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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Governors wanted!

There is a large shortage of school governors in the UK there are currently around 370,000 governor places nationally, with vacancies running at about 10% of the total. In inner city areas this figure can be in excess of 30%.

Why would I want to be a school governor?
To get experience. Being a governor involves being responsible for running a school being a member of the team with responsibilities for staff and pupils. This covers budgeting, target setting, supporting the head teacher in the role of critical friend, and attending meetings of the governing body and its subcommittees. It’s not unlike being on a board of directors, with other members being drawn from a variety of backgrounds you don’t get too many fat cats! It is also a way of making a difference in your community by raising children’s expectations, aspirations, and achievement. You also gain an understanding of the education system.
But why actuaries?
Schools are now run more like businesses, with responsibility for large budgets. The league tables produced put more emphasis on performance, which is rather like a business. Head teachers are trained in these areas, but often find themselves struggling and in need of help. Governing bodies need businesspeople, so actuaries, who have skills in business and who are numerate, would be very useful members of a governing body. As most vacancies are in inner cities, and actuaries tend to work centrally, there should be a good match between possible supply and demand.
What does it involve?
Governors have legal responsibilities for the running of the school, the school’s budget, staffing and pay, and target setting. These obligations are imposed on the governing body as a whole, so individual governors are not liable.
Governing bodies tend to meet twice termly, so six times a year. Subcommittees will also meet. There will be papers to read before meetings.
There are different types of governors local education authority (LEA) governors; parent governors; co-opted governors; teacher governors; church governors in some cases. LEA governors tend to get briefings once a term from the LEA, which is really helpful, and puts you in touch with other governors.
What help will I get?
There is a lot of help available for governors. LEAs run training courses covering a wide variety of useful topics. There is loads of material on the Web, and there are some helpful books. The clerk to the governors will give a new governor plenty of information, and there is a free governor helpline.
How much time will it take?
Meetings usually last a couple of hours, and there is reading to do outside that. It depends on how involved you want to be with your school.
But I’m really busy
Many employers give support, such as time off with pay for governor work, usually up to a maximum number of days per year. However, governing bodies often try to accommodate the time constraints of members.
Why do you do it?
I got involved as part of my employer’s social values initiative, where staff are encouraged to be active in their community. I volunteered through the School Governors One-Stop Shop (see below) and was approached by the LEA to become an LEA governor at a school with serious weaknesses.
My school is in a fairly poor part of Manchester, but I actually have a family connection my great uncle was arrested there for armed robbery! After a conversation with the headteacher, I was at a loss as to how I could help, but what I do can be split into two parts:
– In meetings I can apply my business skills and challenge decisions or recommendations to make sure they are sound, and I am the most numerate member so I can ensure that the budget is realistic and can make sense of performance figures.
– I am fortunate in that I can take advantage of my employer’s social values scheme which has allowed staff to spend time reading with pupils; staff from our compliance department have decorated the school and put up a mural; and staff from personal pensions review have recently installed a new garden. The company has also provided football strips for the school, and some pupils have had a tour of our IT area.
The hardest part of the job is the jargon particularly acronyms. I’ve started a checklist for meetings to help myself out.
So how do I join?
The School Governors One-Stop Shop is probably the best way.
It can be found at www.schoolgovernors-oss.co.uk, where there is lots of information about being a governor. Once you fill in the form, it will find you a school usually one in need of help.