Being a School Governor – it’s obviously not about the money!

In the world of social enterprise and social investment, we talk a lot about social impact: how to capture it and put it into words. For me it’s very simple, I volunteer because I want to make a difference. 


Written by

Melanie Mills, Head of Social Sector Engagement

The difference is not so much attachment to a cause but very much driven by entrepreneurial spirit. I hope that my knowledge and experience of social enterprise and charity combined with many years in the private sector can be put to good use.

I am a bit of a serial volunteer (and often have to be reminded not to put my hand up for anything else) so as well as working for Big Society Capital, I am currently a trustee of a national umbrella body, the social enterprise champion for Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP (local enterprise partnerships) and Chair of Governors at a Local Authority maintained primary school.

Volunteering as a Governor has been a revelation, the steepest learning curve I have ever been on.  At times fraught with frustration and sometimes disbelief at changing national policy, archaic (by business standards) process and the patience required to feel the impact of change. It’s not a quick fix job. Whilst of course at the heart of all this activity is our children. They aren’t tins of beans but human beans! Not commodities that are quite as easy to forecast, profile and manage!

Increasingly all schools are having to become more enterprising and to seize this opportunity you need a great team of people who have the skills, the time to put in the effort and the will to be accountable for some very serious issues like safeguarding, financial management etc… It takes committed, brave, creative and motivated people to be able to see the opportunities beyond the challenges.

So here are my top tips on what you need to be a great governor:

  • Dogged determination – I have lost count of how many times I have been told ‘you can’t do that’ or ‘you are not allowed to know!’ (which only serves to make me even more motivated...)
  • Haul down the barriers – following on from above, don’t be deflated but look for solutions and ways that change can be achieved, one small step at a time
  • Vision – this is not about trying to do a teacher’s day job, it is about looking to the future in the same way that any business or organisation should
  • Be fearless – don’t be afraid to try new things, look for actual examples, it may take some time to persuade others that these ideas have merit and are possible so don’t give up trying. (You will be surprised to know that we have just established a new CIC to run a new pre-school and sports facility on our site!)
  • Get down with the kids – embrace technology and engage your fellow governors to see the benefits for efficient and effective governance (but ensuring an inclusive approach for those who don’t share your enthusiasm)
  • Take the team with you – being a volunteer is no different, you can’t do it on your own. Keep talking to the staff team, pupils, parents, the community and all stakeholders – communication is king
  • It’s a numbers game – increasingly the data management (financial and teaching) is as important as if you were running the cash flow of your own business, you really need to understand the numbers associated with your school
  • Courageous conversations – you will definitely need to have some so don’t avoid them, the outcomes, if handled correctly will only serve to help your school

So why do I love it? I relish the opportunity to help build a better education for future generations of children (take it from me being a governor is really not about your child/ren). Take every skill from your day job and apply it where you can and as appropriate. After all, what you do is probably one of the reasons the governing body were keen to have you on board.

I often say to potential governor recruits “I can’t say it won’t be hard work but I can say that it will be worth it”.

To find out more about becoming a school governor: