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Not enjoying being a school governor

(61 Posts)
Cerulean60 Sun 05-Jan-20 18:46:25

I became a co-opted governor of a primary school a few months ago. I was looking for a local volunteering opportunity, thought it sounded interesting, was told it was a few hours work a month plus meetings, and that there was loads of training and support available.

What I've actually found is the role involves sitting in monthly 3 hour meetings where we discuss things I just can't get excited about - e.g. why have year 4 boys reading scores declined 0.3% compared to last year? I'm sat there thinking 'is 0.3% a statistically significant decrease and does it warrant a big discussion?' I don't know if this is the wrong attitude.

The meetings are also dominated by experienced governors who are either parents or former teachers. I get the vibe that because I haven't got children or a teaching background I can't credibly give a point of view.

I've found myself volunteering for roles/tasks without having a clue what they involve, just because I feel I need to do my share, but then stress over not knowing what to do (even when I ask, I get vague answers).

I attended one day of induction training but that was very general. There is more training I can sign up for but it doesn't necessarily map to the actual things coming up in meetings right now. I also don't have time to attend loads of training around work, FGBs, meeting prep and what feels like constant demands for school visits (on dates the school set, with little consideration that I do have a full-time job). I've been allocated a mentor but she hasn't been very friendly.

Overall it's already a very good school so governor work feels like paper shuffling and box ticking.

Does anyone have any advice?! I just want to quit really but also don't want to be flaky.

OP’s posts: |
Grasspigeons Sun 05-Jan-20 18:59:04

First, well done for volunteering to try and make a difference and there is no shame in quitting if the set up isnt very good and volunteering for something that appreciates you.
Gvernanance takes at least 1 cycle to get used to the sort of things that come up and the quality of discussions really varies from school to school. Its also difficult to get the difference between strategic (which the board is) or operational which it isnt.
Personally i think having a non parent, non teacher is a great addition to the board.

Someonesayroadtrip Sun 05-Jan-20 19:01:47

Hi, it's certainly isn't what I imagined. We have had a lot for challenges though and one of my First tasks for two staff disciplinary committee for gross misconduct.

I never got any sort of mentor or introduction. Just a hell of a shock when I realised some of the issues being faced by the school.

I guess I see it as my duty to make a difference, it helped loads using Facebook to hear others experiences and explanations. I do try and attend as much training as possible too.

I don't think it's for everyone and I think ours has a lot of issues, I'm still finding my feet, but there are other and maybe better ways to volunteer your time if this doesn't feel right. I don't think you should feel guilty for not enjoying the role or feeling it's the right fit. But I would say that fact you are not a parent or a teacher etc gives you a different perspective which can be a powerful thing. A unique perspective and not having loyalties to certain people is a really good thing for a governing body.

DelightfulBox Sun 05-Jan-20 19:05:51

I did four years as a governor. I chose not to stay on for another term because the Chair (20 years established), his wife (school secretary) and their inner circle only wanted folk to raise their hands in agreement rather than offer an alternative view.

So my experience was not positive.

DelightfulBox Sun 05-Jan-20 19:07:17

Can you access the online training - I can’t remember what it was called but I had access to an extensive online training portal.

Screamqueenz Sun 05-Jan-20 19:10:58

"I'm sat there thinking.......", your role is to voice these questions. It won't make you popular, but it is the correct approach for good governance.

Lougle Sun 05-Jan-20 19:14:51

It takes time to get to know your way around school governance, so I don't think it's unusual to feel unsure at this stage. It is important to know trends in performance, and as you say, the key is working out whether the dip in performance of year 4 boys is just a cohort issue (e.g. 3 children with SEN in the class brings the class average down - then the next question is 'what are we doing to ensure that those 3 children are getting the best provision?') or whether there is a decline in teaching standards, or a difficulty in engaging year 4 boys, or perhaps that a different approach is needed with boys, etc.

Can you ask to go for coffee with a governor you like? They might be able to help you out a bit.

cabbageking Sun 05-Jan-20 19:16:05

Why are there monthly 3 hour meetings?

Are you on to many committees?

Speak to the Chair about the length of meeting and moving things on. 2 hours is the suggested time limit generally.
The chairs job is to ensure people do not dominate and to encourage participation. Has a mentor been provided as you need a good year to catch up with the process. Do they need so many meetings? Are they productive or is it time for an reorganisation?
5 to 8 hours a month is the expectation depending on size of school, but this includes your research, prep and reading for meeting, training and school visits and feedback. Stick to it and express your worries to the Chair. You are not required to be in every committee. Choose the ones you prefer and come off others.

GimmeBread Sun 05-Jan-20 19:16:22

What about joining one of the school governors or education groups on LinkedIn?

