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A refreshed plan for delivering more and better jobs in the North East

In February the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) published the updated Strategic Economic Plan for the North East. The Plan, which lays out the roadmap for creating 100,000 more and better jobs for the region by 2024, has been updated to reflect progress made since its initial launch in 2014, and to take account of changes in the economic landscape.

North East LEP Skills Director, Michelle Rainbow, talks through some of the changes you can expect to see when it comes to supporting skills, employment, inclusion and progression in the North East.

We have revisited the Strategic Economic Plan for a number of reasons. Changes to the economy both nationally and globally and of course the changes which lie ahead of us, including Brexit and the opportunities that could be available to us through the Industrial Strategy and global opportunities, mean that we chose to lay out how we will continue to work towards achieving our ambition of creating more and better jobs.

The updated Plan makes clear links to the development of the North East Local Industrial Strategy, which identifies how we will make the most of our particular strengths to maximise productivity and improve standards of living for people here in the North East, and how the region will make an important contribution to the overall UK Industrial Strategy.

In the updated Plan, the skills programme and the employability and inclusion programme have been brought together into a combined skills, employment, inclusion and progression programme. The work we do in this area is all about progression and improving social mobility in the North East. It’s about supporting people as they make transitions throughout their lives and careers, whether that is school pupils learning about the world of work and further education, people preparing to return to the workforce later in life, or graduates who are choosing where to live, work and stay after university. It’s all intrinsically linked and the updated Plan reflects this.

Our focus is on all age groups and circumstances and our programme of work will help us achieve our long term ambition for the North East: that demand for skills and the quality of jobs continue to improve, leading to higher productivity. We want individuals, regardless of age or employment status, to have a good understanding of employment opportunities available and how to access them, we want to continue to strengthen links between employers and education, and we want everyone to understand the importance of skills in raising productivity and living standards.

You will see a cross-cutting theme of digitalisation throughout the Plan. If the North East is to continue to compete on a national and international stage then it’s vital that digitalisation and digital skills are embedded across our businesses and communities. As we move into Industry 4.0, our workforce and our young people must have access to the digital skills and related opportunities this fourth industrial revolution will bring.

Alongside our board we have advisory boards made up of representatives from the public and private sectors, the voluntary sector, trade unions and business representative organisations including the CBI and Chamber of Commerce. Our advisory boards have valuable experience in each of our focus areas of industry – energy, digital, health and life sciences, and advanced manufacturing – and in innovation, business growth, and employability and skills.

The guidance of our board members and our advisory panels becomes ever more important as we continue to deliver the SEP and the Local Industrial Strategy, and we will make use of their expertise and our close working relationships with partners across the North East to deliver on our ambition of creating more and better jobs.

Read the North East Strategic Economic Plan.


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In conversation with Debbie Edwards, CEO of FDisruptors, about women in STEM

Can you tell us about FDisruptors and why the company was established?

I’ve had a 25-year career in marketing and growth strategy, working with some amazing companies and talented people. Quite a lot of those were very male dominated though; women were few and far between, and so I have always understood the challenges that women can sometimes face when they enter into male dominated industries.

A few years ago I started to have conversations with my teenage daughters about where they wanted their lives to go and sadly they did not seem to be talking about tech at all – I became really conscious that if young women didn’t look at tech as a serious career opportunity they could be left out of some of the most exciting industries and innovations that we have ever seen.

When I set up FDisruptors I didn’t want to build something women didn’t want or need. I felt strongly that it was time that we started a different narrative around tech – a narrative where we showed them the magic of tech and the impact they could have in the world if they jumped on board. So I designed a pilot programme of learning and gave them access to opportunities to help to build their confidence and primarily to shift their perceptions on technology and their perceptions of what they were capable of. It was the best four months of my career to date and it formed the basis of what has now become the new FDisruptors platform.

Is there more organisations could be doing to encourage young girls and women into the tech sector?

Storytelling is key, that’s really important. Young people and young women engage with authentic stories. They want to hear about real people – people who have changed careers or failed and got back up, or taken a new unexpected path and succeeded – or sometimes not.

It’s also important to hear from women who have done it in lots of different ways and from women from lots of different places – we need different voices, opinions and backgrounds. Storytelling resonates because a girl will see that and think – if they can do it, I can do it too.

