Guest Post: The great governor brain drain

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Has your Governing Body ever struggled with recruitment? Have you ever sat in a governor meeting thinking about how you could make your board more inclusive or enticing for new recruits? Karen Wespieser, COO of Parent Ping, shares new data that suggests governor well-being could be the place to start.

There are lots of different ways for parents to get involved in schools, but two of the most obvious are the PTA and the governing board. Data from Parent Ping shows that whilst more parents are involved in the PTA (shades of blue in the chart below) than governing (shades of yellow), governing is more enticing than the PTA for those looking to get more involved (dark yellow).  

So far, so good… So, what’s stopping them?

By some considerable margin, time is the biggest barrier. This is the same for both mums and dads, and a particular problem for parents with young children who also had significant barriers around childcare.

There are some quick wins for governing boards to overcome these barriers. Creative thinking about when governing meetings take place (do they have to be in the evening? Could they be in the morning, or at lunchtime? Or even the weekend?) and how long meetings last.

There are also potential benefits around using video calls for meetings – old barriers such as rules that meeting must be in person have been firmly dismissed as a result of Covid! Your board could also consider paying expenses incurred by attending meetings, including babysitting and childcare.

The system is losing experienced governors

So once, these barriers are dealt with, what are we left with? Parents who have been a governor in the past and say they don’t want to do it again. This experienced group of parents only accounts for 8% of all responses, but of parents aged over 50 a quarter say they’ve done it before and don’t want to do it again.

Parents who have experience of governing (and probably training too) are a massive loss to the governance pool. Understanding more about why governors resign their posts and how, when their term is completed in one school, they could move on to another, needs to be a priority for governance organisations.

Governors are ambassadors for the future of governance

As well, how much (or not) parents enjoy being a governor clearly relates to whether they are likely to govern again. But it also plays an important part in whether they will be an ambassador for the role.

When Parent Ping asked, ‘if you wanted to become a school governor, who would you ask to find out more information?’ three-quarters of parents said they’d speak to someone at their child’s school. However, a third (the second most common answer), said they’d speak to a friend / colleague / relative who is a governor.

If parents are reticent about governing again themselves, are they going to promote the role to others?

How can you optimise the experience of being a governor?

As with any other task in life, you are most likely to continue as a governor if you feel you are effective and valued for your contribution. This may mean annual reviews, regular feedback or a clear understanding of the difference that you make. It might be other small things too, like good quality biscuits at meetings or a call from the Chair after a particularly challenging discussion. In general, looking after the well-being of governors.

In the end, what well-being looks like may mean different things to different governors, but one thing is clear, there is a governor brain drain and the only people who can stop it are governors themselves.

1 comments on “Guest Post: The great governor brain drain”

  1. But a parent governor may not be able to remain as a governor… They could lose an election or they could choose not to stand for re-election as they want to give other parents a chance. If the chair was to offer them a co-opted position, the governing body could end up full of parents, even when they are not officially parent governors.

    And as their children move onto secondary school, each secondary school has only one governing body with perhaps 10 contributing primary schools. There’s never been more than 5 children from our village primary school in any one year at any of the secondary schools near us, so we could have an outstanding parent governor at our school who has zero chance of getting on a secondary school governing body


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