School Governors - what's your time commitment? (Long self-indulgent gripe)

(29 Posts)
hardtostayfocused Tue 14-Jan-14 12:29:13

I'm a parent Governor at a primary school. Last Feb Ofsted decided that it Requires Improvement and it was considered Satisfactory for the 2 inspections. School has been on the super highway through Stress City for the last couple of years. I just wanted a reality check about the amount of time Governors put in.

As well as the full Governing body meetings (once sometimes twice each term) we have an additional FGB meeting each term which is for "self-evaluation". These FGB meetings always start at inconvenient times (OK, inconvenient for parents, convenient for teachers) between 5.30 and 6.30. They sometimes last 3 or more hours.

We also have 4 sub-committees and all Govs are on at least one (I'm on two) and all committees meet at least once a term, some twice in some terms. These meetings are usually in the day. Therefore it quite oftens happens that there can be long Governors' meetings once a week for 5 or more weeks running. (They often bunch into one half-term.)

There is almost inevitably a plethora of supporting documentation for each meeting, including table after table of comparative data. One meeting last year had over 200 pages of material added to the email. I didn't read most of it.

All Governors have an area of interest (Link Governors, e.g. for Literacy or SEN) and as of last term all Govs also have a link class. Each Governor is supposed to make contact, ideally through a school visit, at least once each term for both their Link subject and their link class.

Governors are invited, and at least some expected to show up to:
termly parents' meetings; nativity/harvest/leavers' assemblies; school fairs; other ad hoc events.

Some Governors, including me, have on occasion, also volunteered in school, e.g. one-to-one reading.

I was recently at a meeting where it was suggested that Govs should do separate written link reports for their subjects and for their classes. i.e. two reports termly, as well as the visits and the meetings and the reading round the subject and the cheerleading.

For this voluntary job.

The joke is, although I'm a parent Gov, my DC actually left the school a while ago - I'm just seeing out my 4 year term. God knows I love the school and I think it's fantastic (well, I think it's outstanding in many areas, and like any other school, requires improvement in others) but I just want it to get through the next OFSTED so I can resign! (or be sacked if it still requires improvement)

I just wondered - if anyone's still with me at the end of this post - whether the amount of work we do is absolutely barmy!?

lougle Sat 18-Jan-14 12:12:26

Why are you wading through vast documents of data??

Even if you had a list of subjects, the overall NC breakdown of attainment by year group, or even by class, etc., I can't see that being more than 3-4 pages.

For example, our HT produced last term a spreadsheet which detailed (anonymised) data for each of the pupils in the school, compared with their previous levels, the gain, then the quartile of progress. She had colour coded the progress for each pupil to demonstrate whether their progress was of concern, adequate, good or very good, etc. So we were able to review the data and form judgements from it - she had already analysed it.

It's not the Governors' job to get down with the nitty gritty of individual pupil's attainment. That's the job of the teaching staff. The Governors are there to take a broad overview and assess trends in attainment and whether they cause concern.

nennypops Sat 18-Jan-14 11:10:21

We have one FGB meeting a term. We revamped the committees to reduce them from three to two, and people only sit on one committee unless they're mad masochists; committees meet usually twice a term. Discussions that need a lot of examination of data etc are usually delegated to committees. Occasionally we have something extra, e.g. we're about to have a day when governors are invited into school for the day to shadow teachers, but it's not compulsory, and we're invited to concerts etc but again it's totally voluntary. Each of us is 'attached' to a particular area, e.g. humanities, inclusion, etc, and are expected to meet with the teacher in charge of that area once a term and produce a brief report - but there's usually two of us per area so we can share the load. Occasionally we set up a specific sub-committee to deal with a particular issue, e.g. when there was a major building project.

I used to have a long-running gripe about sub committee meetings starting at 4.30 purely for the convenience of teachers and the then Chair of Governors, but fortunately common sense now prevails and they start later.

lougle Fri 17-Jan-14 23:44:37

hardtostayfocused 15 items, no supporting documents (although previously circulated documents referred to), comprehensive verbal report from HT.

Why do you need such incredibly detailed documents? Is it all necessary or is there some re-invention of the wheel going on?

We have documents circulated between FGBs as they arise, so for instance if the Head Teacher has been working on Self-Assessment documents, then they get circulated as they're completed for our perusal, and comments are welcomed by email either to the clerk to Governors or to the HT herself.

Also, some issues are dealt with by smaller groups. So, for instance, rather than the whole Governing Body having to plough through the Service Level Agreements, the HT asked for 2 governors to go through them with her and make decisions, which was agreed by the Governing body, then the results of that meeting were reported to the Governing body.

That sort of thing makes it much less arduous.

Also, we changed things slightly when we realised that lots of stuff that was discussed at FGB was also discussed in committee meetings. So we slim-lined that to make sure that the FGBs weren't just a rehash of the committees, etc.

Rowgtfc72 Fri 17-Jan-14 23:33:30

I too was lured in with the promise of one meeting per term. Alas, never the case.

