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How to Apply to be a School Governor: 16 Key Things You Need to Know

Governors for schools play a vital role in organisational and educational development. While the school governor role is voluntary, it requires commitment, dedication and a vested interest in the long-term success of all pupils, as well as the school itself.

If you’re considering applying to become a school governor, are new in your role or you're just looking for some fresh thinking around the impact you can have as a governor for your school, we have put together the key things that are vital for your consideration and understanding.

The Basics of School Governance

1. All governing boards have three core requirements, so ensure you understand these as the key components that make up your role:

a) Ensuring clarity of vision, ethos and strategic direction.
b) Holding executive leaders to account for the educational performance of the organisation, its pupils and the effective and efficient performance management of staff.
c) Overseeing the financial performance of the organisation and making sure its money is well spent.

2. A governor is a voluntary role you’ll need to fit in and around your wider commitments, so you need to dedicate the time to attend regular meetings and execute action points where necessary. Don’t be afraid to ask the senior leadership team for more details on the specific time commitments during the recruitment process, to make sure this role is right for you.

3. Familiarise yourself with the DBS checks that will be required of you for you to take on this role.

4. All governors should contribute to each meeting. Make sure you prepare by reading the agenda circulated in advance and offer solutions and opinions to key issues up for discussion. While specific governors may have themes they specialise in or lead on, the more board members that can input into the discussion, the better.

5. If you have an issue you’d like to discuss at the meeting, make sure you submit it in advance so it's added to the agenda and everyone has time to prepare. If you're a parent governor and would like to discuss an issue relating to your child, you shouldn't discuss this at the governors meeting but instead, in a one-to-one meeting between you and an appropriate member of staff.

6. The board of governors plays a vital role in building relationships, not only within the school but also between the school, parents, carers, pupils, the local community as well as the local authority and employers. Think about how you can help facilitate this; considering your position as a parent or local community member, how would you like to see interaction with the school improved? This is something to consider ahead of your interview in terms of how it may fit into your motivations for applying.

7. Different types of schools have different governance structures and that may alter how your role fits in with wider school plans. Are you looking to join a maintained school, single or multi-academy trust or a free school? Research your prospective school’s structure and the expectations of a governor in this context so you’re as prepared as possible.

The Skills Required to Be an Effective School Governor

8. School governors need an analytical eye. You'll need to find out how to measure impact and how to monitor this in the short and long-term. To understand the effects of new initiatives, work with the governing board and senior leadership team to ensure an evaluation structure is in place and agree on how often you and your colleagues will review progress. Regular audits by governors will push leadership, staff and pupils to strive for better.

9. Remember, you’re not only examining educational quality for pupils but also looking at their wellbeing, behaviour and attendance. This will require empathy, an adequate understanding of different personal contexts and engagement with parents and carers.

10. The role of a governor for a school is a strategic one, as opposed to an operational function which the senior leadership team executes. Make sure you're clear on this and understand the higher-level thinking you'll need as a governor, rather than the implementation of new initiatives within the day-to-day running of the school. If you're preparing for an interview for a school governor role, think about how you can demonstrate experience of successful strategy development.

11. Governors for schools must be prepared to challenge the senior leadership if the partnership is to be effective. This means questioning decisions, outcomes and identifying where improvements can be made. It might lead to having tough conversations which are vital for the school’s progress, so you must be comfortable with this.

12. The school governor role requires you to have a broad-ranging understanding of and appreciation for the consequences of decisions made by the board and those made in collaboration with the leadership team. When evaluating initiatives and challenging new proposals, you must have the ability to consider what decisions will mean for staff, pupils, the short- and long- term budget, curriculum planning and recruitment.

13. As a school governor, you'll need to adhere to the Seven Principles of Public Life, including objectivity and accountability. Be sure to familiarise yourself with these before embarking on the role.

14. The National Governors Association (NGA) also outlines the Eight Elements of Effective Governance. These include quality chairing and good relationships based on trust and are elements you can continually explore and review throughout your time as a governor.

The Next Steps for Becoming a School Governor

15. A good place to start thinking about what you can bring to the table is by reading the latest Ofsted or ISI report and School Improvement Plan for your prospective or current school. Also, make notes on questions, such as:

a) According to the latest inspection, which areas does the school need to improve?

b) What does the school do well that it could improve on across more year groups?

c) How has the school built the inspection recommendations into its School Improvement Plan?

d) How effective have recent School Improvement Plans been and what ideas do you have for how the school could improve the next one?

17.  Preparing for a governor interview already? Take a look at the questions you’re likely to be asked by the interview panel here.

If you want to be a successful school governor and leave a lasting impact, it's essential you keep up-to-date with the most effective solutions to help raise standards of education in your school. To learn more about effective governance and leadership strategies, why not meet with experts by booking your place on a conference dedicated to the subject?

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