Case studies

Zarina Camal is a civil servant who works in central government. She is joint chair of governors at a special secondary school for children with complex needs. She is a member of The Key for School Governors.

What skills do you feel you have brought to your governing body?

I’ve been able to bring lots of the skills that I use in my day job – essentially, portfolio programme and project management. The most useful skills that come to mind include giving strategic direction and relationship management. I have worked recently on a joint initiative with the US. It involved spending some time in the States, building good working relationships efficiently and effectively with my counterparts. Those kinds of skills are really useful as a governor, where you’re working with a diverse set of people to make decisions that are in the best interests of the collective.

What skills do you feel you have gained or developed through your role as a governor?

I have gained new skills in financial management. We were recently looking at reducing costs, looking at how we might employ more newly qualified teachers when recruiting new staff, so we could allocate savings to training more experienced teachers. It gives you a different dimension on financial management, working in a different setting. It really caused me to think differently.

Decisions are made at a different pace from what I’m used to, and having patience is vital in seeing things through. Similarly, I have honed skills in persuasion and negotiation – trying to influence others who are coming at a problem from a completely different angle. It’s not an easy role by any means, but that challenge is part of the reason why it’s a great training ground – you’d pay a lot of money to go on a course and learn those skills.

Why do you think it is valuable for professionals to sit on school governing boards?
We have practical, day-to-day experience of making complex decisions, of negotiating with people with whom we might disagree, and doing that in a way that is respectful and effects positive change. I make sure that I put my governor role as an objective when I’m writing my performance targets.

What impact have you made?
I have challenged (and not always successfully) the governing body and the senior leadership team on many occasions. Through my professional life, I recognise the importance of people being able to code – in my previous governorship, I challenged the head to do more for students in this regard, as I could see that the national curriculum was changing to include a great emphasis on this. It’s very helpful to be able to back up how vital these skills are from the position of an employer. I recommended that the school set up a coding club, or worked with a third party to deliver this.

I have a sense that schools are wandering into what will be a 30-40% budget reduction over the coming years, without really believing that this will happen. I see it as my role to offer ideas around revenue generation, and have encouraged the senior leadership team to explore renting out their state-of-the-art resources to third parties. It’s for the executive to think through the practicalities of making that work (or to reject our ideas if they don’t work) but it’s our job as governors to ensure they are focused on this reality, and that it isn’t getting swept under the carpet.

Can you give an example of how using The Key for School Governors helped you in your role?
I found an article about auditing pupil premium spending, and I confidently challenged the headteacher on how funds were spent for each child entitled to free school meals. Because of the article, I proposed quantifying the value of pupil premium through anonymised case studies which could be displayed on the school website for parents and Ofsted.

Geoff Wyss was previously an owner and director of an engineering consultancy. He is governor of a school and chair of a multi-academy trust. He is a member of The Key for School Governors.

What skills do you feel you have brought to your governing?
I have brought a range of skills, including chairing meetings, strategic and analytical thinking, and strong financial skills. I have a robust business-like approach, which was useful for example when we brought in performance related pay. I have a broad knowledge of how companies are structured and how they operate, which was useful when we converted to an academy and later founded a multi academy trust (MAT). I come with broad knowledge and experience in most aspects of running a business, including finance, HR, legal, risk management, procurement, recruiting, etc.

I would say general business skills and the ability to think and communicate clearly are really important. My business experience has really come to the fore with academisation and the professionalism now expected of governors.

Can you give examples of where you have made an impact to your governing body?
I developed a risk register and risk assessment and management process for the school. I’ve also supported in the appointment of a number of major contractors and been on the main panel for recruiting head teachers and a number of senior staff positions. I was a strong supporter of the school becoming an academy at a time when opinions on our governing body were divided. Subsequently, I have been integral in moulding the way in which we set up our MAT, including developing a proper business plan. I’m currently taking our MAT governance structure through a process of change in response to growth.

How has your membership of The Key for School Governors supported you in your role as a governor?
It has saved me time by getting to the heart of problems quickly. Using The Key allows me to see examples of good practice from other governing boards, which I can cross-reference to other sources of information. If I have a question about an issue where there are a range of options, then expert opinions and case studies can be very helpful, particularly if overall they provide a good range of views.
I asked a question to The Key’s researchers about what options a school has to challenge the local authority where it had not provided particular resources. The Key researched the question and provided a set of helpful options.

Carol Smith is an HR business partner at the BBC. She is a governor at a primary academy and a member of The Key for School Governors

How do the skills from your job support your role as a governor?
I have spent over 20 years in HR and the skills and experience developed over that time have helped in my role as a governor on the personnel and welfare committee. The skills gained are very transferable in both directions. Skills such as time management, listening skills and empathy have also been invaluable in the role of governor.

