What is it like being a parent governor?

(20 Posts)
MrsMargoLeadbetter Wed 01-May-13 05:37:12

Hi

I appreciate this differs from school to school, but I wondered if anyone had any experience of being a parent governor? DH and I are thinking about applying (only one of us will go for it) for our DS' local state primary school.

My background is marketing & comms and I feel that the school could improve their external communications.

As an example the invitation to step forward as a parent governor was just a list of eligibility criteria written in fairly formal language and then a line about sending 100 words in by the deadline. It didn't explain what a parent governor is, nor did it offer a form to help guide applicants through the process. They could have hosted further info on their website and just linked to it etc.

I appreciate that being a governor isn't about me having a platform so they can solve my "gripes" but I do think there is generally room for improvement and I have some experience to offer. I also know that the priority is the children and their education and well being.

I am a trustee of a small charity, so I have some experience of boards etc.

DH is in IT, so he could bring that experience.

Just wondered what others have found it like being parent governors?

TIA

lougle Wed 01-May-13 07:28:02

The Governor application is standard Local Authority format. If potential governors are motivated, they'll want to investigate it by looking at the LA website, etc. I've just nominated to be on the Select Committee for education and the form is literally name, contact number, school and 100 words.

Being a parent Governor is a huge privilege, I think. The role is strategic, not operational. That means that we do not get involved in day to day runnings of the school, but ensure that the policies, procedures and practices of the school are robust and fit for practice.

I attend Full Governing Body meetings and committee meetings. I have 2 areas that I am link Governor for, so I take a special interest in PMLD and am on the working party for the SMSC (Spiritual, moral, social and cultural) curriculum development. I interview for new staff, as needed.

Although you would be a parent Governor, you would not be a go between for parents. So, if a parent has an issue they should go to the school. If there is a wider issue that you come across through talking to parents that impacts on the school, such as health and safety, then that's the sort of thing that needs addressing.

I tihnk your experience is relevent and could be useful to the school. The blurb is used if it goes to an election. I have been a PG for a bit over 18m. It does need time - for meetings and to read and process stuff. I mostly find it quite rewarding but sometimes frustrating too.

lougle Wed 01-May-13 09:56:43

Yes, remember that your blurb is not to impress the school, but to gain votes from parents. They are less likely to care about your visions for the school's external communications and marketing. They are more likely to care that the children already at the school (i.e. their own!) well be given the best education.

piprabbit Wed 01-May-13 10:04:34

DH is a governor. It is quite a commitment in terms of time (training as well as meetings, school visits and keeping up with stuff via email etc.) but his company supports him and allows him time off if he needs to leave early to get to a meeting.

He really enjoys the work, but is very aware that it is a huge responsibility with very real legal implications.

There are several sub committees looking at specific areas of running the school (finance, maintenance, reward etc.) so you can get involved in areas that especially interest you.

IME the people who put lots of 'professional' info in their statements don't tend to get elected because parents seem to prefer to pick 'someone like us' who is passionate about helping the school.

Have you seen this website?

MrsMargoLeadbetter Wed 01-May-13 12:29:26

Thanks all. All good points.

I do appreciate that education and delivering what is best for the children is obviously the top priority.

I just feel as a new parent to the school that my experience would have been a better one (again, it isn't all about me) if the communications were a little better.

I was unable to attend a briefing about internet safety for kids (which isn't obviously as relevant to me as those with older kids) as it was during working hours and I had a meeting I couldn't miss. I questioned how those who couldn't attend could find out more. I was told the policy is on the website.

If only they'd included a sentence "For those parents/carers who couldn't attend you might wish to look at our policy which can be found here xxxx". They are spending time on this outreach/parent involvement activity but I feel they could reach more people (and also demonstrate their hard work) if they thought it through and also used the website more.

And having dealt with encouraging people to stand for boards and committee through work I have personally found that you need to make it easy for people. So provide all the info & forms etc. But obviously if you are interested then you will need to investigate and I guess that is what they are relying on.

Sounds like a big time commitment, will discuss with DH.

Thanks again, lots to think about.

lougle Wed 01-May-13 13:05:39

What you need to consider, is whether you will be motivated to contribute to the Governing Body as a whole, including the mundane details of site maintenance and health and safety, or whether you really want to contribute to a particular niche.

If your passion is really communications, and that is your main motivation for standing for election, you may want to consider volunteering to help the school improve communications instead.

