Governance; “voluntary” and “professional” matters.

Governors are probably the largest volunteer group in England. Although no exact figures are available, it is thought that there are around 300,000 governors serving in schools all over the country.

Governors are not paid for the service we perform. A large majority of us don’t claim expenses. In fact, I haven’t met anyone who does. We spend our own money for travelling to and fro from meetings, for printing papers and many of us don’t claim for attending conferences. In light of the above you may be surprised at what I’m going to say next.

Over the last few weeks and months I’ve been thinking that perhaps the time has come to refer to ourselves just as governors without referring to the fact that we are volunteers. My reasons for thinking this are as below.

Governors are not the only volunteers serving the community. Magistrates, Guide and Scout leaders, charity shop workers etc are volunteers too. I’ve never heard them making a point of emphasising that they are volunteers. I think we should follow their lead.

Some governors, when asked to attend training say they are volunteers and don’t have time/shouldn’t be expected to attend training. This is completely the wrong attitude. No matter what your day job is, no matter what your qualifications are, governance is whole different ball game! Even if you have been a governor for a long period of time the educational landscape is changing very rapidly and we need to be able to keep up with it. This can only be done through continuous professional development. Take the example of Ofsted which is a different organisation now to what is was before. For one thing there’s the new framework. How would you know what that is if you don’t take steps to find out?

The fact that we are volunteers is also used as an excuse for not being prepared for meetings. We all know or have heard of governors who don’t read papers before the meeting, who don’t send in their papers on time or who are frequently late or absent from meetings. Again, the excuse is that they are busy with the day jobs and as they are volunteers, governance had to take second place. My view is that governance should be taken as seriously as the day job. Governors are professionals (or should be). Once we decide to “volunteer” we should act professionally. There will be times when some governors may find that they can’t devote time to governance. In such cases they should step aside and not use the “but I’m a volunteer” excuse.

Governance is voluntary but only so far as no one forces you to join a Board and as your mortgage doesn’t depend on staying on the Board, you can walk away if you want to. Governance has moved on from the tea and biscuit era. Yes, its voluntary to join a Board but once you have done so then let’s be professional and do the “job” to the best of our abilities.

(For avoidance of any doubt: I have not changed my mind on the issue of paying governors. I think as far as that is concerned, we should continue to be volunteers.)

A shorter version of this was posted here previously.

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