When I first learned about how the average age of school governors and trustees was 60-75 years old, I made a decision to become one, aged 23. Call me naive or brave but with a gentle nudge, and the knowledge that I only need be 18 years old+ (so yes, no prior experience required) I thought “why not?”
With a degree in one hand and an opportunity in the other, my age represented two things:
Was the ‘barrier’ perceived or actual?
Would my ‘superpower’ make me a hero or a villain?
At the time I didn’t have answers to these questions but I felt the fear and started my school governance journey anyway. Having successfully completed a corporate governance course, with an exam I’ll add (call me an academically-minded creative), and working with young people as a tutor, coach and mentor since the age of 18, I had a passion to serve others.
Could I predict and prepare for my first appointment being the chair of the strategic body, in a primary school, of a large and growing academy trust?
Do I now wish that I knew more before I dived in at the deep end?
Not particularly because I wouldn’t rewrite my story. Being a governor has enabled me to have the most life-propelling experiences. However, I know that prior insight is extremely helpful; simply ask any listener of The Governors’ Podcast; which I co-host. One of the ways I feedforward is as an education governance podcaster; supporting existing and prospective governors and trustees with their own journeys.
I’m naturally curious, with a willingness to contribute to progressive and impactful change. This remains true today, aged 28. My competency was rooted in my self-belief.
There’s a term we often use on the local governing board I sit on to underpin how we develop our students - to “stretch and challenge”. As a co-opted governor at a selective school in a medium-sized academy trust, the chair of the Teaching and learning committee, the Equality, diversity and inclusion link governor and subject link governor for French and German, I believe it’s important to first implement and practice this concept within myself. Striving to be better.
Shifting the dial
Statistics from the National Governance Association’s recent report show that 51% of volunteers are 60+ years old and the number of governors and trustees below the age of 40 is the lowest on record (6%). Those like me under 30 remains at just 1%, and governors over 80 at 2%... there’s work to do.
As a Diversity of age specialist and trainer, I’m eager for us to improve the representation of younger and current generations at the strategic level in schools and academy trusts. Governors and trustees are in a prime position to shape the future. We are preparing students for a world that doesn’t yet exist but in their world that does today, it is global. They are… we are… global citizens.
Technology is not new and neither is diversity, yet both have become increasingly important and integral parts of our everyday lives. Our children know this. As digital natives, diversity and technology are norms for them. So why is this not reflected at the top of organisations, in those rooms, around those tables?
If they are not able to rely on us to drive necessary change, they will lead it by force.
If every child, teenager, pupil and student in full time education today was born in the 21st century, how is it that most of the seats on our governing boards are filled with those born and educated in the 1940s to 1960s? Why are there so few 20-somethings in decision-making spaces?
The 1800s sounded historic to those in the 1900s, so imagine how the past century sounds to the current one… ancient, maybe?
Let’s think about NOW
Follow the journey of the child, knowing that Generation Alpha are already here (currently in our primary schools), and the youngest of them are not yet born (2025). By the time they all reach 18+ years of age, it’ll be the year 2043. Where will you be? What will education and governance look like then?
Strategic and succession planning has never been more paramount. It’s time to prepare for the future. Plant seeds and nurture growth. If you can remember 2002, which was 20 years ago, then 20 years from now is not that far away. Millennials and Gen Z have a crucial piece to the jigsaw puzzle that the majority do not… recent and relevant experience of the system! Our lived experience IS our X years of experience.
In the almost 5 years of serving in education governance, I have realised that governance isn’t sexy to most people but that doesn’t mean it cannot be. In order to be attractive, you must first be visible.
But it is visible… isn’t it?
Only to those who already know about it.
If the need is to attract more diverse participants, then we have to audit the game board, update the rules, and introduce new players. There is an abundance of opportunities for all, when there’s a recognised mutual exchange of value. Being the first one doesn’t mean we have to accept being the only one. I urge you to advocate for more diverse members on your board because representation matters.