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Insider Insights: Mastering School Governance - Expert Interview with Jo Philips of GovernorHub

The role of school governors in England has shifted from a more passive, social role to one with greater accountability and strategic focus. While still providing a link to the school or trust community, governors now hold schools to financial and educational standards. This increased responsibility requires a more professional approach, with governors needing to understand complex issues like budgeting and performance data. 

Recruiting governors with relevant skills presents a challenge, but these changes ensure they play a vital role in shaping the future of English schools. This short form interview with Jo Phillips, the Marketing Manager at from GovernorHub, sheds light on the changing role of governors and the challenges experienced by the sector, with regards to governance  

WEEK 2 (17)

Can you please introduce yourself and share your experience with school governance? 

I'm Jo Phillips, Marketing Manager at GovernorHub - a role I rather 'fell into' after getting involved in governance, as so many of us who now work in this field do, as a parent governor at my children's school. It was fascinating to understand the school from this strategic viewpoint and I quickly became very passionate about the role. I took on responsibility for special needs and chaired the curriculum committee.

During this time, I took part in the National Governance Association's Leadership for Chairs Programme to gain further knowledge and experience in the role. I joined GovernorHub in 2018 and have enjoyed playing a small part in the journey of the company which I strongly believe has changed the face of school and trust governance for the better, providing boards with high quality tools to improve communication, ways of working and ultimately governance. GovernorHub joined The Key Group in 2020 and we've continued to grow whilst retaining our absolute commitment to supporting great governance in England's schools and trusts.  

In your opinion, what are some key responsibilities of school governors, and how have they evolved? 

School governors are no longer one homogenous group. With the rise in academy trusts, we now have academy trustees at the trust board level and local tier volunteers who sit on committees/boards at a school-level. These local tier volunteers often have fewer delegated responsibilities than school governors who are volunteering in the maintained sector. Key responsibilities for all of these varied roles within governance are set out in guidance from the Department for Education but what's not often mentioned so clearly is the passion and commitment you need to take on this role and the desire to keep learning and developing.

Training is so important in our sector and volunteers really need to keep abreast of important statutory changes but also to learn more about the world of education in 2024 which in many cases is vastly different to the one they left behind in their youth. Finally, times are difficult for our school and trust leaders and now, more than ever, the role of governing boards must also be the strategic support for the wellbeing of leaders and staff. 

Can you provide examples of specific initiatives or projects you've undertaken at Governor Hub that reflect these changing responsibilities? 

At GovernorHub, we're keen to support the sector as it evolves and one of the ways we've done this recently is to support boards to capture the diversity of their volunteer workforce. The government recommends capturing this information and publishing it on a school or trust website and we've made this possible for our users in an easy and straightforward way on the platform.

In addition, we also provide afree tool for boards to view a detailed breakdown of the make-up of their school community from the 2021 Census which they can compare against regional and national averages. Our aim ultimately will be to provide boards with this comparison side-by-side. More than 22,000 volunteers have completed the information so far and we can see from this that there are more younger governors than we previously reported in various surveys (in our sector, a young governor is classed as anyone aged under 40!). Also we have learned that governance volunteers are more diverse than previous surveys have managed to capture. We aim to publish this information in full in due course to support the development of the sector.  

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How do you think changes in governance responsibilities and the makeup of governing bodies  have influenced the overall effectiveness and accountability of schools? 

Recruiting volunteers is actually a problem for a lot of schools at the moment and this can be a challenge for board effectiveness. This seems to be a problem across the maintained and academy sectors and has worsened since the pandemic - in line with issues all volunteering organisations are facing. However, we know that those who do volunteer in our schools and trusts can find it incredibly rewarding and their motivations are often ‘to make a difference’. We’d love to see a national campaign to promote the role. We know from research we carried out in 2022, “The Missing Pool of Talent on School Governing Boards” that there is very little awareness from the general public of the role of school governance. 

From your perspective, what are some essential qualities or skills that make a successful school governor in today's educational landscape? 

As I mentioned before, passion and commitment to the role and to training and development is key. At GovernorHub, we recently commissioned a Teacher Tapp survey to explore what headteachers believe to be the most important attributes for new volunteers. 'Time to commit to meetings and training', 'experience in specific fields' (e.g. finance, HR, safeguarding) and the potential to 'broaden the diversity of thought' on the board (for example, through age, ethnicity, education level or other characteristics) were deemed the most important. We believe that diversity on a board brings a range of perspectives for robust decision making, which helps to make sure that decisions taken are in the interests of all pupils. But equally, as headteachers in the Teacher Tapp survey noted, a commitment to training and development really matters alongside having a specific skill set that you can bring to the table. 

To speak with GovernorHub and to hear Chris Kenyon, the Key Group Chief Executive Officer, make sure you join us at the Schools & Academies Show London, on May 1st at the ExCeL, London and secure your place here. We look forward to seeing you there.   

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Jo Phillips headshot

Jo Phillips, GovernorHub

Jo Phillips is Marketing Manager at GovernorHub and behind their 2022 research, 'The Missing Pool of Talent on School Governing Boards', which focuses on public perceptions of governance and the diversity of the volunteer workforce, also, 'Women's Work', GovernorHub's 2023 report into gender, pay and working conditions for school governance clerks and governance professionals, plus, 'The Trust Governance Professional', GovernorHub's 2023 research into the role and seniority of the governance professional in multi-academy trusts. Jo has been a governor
herself at a maintained school for more than 7 years.