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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