ll highlight some of the progammes and initiatives led by the North East LEP, and those by our partners in education and industry, that are helping young people make more informed choices about their future.

We’ll highlight the success of the LEP’s Career Benchmarks Primary Pilot, which is raising the aspirations and broadening the horizons of North East primary school pupils. We’ll also share details of North East Opportunities, a new website delivered in partnership with NP11 that provides information for students at school leaving age about traineeships, apprenticeships, T-Levels, further/higher education, and other academic and vocational routes to employment.

Underpinning National Careers Week is its alignment with the Gatsby Benchmarks. The North East LEP was instrumental in delivering the Good Career Guidance Benchmarks pilot in partnership with the Gatsby Foundation, and it’s fantastic to see the benchmarks are now central to the success of careers education in England.

Schools, colleges, universities and businesses are all invited to take part in National Careers Week. Join the conversation on social media using #NCW2021 and don’t forget to visit www.nationalcareersweek.com where you can download toolkits to help promote your involvement.

The North East LEP is proud to support National Careers Week and champion the amazing work done by our educators and business community to improve skills and opportunities for young people.

By helping our students better understand the employment opportunities available in the region – and the pathways to reach them – we will help create more and better jobs for the North East and grow our economy.

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In conversation with Neil Willis, Regional Lead, Education Challenge at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership

In conversation with Neil Willis, Regional Lead, Education Challenge at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, reflecting on the impact Opportunity North East has had so far, and looking forward to its next phase.

For the past year, we (the North East Local Enterprise Partnership) have been working with colleagues from Tees Valley Combined Authority (TVCA) to develop a joint approach to support a strand of The Department for Education’s pioneering Opportunity North East (ONE) programme.

Designed to ensure all pupils have the same opportunities to learn, develop and achieve success, regardless of their background or where they live, Opportunity North East is an absolute determination that no child should be left behind.

It’s fantastic to see to see The Department for Education has unveiled its delivery plan for the next phase of Opportunity North East (ONE), which includes a £24 million investment to tackle the challenges facing some of our region’s lowest-performing schools.

This significant investment will mean we can continue to work in partnership with Tees Valley Combined Authority (TVCA) to ensure a consistent approach and maximum impact for young people across our region.

Since the programme began, we’ve worked with 28 ONE Vision schools to help identify the complex challenges and barriers that can hinder pupils’ success. This next phase will build on our work to date so we can provide even more support to all 28 schools.

Looking forward to the next phase

The latest Opportunity North East Delivery Plan sets out five main challenges that exist across the region. Our area of focus will be to lead work around Challenge 4, supporting our young people to find pathways to a good career.

Currently, the North East is the region with the lowest percentage of young people in a sustained education, employment or training destination after key stage 4 and key stage 5. That’s something we need to change.

To help us do that, we’ve worked with all 28 ONE Vision schools to understand how we can help make a difference to young people when it comes to securing employment, apprenticeships or moving to further education. Thanks to the feedback we’ve received, we plan to deliver an enhanced offer of careers and business engagement support for these ONE Vision schools, including plans for monitoring impact. Pupils will benefit from a programme of support that really makes a difference to their lives.

We’ll be working with partners including the Department for Education, our universities and local employers, as well as with our colleagues in Tees Valley, to collectively and intensively support up to 30 young people from each school into sustained education, employment or training.

Pupils will be supported from Year 9 right through to the end of Year 11. They’ll get access to high quality destinations guidance, personalised interventions and one to one guidance to support them in their next steps, including the opportunities available to them.

Our target is that by 2022, all ONE Vision schools will have achieved all eight Good Career Guidance Benchmarks and we’ll see an increased percentage of young people from those schools in a sustained education, employment or training destination after key stage 4 and key stage 5.

This, of course, is in addition to work we’re already doing through North East Ambition; supporting every school and college in the North East to achieve the eight Good Career Guidance Benchmarks, as well as through our Education Challenge and Ford Next Generation Learning Programmes – supporting teachers, school leaders and governors to integrate an understanding of the world of work and career opportunities into the curriculum.

