Bishop Wilkinson Catholic Education Trust in Gateshead has 27 academies and is set to grow to 48 schools by July 2022. Director of Governance Jacqui Ridley was looking for a better way to manage governance across the trust so reached out to GovernorHub earlier this year.
Jacqui was meticulous during our demo of the system, asking 100 questions about what GovernorHub might be able to do for the MAT. Fortunately, she was satisfied with our answers and explanations (phew!) and the trust took on GovernorHub in March. We caught up with Jacqui to find out how smooth the process was and whether GovernorHub is making a difference.
Jacqui, how did you find out about GovernorHub?
GovernorHub was advertising at a clerks conference I attended. I also used the system when it was rolled out to our regional group of coordinators of governor services – it was very easy-to-use and I could see the benefits.
I have worked in four different local authorities with various different databases – none of which we’d ever had any input into and none were fit for purpose or created with clerks’ or governors’ needs in mind.
When I joined the trust, we had 12 schools and membership was managed using spreadsheets – with papers circulated by post or email. Our Trust will grow to 48 schools by July 2022 so it is essential to have an effective and secure management system. Communication is a key part of our strategy too, so we needed more than a database. We also have internal and external clerks so I needed a tool that everyone could easily access.
From the first point of contact with us – how did the process of setting up GovernorHub go?
It was really smooth and stress-free. I contacted GovernorHub and Hannah responded quickly and offered a demo and initial meeting (Hannah’s the Operations Manager at GovernorHub).
I had a good understanding of the system’s potential but the demo showed the full range of tools. This was key in our decision making as I needed to ensure it met all of our needs. I had a list of about 100 questions.
Wow – did you ask Hannah 100 questions? Could she answer them?
Yes absolutely and even when there was something the system didn’t do, you were able to add it as a consideration for future development. 99% of what I needed it could do and anything else you’ve agreed to look at.
That’s good to hear, it’s really important to us to keep talking to our customers. We need to know what people need, what people want and how they use GovernorHub – it matters to us.
Absolutely and that really does come across. Any questions I’ve asked – whether I’ve emailed or asked via the chat facility – I’ve got a response straight away.
It seems very responsive in terms of trusts and growing trusts’ needs.
Has it helped with the communication, part of the MAT’s strategy?
Massively. We only rolled it out on 15th March this year and at the moment I’m encouraging governors to register so we can see the full impact. They’re aware this will be our primary method of communication so governors may miss important updates if they don’t register. It’s important we move to one system.
This term as the meetings start, they will register to access their papers. Already we are sharing news, our trust bulletins and updates about Ofsted. The ability to be able to put something on GovernorHub and email it automatically to everyone is great. I’m being careful not to bombard governors with too many emails but I can now get in touch with them quickly.
We’re 29 schools at the moment but we’ll grow to 48 schools soon. I cannot possibly manage 480 email addresses, manage the clerks and also ensure good communication without a system like this. I know that when I press a button, the information has gone to everyone that it should go to – without me having to check and deal with email bounce backs. For clerks there is also one place for all news and information which is invaluable.
Our bulletin has been shared on GovernorHub already. These large documents no longer clog up governors’ email inboxes. We have some schools which have insisted governors use school email addresses but we find they don’t access these often. Using GovernorHub, they can use the email address of their choice.
Yes, we find that with volunteering, especially when people are busy working, it can be hard to find the extra time – so the system has to be simple, you have to be able to go to one place and it’s all there.
And that’s what I love about GovernorHub – the fact that I can add an event in a calendar and put the Zoom or Teams link in too, and also link to the folder of documents. It’s all there for governors.
GovernorHub is very simple to use. One of my oldest governors has registered and has already uploaded his photo. He is usually resistant to new technology and doesn’t like email but he found it very easy.
We haven’t used all of the capacity at once, we are going to build new aspects each term so as not to overwhelm governors. In the autumn, we’ll do the declarations and signing of the codes of conduct online. Then we’ll use it for training booking. The more we use it, the better governors will get.
I don’t want the governors wasting time on admin and searching for documents and then being frustrated. GovernorHub provides everything in one place, securely.
I should also ask – were there any hiccups and did we resolve them?
No I don’t think there were any…. actually the only hiccup was that some governors had gone on and changed their email address and it was a problem if they were on more than one board, so we needed to ask you to merge a few email accounts. It was a quick message to you to fix and it was done instantly.
Would you consider GovernorHub worth it?
Worth every penny and more. What it does is phenomenal. For trusts, it’s exceptional value for money, simply because of the time it saves.
How much time does it save you?
It’s hard to measure but it feels so much more effective. Each task I used to do is quicker using GovernorHub, so for example: sharing information, messaging groups, logging training, adding committees and setting up meetings. There were lots of jobs I had manual systems for but this is just so much easier. However the main thing is how it’s improving communication across our trust.
For example, we’ve just had an executive team meeting and something’s come up. I’ve been able to say, ‘I’ll put that on GovernorHub’, and instantly every governor across the trust knows what the trust is doing. I haven’t had to rely on Headteachers or wait until my next briefing to tell governors. The improvement in communication is invaluable. I can say more in a far more efficient way than I was able to before.
I don’t have bits of paper lying around on my desk anymore, I’m not thinking I must get round to doing that. It is so quick and easy to do things, you just do it straight away.
Our hope is that it actually improves governance as well.
Absolutely. In our trust we have schools from four local authorities coming together. We had some using Google, some using Teams, some using SharePoint – all with varying degrees of success. Some boards have made those things work really well but each system has a level of complexity. GovernorHub is just simple.
The fact you can have it on your phone or iPad as well – I love that. You can be sitting in a meeting and look something up on your phone. You have the information at your fingertips.
Taking on GovernorHub was much easier than I thought it would be. The platform itself is very easy, which is great when you’ve come from a local authority where they’ve introduced databases which are hard to use. I’ve come from a local authority where we had to write our own manual for the database. That’s another thing I like about GovernorHub – the help centre is great. The videos take you through everything step-by-step.
If there’s an issue – governors can get help from their clerk, you or me but so far I’ve not had to manage any queries.