This ‘hybrid’ setup might have been more unusual in the past - but our definition of what team working can, or should, look like has changed since the pandemic. Many of us frequently take part in hybrid meetings in our day jobs and in-person events are no longer the ‘expected standard’, to pinch a phrase from school assessment.
We know that filling vacancies can be difficult for school governing boards. We also know that most governing boards don’t represent their local community, let alone society as a whole. Our recent report, The Missing Pool of Talent on Governing Boards, revealed that boards lack diversity in several areas as governors are typically older, white and more educated. Recruiting remote governors might be one way to redress this imbalance and bring a greater diversity of thought and experiences to governing boards.
The matching charity, Governors for Schools, is now actively working to pair up boards with volunteers who, whilst only able to offer remote support, bring much-needed commitment, skills and differing experiences.
Shaun lives in Northern Ireland but manages an area of the Midlands, working remotely in his day job, as well as in his governor role at an independent special school in Worcestershire.
“I’d been a governor for about three years for a large trust in Worcestershire and when I said I was moving away from the area, it was decided I wouldn't stay on which I completely understood. Then I spoke to an independent special school in the area which felt differently. I was able to meet the headteacher, visit the school and attend several meetings in-person before I left to continue as a remote governor.”
Shaun says teething problems in hybrid governance are often technology-related, but are usually easy to overcome. At his board meetings, Shaun is visible on a class interactive whiteboard and on the laptops used by governors and staff in the room - he jokes, "I’m plastered all over the place."
Shaun says remote governance works particularly well if someone has an existing link to an area and already knows the community well, "In London, we have more would-be governors than schools, which got us thinking more creatively about how to place those volunteers. People who didn’t grow up in London are often keen to give back to the community where they grew up - and return for frequent visits. We’ve found this set up works well as long as the school is able to support the volunteer and the chair is inclusive."
Damian has a portfolio career as an investor but also advises the Welsh government on health and social care issues.
"I didn’t want to be a governor in my local area as I wanted an opportunity to find out about governance in England. I’d heard from Governors for Schools that remote governance was possible, so I signed up."
Damian has used his expertise and lived experience to inform his role, "I’m lucky enough to be a remote governor in a special needs school. I went to a special needs school myself and want to make sure that families get the proper support around health and social care issues. I thought my background would come in handy."
The school has benefited from what Damian calls his ‘citizen learning’, "I’m able to articulate what it feels like to be a special needs pupil. I’m actually severely dyslexic as well as having cerebral palsy and it wasn’t until very late in my educational journey that I was statemented and it’s surprising how common this is. I’ve used my experiences to inform the school’s policy development, but I also bring an academic viewpoint as well."
As he hoped when signing up, Damian has also gained professionally, "It’s helped me to understand the intersection between health, social care, education and even the welfare system, because the school serves some very deprived families. It’s helped me in my advisory role to be able to use real-life examples."
Despite being the only person dialling in remotely, Damian says the setup works well and he’s hoping to go to the school in-person soon, "I’m looking forward to going to visit and meet the staff and headteacher and really get to know them."
Joanna found out about remote governance when she attended a talk at the University of Wolverhampton where she was working as a graduate intern. She’d been a governor once before, so decided to go along and find out more.
"Shaun from Governors for Schools came to speak about remote governance and I realised it was something I could do, as it’s not during work time and I wouldn’t need to travel or find childcare. After the meeting I spoke to Governors for Schools who put me in touch with a maintained primary school and nursery in Derby where I’m now a remote governor. It’s about two hours from where I live."
Joanna says the school has really welcomed her and she’s been able to bring her focus and passion about wellbeing to meetings, "This particular school is going through a lot, so I’m keen to make sure staff wellbeing is prioritised and they’re aware of the wellbeing charter."
She believes having a mix of skills and perspectives matters and despite being the only black person on the board initially, two more vacancies have been filled and that’s no longer the case, "It’s no good having people who’re all the same. You need a mix of skills and different perspectives which we have now."
Inspired by this experience, Joanna’s now also a parent governor at the academy secondary school where her children attend - this time in-person, "I love it because each school is so different and I’m getting different perspectives. Governors for Schools are really supportive and I know the questions to ask and what to look for. I’m focusing on accountability and strategy."
Being a governor has given Joanna more confidence in her day job too, "I used to worry about my Ghanian accent, but that’s really changed as I’m so used to speaking to people from different backgrounds where everyone is seen as having something to offer."
Some schools aren’t keen on recruiting a remote governor according to Shaun, especially with the easing of the pandemic and the drive to get back into schools and ‘back to normality’, but while it might not be right for every school or trust, he thinks it has a place and is therefore here to stay, "If you have a certain diversity need or skills shortage, you can only go so long before it impacts board effectiveness. Recruiting a remote governor is a good way to overcome this. As long as the school is keen to help and support the governor and the chair is inclusive, it can work well."
Governors for Schools currently has 229 schools who’re looking to fill a board vacancy and will consider a remote governor. It has 39 volunteers who’re happy to offer support remotely. If you’re interested to find out more about whether this might be an option for your board or for you as a volunteer, there are resources on the Governors for Schools website where you can register interest and some useful FAQs.
If you're not already a member, The Key for School Governors has unlocked this useful article on how to run virtual meetings effectively: