'Being a governor was Mary Poppins role, but now I feel like Mad Max’

The job of being a Sheffield school governor has changed almost beyond recognition in the last 15years.

Wednesday, 6th February 2019, 13:02 pm
Updated Thursday, 7th February 2019, 16:58 pm

After preparing for a difficult set of meetings over the last few weeks, I have spent a fair bit of time reflecting on what this voluntary role entails and the tasks I had to do when I started my governance journey in 2003.

I have served as a governor at a total of four schools – two of which my children went to and the other two because I was asked to help.

But what started off as a community role where the main aim was to hold the headteacher to account has mutated over the years into something totally different.

All the schools for which I’ve served on the governing body have been rated good by OFSTED and so initially it was a case of making sure standards were maintained and that good management decisions were being made.

We had to carry out a performance review of the headteacher and make sure they were justifying the salary they took out of the local purse.

But that was for the Credit Crunch in a time that today seems as distant as fanciful as Narnia. It was before Austerity came to town and twisted the way we look at public services.

Back when I started out it was more of a Mary Poppins role, dropping in now and again to ensure all was well, observing good practice and wishing folk well until the next visit. Today, I feel more like Mad Max.

There are few other voluntary positions that result in the postholder losing sleep at night due to worry; on the contrary, many voluntary jobs are fulfilling and carry a great deal of job satisfaction.

But not a school governor, where meetings with the funding agencies and dealings with OFSTED are commonplace and can have huge ramifications.

In the last month, I have attended weekly meetings at my school to address some very serious concerns.

Important decisions have been taken and sadly we have needed to slash spending at the school in order to meet the amount of cash given to us by central government.

The only way to save the amount of money that we need to claw back is to lose members of staff – both teachers and support workers. Sitting in those meetings, deciding that some of our most dedicated professionals faced being made redundant, I had an epiphany where I wondered why I still involved in holding schools to account.

Cutting the services offered by the school and signing off on the redundancy of staff members is not the reason I got into school governance, and yet here I am making decisions that affect the families of professional people.

I’m a volunteer, taking not one single penny for the important role I carry out at my school, and very often governors find themselves in the position for the simple reason that nobody else in the community wants to do it.

I, like many others before me, have this job because I was the only person willing to take it on, not necessarily because I was going to be good at it or because I had the ideal skill set.

Yet despite admitting that I am no more knowledgeable than the next person, I find myself deciding which subjects will be cut and how many staff we will lose in a round of redundancies.

Governors in Sheffield are now making board room decisions that would be made by people earning six figure salaries if it were in a private company. It’s not the money that I’m after, though.

What needs to change is that governing bodies that are often cobbled together are, in the current state of austerity, making decisions they are not prepared or qualified for.

Even worse, these do-gooding folks who have put themselves forward for a community role are being turned into evil minions carrying out the government’s cost-cutting programme, knowing they have no choice but to be draconian.  The role of a school governor has gone full circle in recent years and sadly we’re now too often seen as the bully boys stamping out inefficiencies with an iron fist.