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North East LEP signs School Governor Champion Charter

The North East Local Enterprise Partnership (North East LEP) has become the first LEP in the country to sign the School Governor Champion Charter, which aims to champion the role of school governor and support staff members to become governors in local schools.

Developed by national school governor recruitment service, Inspiring Governance, the School Governor Champion Charter is a five-step charter employers can sign to pledge their support to champion school governance opportunities in their area and encourage staff to take up the role.

Michelle Rainbow, Skills Director at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “Businesses have an increasingly important role to play in our education institutions. As an active partner, they can support students to learn more about the world and work and help them progress into fulfilling careers.

“Being a school governor is a rewarding experience and people from all sectors of industry have valuable skills and experience to share and gain. Schools and colleges in the North East are actively seeking people from the business community to help shape their strategic direction and ensure they operate in a way that meets performance standards.

“The education sector has become increasingly business-led in its approach, which is why having a varied and diverse school governing body that includes people from different industries and sectors is of huge benefit.”

The North East Local Enterprise Partnership is a public, private and education sector partnership that works with industry, education and partners to deliver the North East Strategic Economic Plan. One of its core aims is to improve skills in the region, helping to boost the economy and create more and better jobs.

Its North East Ambition initiative supports all schools and colleges in the North East LEP area to achieve the government’s Good Career Guidance Benchmarks, ensuring every young person has access to excellent careers guidance that enables them to identify routes to a successful working life, make more informed decisions about their future and be better prepared for the workplace.

The North East LEP is also working with EY Foundation and 70 primary schools from across the North East LEP as part of the North East Ambition: Careers Benchmarks Primary Pilot, which is testing how Good Careers Guidance Benchmarks can be adapted for primary schools.

Michelle continued: “The North East LEP works collaboratively with business and education through our Skills programme to improve opportunities and outcomes for children and young people across the LEP region. Over the past four years we have seen the progress that can be made through effective school governance.

“By signing the School Governor Champion Charter, we are recognising the value and importance of school governance and how, as an organisation, we can help promote opportunities in our area and support staff and colleagues to become governors themselves.

“If anyone would like to know more about becoming a school governor, or would like their organisation to sign the charter, do please get in touch by emailing [email protected].”

Home / School Governance

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

Home / School Governance

The importance of good school governance

In conversation with Mrs Louise Levy, Senior Leader Business & Finance, Cardinal Hume Catholic School

My journey as a school governor started around nine years ago. I joined my daughter’s primary school (Fellside Community Primary School, Whickham) as a parent governor and at the time I knew very little about the role and responsibility of a school governing body.

As the educational landscape has changed dramatically over those nine years, so has the role and remit of school governance. It remains a vital part of any school, be it Primary, Secondary or Academy Trust – with far more accountability being placed upon governing bodies.

Governing bodies and its members are there to provide strategic leadership; setting a path for the school and its students that results in the best standards of education. Governors are also responsible for budget monitoring, the allocation of school finances and resources, and supporting and challenging the head teacher and leadership team’s vision within school to drive standards. It’s also critically important that school is a fond and memorable experience for all students so ensuring pupil wellbeing is another hugely important factor.

I’m often asked what qualities make a good school governor. For me it’s enthusiasm, someone with a real interest in education and a passion for creating a bright future for children. I also think it’s important to question and be curious about things as this helps bring about both understanding and change.

Learning from others, listening and creating an atmosphere of trust are other key qualities. I’ve personally learnt a great deal from Chairs of the various governing bodies I’ve been part of and I think that’s made me a better school governor.

One of biggest changes in the role of a school governing body is ensuring pupils are prepared for the world of work. It’s not just about having a careers fair and inviting local businesses to talk to pupils about what they do; it’s about creating meaningful encounters with employers. We are starting to do this better at secondary level but I think more can be done with primary aged children.

I currently work with a visionary Headteacher who has ensured Cardinal Hume Catholic School in Gateshead is now a Main Provider of Apprenticeships. One of only nine schools in the country to receive this accreditation, we will be training young people within the region in partnership with the business partners to mould and develop their staff of the future who are ‘work ready’ from the minute they become employed. This is a great example of how school governors, head teachers and employers across the region can work in partnership to bring about real change.

Today’s school governing bodies include people from a wide and diverse range of industry sectors and people who demonstrate many different, yet key skills to benefit the school community. All this experience adds value to pupils’ education as governing bodies can use their business networks to support careers education and identify career opportunities for young people in their area.

Of course there’s always room for improvement. I think knowledge sharing is something school governing bodies should do more often. We should be sharing best practice and collaborating between governing bodies. All governors should be able to visit other Good and Outstanding schools. Every school has something to offer others and it’s an excellent way of helping governors expand their knowledge past their own school.

We should invite more monitoring of governing bodies, specifically to ensure we’re doing the best for our schools and pupils. Regular ‘health checks’ should be seen as a positive thing as they would identify areas where governing bodies need to concentrate further in individual schools – they’re all different, with different challenges.

For anyone interested in becoming a school governor I think it’s important to fully understand what the role entails. Speak to your local school, the head teacher or Chair of governors to really understand what’s required of you. It can be hard work but it’s very rewarding. The Department of Education and National Governance Association websites also house lots of information.

If you’d prefer to play more of a passive role there are opportunities to be observers or associate governors. This can be a good way to start your school governance journey as it gives people time to learn the sector, particular for someone outside of education.

I’m enormously proud to be a school governor. Seeing improvements happen across the school and the impact that has on pupils, staff and the local communities is very rewarding. When you see the work you have done play a positive part on their educational journey, and their smiling faces, you know that’s what it’s all about.

By Mrs Louise Levy, Senior Leader Business & Finance, Cardinal Hume Catholic School