Governors, present your best side

Boards play a crucial role in schools, so ensure members' talents are put to good use

Retaining governors is notoriously difficult. I know this because at my school it was a task that fell to me. After replying to an advert for governors in my son's school newsletter, my predisposition for agreeing to everything meant that I quickly became vice-chair, taking on responsibility for managing members. The retention problem became mine to solve.

Traditionally, new governors fill the gaps in committees as they arise. I soon realised that this was not always effective, as allocations were often made arbitrarily. Surely we could find a better way of matching the varied skills with the jobs that needed doing? The knock-on effect would hopefully be that governors would feel more comfortable in their roles, making them more likely to stick around.

I discovered that the board's members had experience in chairing meetings, working in human resources and running accounts departments. I needed a way of breaking down these roles and formalising the skills involved so that we could use them to get the best out of everyone. Researching this, I came across the concept of a skills audit: a method that enables governing bodies to analyse the qualities, skills and experience of individuals, and identify gaps and training needs.

Compiling a skills list

In order to create an effective skills audit, it is essential to consider which skills the governing body needs. By examining commonly discussed issues and the remit of each committee, it is possible to create a clear picture of the required areas of expertise. Experience of budgeting may be useful on the finance committee, while a background in construction could benefit premises management. Once compiled, these desirable skills form a comprehensive profile of the ideal governing body, like a dating profile detailing your perfect match.

This checklist also provides an opportunity to assess an area that new governors often find daunting: education. Most governors have little knowledge of the sector and can find this world of acronyms extremely confusing. The skills audit assesses levels of understanding on issues such as the curriculum, data and safeguarding, which in turn facilitates the planning of a more effective induction and training programme.

Distributing the audit (and getting it back)

You may think that once the audit is compiled the difficult part is over, but in fact it has only just begun. You now need to find out what skills you already have in place. Handing out the skills audit questionnaire (which asks each person to break down their professional and personal talents) is relatively simple. However, people are busy and your hoped-for flawless response rate may be elusive. Persevere and with a little gentle persuasion those surveys will come flooding (or at least trickling) back.

Analysing the results

Now comes the interesting part: discovering the talents within your governing body. The conclusions you can draw from this data are crucial. First, allocating roles based on experience can significantly improve the performance of committees. We are lucky enough to have an accountant in charge of finance, a retired human resources manager on personnel and a number of education staff within our curriculum team.

Second, the audit identifies areas of weakness, allowing for a more focused recruitment strategy that targets members of the community who possess the attributes that are lacking.

Finally, this process can uncover specific training needs, highlighting areas in which a number of people lack confidence. Without the audit, these could easily have been overlooked, and training is crucial to enable the governors to fulfil their "critical friend" role.

The skills audit is a comprehensive tool and is already proving to be extremely useful in helping to transform our governing body. Not only will it greatly improve the effectiveness of the monitoring and evaluation process, but when the inspectors come knocking it will tick quite a few boxes as well.

Abigail Joachim is a vice-chair of governors at a primary school in Suffolk

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