On-boarding new school governors

Over the past couple of years our school governing board has spent a lot of time finding and on-boarding new members. It’s an endless quest to make sure that we have a strong board with the right people around the table and good succession planning in place for the key roles. Last year I wrote about the process we went through to cast a wide net over our local community to try and find new willing volunteers that weren’t parents; I thought it would be useful to jot down what we do when people put their hands up.

When I became a governor in 2013 we had no interview process whatsoever, but over time school governance has become a lot more formal. We are now expected to be identifying key skill gaps within the board and recruiting people in a similar way to job applicants. This is great in theory, but my experience is that we do not have queues of people lining up to be school governors so it is very rare that we turn someone away immediately due to their skills not being exactly right. It’s always better to encourage people if they have dared to express an interest; we have great relationships with other schools in the town and on occasion after meeting up with them I have referred prospective governors to other governing boards if we really don’t have a pressing need for new members.

School governors are now required to be DBS-checked, which is a recent change which can’t be argued with. Stating this fact up front when people get in contact is a very useful method for making sure that any real undesirables don’t waste your time.

Initial contact

As Chair of Governors, if a potential new governor gets in contact I have tried to first speak to them on the phone to explain a bit about the role to make sure they understand what it’s all about and to answer any immediate questions. It’s a good opportunity to convey some enthusiasm for the job, which although hard work is very rewarding and a privilege to do. Usually, prospective new governors are concerned about the time commitments as well as not knowing much about what they are signing up for. I explain that they can start slowly and that it typically takes up to a year or so before a new joiner really start to ‘get it’ and feels that they are contributing well.

If the call goes well and they are still interested, I’ll follow up by sending them a couple of documents. The first is Being a Governor, something that was originally put together by our previous Clerk before he retired which gives a good overview of what governance is and what is expected. The second is the NGA Code of Conduct which we ask all of our governors to understand and abide to, and sign on an annual basis.

Once the prospective governor has read these they typically get back in touch, at which point I’ll arrange to meet them for a coffee and informal interview.

Meeting up

Ahead of our meeting I’ll send them our application form as well as a form that they need to pass on to referees if they wish to apply.

The face-to-face meeting is useful to understand a bit more about who they are, why they want to be a governor and what skills they can bring to the team. They may also have more questions after having read the introductory documents and having had more time to think. Typically we are always looking for governors with Finance, HR and Technology skills but we may also be looking for other specific areas of expertise which we can explore with them in the discussion.

Following up

Following the informal meeting, if the prospective governor is still keen, I’ll send them an induction checklist. As well as letting the prospective new governor know what they need to do, the checklist also contains links to a multitude of useful resources that we have gathered over the years. If you find this useful and have any ideas as to how this could be added to and improved, I would be very happy to hear them and update the document here.

I will then also put the prospective governor in contact with both the Headteacher to meet up and have a tour of the school, and the Vice Chair of Governors for a more formal interview. Both of these meetings are very important so that we have multiple views on a candidate before taking things further.

Bringing them on board

The whole process above typically takes a month or two from start to finish. Following this, if the Headteacher, Vice Chair and I are all keen to bring them on board we will propose them at the next Full Governing Board meeting. If the rest of the Board are happy, we will then get back in touch to ask them to join.

There are then various other forms to complete as per our checklist — a DBS form and a Governor Self-Declaration form are the most important. The school will then set them up with a governor email address. They are then ready to attend their first meeting as a new governor.

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