The reason I say this, is that you are talking about operational details - the day to day format of letters, etc. You will mightily annoy the Head and Staff if you start meddling in their work. It isn't the role of a Governor.

Fuzzymum1 Wed 01-May-13 13:07:38

I was a parent governor for 12 years from 1999-2011 and loved it, it was a huge commitment because at my first meeting we were handed the ofsted report placing us in special measures. I have recently decided to stand again and went to my first meeting last week. We have a minimum of one Full Governing Body meeting per term and usually 1 or 2 sub committee meetings per term. Along with that we have 2 or three training sessions a year, some mornings where we come into school to do a monitoring exercise - ie looking at children's work, speaking with a group of children etc, usually concentrating on a specific area - I've done one on safeguarding which was quite interesting - getting the kids opinions on how safe they perceived themselves to be and what their teachers did to ensure they were safe etc. Previously I was on the headteacher's performance management committee and was (and will be again) the governor with responsibility for monitoring attendance - which involves meeting with the school secretary 1/2 termly, reviewing attendance figures and sending letters to any families with attendance levels that were below certain levels - if there was a good explanation for the levels we added a note saying that although the levels were low we understood why and would monitor them etc - ie when a child had an authorized absence for a holiday early in the school year their attendance was appearing to be low at the first half term - it was done this way rather than not sending the letter because we didn't want to be seen to be favouring certain people. We also attend parents' evenings where possible often with a questionnaire to ask parents. All in all it is quite a responsibility and a huge privilege and I find it very rewarding. (please excuse lack of paragraphing - if I hit return when replying on MN it crashes my browser!)

mixedmamameansbusiness Wed 01-May-13 13:13:09

I have been. Parent governor for a year now and by far the biggest thing for me is the time commitment. I have two committee meetings a term and usually one full meeting, we had a governor day last term and I have been to several training sessions, which in my opinion are absolutely necessary.

It isn't just the attendance though, there is masses of paperwork, the training provides lots, there will be papers for the meetings, the committee I am on signs off (provisionally) on school policies. The reading and keeping abreast of major issues via press etc takes an enormous amount of time.

Having said all of the above, I love it and would definitely recommend it but as previous posters have said it is about accountability and not operational issues.

In addition to what everyone else has said, you should be able to have an informal chat with the chair of governors about what is required.

sittinginthesun Wed 01-May-13 14:50:00

Hi. I agree with all the above. You actually have to go in with a fairly open mind, rather than a mission to solve a specific issue that concerns you.

If you have suggestions about communications, then have a word with the school, or drop them a line. Offer your assistance. We are always very keen to have parents volunteer suggestions or help - on occasion, we appoint them as associate governors if we feel it will help a governing body level.

Being a governor is very rewarding, but quite a commitment - I attend two full meetings per term, two committee meetings per term, and courses as and when. I started with a full day course only sunny Saturday of the year!

The problem is, if you go in with one specific issue, raise it in the first meeting, and it is voted against (as happened recently to us with a new governor), then would you be happy to carry on and spend the next 4 years discussing drains and boilers. smile

Elibean Wed 01-May-13 14:55:44

I'm just ending my third year as a Parent Gov. I'm on two sub-committees, and had no idea I'd be as involved as I have been - in three years, I've helped recruit and choose a new Head, a deputy Head, and various other members of staff; re-written and edited endless school policies; been interviewed by Ofsted inspectors.

I've loved nearly all of it, and have learned a huge amount. But yes, it is work, and responsibility, and it is definitely good to go in with an open mind intending to learn - rather than with specific issues to sort out. Though you can always hold specifics lightly in mind and address as and when.

I would have a good talk with the Chair, if possible, and one or two other Parent Govs. I think it probably varies from school to school, but we all get on very well (though don't always agree), have Xmas dinners etc, and are generally a fairly cohesive bunch. They should be happy to talk to you about what it's like.

Good luck if you go for it!

DanFmDorking Wed 01-May-13 14:58:38

Being a Governor varies slightly from school to school. The main thing is ‘time and commitment’. You should think of the Governor meetings as meetings that you must attend and arrange your social/work life around them. You should attend the training sessions that your Local Authority provides.

School Governors are the biggest volunteer organisation in the UK. We estimate that it takes up about 35hrs per year although, of course, it depends on how involved you want to be.

Governors deal with Budgets, Policies, Targets and things which are 'a step away' from the 'day to day' running of the school.
Any question like 'My child doesn't ... isn't ... can't ...' is not for a Governors meeting. Sometimes one can get involved with sacking/redundancies and discipline matters.

