Could you be a school governor? Vacancies for the vital role across Lancashire

Governors help set the overall direction of a school and maintain standards
Governors help set the overall direction of a school and maintain standards

Ian Marquis first walked through the gates of Carr Hill High School in Kirkham more than fifty years ago.

When he left in the early 1970s, he never imagined that his association with the school would eventually stretch over half a century.

His three daughters all sat in the same classrooms that he once had and one of his sons-in-law is now a PE teacher at the 1100-pupil secondary.

And Ian himself has spent more than a decade in a job which he says has enabled him to make “a real difference” to the place which he knows so well - not as a teacher or classroom assistant, but chair of the school’s governors.

His retirement from the role this week left a vacancy which had to be filled - one of around 50 gaps in governing bodies at schools across Lancashire.

Lancashire County Council is now appealing for more people to apply for the voluntary positions and Ian says nobody should be deterred because of their background.

“When I became chair, I was an unqualified 50-year-old, but I had taken a keen interest in my daughters’ education when they were attending the school and I found that I had a lot of transferable skills from my day job,” he explains.

“I manage a sales team, so I was used to chairing meetings and dealing with people.”

Ian, who spent 20 years as a governor at Strike Lane Primary School In Freckleton before taking up the chairmanship at Carr Hill, advises prospective governors to “immerse themselves” in the role and be prepared for peaks and troughs in the demands on their time.

“Get to know the school and volunteer for some of the sub-committees on the governing body.”

“When major appointments need to be made or OFSTED are visiting, it can be time consuming. But on a day-to-day basis, it’s not too onerous a task - I managed to do it with three daughters and five grandchildren.”

And while Ian describes his time as a governor as being “a pleasure”, he recognises that the role requires a willingness to be “a critical friend” of the school.

“You rely on an excellent relationship with the headteacher and staff, whilst being mindful that your job is to challenge - but also support in equal measure.

“Any governor who is also a parent needs to be interested in the welfare of the whole school and all the children. “You’re not going in to fly the flag for your own children - you need a broader perspective than that.”

The former Carr Hill pupil has seen plenty of changes in education since his school days - not all of them for the better.

“Social media is playing a more active part in schools - which sometimes makes things more difficult,” Ian says.

“When I was at school, you’d have an argument with someone at 3.30 and you’d be best mates again by 8 o’clock the next morning. Now, it gathers momentum on-line overnight - and that’s both between pupils and parents.”

However, Ian feels that the majority of developments have been positive, especially when it comes to the often-dreaded move from primary to secondary school - a time he remembers being characterised by fabled threats of “bog washing”.

“The transition is now fantastic. For me, it was, ‘There’s your bag and uniform and off your pop’.

“There is also a lot more planning and preparation which goes into teaching these days,” Ian says.

The best advice he has for anybody considering offering their services as a governor is to go and speak to people who are already doing it, adding that “people from all walks of life contribute to a well-balanced team”.

Ian says that he would never rule out returning to play a role in the life of the school which has been a part of his own for so long. But what would be most likely to coax him back to the corridors?

“If governors ever start getting paid, I’ll be back like a rat up a drainpipe,” he jokes.

“WE NEED TO KEEP THE FLOW OF GOVERNORS COMING”

The role of school governor might go unnoticed by pupils and most parents - but, according to the county councillor responsible for boosting their recruitment, it is a vital one.

“Governing bodies are essential to the success of a school,” County Councillor Phillippa Williamson says.

“If you look at the OFSTED report of any good school, the leadership will be fantastic - and that’s [due to] the headteacher and governing body working together to improve standards and opportunities for young people.

“It’s really important to keep the flow of governors coming and ensure a diversity of people,” she adds.

There can be dozens of governor vacancies at any given time in Lancashire and one of the biggest challenges in filling them is getting the word out beyond the school gates that they are needed.

“It’s simple to advertise the positions to parents, but not the wider community,” John Davey, chair of the Association of Lancashire School Governing Bodies, explains.

“You don’t need to be a parent or even have a particular school in mind - we will point you towards a school that may really be struggling to recruit. School governing bodies should be [drawn from] a cross-section of the community.”

And while schools are so often judged on raw results, John says there is much more to education than that.

“I’m also on the school council and regularly meet with pupils to get their feedback - it’s about the school family and all the additional things that we are able to offer young people.”

School governors do not get involved in the day-to-day running of a school, but are expected to hold headteachers to account for the decisions which they take. According to John, that can require robust conversations and a close - but “not cosy” - relationship.

The veteran governor - who has been on the governing body of Haslingden High School for 30 years - says that the best governors want to get an insight into how their school is operating.

“You don’t want to be just sitting in a meeting and reading masses of paperwork, you really need to know what’s going on in the classroom - if you have time, you can visit your school by appointment,” John says.

Lancashire County Council also offers more than two dozen training programmes for governors to help them discharge their duties effectively. Courses range from balancing budgets to preparing for OFSTED inspections - while the seemingly endless changes to the education landscape are explained through regular updates.

“It’s very rewarding and at times frustrating,” John says of the governor role. “You are offering your skills in order to assist the school and get a better standard of education.”

WHAT ABOUT ACADEMIES?

The arrangements for governing bodies in academies are often different to local authority maintained schools - and even from one academy to the next.

Academy governors are classed as charity trustees because of their schools’ charitable status. They will also be responsible for setting admissions policies, whereas local authority schools have to adhere to the criteria laid down by councils.

Standalone academies sometimes have a similar governing body structure to council-run schools, but the situation varies for schools which are part of an academy chain.

In multi-academy trusts, a board of directors decides on the constitution of local governing bodies. Academy sponsors may appoint the majority of local governors directly or even downgrade the governing body to an advisory board so that the umbrella organisation is largely in control.

In the Lancashire County Council area, fewer than a third of secondary schools and under one percent of primary schools have converted to academy status.

WHAT DO GOVERNORS DO?

Governors must be over 18 years of age and are responsible for...

Monitoring the overall performance of the school

Allocating and monitoring budgets

Appointing senior members of staff.

Planning for the school's long-term future

Setting the aims and objectives for the school