school governor insights: top tips for prospective candidates

Zurich Municipal's Sharon Cheasley discusses why she became a school governor – and explains what challenges and rewards others can expect from the role.

• What made you decide to become a governor? 

I was a parent originally and felt that supporting the school was a good thing. I had already provided input for a couple of documents they were issuing so it was a natural progression. When a vacancy was advertised in the school, I applied to be a parent governor then when my children left, I continued as a community governor.

• Can you outline your duties? 

My role is to understand the school's direction and improvement plans, and to ensure that the decisions being made will fulfill the goals – not just focusing on the children, but the whole school community too. The local education authority refer to the governor role as a "critical friend" asking the questions from a layman's view point.

I have had various roles during the 14 years I have been a governor. I am now the chair of governors and sit on the finance and personnel boards as this is where my skillset best sits within that of the full governing body. I have been able to show direction in risk management issues and personnel support as the education sector transitions to a performance-related pay format. I also support the school for interviewing and parents' evenings to be on hand to discuss any concerns.

Originally I was on two boards covering curriculum and finance. The finance committee look at the budgets set and the spending proposed to ensure they agree with the focus of the funding and that the school improvement plan is being implemented. Curriculum groups discuss the events within the school and the development of the children – always with an eye to the school improvement plan. This covers all subjects and then has a focus for various areas such as special educational needs, boys results compared to girls and more-able pupils.

Other groups include the building committee that deals with all things relating to the premises and grounds etc.The personnel committee focuses on the staffing areas within school management, from lunchtime cover to headteacher recruitment. The full governing body meets every term where the committees present the minutes from their meetings to be ratified.

• What legal responsibilities do you undertake as a governor? 

Agreeing budgets. The finances cover the whole spectrum of school spending and each area will be allocated a code – from stationary to window cleaning, ground maintenance and salaries. The focus is always on delivering the school improvement plan, ensuring pupils are meeting their development targets and staff their performance targets. A particular school improvement plan may focus on boys attaining improved results in reading or improving the SATs results across the whole school – the focus is varied and may reflect the latest Ofsted report. How this is to be achieved will be discussed and agreed within the full governing body meeting.

• What measures have you taken to protect yourself? 

I enquired about whether the county provided an indemnity for all governors in role. Hampshire County Council do not insure because they are self-funding but when I was considering becoming a governor I did ask questions about the cover afforded to us.

• What's your favourite part of the role? 

Seeing the school continue to evolve and the children who come into the school little and timid before moving onto the big school with confidence. I enjoy knowing we are helping the children who have additional support needs while still focusing on the talented, as well as watching the staff move on in their careers. I have had the pleasure of meeting and working with some diverse, lovely people during my time.

• What bits do you find more challenging? 

Sometimes committing the time at short notice when something crops up can be challenging, but this has never been insurmountable. The legislative changes and how they affect your particular schools and the feeder schools are also difficult.

• Do you have any resources/support that you find useful? 

Hampshire County Council has a considerable support system for governors, from good training to documents on their website. I have been very fortunate to be a governor within the county.

What key pieces of advice would you give to other considering becoming a governor? 

You know more than and have more to offer than you think you do.
Your key role is to support.