School Governors do not run the school; they are there to take an overview and see that it delivers.

Some useful sites: ukgovernors and Governor Line and Being a school Governor

I enjoy it and I've learnt a lot. I like being involved with the school and making a contribution - watching and learning how others deal with and solve problems. I have gained in self confidence and speaking up in meetings.

I’m sure you can Google ‘being a school governor’ yourself but:-

The Role of a School Governor

1 To Provide a Strategic View
2 To Act as a “Critical Friend”
3 To Ensure Accountability

Good Luck
Dan

lougle Wed 01-May-13 15:44:33

Yes, I should say that I am a special school Governor, so we never discuss 'SEN', for example, because all the children have SEN. Site and buildings has more focus for us, because the physical needs of the school population are so dynamic.

The strategy vs operational thing does take some understanding. It was really interesting when I did my training day. We were given scenarios to discuss and about half of the new Governors thought they would directly intervene in issues, 'have a word with x', etc. It took quite a lot of examples for them to see that the role of a Governor is more 'zoomed out' than that.

For example, I will interview for a teaching post. I will be given a list of questions to ask. It is not my role to set the questions or tell the Head what to ask. However, if I felt that an area was not addressed in interviews (e.g. safeguarding), it would be my role to ask how we, as a school, ensure that safeguarding was a priority, raising the fact that we don't ask any safeguarding questions in interview. In that way, you take the operational detail and address it strategically.

HappyMummyOfOne Thu 02-May-13 21:52:20

If the communication thing is what you are interested in, offer to volunteer. Be wary how you word it though as you dont want to upset the staff.

I love being a governor and am very active on several committees. Its hard work, time consumng if you do more than just term meetings and you will make decisions as a group that you may not agree with or dont want for your child.

Our head has a chat with candidates and stresses its not about their child but whats best for the entire school and its future.

lougle Thu 02-May-13 22:07:10

The other thing to bear in mind, is that as a Governor, your conversations with other parents will be restricted somewhat.

You make decisions as a Governing Body. There may be a Governing Body of 15, with 8 of you agreeing with a change, 7 disagreeing. Once the decision has been made, you must act as a body - you can't go around the school saying 'well I disagreed with it but...'

Also, there will be things that are brought up at Governing Body meetings that you can't discuss in the wider school. You may find that other parents have heard something, but you cannot join in and say that you know about it, or have discussed it, etc.

I was a governor at my DC's school for 7 years. During that time we had two ofsted inspections, a redundancy exercise, rebuilt the ks2 buildings and federated the school. Also recruited a new Head and Deputy plus various teaching staff.

I would just like to reiterate the posts others gave made about the time commitment involved. Recruiting the current head took two full days, plus hours of planning and preparation before this, you have to follow strict criteria. You are there in a strategic capacity rather than operational. An objective critical friend. Others have made this point already, it's very valid.

Might I respectfully suggest your issue is operational? Although, I am sure you have a fab skill set to offer too, it can take a little time to separate the two.

I was Chair for two years and that finished me off in terms of work load. Having the odd argument with our Head was also fun!

On the phone, apologies for grammar, typing and general lack of checking post!!

mam29 Sat 04-May-13 02:34:49

All i would say is think about the time commitment and its not all nice stuff you have to do.

I was on eldest old school pta which most of time loved a few became govereners or we knew lots governers and their workload was far greater.

I then joined preschool commitee with middle child and time commitment and issues been huge its not like pta ots more like being a governer.

The problem was for governers I knew was

the school has few issues last academic year
followed by a bad downgraded inspection last summer term
not so good sats
head leaving under a cloud at christmas had no head since.
staff sickness bad
minutes from december meeting sounded heated and frustrated stated no progress made since june oftsed inspection-some parents dont read governers minutes but they on school website and very intersting..

needless to say if parents cant address proble with head and school then parents go to govereners.So the last year for them been pretty shitty.So many parents approaching them.

if schools doing well things are great but when shit hits fan know someone who was governer of special measures school its very depressing.

MrsMargoLeadbetter Wed 05-Jun-13 21:47:27

Just an update. DH went for it instead of me. 9 parents came forward for 2 places. He didn't get it, not sure yet who did.

I decided I'd be more interested in helping them practically. If they want my help. Will approach them v diplomatically next term.

A massive thank you for all for sharing your experiences and feedback.

lougle Fri 07-Jun-13 14:02:59

There will always be another time. Excellent news that you're willing to give help, I'm sure it will be much appreciated.

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