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From trust accounts auditor to young trustee

| 6 minute read
57 ARTICLE Young Female

36 year old Kimberley Foulkes stumbled across a role in governance eight years ago.

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Now she’s a passionate and committed trust committee chair. Her journey began when she became a governor at an infant school which then went through the academisation process.

We caught up with Kimberley to learn more about her governance journey and what she’s gained from getting involved.

How did you first come to be a governor?

Well, part of my day job is auditing not-for-profit entities and education establishments - so, essentially, independent schools and multi-academy trusts.

Soon after I qualified in 2015, an email went round work explaining that there was a shortage of governors in Kent and asking if anyone would be interested in signing up. I’d always been really interested in education from the auditing side of things, so I thought, ‘why not, I’ll give it a go’.

I was only 28 and didn’t really consider my age at all at the time and the fact that I might be quite a young governor - I just put my name forward. I was contacted by a local school directly to ask if I’d be interested to come and meet them. Coincidentally, it turned out to be my old infant school which made it feel even more like the right thing to do - meaning I could support my community and give something back.

I went and spoke to the board and the governance professional about my skill set and background and what I might be able to offer through my experience in auditing and accounting. It also came out in the conversation that the school was looking to academise at some point - this was 2015 when there was a strong academisation push from the Department for Education.  

First, I came onto the board as an associate member in an advisory capacity and then as a full governor. Four years later we went through an academisation process - joining with a local primary school that we’d been collaborating with already for some time.

Of course the governance structure changes when you become a trust and it just felt natural for me at that point to become the trust finance, audit and risk committee chair, given my experience.

It’s been really lovely actually, having come from those beginnings back in 2015 - going through the academisation process and then watching the schools grow and thrive. We’re now in the process of potentially merging with another academy trust.

Governance has just become a real passion of mine. It helps in my day job too. I can be authentic when I’m talking to my clients as I’m a trustee so I understand things from the other side of the fence. It’s really helped for building a rapport.

How different is it when you’re a trustee looking at accounts presented to you at a board meeting - versus your day job auditing accounts for trusts?

Well what’s different as a trustee is that you’re looking at everything as a whole. I’m checking that we’re sharing the positive stories about our trust as well as having due regard to the risk that we’ve all formulated as a trust board.

I put faith in the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) and our teams  that they’ve done the auditing work correctly and we’re now looking at it from a different, strategic point of view. Although I always have the auditor in me when I’m looking at it!

Would you say there’s more passion involved in the voluntary role - you’re wanting to make a difference?

Yes - in fact my CFO has remarked that she was apprehensive having an auditor interview her for her role at the trust. As an auditor, you’re there to do a job and emotion is missing a lot of the time but when you’re a trustee and volunteer - you’re much more emotionally invested. I think she found me to be more human!

I can make a difference to my clients when I’m advising them but I have that set amount of time, and it ends there. Yes you stay in touch a bit throughout the year but you have lots of other clients and things to do as well.

When you’re a trustee, you’re really personally invested in the strategic vision, the direction of the particular trust and you’re focused on the local community. You’re invested in it emotionally, personally and professionally.

Have you managed to persuade anyone else into governance?

Yes,  I just had lunch with someone today because they emailed me to say they’d been asked to become a trustee and wanted to talk to me about it. I’d already planted the seed with them before about how much I got from it and how much you can give back with your financial skills.

A lot of people are thinking it’s a lot to learn and you have to do it on your own but I explained that there’s an induction process and lots of support services you can buy into - like GovernorHub. Also that it’s not actually that big a time commitment if you have a skillset to bring to the table but you shouldn’t go into it half heartedly. I’ve definitely planted the seed or persuaded a couple of people to give it a go.

Do you feel like your age is an asset?

I feel like it has been an asset at times because you bring a slightly different view point. We have a real mix on both of the boards that I’m a part of (I’m also a mental health charity trustee too) in terms of ethnic diversity and age. It does give that fresher outlook and different opinions to the table.

It can be difficult when people assume you might not have enough experience or knowledge but I think when you’ve recently learnt things, they’re fresh in your mind.

So you have healthy discussions on your boards?

Yes definitely. We have a couple of professors from the university who work in educational research so they’re focused on teaching and learning.  We also have a couple of people that are involved in safeguarding at a high level. There’s certainly healthy discussion.

It’s also nice to work alongside people from other sectors - it’s a local network in a way. You also get a real feel for the challenges and benefits in other sectors. It can also be interesting when we’re all aligned on an issue even though we come from such different fields.

Would you say the academisation process has been positive from your experience?

Definitely, we’ve really seen the benefits. We were a local authority 3 form infant school joining up with a primary school which had the same, shared values. We’ve been able to take advantage of  economies of scale. Also we’ve been able to attract and retain talent in the workforce and provide career progression. 

I know some schools have had negative experiences but I think that’s the minority - especially from what I’m seeing in my day job. At our trust we have a real vision and purpose and we’re keen to go forward and help others now, maybe bringing in other schools on our journey.

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  • John White 1 Apr 2024, 19:12 (4 months ago)

    Another very interesting article which is similiar to my own experiences. I joined our local primary school as a parent governor in 1998 following an approach from the then Chair who also chaired the Local Parish Council onto which l had been co-opted 12 months previously. Given my experience in finance l was very quickly invited to become chair of the Staff and Finance Committee and enjoyed trying to find "errors in the accounts". Within a month or so l was advised of an impending Ofsted inspection. The inspector made me feel very much at ease and l felt we both knew the questions and responses to each question and where they would lead The Chair and l formed an excellent working relationship where we respected each others views and opinions. Eventually he relinquished both roles due to advancing tears with KCC imposing some years later the GB of another local school on our school to oversee the process of conversion to academy status. Our local GB resigned in bulk except for myself and another both of whom were ignored. Any questions we asked were deemed irrevelant and made our position untenable. A few years back that GB were judged to be ineffective and dismissed. A new CEO was appointed who sought to obtain experience on the TB.

    I discussed with her the depth of my experience and attitudes towards education in Kent.
    I too was totally sceptical about academies but now believe they provide the best possible level of professionalism resulting in the highest levels of outcome for pupils and the best possible value for money. We have recently taken over two 'improvement required' primary schools and have another two seeking to join us.

    Undoutedly there are areas where l can offer little imput, but others will feel the same on finance. It is important to recognise ones own strengths and weaknesses and to both instruct others and to learn from them.
    The one area which still concerns me is the massive deficits on the Local Government Teachers Pension Fund, and how far, if at all, especially in the case of KCC, this relates to the Icelandic Banking collapse.

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