I'm neither a teacher or a governor (!) but I've found the career-specific groups I'm a member of really valuable in my line of work. Lots of sharing of ideas and experiences, links to white papers etc.

bouncychair Sun 05-Jan-20 19:24:40

How long have the others governors been in their posts? I’m in the final year of my elected post as parent governor and will not be standing for re-election. The HT does not like being questioned and the other governors have all been there for 5+ years and are not willing to change anything.

I’ve a background in education but it did take me about 2 years to get my head round it. Training will help with your understanding of it all.

Curlyshabtree Sun 05-Jan-20 19:42:15

I was a governor for 4 years and found it fascinating and I learnt a lot. However, there is a lot of data to dissect and it can be overwhelming.
We only met once a term for about 1 1/2 hours plus an hour a term on sub committee. Your three hours a month sounds excessive - can this be raised in the next meeting?

Cerulean60 Sun 05-Jan-20 20:04:45

Thanks everyone - I didn't expect so many replies so quickly!

We don't have committees except for Finance, so every meeting is an FGB and everyone does a bit of everything. I guess that also makes it harder to know what to focus on getting up to speed with as a new governor.

They're scheduled for 6-8.30 but often over-run.

It's good to know others feel a bit unsure at first too.

I'm not aware of any e-learning available; I've done a lot of googling and found sites that schools can subscribe too but I don't think our school does.

I think I just feel a bit overwhelmed because I really want to do a great job, and there's just so much to learn. I'm going to persevere until I've been in the role for a year then re-assess.

OP’s posts: |
user1497207191 Sun 05-Jan-20 20:11:12

Likewise. I survived a year but had to give it up because it was nothing but a "box ticking" exercise to give the illusion of scrutiny etc. We'd have long meetings about trivia but barely any discussion about the big things - nearly everything had already been pre-agreed between the long standing governors and the head. It all came to a head with me when we spent 4 hours one evening discussing a particular issue where we were broadly evenly split. Eventually it came to a vote (getting near midnight) and the head & long term governors "lost" the vote, only to then say it had to go ahead anyway because of local authority rules so basically told us we had to vote to pass it. I didn't want to be any part of that kind of smoke & mirrors.

cabbageking Sun 05-Jan-20 20:31:08

The norm is 3 FGM a year.
If you have 12 that is a lot of money for clerking services.

The clerk is also there to offer Governors advice and perhaps asking how your local outstanding school is organised might be helpful.

Have you looked at the NGA requirements and can you access "The Key"

BubblesBuddy Mon 06-Jan-20 00:23:58

Having been a governor trainer and a governor until very recently I think your school governance is poorly set up. Probably because of inertia.

My LA has a training programme for governors which schools can purchase. Most primaries do but secondaries tend to organise their own. However it covers very many topics each year. Our induction is longer and then there are beginners courses on finance, data, premises, etc so new governors can get up to speed. There are also lots of courses on new legislation and changes which are important to governors, eg latest ofsted handbook.

Your GB is poorly set up. I think that, as a new governor, you won’t be able to change it just yet but there are not enough committees. Committees can take decisions and then they report back to the full board. It’s normal to have Finance, HR and Premises (as one Committee) and then Teaching and Learning as a second Committee. Committees for exclusions, discipline etc meet when required. The full GB should have minutes from these Committee meetings (held once or exceptionally twice) a term for not more than 2 hours. There should be a Governors protocol about meetings. The full GB should have the detailed Heads report, minutes, new matters for attention and again not be longer than 2 hours.

There are some items that must be approved by the full GB but many can be delegated.

You, as a governor, should be “attached” to an item in your Improvement Plan or a curriculum area, and be able to report to governors how that is progressing via the T and L Committee. Other governors might be attached to SEN, PP, Maths etc. However you should only go into school to monitor your area of work. At a time you agree with the lead in the school. There shouldn’t be a need to keep going in and meetings should be in the evening. If they are not, is this because they have too many governors who are free after school? All governors should be accommodated or make the odd sacrifice.

You need to attend courses and get up to speed in your area of “work”. You must get up to speed in the data generated for your area of expertise (eg pp progress data) but most of the nitty gritty of this for monitoring the Improvement Plan should go via Teaching and Learning Committee.

I think you need to be more strategic in your approach to being a governor. I certainly recognise that teachers and former teachers can dominate but others must be welcomed. Say you will specialise in one aspect only at the moment. You are new. Get to know the school but don’t get involved in everything. Build up your expertise and don’t be afraid to say “no”.

