Why do we choose to get involved?

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We lost a valued member of the governance community this year. Martin Matthews believed children deserve the very best education we can give them.

As we remember Martin’s contribution to governance, we’ve been reflecting on why Martin, and so many of us, choose to get involved.

Martin Matthews was a National Leader of Governance and a regular on forums and online support groups for governors and trustees – quietly giving sage advice. Always generous. Always considerate. Always helpful.

Emma Knights is Chief Executive of the National Governance Association. She says there are many good people doing good work in school governance but Martin stood out:

“Martin absolutely went that extra mile. Not only was he hugely knowledgeable about governance, he had a passion for it, undertaking an MA in education on the topic.”

I don’t think any of us realised quite how many people Martin had supported until so many shared their stories. A picture emerged of a man utterly dedicated to helping governors support their schools in whatever way he could. What a huge impact Martin had, not just at his school, but in so many others.

Vikkey Chaffe manages the Primary School Governors group on Facebook.

“Martin was one of the founding members of both Primary School Leaders and Primary School Governors. He was passionate about ensuring that schools supported both their staff and pupils. He supported each and every one of our members with expert and thoughtful advice.

His governance expertise was second to none and he used his gift to support other schools and leaders. He was a true advocate for supporting children with SEND and ensuring that every child had access to the best education possible.

It was a real pleasure having him in the communities. I always knew that our members were in safe hands when he commented on their question.”

Naureen Khalid is co-founder of #ukgovchat – a place where UK school governors share good practice, support and challenge each other on Twitter. In an online world which can sometimes be polarising, she says Martin was a real force for good.

“Martin and I became Twitter and Facebook friends because of our mutual love for school governance. Martin was very knowledgeable and was always ready to help and answer any governance question I had. I knew I only had to send him a Twitter DM, a Facebook message or an email and he would reply almost immediately. Martin was very supportive in other matters too. He sent very kind messages when he found out about a family bereavement I had suffered. The one thing I really admired about Martin was that he was very polite and measured in all his interactions. If we can be a bit more like Martin the online world will be a much kinder place. That would be a fitting tribute to the kind man that Martin was.”

Why did Martin become a school governor? His LinkedIn profile explains his motivation was to make a difference to as many children as possible, “I am passionate that children deserve the very best education we can give them. Each child gets one chance and we should ensure that it’s the very best it can be”

We spoke to Martin last year after his school had been inspected under the new Ofsted framework. He spoke about the humanity of the inspection and that’s how we chose to focus the piece, using his quote, “It was the most humane and pleasant inspection I’ve ever been through.”

This sense of being respectful to school staff and leaders, showing care during an inspection, whatever the outcome, is so important – to school leaders, to teachers and to governors and trustees and it’s perhaps telling that Martin chose the word humanity to describe the inspection and why it was so positive. To him, it mattered.

Emma Knights agrees Martin was someone for whom ethics were central:

I think of Martin as someone who did all with a combination of head and heart – and that is what is absolutely needed. His commitment to helping others was huge, displaying such generosity and kindness. Kindness is sometimes thought to indicate that you are a bit of a pushover, but that’s so wrong. It is one of the seven values in the Framework for Ethical Leadership in Education: trust; wisdom; kindness; justice; service, courage and optimism.

During the first lockdown, Martin was keen to advise governors and trustees not to over-burden Headteachers. He appreciated the immense pressure school leaders were under.

Emma Knights says so much in governance is about balance and Martin got that spot on – she shared with us his thoughts on challenging school leaders:

Challenge should never be aggressive or accusative. Its purpose should always link back to what’s best for the children. Having said that, there should be an intolerance of things that fail the children. What motivates me as a governor is the sense that every child deserves an equal and fair chance to access the very best education we can provide” 

As well as thinking deeply about governance, Emma says Martin was an innovate thinker. Indeed, he submitted personal evidence to the Education Committee inquiry into the role of school governing boards in 2012. In the year of Windows 8, the iPhone 5 and before Facebook was listed on the stock market, Martin was thinking about the value of video meetings:

3.5 The DfE should issue a statement that conference calls or video calls for committee meetings are acceptable to facilitate more flexible governance.

