Stephen Emsley is a director of The Classroom Partnership and also a school governor. Here, he describes the reasons why he became a governor and what advice he has for others looking to engage more with schools.
Why did you first become a school governor?
Having worked in the education sector for most of my career, I always had a keen interest in how schools operated, but it wasn’t until the birth of my daughter that I wanted to really become involved in school governance. Thinking back, it was so that, when she started school, I would be able to make a more accurate assessment of the school she was going to go to.
I made some enquiries, and I was shocked at the lack of people putting themselves forward. After approaching the local authority, I was put in touch with a school who were keen to have someone with my skillset, and the rest is history.
What is the best piece of advice you could give to people interested in becoming a governor?
“Know your purpose.” The Department of Education outline the purpose of governance as “provide confident, strategic leadership and to create robust accountability, oversight and assurance for educational and financial performance.” To do effectively, you need to commit time and energy, both before, during and after meetings, as well as visiting the school regularly. If you can commit to this, take the leap.
Describe your last OFSTED visit – how did you feel?
It was a very scary experience. Having taken over as Chair on a governing body previously criticised by OFSTED, we had put a lot of effort into reshaping and changing the way governance worked at the school, and this was our first test to see if it had worked. We didn’t want to let the staff, parents and children down by being the rusty wheel. Thankfully our hard work and preparation paid off, but it was a truly terrifying experience for two days. I have the utmost respect for senior leaders, teachers and school staff, all of whom accept inspections as a part of life, given the potential risk to careers a misstep can have.
How has school governance changed over your time as a governor?
The only constant is change. New initiatives, tests etc. have a part to play in the cycle, but in general school governance is now under so much more focus than ever before – and rightly so. Given the budget squeeze that is currently happening, governors and senior leaders are under more pressure to make difficult decisions on how to spend the finite money available to best educate children. Children only have one chance for an education, and schools need to spend every penny wisely. It is up to governors to provide oversight to ensure that educational and financial performance of the school is balanced right, and to challenge the senior leaders of the school on possible repercussions of every decision.
Governor pay is continually mentioned by successive governments – what are your views on this?
I can see both sides for and against the argument on this, but in a time where budgets are squeezed so tight, pay for governors would be morally wrong. Schools need to have outstanding classroom practitioners in front of every child that are paid well, and I would rather see precious resources diverted to ensuring this.
Do you have more questions for Stephen? Connect with him on Linkedin.