We want each and every young person in our region to have the best possible start to their working life, and we are determined that no pupil will be left behind.

We can’t wait to get started on the next phase of this incredibly important work.

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In conversation with Matt Joyce, Regional Lead for North East Ambition, about the importance of connecting careers guidance to employment opportunities.

A report published this week (22 January 2020) by the Education and Employers charity, highlights concerns around a gap between the career aspirations of young people in the UK and the reality of the labour market.

It calls for more to be done to address an ‘aspiration-reality disconnect’ in the UK – where the ambitions of our young people don’t match the jobs that are out there.

Recommendations include more support for careers guidance at secondary school level and better labour market information for young people. The report also calls for a significant expansion of career-related learning at primary level.

Here in the North East, we’re already working with partners to achieve all these aims – and have been for some time.

We recently expanded our work to primary level, working with the EY Foundation on a pilot to explore what good career guidance looks like across all phases of primary education, including how schools can connect with local employers to offer primary pupils a range of age-appropriate, meaningful encounters with the world of work. We want to support children to be ambitious from the earliest possible age and start challenging any limiting beliefs they have about themselves, based on their gender or socio-economic background.

The primary pilot is just one strand of our North East Ambition programme, which is funded by the European Social Fund (ESF) and led by the North East LEP working with partners. Through North East Ambition, we’re also actively supporting all the region’s secondary schools and colleges to meet the Good Career Guidance Benchmarks – placing a strong emphasis on engagement with employers, experiences of the workplace and linking learning to labour market information and the region’s employment sectors.

North East Ambition is integral to our work around skills development and the delivery of our Strategic Economic Plan (SEP) for the North East. Our ultimate aim is to ensure that our young people leave education or training with the skills, qualifications and personal qualities that employers look for. To achieve that, we need real involvement from employers in our schools and colleges, so they can help to shape a future talent pipeline.

If we want to support our young people to understand the realities of the workplace, the expectations of employers and the opportunities open to them, it’s vital that we connect education and employment at every opportunity.

Matt Joyce, Regional Lead, North East Ambition.

Watch now – Meaningful encounters: Year 6 pupils from Bexhill Primary Academy, Sunderland visit advanced manufacturing employer Unipres to discover more about the world of work.

Watch now – Learning from LMI: Year 9 students from Norham High School explore four key regional employment sectors, the roles within them and the skills and qualifications you might need.

You can find out more about what we’re achieving through North East Ambition by visiting northeastambition.co.uk

North East Ambition is funded by the European Social Fund (ESF).

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Durham University finds the formula for young mathematicians in North East England

Durham University, in partnership with Durham Sixth Form Centre, will open a new flagship Mathematics School in 2022 to help raise attainment in mathematics and other STEM subject across the North East.

The only one of its kind in the region, the school will benefit talented students in County Durham, Tyne & Wear, Northumberland, Cleveland, the North Yorkshire Coast, and Cumbria.

The new state-funded school is a response to the national skills-gap and the call to improve attainment, increase participation and raise aspiration in Mathematics and STEM subjects from A-Level onwards.

The North East’s vibrant tech sector is forecast to grow to £2.5bn by 2020 and will continue to offer bright futures for many young people in the region who have the right knowledge and skills.

However, opportunities to study Mathematics at a higher level are currently unevenly distributed across the region. It is hoped the new Durham Mathematics School will improve opportunities for all, ensuring every young person has the option to pursue a career in STEM.

Durham Mathematics School will catalyse improvements across the region, increasing applications from students to study Mathematics and other STEM subjects at university, pursue STEM related careers or just to nurture a passion and interest in the subject.

As well as providing specialist teaching for a select number of students, the school will also run outreach programmes across the region and professional development opportunities for maths teachers. It will help raise standards across the North East, attracting the brightest teachers to the region, and opening opportunities for many young people.