What skills have you gained from the role?
I have enjoyed and benefited from working with a wide range of people from other walks of life, who bring a different perspective, with varied experience and skills.

What has been the biggest challenge in your role so far?
Being introduced to a completely new sphere of life has been the biggest challenge, along with understanding education terminology and acronyms. Having access to The Key for School Governors has been a good resource to turn to when needed.

Mike Sharman is managing director at ING Commercial Banking. He has been a governor in a number of primary schools since 1995, and is currently chair of the finance committee at a primary school.

How does your business background benefit your governing board?
I mainly use my finance skills, but also find that general business skills such as decision making, organisation, communication, empathy and common sense are useful in the role.

What is the biggest challenge in being a governor?
Keeping up to date with all of the government regulations is one of the biggest challenges, as they are regularly changing. I have participated in a number of inspections, so I understand how important it is to know exactly what a governor is expected to do and what they are expected to be responsible for.

What do you most enjoy about being a school governor?
I find it very satisfying that I am able to help schools, merely by using skills that I have obtained from 34 years of work. I don’t think people realise how useful their own skills are. Just being organised and being able to make decisions is useful in itself.

We need to educate people about what being a governor involves, but also persuade them that most of them can actually do it.

Christian Kramer is a senior manager at Lloyds Banking Group. He is a governor at an academy and a member of The Key for School Governors.

How much do you need to know about schools and education to become a governor?
I joined without much background knowledge of education and I think it’s less about having such in-depth knowledge but more about applying my own skills to such an environment. Of course I’ve learned a lot about education since first joining (and some parts have been a real eye-opener). No-one should be put off from getting involved because they feel they don’t know enough about schools.

Can you describe the role?
In a nutshell it’s to be a critical friend to the headteacher and the senior team. I try not to bring my opinions or personal views but to really apply my business skills and common sense. We need to ask ourselves a lot of questions: Is this the right thing to do? What does success look like? What are the barriers in the way of success?

What do you enjoy most about being a governor?
I can use my skills to support the school and I can develop myself. It’s very tangible: it’s a school, we have pupils, a teaching community and we get regular exam results. I can see the output. It’s a well-run, structured business and I can make a real contribution.

What kinds of issues have you got involved in?
I’m vice-chair of the governing body and also chair of the finance committee. We make decisions about investment spend and which areas to focus on. It’s less about knowing the detail of a particular project and prioritising it – I like to understand and ask about the context: what is the national average looking like? How does this fit into our strategic plan in terms of attracting talented staff and pupils? How’s it going to make a difference to our pupils?

One of the areas we have focussed on is attracting the right talent in terms of the teaching community and the pupils. There’s a lot of competition locally in the market. It’s having the ability to say: What’s our business plan? Who is our target market? How do we get our message across? How do we differentiate ourselves from everyone else?

Martin Devitt is a senior manager at EY. He is a board director of a new Multi-Academy Trust and a member of The Key for School Governors.

How has your use of The Key for School Governors supported you in your role as a governor?
It is a great one stop shop for background material on a range of governance and leadership topics. It also offers standard templates to ensure I can spend my time thinking about the content and the topic in hand and not waste time on the process of creating documents from scratch to evidence our work. Most importantly there are great working examples of live documents used in other schools, which offers insight in how other governors are addressing issues and responding to opportunities.

As part of our due diligence activity to assess potential academisation we used some examples and case studies from The Key on primary-focused Multi Academy Trusts (MATs) to build our business case for converting. This information formed part of the final governing body pack used when we made the decision to become an academy. We are now part of a wider family of five primary schools that created a brand new MAT to address the needs of our local children.

What has been the biggest challenge in your role so far?
Recruiting governors and building a volunteer team that understand how to operate effectively and efficiently and add value in an ever changing school environment.

Aruna Mehta is a risk consultant and non executive director. She is vice chair of a large Multi Academy Trust (MAT) and chairs the audit and risk committee. She is a member of The Key for School Governors.

What skills do you feel you have brought to your governing body?
My background is banking, technology and operational risk. I have experience in running global teams and large budgets. My contribution has been in helping schools manage their finances and risks in an organised and controlled way.

What skills do you feel you have gained or developed through your role as a governor?
It has been a fascinating journey to experience the culture and dynamics in education. My professional career had been in the financial sector where the levers are mainly related to efficiency, profit and shareholder value. Job satisfaction is largely dictated by monetary gain. In education, I have observed unconditional commitment to the client (child) where the reward is judged through the progress and wellbeing of the children. This undoubtedly has been the biggest lesson for me.

