Governors from industry add value to schools

24 Apr

(1)       Education’s secret garden is opened to industry

The business world has been quick off the mark to describe the shortcomings in maintained schools.   In its report, First Steps: a new approach to schools, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) heralds its approach by quoting Plutarch, “The correct analogy for the mind is not a vessel that needs filling, but wood that needs igniting.”Industrialists have, with some justification, moaned about how we, in schools, fail to prepare our young people for the world of work.   It is always good, strategically, to ask someone who grumbles about the darkness to light a little candle.  This is precisely what the former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and his minister for education, Lord Andrew Adonis, did when they invited industrialists to sponsor academies which were to replace failing schools.

Accordingly, the picture changed quite radically, when, at the turn of the millennium leading businessmen like Lord Harris were invited to come into the education circle and spit out rather than stay outside and spit in.    Since then, the business community has assisted in sponsoring the creation of academies when failing schools were closed. They have also helped in other ways, i.e. providing career advice and offering work experience to students.

Headteachers and currently serving school governors have been swift to realise how invaluable industrialists can be.  They have energetically been recruiting governors from local firms, businesses and the arts.  By so doing, they have been able to harness much-needed industrial skills to benefit schools.  People from industry bring new perspectives – especially when it comes to making the curriculum relevant to the world of work.  They expand the horizons of headteachers and teachers and, often directly influence in myriad ways, occasionally transforming what transpires in lessons.   It is also not unknown for co-opted community governors from industry to encourage their colleagues to spend time in the classrooms to hear children read and talk about their own careers, so as to shape the futures of our children.  

The education system has fragmented – in direct proportion to local authorities’ loss of finance, power and influence.  Consequently, it is now necessary for schools to rely on their own initiatives and resources.  A powerful stratagem is to recruit governors from industry to support them in financial matters, property management, human resources (HR), Information Technology and the law, among other things.   They have contributed towards nurturing pupils and students developing for their schools more all-round provision to assist young people succeed in the world of work and beyond, through inculcating in them the value of positive group dynamics, resilience, enthusiasm, creativity and confidence.

In turn, governors from the business world have benefited from the exercise of making a voluntary contribution to schools.   Apart from the intrinsic satisfaction of seeing work well done, many school governors have observed that school governance has helped them to develop better working relationships with colleagues in their day jobs, given them insights into HR issues – such as recruitment, retention, disciplinary cases and capability – and in financial matters.  They have valued the understanding that they have gained in data management – especially as a consequence of analysing pupil progress and achievement figures.

(2)       The School Governors’ One-Stop Shop (SGOSS)

The School Governors’ One-Stop Shop (SGOSS) – established in 1999 by the then Department for Education and Skills – has been in the vanguard of recruiting people from industry and Higher Education to become school governors. SGOSS works with 2,000 companies.  In the last three years, it has recruited 10,000 volunteers, chief of them being the University of Manchester, the National Health Service (NHS), the Open University, Teach First, the Royal Bank of Scotland, the Lloyds Group, Santander, the Department for Education (no less), the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICEAW), Aviva, KPMG, British Telecom, HSBC, Barclays, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, Pearson plc, Deutsche Bank and Sainsbury’s.   The list is impressive.

Representatives from the DfE, John Laing (the construction company), KPMG (auditors), United Biscuits, the City London Schools, British Petroleum, Lloyds Group and WPP (Wire and Plastics Products plc – now a PR company) are trustees of SGOSS.

While industry has been doing much to enrich governance in this country, there is scope for greater growth.   The DfE estimates that around 11% of governor positions are still vacant and several schools are crying out for people with knowledge, skills, energy and a modicum of time to serve.

(4)       HSBC and three case studies

HSBC has been in the forefront of encouraging its staff to become school governors, with well over 1,000 employees having served in schools in England alone.   The bank actively helps them, with agreed volunteering leave and quarterly seminars.

In 2000, HSBC supported a family of schools – a chosen few with whom the bank linked so that they could morph into specialist institutions.  Not only did HSBC contribute funding in the first instance to assist them gain the specialist school status, but also allocated small tranches of money annually (£5,000 to £10,000) to spend on projects – in addition to nominating sponsor governors to serve on the Governing Body. The trust deployed Schools Support Services (SSS) to train and mentor the sponsor governors.

In 2010, SSS expanded the service to support and train all HSBC school governors, in particular – parents, community and foundation governors as well as associate members.  HSBC school governors are not only given volunteering leave (subject to the exigencies of the professional calls on their day jobs) but also a matched donation. For each HSBC school governor it is £10 an hour up to 50 hours (£500) – annually under the Bank’s employee Pound-for-Pound Scheme for work done in her/his own time.

HSBC governors have made a huge impact on the schools at which they serve.  Anecdotal feedback from these schools supports this view.  A couple of exemplars will bear this out.