EducatingNora Thu 16-Jan-14 23:32:16

I am chair of govs. I reckon on average I work a 2 to 3 day week on governor stuff. When I took over our governance was a complete mess. Over the last 18 months we've reorganised, recruited, trained, prepared for Ofsted, set a vision, got the school to do a development plan, changed completely the schools methods of planning and reporting to the governing body. We recently had an Ofsted and our GB (and school) did very well. But bloody hell, it's been like a proper job, with very little thanks and no pay. I'm a sahm with a background in education so I have the time to do this. It's unbelievably hard to find people with the right skills AND the time to help out. To all of you who do give your time and energy, you deserve a massive cheer for your efforts.

EducatingNora Thu 16-Jan-14 23:31:28

I am chair of govs. I reckon on average I work a 2 to 3 day week on governor stuff. When I took over our governance was a complete mess. Over the last 18 months we've reorganised, recruited, trained, prepared for Ofsted, set a vision, got the school to do a development plan, changed completely the schools methods of planning and reporting to the governing body. We recently had an Ofsted and our GB (and school) did very well. But bloody hell, it's been like a proper job, with very little thanks and no pay. I'm a sahm with a background in education so I have the time to do this. It's unbelievably hard to find people with the right skills AND the time to help out. To all of you who do give your time and energy, you deserve a massive cheer for your efforts.

hardtostayfocused Thu 16-Jan-14 23:25:48

Thanks lougle. Sounds like your Chair is very good. How many items did you have on the agenda and how many supporting documents before hand?
Was an HT report included? (Ours are always incredibly detailed documents, then lots of questions raised in the meeting.)

lougle Thu 16-Jan-14 23:13:26

We had a FGB tonight. 1hr 20 minutes. Full range of issues covered, including discussions on curriculum changes, etc.

It really doesn't have to take that long, you know.

JWIM Thu 16-Jan-14 20:23:51

OP I sympathise. Chair of Govs (voluntary aided, currently 'good' and awaiting Ofsted in the next year) and with a few years experience. We have 2 FGB meetings per term (we keep to a 2 hour max), each Gov is on one of two main committees - one or two meetings per term, other commitments to possibly one other committee meeting possibly only once or twice a year (pay, admissions, performance management and then other working parties (as needed). We try to be as efficient as possible and share the workload - no shirkers - we are very fortunate but the accountability and responsibility grows year on year.

We have had a few busy years (HT recruitment, major staff changes and two phase building project. I keep a record of time spent (chargeable hours govern my professional life) out of habit. I reckon I average an hour a day if I add up all the prep work and reading as well as meeting times. I would say that our Govs far exceed the 35 hours mentioned above.

It is 'time and commitment'. I also recognise, and other Govs have also mentioned, that it can take a lot of 'headspace'. I do it for the children and our staff and me to.

DanFmDorking Thu 16-Jan-14 19:05:58

Being a Governor varies slightly from school to school. The main thing is ‘time and commitment’.

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.

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

It seems like you are doing more that the 35 hours I mention above. Perhaps an effective Chair of Govs is as important as an effective Head-teacher.

Also, a willing volunteer is often given more jobs.

lougle Wed 15-Jan-14 12:34:54

It sounds like your meetings are a little inefficient?

I'm a parent Governor of a special school (primary) and a LA Governor of a special school (secondary). The secondary school role is new to me, so I haven't seen a full cycle yet.

The primary one:

FGB -3 times per year + one extra to agree budget. These start at 7.30pm and finish at or before 9pm.

Sub committees have reduced and we now have Standards and Improvements; Finance.

There is a pay committee (meets once) and Head Teacher's Performance Panel (meets 3 times in the year).

We have link Governors for each area of the school, although not all Governors take on link roles.

We are encouraged to have link Governors for each class - this varies from a visit once per year/term/half-term to see how they're getting on, to helping in the class, depending on the Governor.

I tend to attend the New Parents' Morning once per year and speak about the role of a Governor.

We get occasional requests to interview new staff/review SLAs, etc.

I'm quite involved in most areas, but I could be more arms-length if I wanted to.

NynaevesSister Wed 15-Jan-14 10:39:19

Parent governor here but not anywhere near your level of workload. Our school is outstanding, Ofsted last year (which was nerve wracking). The new rules really make the GB have to account for themselves.

We have 6 FGM meetings a year. We have only one sub committee and that meets weekly at financial year end, but not so frequently rest of year.

We're expected to follow pupil progress meetings - at least one governor must attend. But we don't have to report back.

We aren't an academy thankfully. It can be tough these days as the local authority is axing it's services so we have had to combine with other primaries in order to leverage buying power for those services from private companies.

It is a really tough time to be on a GB, and it is unpaid. I am glad I stepped up though and did it even if it does take up a lot of headspace and is a lot of work. I feel like I am doing something positive, and we are working out a way with 7 schools to stay within out budgets but without being forced down the academy route.

Although our LA has axed a lot of services, a neighbouring borough has axed its entire education department. This has put a lot of pressure on small primaries that aren't part of a chain. Some have just caved and gone down the academy route as otherwise the increases costs in services are just too much.

