Kate Fiddian (@kfiddian), Assistant Head, Science teacher and South West Representative for The MTPT Project explains how taking up a role as a Primary School governor has improved her understanding of whole school leadership, and enriched her experience of maternity leave with her son.

Her account of her governing experience, which she will continue next year, shows what a powerful and compatible Maternity or Paternity CPD opportunity school governance can be.

At the end of my first full year as a School Governor, it is time to reflect. I first became curious about governance a couple of years ago after being completely stumped by a question during some CPD training about the role governors play in school improvement. Never one to let my curiosity go unanswered; I resolved to find out more. A quick Google search and brief form filling exercise and I was in email contact with someone from SGOSS (School Governors’ One Stop Shop) who matched my skill set to a school looking to recruit co-opted governors.

What do Governors do?

Governors work alongside senior leaders to set targets, aims and objectives for school improvement, monitoring and evaluating progress towards achieving targets, and acting as a critical friend. They challenge and support school leaders to improve outcomes for pupils by working with the Headteacher and senior leaders to ensure resources and budgets are managed appropriately. Governors also help ensure there is clarity of vision, ethos and strategic direction across the school.

What have I learnt this year?

I have been fortunate enough to be involved with lots of different aspects of governance this year; I am the link governor for teaching and learning, SEND and children in care, I am also on the standards committee and the panel for performance managing the Headteacher – all of which I have found hugely developmental. However, the highlight of my year has to be recruiting a new Headteacher. From helping write the job advert and person specification, to shortlisting, designing interview tasks and sitting on the interview panel – the whole process gave me a unique insight into recruiting senior leaders and was brilliant CPD!

What’s in it for me?

Until taking on this role, my experience of working with governors was limited to attending meetings at my current school to share information. I now feel confident discussing most aspects of school governance (ok, my knowledge of the business side of school life still need some work, but I’m learning!) and have a much greater understanding of school improvement and strategic planning, all of which will serve me well when I make my next career move. As an Assistant Headteacher in a Secondary School, I have learnt so much about a different phase of education whilst working as a governor in a Primary School. I have also been able to “magpie” some cracking ideas; from performance management and CPD plans to data analysis strategies.

Why is being a governor great CPD for teachers on parental leave?

My little one attended his first governors’ meeting when he was two weeks old and hasn’t missed one since. The Chair of Governors and senior leaders have all been hugely supportive of me bringing him along; they value my contributions and understand that we come as a pair at the moment. Initially I was worried about little one being a distraction if he cried or needed to be fed, but the other governors have been so accommodating and even enjoy a cuddle with him occasionally! Attending governors’ meetings has kept my brain engaged and enabled me to develop professionally. I’ve added to my network, given back to a community that needs to be invested in and met some really great people. Above all, I’m a better mum as a result of being actively involved with education, being intellectually stimulated and feeling valued.

Is it a huge commitment? Most governing bodies meet 6-8 times a year for a couple of hours; often pre-reading and reports are sent out beforehand to make best use of the time you have together, so add another couple of hours for getting your head around the items on the agenda before the meeting. If you opt to be part of a sub-group or committee, want to get involved in recruitment or are interested in being a link governor, then these obviously all add hours, but are also great experiences and an opportunity to learn.

How do I get involved?

SGOSS is a charity that matches potential governors to schools looking to recruit.  Alternatively, contact local schools to see if they are recruiting governors. Schools really appreciate having governors from all walks of life, and those with a background in education add challenge and enables the governing body to draw on your experiences too. I cannot recommend being a governor highly enough. It’s the best professional development I’ve had in a long time and, if you find the right school, is so compatible with parental leave.