The school will offer A-Level courses in Mathematics, Further Mathematics, Computer Science and/or Physics, with students having the option to study a fourth subject at the Durham Sixth Form Centre.

The School will be close to Durham University and Durham Sixth Form Centre, which will offer a wealth of extra-curricular activities and other opportunities.

The School will also offer boarding for students who live too far away to commute every day.

The initial business case has been approved by the Department of Education.

Find out more by visiting the official Durham Mathematics School website.

The North East’s higher education and further education institutions play a vital role in helping to build a strong regional economy, from their contributions to innovation, social mobility and workplace productivity, to the role they play in bringing skills and investment to the region. Read more about the role of our universities, colleges and educational establishments in the North East Strategic Economic Plan.

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In conversation with Professor Stuart Corbridge, Vice-Chancellor of Durham University

Education employs 85,000 people in the North East and offers significant opportunities for more and better jobs in the region, directly and indirectly. Durham University is a world leader and has a ten-year strategy to invest £1 billion in people, and digital and physical infrastructures. Vice-Chancellor Professor Stuart Corbridge explores how universities can make a major contribution locally and globally, support a diverse and vibrant economy, and help tackle the country’s productivity challenge.

Education has long been a North East success story. But it’s not just part of our heritage, it’s a key sector for our future too: both in nurturing the highly-skilled workforce of tomorrow, and as a major employer, innovator, and exporter today.

Here at Durham, we’re not just England’s third oldest university; we’re making significant investments to ensure we remain a world-class university: investment that is absolutely necessary as we face increasing competition from universities in Asia, North America, Europe and elsewhere.

Universities already make a sizeable contribution to the economy: over £50 billion GVA in 2014/15, according to Universities UK. Our own figures suggest we were responsible for around £1.1 billion of that total.

At Durham, we employ 4,300 staff and have 18,400 students – considerable numbers in a City with a population of around 65,000.

But we believe there is also great potential for growth: the average student head count across Russell Group universities is 27,000; and the average staff roll is 7,700. So we’re in a period of carefully planned expansion: to recruit an extra 360 academic staff and grow our student numbers to 21,500 by 2027.

We believe we can achieve these targets because we continue to attract high calibre staff and students from around the world. We are also consistently ranked among the world’s top 100 universities (most recently 78th in the QS World University Rankings 2020).

But this isn’t just about us: the North East stands to benefit hugely from our success and from that of all the universities in the region: Durham, Newcastle, Northumbria and Sunderland.

It’s estimated that international students contribute around £700 million a year to the North East economy. As we and others look to attract more students from overseas (our target is 35% by 2027) this income will grow significantly.

Education and training is another valuable export industry. We continue to benefit from English being the international language of choice and the long-standing reputation of UK education. Many of our alumni hold senior roles in government and industry worldwide.

The value of education exports to the UK was almost £20 billion in 2016, and the value of transnational education within that, though still relatively small (£1.8 billion), was up 73% on 2010, showing the growing attractiveness of this option to overseas students.

We also need to tackle the big challenges facing our home economy – not least the productivity gap. Universities are well-placed on this front as we collaborate with industry to develop new technologies, research new ways of working and deliver high-level skills for the workforce of the future.

The Northern Accelerator programme, which brings together Durham, Newcastle, Northumbria and Sunderland Universities, is helping researchers to spin out and commercialise ideas, leading to the formation of potentially high-growth, research-intensive businesses linked to the research expertise here in the North East.

The Intensive Industrial Innovation Programme, which involves Durham, Newcastle, Northumbria and Teesside universities, is helping SMEs access academics, PhD students and research facilities to address their research challenges, leading in turn to the development of new products and services.

And the Durham City Incubator, a partnership between ourselves, Durham County Council and New College Durham, is supporting and encouraging graduate and student enterprise: helping our graduates stay in the North East and creating new and better jobs.

We’re all aware of the challenges facing us, but working together as a region we can drive success. Universities aren’t businesses in a conventional sense. We don’t have shareholders, nor do we seek to maximise profits. But we do deliver jobs, value and innovation. We are major enterprises in the modern economy. We are anchors for the future of the North East.