Can you give examples of where you have made an impact to your governing body?
It gave me enormous pleasure to be able to help the MAT put together a risk framework. I really had to get to grips with educational metrics. We have shifted 40 of our 41 schools out of status. I helped put together the High Risk Committee that has been instrumental in managing this process.

Why do you think it is valuable for professional people to sit on school governing bodies?
The teaching profession are very focused on delivering education. An effective governing body brings a wider range of skills such as HR, risk, finance, estates etc. This varied expertise help the head manage beyond the educational needs. The independence of the members means that the head has an unbiased partner and sounding board.

What personal satisfaction/motivation do you get from being a governor?
Seeing the development and improvement of the schools and MAT that I am involved in is hugely satisfying and moreover, watching the children thrive is truly fulfilling.

Working with a governing body gives me the opportunity to meet and work with people from different walks of life towards a common goal, where personal gain is not in question.

Charese Lock is an IT project manager at Lloyds Banking Group. She is a governor at a primary school, where she sits on the finance committee. She is a member of The Key for School Governors.

What have you found to be most enjoyable/ rewarding about being a school governor?
That it requires completely different skills to those I use in my daily job. It has challenged me to think and apply my judgement differently. The responsibility makes me more well-rounded as a person because of the social implications on the community and future generation.

How have your existing skills and experiences helped you as a governor?
I have a lot of financial management experience which helps me to contribute effectively to the finance committee I sit on. Even simple tasks like reading the financial spreadsheets and accounts are easier because of my experience. As another example I had to sit on a panel to resolve a formal complaint in my role as a Governor and this was aided by my experience in conflict management.

What skills have you developed?
The skills I have developed include understanding the processes around safeguarding, interview best practice, financial management in education, influencing and networking and how to challenge while being a ‘trusted friend’ at the same time.

How important do you think a governing body is to the success of a school?
It is vital that a governing body understands its own development areas and strengths, appropriately challenges and asks probing questions and builds strong links with teachers, parents and the community itself in order for it to drive success as it should.

Shani Reynolds is a senior manager in regulatory programmes at HSBC. She is a governor at a primary school.

What have you found to be most enjoyable about being a school governor?
From a personal perspective this is the closest I have been to a board set up, which has been challenging and rewarding.

How have your existing skills and experiences helped you as a governor?
It’s actually things like efficiency. I work in a global team so have meetings all the time. We have to make the most of people’s time so we need agendas, papers in advance, minutes to review and a prompt start and finish. This wasn’t in place when I arrived. I can’t say I drove the efficiency but I and a parent governor in full time employment, made it clear that in order for us to participate there needs to be formality and this is slowly happening. I am also very used to challenging which works well in a large group of very very nice people… Someone has to do it!

What skills have you developed?
I have been able to develop my leadership skills, and been able to take ownership and responsibility. I’ve been actively involved in the pay review and objective setting which isn’t something I’d get exposure to in my day job. I’ve also been able to refine my attention to detail and learned how to push back and challenge in a way that drives a positive outcome.

How important do you think a governing body is to the success of a school?
I think having a group of largely impartial people reviewing and taking decisions for the school is key to driving a successful school. The educators should be educators and this should be their focus. The successful management of the school should be the focus of the management team and the governors should act as an independent sounding board of the management team to ensure the school performs at its best.

If you could recommend school governance to a friend, what would you say?
It gives you an opportunity to act as a non-executive director where the outcome really matters.

Anthony Fripp is a partner and head of commercial property at WBW Solicitors. He is a governor at a primary school, where he is vice chair and chair of the resources committee. He is a member of The Key for School Governors.

What skills do you feel you have gained or developed through your role as a governor?
Data analysis, project management and strategic management.

How has your membership of The Key for School Governors supported you in your role as a governor?
It has definitely helped in building confidence and knowledge due to the extensive resources available to read and learn from. It’s saved time at governing body meetings by assisting preparation and having a better idea of the type of questions to ask, and has provided evidence of the supportive challenge aspect of the role
We are currently contemplating and commencing planning discussions for the different types of partnership models available for our school into the future. I have circulated articles from The Key to other governors and have been able to ask insightful questions on the types of models and the approaches available. The breadth of articles is very useful in what is otherwise something of a political minefield.

Why do you think it is valuable for professional people to sit on school governing bodies, and what do you feel are the main challenges involved?
Bringing private sector experience is a useful challenge to a school. Professional people may consider that they will struggle to find the time, but I have definitely found the experience so far to be personally valuable, and the skills development, experience and training available has been very valuable for my work as well as in my role as a governor.

What personal satisfaction/motivation do you get from being a governor?
Being involved with dedicated education professionals is inspiring and it has been very pleasant meeting people from different backgrounds. The challenge of getting to grips with a completely different area to my day job is refreshing and interesting and the ability to experience and develop strategic planning skills is useful.