“I thought… I’m sure there are people around who have already been through this learning curve and know a lot more than I do.”

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Isabel (centre) with the Headteacher Ross Trafford (right) and Chair Dominic Bradley (left) at Holyhead Secondary School in Birmingham, a single academy trust.

Isabel Churcher, who works for The Arts Council, has been a governor at Holyhead Secondary School in Hansworth, Birmingham for just over two years. Worried she didn’t know enough about the role, she set up a Staff Governors Group at the Arts Council to share knowledge and information.

Isabel, how did you become a governor?

Well partly because I’m a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (RSA) and they’ve set up an umbrella organisation to encourage 9 schools in the area to align with their values which look at arts, culture and commitments in a world beyond school. 

The RSA was asking for link governors for the schools that were in their umbrella, so that’s how I saw the information that Holyhead were asking for an RSA governor. I went out to visit them and met with the then Chair and the new principal and it just sounded really interesting and inspiring.

Was being a governor something on your radar prior to this?

Not really. One of the issues we have at the Arts Council is that it’s often a conflict of interest if you sit on an arts and cultural board that we (Arts Council) fund. On reflection, and having spoken to colleagues here, I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before!

I understand you’ve set up a staff governors group at the Arts Council?Yes I’ve set up a staff governors group and there are 40 of us now in total. I set up the group because I was feeling that I didn’t know much at all about being a governor. My view of any situation like this is that I’m sure there are people around who have already been through this learning curve and know a lot more than I do. So we have an intranet, like a discussion board, and someone suggested I put a post on that reaching out to other governors. I got lots of emails back so I set up the group.

At the moment we meet once a term plus another couple of meetings. We’ve got really good video conferencing facilities within our offices – so the sessions use those and we operate a lunch and learn programme. We have invited speakers. We’ve also had two training sessions hosted by Judith Hicks from Inspiring Governance; one as an introduction to being a school governor and another on effective school visits.

Our Chief Executive’s dream and vision is if we can have somebody who’s an advocate for arts and culture on every single governing board of a school, that would be a really effective way of supporting pupils to have access to arts and culture. We want to ensure that when finance committees are looking at resources, they’re prioritising arts within the school. So it’s any way you can find to influence decision making.

Can you give any examples of what you’ve done to encourage the arts?Well I’m the link governor for arts and culture, so I go into the school to meet with their Head of Creative Arts and I produce a report for the governing board. I put examples of work I’ve seen and the impact it has had on the pupils. In our case, we believe creativity is important for the development of confidence and seeing drama performances – that comes out really clearly. 

I’m very lucky that our Principal is absolutely passionate about arts and culture. The school was seeking a governor that aligned with their values. In other schools I’m sure, governors might have a harder time. I go to a number of events and the school really welcomes having governors at events because the school’s then seen to be supporting pupils.

I’m also supporting the staff in their application for Artsmark (the only creative quality standard for schools and education settings, accredited by Arts Council England) and using my arts and cultural contacts to find opportunities for the school.

Governance is time-consuming, do you get support from the Arts Council for the role?

We have a special leave policy. You can take up to five days annual leave a year for a role such as being a school governor, as long as you’ve agreed it with your line manager and they’re supportive of you doing that work. 

I also include being a school governor in my half-yearly professional development plan. Governance enables me to develop skills I might not necessarily be using at work, I’m able to develop strategic thinking. For instance, I’ve been appraising the Principal – that’s not something I would do at work. It does give an opportunity to develop yourself in a way you can’t always do at work.

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If you’d like to set up a free networking group on GovernorHub for governors or trustees in your organisation, please get in touch at support@governorhub.com

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