(a)        Nigel Davies

Nigel Davies, Senior Database Administration Specialist, has been volunteering as a mentor on the HSBC programme for the last decade.   In that capacity, he acted as a Young Enterprise Business Adviser.   Its success was registered in an Ofsted report. Nigel subsequently registered with SGOSS and joined the governing body of a secondary school close to where he lives.

Soon after joining, he became involved in recruiting a new headteacher.  Later, he was elected chair of the School Improvement and Curriculum Committee and Vice Chair of the Governing Body in 2008. When the school was judged by Ofsted to be good with outstanding features in 2010, the then chair stepped down and Nigel succeeded him.

In 2011, his school converted into an academy and provided support to a local primary school which had had the misfortune of being placed in special measures.   The principal of the academy became the executive principal of both institutions and Nigel was appointed chair of the joint governing body.

With the help of his colleagues, Nigel organised a work experience programme at HSBC from 2006 until 2010 for local schools to assist in their statutory duty to provide pupils at Key Stage 4 with a standard amount of work-related learning. This programme was open to groups of ten pupils working together and in smaller teams within departments for a period of two weeks. With the focus on personal finance, planned visits were made to the HSBC global headquarters in Canary Wharf and the branch network in the City of London, in addition to visits to the Bank of England and Financial Services Authority (FSA) education teams. Colleagues generously provided insights into their working environments to pairs of students and other staff members. These colleagues included senior executives, who volunteered their time to present to the wider group.

On the final day of the programme, the student team delivered a ‘business’ presentation of their own work to an invited audience of bank staff and teachers.  It was very rewarding and evidence of a worthwhile investment in time when former students who had participated in the scheme stopped to chat outside work in Canary Wharf and recall the experience.

(b)       Nadia Hocini

Nadia Hocini, Regional Business Risk Control Manager at HSBC, is a governor at her daughter’s school. She serves on the Resources Committee and is chair of the Parents’, Pupils’ and Partnership Committee of her governing body.  She is also a member of the Steering Committee that oversees the work of all the other committees where strategic decisions are made.

Nadia was attracted to the idea of serving as a governor to learn more about the education system in this country, having grown up in France.  She joined the Bank’s School Governors Programme and attended the seminars, from which she gained greatly by garnering information from her colleagues who were school governors.   She thought she too could make a positive difference to her child’s school.

Nadia became a governor at a difficult time, when Ofsted had placed the school in special measures.  Her learning curve was steep but she recognised that children have only one chance in education.    Striking the right balance between being a governor – challenging the school leadership – and the parent of a pupil at the school was daunting.

At that time, the school did not have a Parent-Teacher Association (PTA).  Apart from a handful of parents, who were involved in fund-raising, the link between school and parents was non-existent.  She knuckled down to the task of setting up a structure for parents to involve themselves in the school and their children’s education.   Her first step was to form a PTA.  Its role now includes fund-raising, but goes beyond this by helping parents develop the knowledge and skills to work with the school in partnership, improving the quality of education for the pupils.    Parents attend workshops and welcome this engagement.

Standards have risen and the local authority, who carried out a mock inspection recently, judged that the school was moving in the right direction – i.e. upwards – and was primed to be out of the failure category with Ofsted when next the inspectors visit.

(c)        Nigel Rees

Nigel Rees, a Senior HSBC Commercial Manager, is one very experienced governor.  He has, for well over a quarter of a century, put his strategic thinking and passion into improving children’s education through the bank’s programme.   He is chair of governors of what was once two grammar schools and a secondary modern, and is now a very popular comprehensive secondary school which converted to Academy Status in 2012 following an Outstanding Ofsted report   He has been the public face of the governing body and acted as an invaluable link between his fellow governors on the one hand and the headteacher and senior management team on the other.

Nigel works assiduously to ensure the right people are in the right jobs and encourages his fellow governors to act as critical friends – directing constructive questions, supporting and where necessary, disagree agreeably.

Nigel introduced an assessment process to select the current headteacher, who has been a success story.   He has found dealing with disciplinary issues of both students and staff the most challenging, albeit he is grateful that such cases are extremely rare.

(5)       Conclusions

The above are three examples of what industrialists can do for our schools.   There are many more cases – too large a number to describe in this short article.

Governors now assume huge responsibilities which previously were covered by local authorities.   The stake-holder membership model of the Governing Body – where members represent discrete groups such as parents, staff, the local authority, religious bodies and the community – is no more appropriate for the present governance system.   We have rapidly moved to a skills-based system, where governors are required to contribute their knowledge and expertise to the schools, sometimes with a minimum of training.   The know-how they bring from business, while not automatically translating into the educational system, is priceless.  Schools have benefited.

The corollary is that these governors find the experience symbiotic. They give their time freely, and in the process, grow professionally, benefiting from the educational service they render in their day jobs. And this is in addition to the immense satisfaction they gain from seeing jobs well done.


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