ShoeWhore Tue 14-Jan-14 21:46:18

OP you have my sympathies. I'm also a governor at a school requiring improvement and seem to be doing between a half day and a day most weeks on something or other at the moment.

Official commitment is:
4 FGB meetings per year
4 committee meetings per year
3 school visits per year

In reality, I have a lot of extra meetings with the Head, briefings/training to attend, have written a couple of policies - I quite enjoy it but this level of involvement is not sustainable.

Your link visits sound very full on - we've managed to get it so that most (but not all) governors are doing a visit once per term.

hassled what's it like working in governor services? I feel like I've built up a really good body of skills, would be great if I could actually get paid for it grin

marioncole Tue 14-Jan-14 21:37:15

We have two FGBs per term and there are four committees that meet once per term of which I'm on three. So that's six meetings per term, all in the evenings. We've recently converted to academy status and there were a lot of extra FBG meetings in the run up to that. Probably an hour of reading before the meetings. I'm also finance officer so I have monthly meeting with the bursar which I have to report on.

hardtostayfocused Tue 14-Jan-14 21:31:08

I was thinking about retraining as a teacher a couple of years ago, but nothing like seeing all the bizarre policy changes on a termly or monthly basis, and poring over tracking data in the finest detail to put you off!

sittingagain Tue 14-Jan-14 21:30:02

Parent governor here, also recently been through an ofsted and school required improvement.

We have full meetings (2 hours) every half term. I am on a committee which meets for approx 1 hours every half term.

I have also attended a training course this term, and done approx 4 hours in school with children this term.

hardtostayfocused Tue 14-Jan-14 21:28:07

The Chair is hopeless at chairing but of all members of the board (the majority of whom are m/c, female, uni educated, professional and working in education) easily the most representative of most of the actual families at the school. Unfortunately of course no one else wants to be Chair - we're not mad.

Other members of governing body are workaholics. The school is improving. The governing body is effective, we just spend too much time in talking-shops and agonising over the minutiae of data, partly due to workaholic disposition of certain individuals.

Anyway, I'm just having a gripe. This is the way education's going unfortunately, and it sounds like my lot are not unusual, though workload on the heavy side.

Hassled Tue 14-Jan-14 21:13:00

I was a Chair and gave up because it had taken over my life. It was pretty much all I thought about. I sympathise. I'm still involved in governor services but am at least paid for it.

The number of meetings doesn't seem overly unusual (although I've not come across termly self-evaluation before), but the length does. Three hour meetings are unproductive and unnecessary - is the Chair actually chairing? Are people reading aloud documents that people should have read ahead of the meeting, rather than just inviting questions? What are your 4 sub-committees - could any of them be amalgamated so, e.g., Staffing and Premises join to become Resources, that sort of thing? It can make the agendas unwieldy but often sub-committees are replicating the other's work.

The bottom line is - are you an effective governing body? Is this working? Is the school improving and can you show how you (collectively) have facilitated the improvement?

RufusTheReindeer Tue 14-Jan-14 21:02:46

When I was a governor we had a FGM once a term, that lasted about 2/3 hours.

Sub committee meetings were also once a term and 1/2 hours They did like you to visit a class if appropriate or relevant, I usually did this once a term as well

Very rarely we would have an emergency meeting where they would require a few governors to pop in to say yes or no to something

My husband is a governor at the moment and he just has the two meetings a term

If we see a school play or visit a classroom we were asked to do a report but that was about it

PaperMover Tue 14-Jan-14 19:53:06

I was thinking of volunteering the next time a place comes up; stop moaning, start doing. You have put me off! ;)

poopooheadwillyfatface Tue 14-Jan-14 16:03:40

it's part of a small group of academies, not one of the big chains.

BreconBeBuggered Tue 14-Jan-14 14:40:48

The workload doesn't sound unusual. I like the idea of the 2-hour time limit for meetings, I must say. We're currently trying to recruit a new parent governor, but it's difficult to be honest about the time commitment without making interested parents run a mile. I was lured in with the promise of 'only a few meetings a year'. Hah.

hardtostayfocused Tue 14-Jan-14 13:32:26

poopoo is it one of those academy chains that seem to be taking over vast swathes of schools in various urban areas?

I mean, there are academies and academies aren't there?

I wouldn't volunteer for one of the academy chains either. But perhaps they will bring in payments for governors - I see it as being akin to a non-executive Directorship.

poopooheadwillyfatface Tue 14-Jan-14 13:08:04

My school has also recently become an academy. Which is another reason I am thinking of resigning. I'm not comfortable volunteering for a business.

I would volunteer at a hospice, I wouldn't volunteer at Tesco. The board gets paid, the teachers get paid, I feel like the fool in the middle doing it for nothing.

Grumpy today. grin

hardtostayfocused Tue 14-Jan-14 13:00:22

LittleMiss - never heard of that regulation, I bet it is Welsh. What a good idea.

Oh yes, training sessions too, forgot about those.

Maybe my school's not that unusual then.

I think it is becoming a bigger and bigger commitment by stealth. I was first an LEA Governor at another school about 10 years ago, and most people did next to nothing (not a very good Gov body though).

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