“You feel part of something. You feel like you’re making a difference. The reward is massive if you don’t get that in your day job.”
Six years ago Neil Roby was working shifts as a firefighter in Kent – not getting much challenge or reward at work and suffering from anxiety.
Back then Neil knew very little about the role of a school governor but when his children’s primary school issued an appeal for new parent governors, Neil’s wife suggested he apply in the hope it might give him some new direction:
“My wife said, ‘Why don’t you go for it?’, I think she knew I was a little bit frustrated in my career and not getting the challenge I needed or wanted at work. She said, ‘It might give you an interest outside of work that could give you the reward you don’t get in your career’, so I applied for it – was elected – and it went from there.”
Like most new governors, Neil said he found the role fairly daunting at first but having a welcoming and supportive board gave him the confidence to keep going.
“They gave me such a warm welcome; I was encouraged to learn-as-I-went-along. They helped me to feel my contribution was still valuable, despite not having as much experience as them.”
Two years after Neil’s first board meeting, he became Chair of the board. A year later, the school formed a Multi-Academy Trust, and this year Neil became Chair of the Trust. Having felt stagnant in his career, Neil says governance has provided the buzz and challenge that he’s been lacking at work:
“There’s a lot to learn; it’s an ever-changing environment. I’ve also enjoyed being part of the environment of a school, the staff – I find them inspirational. They work so hard, they care so much about the children.You feel part of something. You feel like you’re making a difference. The reward is massive if you don’t get that in your day job.”
I’ve suffered with difficult mental health all of my adult life – mainly anxiety. With anxiety, the temptation is to not be involved in anything at all, to hide away. So I’m often conscious to try to push myself out of my comfort zone, which I know will ultimately be positive for my mental health. There is nothing more rewarding than being part of a group of like-minded individuals who are there to support each other and make a difference.”
So – does Neil often recommend becoming a school governor to his friends and colleagues?
“It’s always an interesting conversation. People often say, ‘You do all of that for nothing?’ But I don’t do it for the financial reward, there are so many other rewards.”
Recent highlights of the role for Neil include receiving a good judgement from Ofsted for the free school the Trust opened on a new site this year and also receiving an Outstanding judgement for one of the local boards which Neil chairs (see image). He’s also about to finish a year-long leadership course for MAT leaders with Ambition School Leadership which he says has been invaluable and he’s hoping to take on more training in the future.
“The way I feel about governance now, is that I’m in it for the long haul.”