A confidence gap still exists too. To inspire girls, and make them think they can, we need to work on self-belief and confidence as well as equipping them with real world skills for a very new world of work. We cannot drive more women to choose a career in tech without giving them the tools to also thrive within that industry – if we do that then you will not only see more women in tech but they will also be driven by purpose, and will be armed with talent and skills that will absolutely transform tech across every industry.

Are any succeeding in making a change?

I’m talking to more and more companies that are very intentional in their desire to invest in diversity, which is very positive. However, it’s not just about changing the language in a job description; it’s about a layered approach. We have a huge challenge ahead of us and culturally it’s a big issue to unpick. Ultimately a more diverse workforce is good for business, good for your culture, makes you a much more appealing place to work and makes it a more interesting place to work. It also ensures that you are building products or developing services that more truly reflect the customers and communities that you serve. So there really is no excuse for not integrating diversity into your workplace – it is essential to running a successful business of the future.

What’s been your personal experience as a women working in the tech/creative/digital sector?

Overall it’s been great but of course there are some challenges. Having worked in other industries that are also male dominated though I have to say that I don’t think tech is the only industry that has challenges with diversity and the promotion of women to leadership positions.

On a personal note I was surprised to experience ageism when I was initially raising finance for FDisruptors. There can be an assumption that the majority of people developing tech platforms are young and that is absolutely not the case. Tech is the single most accessible sector in which to develop a business or a career regardless of age, background, ethnicity or gender. I just need to be armed with my creativity and a laptop and the rest is up to me – no restrictions, no limitations. If we truly want to attract more diversity into tech then we have to challenge stereotypes at all levels and quickly.

What are the barriers to women pursuing a career in STEM?

I think many women have a perceived stereotype of what a person in tech looks like. It’s a white guy; a maths genius or physics geek and they’ll be coding at a computer all their life.

When we have presented tech to girls in the past it has been a bit one dimensional – presenting only code clubs means that they only see one part of the picture. There is so much more to tech careers and being a tech entrepreneur, and it is absolutely vital that they get to see much more variety surrounding those pathways and the role models within tech across every sector.

There is definitely still a confidence gap too – it has been proven that confidence in girls experiences a huge dip during the ages of 8-15. This is key, as it is right at a time when they are expected to make some of their biggest decisions around study and careers. During my pilot programme we saw the positive results of leading with confidence training – ultimately if we can change the lens through which a young women sees herself we can change her outlook on what she believes she can achieve.

What role does education have to play in supporting more women into STEM roles and employment?

Schools have a huge part to play, and their role as influencers around careers have really come under the spotlight in the past few years as highlighted by the Gatsby Report. Ultimately, we are working with schools to help them to be able to equip their students with the skills that are absolutely needed from the workforce of the future. That is two fold for us – firstly we need to work together to get better about encouraging girls to take STEM subjects but more than that – we need to get better at helping them to visualise how they will progress into a STEM related career as without this context the stats show that even girls who do choose STEM will still not enter into this field.

It is also about delivering tech skills to every single young person, regardless of their chosen career, so they are more equipped when they join the world of work. Tech should be integrated across the curriculum giving us the best possible chance to send fully fledged digital citizens out into a world that is now digital by default.

I had a really amazing conversation with a head teacher recently about how they want to create more alternative pathways for young people – she said it was time to look at students as individuals and who they are right now, so they could provide better careers advice and not only drive students towards Universities but support them into a much wider variety of career options. This kind of approach is great to see, but it will require much more support and funding for careers in schools if we have any hope of integrating it in this way.

Who are your female role models in the STEM sector?

For me, I love people that are doing things quietly but brilliantly.

There is a fantastic free app on the market called Clementine, which is designed by women for women. It’s all around confidence, self-belief, reducing anxiety and focusing on sleep, meditation etc.

I also love people like designer Stella McCartney who is reaching out and collaborating with tech in a way we’ve never seen before. She has worked with Bio Tech pioneers, Bolt Threads, on a project to create ethical, sustainable fashion using science and new technology. It’s a brave and bold move but it is so exciting to see pioneers coming together to produce something new and unique that might just change the way our clothes are made and ultimately save the planet.

There’s more information on the FDisruptors website.

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In conversation with Erika Leadbeater, Operations Director at TSG Marine

To mark International Women’s Day (Friday 08 March), we spoke to Erika Leadbeater, Operations Director at leading engineering company TSG Marine, about gender balance and her experience of being a leading female figure in the North East business community.

International Women’s Day this year is focused on building a gender-balanced world. What do you think we can do here in the North East to improve gender equality?

We need to focus on promoting the benefits of inclusive workplaces. We need workplaces where difference is celebrated for the positive impact it can bring to an organisation; both in terms of a positive workplace culture but also ultimately bringing commercial success.

In this ever-changing world innovation is a necessity. Innovation requires creativity, and creativity needs new ideas, which more often than not come from different points of view. You will only get that diversity of thinking in organisations if your workforce has a diversity of experience.

That diversity of thinking has been key to the success of our business, TSG Marine. The value we bring to our clients comes from us looking at things differently; always seeking to find quicker, safer and more cost-effective solutions.

The North East is leading the way in a number of sectors due to our innovative approach. I think that is due to a willingness to embrace change and meet challenges head on. We just need more of that approach, which will in turn reinforce progressive mindsets and inclusive behaviours throughout the region.

Have you ever experienced discrimination during your career because of your gender?

I assume equality in every situation. I have always found that to be an effective and positive way to approach life. I also strongly believe that we cannot control the actions of others, but we can control our own reaction to those actions. The knowledge that I always retain the control of my reaction gives me strength and resilience.

Would you consider the engineering industry to be male-dominated, and if so, how can we encourage more women to join the sector?

Historically, not enough women have considered engineering to be the interesting, challenging and rewarding career that I know it to be. I think that is in part due to the variety of careers in engineering not always being appreciated and also a lack of understanding that a career in engineering will allow you to continually develop your skills.

I did not go directly into engineering. I did law first, working in a large law firm before starting at TSG Marine as a Contracts Manager. Over the years my role has developed and now I am Operations Director. My job still involves reviewing contracts, but it now has a wider business focus.

However, the point is I am not an engineer; but I do work in engineering and I could not now see myself doing anything else. It is such a vibrant and interesting industry. That is because the sectors that the engineering disciple underpins are constantly progressing. For instance, at TSG Marine we started in the Oil & Gas industry and now we are firmly in the emerging Energy Sector. That is exciting, I love working in an organisation that is constantly looking for opportunities to improve the way things are done.

What advice would you give to other women interested in working in the engineering sector?

Value your difference. Having a new or alternative point of view is a strength, you just need the confidence to demonstrate that strength.

Be curious. Engineering is a progressive discipline; you should always be looking to learn and develop your skills, you will only do that by being inquisitive.

Have you been inspired by any female leaders in business?

I am inspired by both female and male leaders. The people who inspire me the most are often not the best well known, but the ones who are courageously approaching issues, such as gender, positively and authentically.

I recently read an excellent book called Dare to Lead by Brené Brown. I was inspired by Brené’s work as it is honest and it makes leadership accessible. She is striving to create braver leaders and courageous cultures. The book sets out that we all have a part to play in promoting change, and it reminded me that one of the central skills of a good leader is curiosity.

I think the most inspirational leaders are those who positively encourage and actively facilitate open conversations on difficult issues, conversations where people feel safe to ask questions and test their own opinions. In my view these are the leaders that effect real change.

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Expanding the reach of the North East Skills Strategy

The North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) is expanding its Skills team to increase the reach of its work with schools, colleges and education providers across the North East. Michelle Rainbow, the North East LEP’s Skills Director, explains what’s in store.

2018 was an incredibly busy year for our Skills team here at the North East LEP. We spent the year working on both a regional and a national basis, building the foundations of our Skills strategy and working towards the interim aims laid out in the region’s Strategic Economic Plan (SEP).

One of these aims was to put in place our Fuller Working Lives programme, working with employers to boost their numbers of older workers and to make sure that those in our workforce who are older are supported, whether they want to pursue a new direction or continue in their career.

We aimed to roll out the Good Career Guidance Benchmarks, which form a clearly defined framework for good careers guidance, to every secondary school in the North East and we wanted to partner every secondary school with an Enterprise Adviser – a business leader who volunteers their expertise to support schools and colleges in shaping the delivery of careers education.

Another major aim was to begin the ground-breaking Education Challenge programme, including working with three North East schools to pilot a new, project-based model of learning which places employer engagement at the heart of the curriculum.

In the area of technical education, we aimed to work with providers to develop world class technical education and apprenticeships to match the requirements of our growing and emerging sectors.

I’m proud to say that we achieved all of these aims and more. And to help us work with even more schools, colleges and education providers in 2019, we have recently welcomed seven new people to the North East LEP Skills team. It’s my hope that by mid-2019 we will have recruited another 10 members of the team to help deliver our ambitious plans for this year.

It’s a period of rapid expansion, which will enable us to have a wide scale regional impact. By the end of 2019 we will be working with every secondary school in the North East and we will be increasing the scope of our work with primary schools, helping to raise children’s aspirations from a young age.

We’re building on our engagement with the Further Education, Higher Education and Technical Education sectors as well, supporting organisations in responding to changes in policy and working closely with partners like the CBI and North East Chamber of Commerce.

Over the past three years we’ve put foundations in place that form the basis of a robust Skills strategy for the North East. We’ve carried out pilot projects and learnt from all the work that has been carried out so far.

Now we’re building on what we’ve learnt and we are actively pursuing opportunities to expand our reach across all our programmes so that we can support even more schools, colleges, employers and educational organisations.

Our long term vision for the North East is that it is a place where individuals, regardless of age or employment status, have a good understanding of the employment opportunities available in the North East and the pathways to access them. We want employers to have strong links with education and training providers and we aim to continue working with partners to highlight the importance of skills in improving productivity and living standards for everyone in the North East.

Find out more about the North East LEP Skills strategy. 

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Northern Power Futures Festival to inspire North East workforce

Supercharging careers will be the focus of a new festival designed to inspire people across the North.

Northern Power Futures is a free two-day event which will see over 100 leading speakers and mentors take to the stage in Newcastle next month.

The festival, which will host panels and workshops on issues such as the economy, technology, workplace culture and wellbeing, has been designed to inspire delegates towards a greater working life and career in the region.

Organised by Northern Power Women founder Simone Roche MBE, Northern Power Futures has the backing of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP).

Michelle Rainbow, Skills Director at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “Northern Power Futures promises to be one of the most exciting events in the calendar for anyone interested in a springboard for their career.

“Improving skills in the North East workforce is fundamental to our economic future, underpinning the LEP’s aim of driving an uplift of 100,000 jobs by 2024, and ensuring that the majority are ‘better’ jobs.

“So we are very happy to be supporting Northern Power Futures as, together with a very impressive group of partners, they will showcase the incredible possibilities available to our region’s workforce. Best of all tickets are free to make it accessible for all.”

Set across three stages, topics up for discussion include the ageing North and the future of longevity; future technology; social networking and how to shortcut your way to promotion.

Management consultant Sarah Hall from Sarah Hall Consulting is leading a session on personal branding with Always Wear Red founder Michael Owen. Sarah said: “Personal branding is more important than you think when building a career. It’s about how people perceive you, feel about you and what they say about you when you’re not in the room.

“Making sure people know what you stand for can create new opportunities and make a big difference to your earning potential if you live your values and others share them.”

British Forces Learning, Vodafone Learning and EY Learning will host various sessions throughout the festival, with advice to inform, inspire and boost careers, while networking sessions will run to allow participants to connect with others.

The Newcastle festival follows on from a successful event held in Manchester in November.

Simone Roche MBE, Founder of Northern Power Futures, said: “We are grateful that the North East LEP is championing Northern Power Futures as we reach across the North East and help people who want to supercharge their career, develop their skills, make new connections and join conversations about the North.”

Northern Power Futures takes place on February 10 and 11 at The Boiler Shop in Newcastle.

For more information and to book tickets, visit https://northernpowerfutures.com/

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Careers guidance in primary schools – can we raise our children’s aspirations?

Following a successful pilot programme to improve standards of careers education in all North East secondary schools, the North East LEP is expanding its work to focus on primary pupils, helping to broaden their horizons and raise their aspirations.

