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How to become a school governor

Article Govenors Awareness

Vicky Cunningham, 22: ‘It brings the school alive. That's basically why we do it.’

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People are always asking me why I’m a governor. It always surprises them. Maybe it's because they don’t know what it is, or they don’t expect it coming from someone my age.

Whilst I was at university one of the freshers fairs had a Governors for Schools stand, and I thought, that's a bit strange, because I thought you had to have lots of experience in, say, banking  and basically have grey hair before you got onto a governing board. It sparked an interest in me.

I’ve done things I could never have imagined I’d be doing at my age.

How did you apply?

I ended up applying through Governors for Schools - a charity that matches governors with schools across the UK. They sent me something a bit like a dating profile, where you select what sort of school you want to get involved with and then they send you different opportunities. It's a very easy process and it didn't matter that I had no prior connection with the schools.

I'm now 22 and I became a governor when I was 20. A lot of people seem to think I'm a parent, which I'm definitely too young for!  The headteacher has been very welcoming and has a daughter the same age as me so she understands the value of listening to young voices and was keen to have me on board.

There have been times when I've been sat outside the headteacher's office ready to go into a meeting, and it feels like I'm back at school. (Not that I ever sat outside the headteacher's office to be told off though!) I do get an interesting reaction from staff at the school. Sometimes when I sign in at reception I say, "Hi, I’m a governor" and they’re like, "Okay, you’re a governor?!" They're all just really surprised about how I got into it.

If you’re on the fence about getting involved, I’d say "Make the leap!"

What do you like about being a school governor?

Firstly it's fantastic for your CV. I talked about it at the interview I had for my current job, and found it's something really unusual that people just don't expect.

I'm also passionate about kids and teachers' mental health, so have been very keen to push that forward in our staffing and pay meetings. I'm delighted we now have an agenda item for staff mental health as a permanent thing.

I also advocated for GovernorHub, the board communication software, when I joined, because we had so much paperwork and emails, and I wanted to have everything in one place. So I sort of brought the board into the 21st Century.

I like seeing the school plays, and all of the school life things really bring it to life. We met with the staff on the September INSET day, and talked about where we wanted to take the school.

Being a governor is really about being present and being there if people need to chat. We're not inspectors, we're like a halfway house - so some people do get scared when we come into the school, but I hope that as a younger governor, people don't feel that intimidated by me, maybe I'm a bit more approachable.

It’s a two-way way system, they hopefully benefit from us going into the school and writing a report, and we benefit because we're re-energised, and it brings the school alive every time we go in.

It's just been really, really empowering.

I got picked to be on the recruitment panel for the headteacher, and it was eye-opening, because I've always been on the other side of interviews. It was a great being involved in the whole process from reviewing CVs, discussing applicants and choosing who to take forward to interview stage. I also got to ask a question in the interview, which was exciting.

I really enjoy drawing on my experience as a student, and think it's really important that every board should have a governor who's under-30. There's such a shortage of governors nationally, but it’s a really rewarding role and is a relatively low time commitment.

When I first applied I did think to myself, "Why am I doing this? No-one’s ever going to listen to a 20 year old student," but I think there's a real utility in having younger voices that perhaps don't have the life experience, but do have the time and the energy to put into it. I've learnt so much over the last 2 years, it's just been really, really empowering. 

If you’re on the fence about getting involved, I’d say "Make the leap!" I know a lot of young people are looking for ways to give back meaningfully to their communities and this is something that really can do that.

Apply to be a school governor

Find out more and register your interest at Governor for Schools, a national education charity that finds, places, and supports volunteers as governors on school and academy boards.

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