“I want to be the governor I never had”

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He’s been a teacher, school leader and most recently author of the most popular education blog in the UK – but now Ross McGill, aka Teacher Toolkit, is involved in the one aspect of education he’s yet to try; school governance.

Ross is a co-opted governor at a primary school in Barnet, north London which has a ‘requires improvement’ judgement from Ofsted and a recently appointed Head. We spoke to Ross to find out a bit more about his new role.

Ross, what made you decide to become a governor and how long have you been in the role?

“I’ve just started as a governor. I’ve been to the school three or four times but only twice for formal meetings. First was for the governing board meeting and second was when I was commandeered to do the Headteacher’s appraisal. 

I wanted to become a governor as I’m now a parent, my son is 8, and it’s the one aspect of education which I’ve never been part of. I’ve always been on the receiving end of it as a school leader but never done it myself. What I never got from the governors myself was understanding and compassion and I want to make sure I can be the governor I never had. The school is in Barnet where I’ve lived on-and-off for the past 25 years and where I was a teacher. It seemed to make good sense to contribute to my local community.”

How diverse is your board?
“Yes – it’s a very diverse board, which I’m pleased about it.”

Have you taken part in any training?
“Training has been limited so far but it’s certainly been offered to me in abundance. I’ve missed the Safeguarding training but I’ve done all the DBS stuff. I’ve got various websites to log in to. With the busy nature of life, it’s a case of finding the time as and when.”

Do you think governance as a whole is an overlooked part of the education system?
“I do think it’s an aspect of education that’s overlooked in the sector. It’s probably one of the largest professions. If you think every school has got at least 5-10 governors and there are 23,000 schools in England, that’s a huge workforce.”

You mention that you hope to be the governor you never had. What issues did you face when you were a school leader?
“When I was an Assistant Head I was quite vocal in my criticism of graded lessons on Twitter. I started to hold this information back from the governing board meetings. One or two individuals on the board didn’t like it. They didn’t trust my experience and my decision making in this area. This happened in at least two schools – both were difficult schools in challenging circumstances. 

But essentially – to cut a long story short – myself and a few others were quite instrumental in Ofsted abolishing graded lessons in 2013 so my instinct was right on this one – that experience from school leaders matters. Where governance fails is when governors start to get too involved in the detail rather than support, challenge and critique, which is what they should be doing.

I don’t know if it’s changed since. My role has changed, my perspective on education has changed so I’d like to be a governor to the leaders I support that I never had. Still asking difficult questions but from an understanding of education. I guess the key thing is getting governors who don’t have an education background to get the necessary training.”

You can find out more about Ross on his website.


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