Michelle Rainbow, Skills Director at the North East LEP, explains more.

We know that even at the young age of three or four, children are already starting to form their first aspirations. By six they are starting to have opinions on what they think they can or can’t do in the future. And by the time they’re 10, young people start to make decisions which could go on to limit their future options.

This is why we are embarking on a programme of work in partnership with North East primary schools to strengthen careers guidance for pupils and help open their eyes to the range of possibilities their futures hold.

Back in 2015, the North East became the first UK region to pilot the implementation of the Gatsby Good Career Benchmarks in our secondary schools. We began by working with 16 schools and colleges before rolling out the programme to the entire region, and now we are expanding this work to encompass our primary schools as well.

The work we will be doing in partnership with schools across the North East will help us to make sure that all children, from primary age upwards, have the best possible guidance to help them understand the exciting opportunities that are open to them as they grow up.

It’s not about children choosing their future jobs at this very young age. It’s about helping our children and young people to have ambitions and aspirations for themselves, helping them to learn about the variety of jobs open to them and the fantastic range of opportunities we have in the region, and to gain a broad understanding of the routes to get into work including apprenticeships and further and higher education

From early 2019 we will be working with around 70 primary schools to pilot the use of the Career Guidance Benchmarks in a primary setting.   The benchmarks have proven to have a transformational impact on careers guidance for slightly older students, forming a framework which enables schools to strengthen links with local businesses and provide top quality careers guidance for each and every pupil. Following our secondary schools pilot and the subsequent wider roll-out, the Government adopted the benchmarks as part of the national Careers Strategy and the North East is now playing a key role in supporting schools across the country to adopt the benchmarks.

For the primary pilot, we will be partnering with schools in different locations, of different sizes and with varying OFSTED ratings so we can really test how best to apply the framework to primaries.

We know that many primary schools are already doing great work in the area of careers guidance and one of the aims of this programme will be to build a community of best practice and facilitate the sharing of challenges and solutions.

Similarly, we will build on the work of the many employers currently supporting teachers and leadership teams in primary schools to bring careers to life for pupils.

We’ve had a fantastic response from schools wanting to be involved in the pilot and there is still time for more schools to get involved. We’d love to hear from any who are interested in working with us to raise the aspirations of the next generation.

The North East Primary Benchmark pilot is part of the North East LEP’s North East Ambition – a programme which aims to improve career guidance and advice from primary school upwards in the North East.

If you have any further questions about this article, please do not hesitate to contact us directly.

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Students at Excelsior Academy energised by Northern Powergrid partnership

Year 7 and 8 students at Excelsior Academy in Newcastle upon Tyne have been learning about the future of green and renewable energy thanks to a new partnership between the school and the region’s electricity distributor, Northern Powergrid.

Part of the North East LEP’s Education Challenge initiative, which aims to reduce the gap between the best and lowest performing secondary schools in the region, staff from Northern Powergrid have been supporting students’ curriculum-based learning with teaching and learning direct from the workplace.

Elliot Dixon, EHV Design Engineer at Northern Powergrid, visited the school to speak to pupils about the role of Northern Powergrid and its commitment to green and renewable energy.

Elliot said: “The students at Excelsior Academy really impressed me with their intelligent questions about how we deliver electricity to homes and businesses and how we respond to a power cut.

“Having the opportunity to speak to the workforce of tomorrow about Northern Powergrid and the important role we play has been a great experience for everyone involved. I hope we’ve inspired some students to come and work with us in the future.”

Hannah Cummins, Industry Alignment Manager at Excelsior Academy, said: “Having meaningful encounters with employers from the local area is something we’re committed to delivering our students.

“The Education Challenge programme expands students’ knowledge of the opportunities available to them when they leave school and it also helps them understand the skills they need for the workplace.”

Excelsior Academy is one of three schools in the region piloting the North East LEP’s Education Challenge initiative, which is built on the highly successful Ford Next Generation Learning programme currently embedded in schools across Nashville, Tennessee, and other US cities.

When introduced to Nashville schools, high school graduation rates rose by almost 23% as well as improvements in attainment, student behaviour and attendance.

For more information about Education Challenge, visit www.nelep.co.uk/skills.

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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