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Education Secretary Damian Hinds challenges employers and universities to seek out all the talent in the North East.

As the Education Secretary today, (8 October 2018), launches a £24 million programme to increase opportunity for communities in the North East of England, Andrew Hodgson, Chair, North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP),  said:

‘The North East LEP is committed to reducing the gap between our best and lowest performing secondary schools and to improving social mobility for our young people.

“While we have the second highest proportion of outstanding schools, we also have the second highest number of schools rated less than good after Yorkshire and the Humber. It’s this disparity that we are tackling by supporting teachers, governors, schools and leaders. Ensuring the next generation has a clear pathway to achieving their full potential is a fundamental part of our Strategic Economic Plan.

“I am delighted with today’s investment announcement and recognition by the government of our ambition to drive up student attainment levels.  This funding will allow us to accelerate and build on our existing activity in this area and make a real difference to the lives of each and every young person in the North East.”

Read the full details of the funding announcement.

To learn more about Education Challenge, the North East LEP’s goal to reduce the gap between our best and lowest performing schools and to reach a target of all schools achieving a ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ OFSTED rating, email: [email protected]



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In conversation with Kerrie Hood, Head Teacher at Fellside Community Primary School

Improving skills in the North East and access to quality careers education for children and young people is a key area of work for the North East Local Enterprise Partnership and features in the region’s Strategic Economic Plan to create 100,000 more and better jobs by 2024. A better skilled workforce will help drive economic growth.

School governing bodies increasingly have a vital role to play in supporting the skills agenda in the region and the LEP is working closely with schools and colleges to encourage more people from the private sector to consider a role as school governor.

Kerrie Hood, Head Teacher at Fellside Community Primary School, spoke to us about the importance of good school governance, and why it’s so important to our economic future.

What is school governance?

I like to think of school governance as a three-fold approach. The first, and possibly the most important, is the level of leadership and focus on the strategic direction and aims of the school that it brings. The board of governors helps to steer the ambitions of a school and to realise its mission, its vision and its values.

Schools are accountable to the public and governance provides a layer of transparency at leadership level that promotes this.

Finally, school governance examines and monitors the integrity of how we operate; the deployment of our finances; our policies, practices and procedures; and, of course, our school performance standards.

What role does a school governor play and why is it so important?

I’ve been a Head Teacher for five years and worked in education for 13. In that time I’ve seen the sector move towards a more professionally driven, business-led system of school management. We’re increasingly being made to make business-based decisions, so having the expertise and business acumen of the governing body is certainly beneficial. They bring an important layer of skills and knowledge that complements that of the staff team and colleagues in the local authority.

Governors are an important buffer or ‘sounding board’ whose opinions or reactions a leadership team can use to gauge a likely response in a wider sense to a decision or intended action. In this, they live up to the widely-used term ‘critical friends’.

Governance plays a vital part in the judgement of the leadership and management of a school during Ofsted inspections. A common underlying weakness in such inspections is the failure of governing bodies to hold school leaders to account. It is vital, therefore, not to underestimate the key factors that contribute to good and outstanding governance.

What makes good school governance?

There are some general traits including unwavering trust; a strong desire to work with integrity in the spirit of collaboration; and having a good understanding of the local community that the school serves. We want to attract people with a strong moral compass; people that want to make a positive difference to young people, teachers and the wider community.

Increasingly schools are more open about what they need from their governors. At Fellside, we generally look to where we have a shortage of skills or knowledge from our skills audit, and then seek to recruit someone whose aptitudes and competencies will best fulfil this. We’re very fortunate to be able to attract some extremely well-qualified governors who bring a wide-range of expertise and experience to our board.

A critical factor in the success of a governing body lies in its absolute clarity on roles, responsibilities and lines of accountability. The most successful governing bodies are resolute in their strategic role in the leadership of a school but understand the distinction between this and the more operational role of the leadership team. Ofsted has cited ‘blurring’ of the roles as a weakness in some governing bodies; and regrettably it is sometimes not detected until inspection. A conversation about this is crucial, particularly where multi-level governance makes accountability complex.

A professional and passionate chair with a strong interest in school improvement is also key to a successful board. For me, it’s one of the most critical relationships in my role as head teacher. I’ve been fortunate enough to work under two fantastic chairs who have provided me with much moral support, as well mutual respect and understanding of our respective roles and responsibilities. Their ability to challenge and support helps our school improve.

What can we do to improve school governance in the North East?

I think schools and governors both gain from sharing the mutual benefits of sitting on a school governing board. It’s a two way street. I think we could do even more to promote this. A potential governor could gain much from broadening their horizons to include what might be an entirely different setting or context to that which their day job routinely entails. Yes, schools benefit enormously from a varied governing board that represents different areas of the business community, but schools can also add value to them, I believe. One of our governors is the CEO for a charity that supports schools in Africa. She’s able to learn from our best practice and implement that at the schools she works in.

 What are the current challenges facing school governing bodies?

There are many, the most obvious one being the strain on school finances. Standards are expected to rise year on year, yet we’re generally less able to provide the quality or volume of resources and levels of staffing we’d like to have in schools. This is creating some very difficult decisions for leadership teams and governors.

Ensuring governors get access to key information to assist them in carrying out the key tenets of their role among a seemingly relentless ‘sea’ of initiatives or change to policy is increasingly challenging. Recently, changes to accountability measures with the demise of National Curriculum levels; understanding the impact of the National Funding Formula; and regular changes to inspection frameworks are but a few such variations on the education landscape. Assimilating this information can be challenging for governors. At the same time, of course, it is imperative that governors are given access to the very information that informs appropriate challenge on school leaders. Not having access to key assessment information – or even accepting leaders’ interpretation of data without question – for example, has resulted in Ofsted being critical of the limiting ability of some governing bodies to effectively hold school leaders to account.

Succession planning is another thing I know can be testing for some governing bodies. When there is a strong nucleus on a board and someone leaves, how do you best fill that role? We’ve tried to ensure our board remains buoyant with the appointment of associate members who can essentially ‘learn the ropes’ and hopefully step into a co-opted position later. At Fellside we are fortunate that we have a high level of interest from people in wanting to be school governors – but that’s not the case for every school, of course.

How connected is school governance with the regional economic landscape (e.g. preparing students for the world of work)?

Increasingly so, and that includes at primary level. Governance provides us with the opportunity of bringing colleagues from the private sector into the public sector domain. In terms of moulding workforce development, this juxtaposition is invaluable – and in turn, it assists the economic buoyancy of our region. If we can positively influence the skill set of young people through an early introduction to role models from many varied professional backgrounds, we can help to promote aspiration and social mobility.

The North East LEP’s Enterprise Advisor programme is a great example of this. Business leaders embed themselves in secondary schools and colleges to help shape the delivery of careers education. A voluntary role, it reflects how education and business can work together to improve opportunities for students.

We have a role to play in supporting the regional economy by providing students with the skills employers need. By introducing them to careers education from a young age, we undoubtedly benefit as a region.

How can people become a school governor?

I would recommend anyone interested in becoming a school governor to either speak to the head teacher of the school or, as I often do, arrange for them to speak to the Chair of the governing board.

Often people have the desire to help but don’t know the requirements and commitment it takes to be a governor. It is important people know what to expect and the level of involvement generally required.

I also think people should speak to their employers and get them on side with your ambition. A supportive employer understands when people need time off work for board commitments.

There are some fantastic websites too that provide lots of helpful information. I know many of my board members have used www.governorsforschools.org.uk and www.inspiringgovernance.org.

If you’re not wedded to a particular school, the governance section of your local authority is another fantastic resource. They can provide information and they often hold events for prospective governors too.

For more information about how the North East LEP is improving skills in our region, visit www.nelep.co.uk/skills