The National Governance Association’s 2020 annual survey on governance shows many of us are motivated to become governors or trustees for the same reasons as Matthew.

63% of governors and trustees reported that their motivation for getting involved was, ‘making a difference for children’, 56% reported that they were motivated by, ‘serving their community’. 

The recently published School and Trust Governance Investigative report also found that one of the main reasons for signing up was the ‘desire to volunteer for a worthwhile cause, such as an interest in helping to improve children’s lives and giving back to the community’.

2020 has shown us that governance is not always easy. School leaders have risen to a multitude of unforeseen challenges and governors and trustees have had to respond – often in the dark, balancing the need to understand what’s happening in schools with supporting school leaders.

As we move into a difficult winter, with a resurgence in COVID infections and an economic downturn, it’s perhaps heartening to consider that despite these challenges, the largest volunteer force in the country is made up of people, like Martin, like you and me – giving our time to try to make a difference to as many children as possible. 

Martin had one frequently stated wish: that volunteers supporting schools were better recognised. Martin campaigned for more governors to be formally ‘thanked’ for their contributions in the Queen’s honours. In Martin’s own words, “Many great volunteers give their time quietly, week in and week out. They don’t seek recognition but maybe they deserve it?” 

Perhaps the best way we can honour Martin’s memory is by following his advice and nominating a fellow governor, trustee or member for recognition in the UK National Honours system. Martin wrote a useful “How to” guide, full of tips on how to do it.

Emma Knights agrees it would be a fitting tribute:

Many of us are sorry that we had not made the time to nominate him, and he would be so pleased if his legacy was a flurry of nominations: please consider doing that in Martin’s memory.”

I leave the final words on Martin’s contribution to governance to Neil Cavanagh, headteacher at Hodge Clough Primary where Martin was chair of governors. 

“Martin started at Hodge Clough Primary as a school governor nearly 20 years ago back in 2002. Gradually over a period of time when he and everyone else realised he had a real passion for school governance he was elected to the Chair of Governors. At this stage I was also Head and the school had been going through some particularly turbulent years. It soon became evident that for Martin in this role he had found something in his life he cared for more than anyone I have had the pleasure to meet. He immersed himself in the role and under his guidance, the school has gone from strength to strength, this has stretched even further with his NLG work, offering further support on a wider scale.

Over the past 10 years it has been a pleasure to get to know Martin both professionally and personally. He would pop into school on a Friday afternoon for a chat, sometimes about school, but we always ended up digressing and talking about life in general. It was one of my favourite parts of the week.

He was such an interesting, clever and humble man. He had the ability to listen and offer little gems of advice just at the right time with a warmth and sincerity that I have seldom come across in my life. Be it a quick telephone conversation or email always supportive, helpful and reassuring. His wealth of knowledge on governance was simply outstanding. He would always be there for others, offering advice and insight, never in a judgmental way and always not only backed up by expertise but also common sense. The amount of messages on Facebook Twitter etc would corroborate this, and is a testament to his knowledge, expertise and a record of the number of lives he had touched.

Over the more recent years I would be proud to say that Martin was more than the Chair of Governors at Hodge Clough he became a friend. We had very, very similar outlooks in life. He would always be championing others and was a true protagonist for school governors. Never shy of confrontation with bureaucracy if he felt that they were not supporting schools in a proper and fit way and always in a manner that was underpinned by his mantra “will it make the children’s lives better”

When Martin passed away he left a massive hole that it would be impossible to fill. The school will miss him beyond measure and I miss you immensely Martin.

RIP – Martin.”

From all of us in governance – thank-you Martin for making a difference.

2 comments on “Why do we choose to get involved?”

  1. Im sorry to hear of Martin’s passing. I have huge admiration for Martin, who steered me and advised me on a sensitive matter. As a new acting head, he offered me advice showing complete understanding of my position, he didn’t patronise or judge, he steered me in the right direction and I thank him for this. He followed up with several messages to check it was working and it was. Thank you Martin.

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