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My son’s primary school has sent around a letter asking if parents want to become school governors. I would be interested to be more involved with the school, but I would like to know a bit more about what is involved in being a school governor and how much time it might involve. Could you advise?
The best way to begin to find out more about what is involved is to ask for a meeting with the person who sent round the letter from your school. Each school’s governor structure varies so they are best placed to describe what the time commitment will be. Some schools have lots of sub-committees of governors, for instance, and so, depending on which ones you are on, you may not have to attend more than a few nights a term. Most meetings tend to last around two and a half to three hours, but this depends on the nature of the discussions and the complexity of the issues.
If your school doesn’t have sub-committees [this tends to happen with smaller schools], meetings may be more regular, for example, every two weeks. It can be hard to predict what issues will come up in such discussions, although there is usually some sort of agenda, such as budget discussions, staffing, etc. However, if something important has happened in the school in the two-week period – for instance, a complaint has been made against a teacher – the meeting may last longer than anyone anticipated.
Schools also have different ways of choosing their governors. Where not many people come forward to be governors, you usually have a short chat with the chair of governors to find out what is involved and for them to gauge whether you might be a good candidate. Where there are a lot of people interested, there has to be an election and this will mean canvassing other parents to get support . The school is likely to circulate information each candidate provides letting them know why they want to be a governor, etc.
You do not need to have specialist education knowledge – or accounting knowledge [for the budget debates] – to be a governor, but it can help to know a little bit about the kind of issues that will come up so you understand the background. It is a good idea to keep up with government policy, which can be fast-changing, so that you understand the terms that are referred to. If your school has lots of sub-committees you can choose the areas that you are particularly interested in, such as the budget, curriculum, maintenance, etc.
Being a governor is a very responsible position and your decisions can be called to account, for instance, if you pass a budget that goes into the red. You need to enjoy this kind of responsibility and be genuinely interested in listening to all sides of debates. If you are more interested in hands-on events such as setting up fundraising events it may be more suitable for you to consider joining the parent teacher association. Some of the things you may find yourself doing as a governor include setting the school’s budget, sitting on a panel to recommend a pay rise for your headteacher, sitting on a panel to investigate a parent’s complaint against the school and monitoring standards.
Most local education authorities over some sort of training or induction for governors and this can prove very useful. In addition, there are often follow-up training sessions on areas like government legislation on child protection. These will involve more time commitment from you. They usually last around a couple of hours on a weekday evening.
Governornet.co.uk is also a good source of information and provides an overview of your rights and responsibilities as a governor. It can be a very rewarding and interesting role, but it is a good idea to have a realistic view of what is involved and the time commitment.