BubblesBuddy Mon 06-Jan-20 00:24:58

We had our committees clerked too - so 9 meetings a year.

schoolcats Mon 06-Jan-20 00:28:43

* The HT does not like being questioned and the other governors have all been there for 5+ years and are not willing to change anything.*

Schools have had their board of governors removed and replaced for that before.

cabbageking Mon 06-Jan-20 05:19:12

Ask the Chair for your job description and this will lay out the expectations for your link subject and identify the correct policies you need, along with the school visit policy. The expectation is a termly link visit which you arrange with the lead and feedback on at the FGM. Send the questions in beforehand and depending on your link area I can provide a list of possible questions from our data base.

InACheeseAndPickle Mon 06-Jan-20 09:27:21

I'm sat there thinking 'is 0.3% a statistically significant decrease and does it warrant a big discussion?

To be fair 0.3% is almost certainly NOT statistically significant and you'd be absolutely right to point that out - that's just being numerate not uncaring about the results. By worrying about statistically fluctuations you divert attention away from genuine trends.

ineedaholidaynow Mon 06-Jan-20 09:38:47

We have monthly FGB meetings. Try for them to be 2 hours long but they sometime overrun. No sub-committees, but have working parties on various areas and have tried to increase visits to school instead of meetings.

It is very time consuming. Our governing board covers more than one school too, so adds to the workload. We are struggling to retain governors at the moment due to workload.

If you think what is being discussed is not worthy of discussion and there are more important things to discuss, challenge it.

Our schools use Educare online training for both staff and Governors. There are also other training courses available to attend.

BubblesBuddy Mon 06-Jan-20 11:46:43

I’m afraid it’s really difficult for one new governor to challenge anything. Usually poor governance comes to a head when ofsted say they are useless.

In my LA there has always been an expectation of committees who do the bulk of the work. I clerked GBs in the 1980s who worked like this! No school I know doesn’t have committees! As I outlined above. It’s utterly stupid to have FGB meetings every month and I can see why Governors are leaving. That’s intolerable.

There is no substitute for getting to know your school and asking questions pertinent to your school and the Improvement Plan they are working to. That should drive everything the school does.

A good Heads report should outline major trends and it’s good practice to get this in advance and submit questions to the Head in advance of the meeting. The Heads responses are then sent round to all governors on the report in red. This cuts out unnecessary chat and probing at meetings because it’s been done in advance. Only follow up questions are needed. Working smart is what’s needed.

Regarding visiting the school: only go in to discuss your topic and possibly do a learning walk. You must have an agreed focus for any visit which should tie in with your improvement plan. Don’t just ask questions from a pre prepared list as suggested above. This is not specific to your school and will waste more time.

Any further help required, please contact me.

BubblesBuddy Mon 06-Jan-20 11:51:07

Working parties cannot make decisions. They are toothless and worthless. Heads give advice and Governors take note of the Head. You don’t need working parties. What are they actually doing? My LA ditched them 30 years ago. Committees can, and should, be used to make decisions and recommendations and the Head reports to them.

Paddington68 Mon 06-Jan-20 12:09:29

I did this for about 4 years.
I was there to support the head.
Some of the governors were to be honest, hopeless.
Was like the oldest youth club in town.
Head left and then I stood down.

ineedaholidaynow Mon 06-Jan-20 12:48:10

Bubbles we used to have 2 sub committees and they and the FG would meet once every half term. As we are a small GB we sometimes struggled to be quorate for one of the sub-committees so weren't able to make decisions then anyway. . We also felt as we cover over 5 schools and there is much going on in all of them over all aspects it was felt that there was too much time between FG meetings, and we either repeated what had been discussed at the sub-committees or governors felt they weren't getting enough of a feel of what was happening in other areas across the schools. So we have gone down the FG meeting every month route and no sub-committees, and we are not the only board to have gone down that route in our area. It means that we have approximately the same number of meetings but can be quorate and make decisions at all of them. All our meetings are clerked and have always been, whichever format we had.

As we are a small group most governors have various hats and we have tried to organise the working parties in the most efficient way. They don't tend to have meetings but usually involve visits to schools during the daytime either as an individual or as a group. As there are various schools you can't really just do one visit a term to one school. Some governors will meet up with the schools' central team to talk about things like premises or finance which can really only be done during the day. If a working party has a meeting it won't be clerked but a governor will write up a meeting note.

We also have an online forum where we can post questions/comments on information provided by the Heads before our meetings.

I don't know of any schools in our area that would only have 3 FG meetings a year.

bombaychef Mon 06-Jan-20 14:36:36

I'm a gov too and make it my job to ask lots of questions but also drawn a line under certain discussions. (Eg drop in Yr4 boys results of 0.3% effected by one child who needs additional support. Is that in place now? Move on). Ask the bigger picture stuff.
What's the schools plan for modern languages.
How are you tracking that all pupils are making appropriate progress etc

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