The benefits of becoming a school governor

School governors play a vital role in making key decisions, holding accountability, and shaping the direction of schools across the country. Yet as their duties are mainly performed behind the scenes and under codes of confidentiality, there remains an aura of uncertainty about what the role of a governor entails. If you are looking for an opportunity to gain valuable skills, professionally grow, and improve learning outcomes, then signing up as a school governor could be the right decision for you. 

Becoming a school governor is not only a rewarding opportunity to volunteer and help young people in your local community, it is also a chance to gain transferable skills (leadership, strategy, and management to name a few) to support your professional development. It also places you at the heart of schools and gives you a better perspective of the education landscape, as you work alongside fellow governors and teachers to improve outcomes for pupils.  

Emma Knights, the Chief Executive of the National Governance Association (NGA), recently chaired a panel discussion with BESA on school and trust governance, with some key takeaways on how you can get involved. 


What is the role of a governor? 

School governors are required to undertake a variety of roles, most notably determining who has power, who makes decisions, and how other players (staff, parents, pupils) make their voices heard. In her talk, Emma succinctly summarised the role of the governor as the “first line of accountability” in schools, and stressed the number of useful resources available (both from the NGA and other organisations) to help volunteers become effective governors. Day-to-day responsibilities may include ensuring the clarity of the school’s strategic vision and ethos, holding leaders to account over educational performance, overseeing the financial performance of the school/multi-academy trust (MAT), and ensuring that decisions are inclusive of the views of pupils, parents, staff, and the local community.  

It is also important to note that governing structures across schools often differ, and there may be governing roles that may fall under different titles (such as ambassador or councillor). A governor at a maintained school, for example, may have more work delegated to them from local authorities, giving them more autonomy and control over how the school is run. A Single Academy Trust (SAT) has a board of trustees and/or directors, whereas a Multi Academy Trust (MAT) will be responsible for more than one school and include trustees on the board as well as local governing bodies/school committees.  


What qualities are required? 

Governing is a volunteering opportunity for everyone, with no one set demographic or typical volunteer; the only thing you need to be able to guarantee is commitment.   

Contrary to popular belief, you do not have to be a parent/carer or of a particular age. The NGA panel particularly reflected on the value governing provides to younger volunteers or those early in their careers, who may be looking to give back to their local community whilst learning valuable skills and gaining lived experience that will help them advance in their own professions.  

Simon Hay, CEO of Firefly Learning and school governor, also stressed how, “There are a number of decisions that are quite hard to make from a genuinely independent standpoint if you have several children going through the school”, and that is best to get involved in a school where you have no personal or business affiliations to allow you to be the “neutral arbiter on various issues.”  

Over time and with the right support, governors should be able to emulate what the NGA describes as the ‘eight elements of effective governance’: 

  1. Good relationships based on trust 
  2. Good chairing 
  3. Professional clerking 
  4. The right people around the table 
  5. Understanding roles and responsibilities 
  6. Courageous conversations 
  7. Knowing the school and/or trust 
  8. Asking challenging questions 

Whilst these skills are vital for governors, they are crucially transferable and can be applied to any business, allowing you to apply your learnings as a governor in your professional life. 


How can you get involved?  

There are two main, free volunteer banks where you can sign up to become a governor, who will then work to match you with schools and trusts: Inspiring Governance, and Governors for Schools.  

Before you get involved, it is also important to take the opportunity to look and understand the contexts of the schools you are wishing to get involved in and what might best fit your skill set. Each school will require different levels of improvement and input, and it is important that the board is wellequipped and organised. Crucially, don’t be afraid of getting involved in schools that seem less stable; whilst these may require more work, they can often offer more rewarding experiences.  

With high vacancy numbers, schools and trusts are always looking for committed individuals to become governors. Volunteering can provide the chance to give back to the community, gain valuable professional experience in leadership and strategy to apply in your day job, and positively impact your mental well-being. There has never been a better time to get involved. 

Governing is a challenging but rewarding role, which may involve making difficult decisions but provides a chance to make a real difference. With support from affiliate organisations and increasing post-pandemic flexibility in how and where you can get involved, governing is an excellent opportunity to grow both personally and professionally. Why not have a look at the Inspiring Governance and Governors for Schools website and give it a try?