Look on the bright side

With all the gloom about vacancies and red tape, we risk forgetting what's great about governance, says Heather Leverett

"Thank God for the ordinary governor who's doing the job despite all this pessimism." That quote, at the top of this page on January 25, said it all.

But the article, on governor vacancies, cries out for a reply. It will never be easy to find enough governors, but why are we so discouragingly British, revelling in the negative? It is not easy, but let's celebrate governance so that the vacancy issue can be addressed more effectively.

The facts and figures on vacancies are important and revealing. However, looking at them in isolation simply entrenches the present negative picture of the role of the governor. Let's not dishearten existing governors in this way.

I recognise that The TES is informative and has highlighted positive aspects of governance. And yes, there are many issues that are challenging and problematic, but many "ordinary" governors do extraordinary things and see the future of their community develop through the pupils, assisted by their good work.

Chris Gale, chairwoman of the National Governors' Council, is right in saying the work of governors should be celebrated. The more we promote a positive image of the role of the governor then the more people may be prepared to play a role at the heart of their community.

So what is it that keeps people in governance, despite all the "pessimism"?

Consider parent-governors. In an effective governing body, they will be listened to, they will experience what it is like to be part of the team, and will enable the rest of the governing body to understand the parental perspective. All this while contributing strategically as a governor to the life and work of the school.

Lifelong learning comes to mind, as does the fact that the individual realises even more of their own potential as they work alongside others from their own community. Is this not motivating?

Consider also the representative from local business. He or she may initially have come along to develop good public relations for their firm; or perhaps to develop interpersonal and teamwork skills. He or she then discovers that the role of governor can have a direct influence on developing tomorrow's employees.

What they learn on the governing body is in the interests of their business and can be immensely rewarding for the individual concerned. He or she will find they can contribute to community well-being and influence responsible citizenship, not to mention develop valuable transferable skills for their CV.

These two examples offer some insights into the reasons why people continue to serve their local community as governors, but there are many more reasons. It would be immensely powerful if the media were to celebrate and promote a positive image of governors. This could encourage more people to recognise the true standing of the role and its potential.

As Thomas Jefferson said: "I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society, but the people themselves; and if we think they are not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education."

Let's celebrate success for governors, and for supportive employers. Let's recognise the wealth of support available to governors through their own governing body, their representative organisations, and their local education authorities, which offer comprehensive training opportunities.

Let's also appreciate the professional support available to governors through their clerks. Here in Essex we have a clerking agency service, offer clerks a newsline, briefings, training and qualifications, and their own annual clerks' conferences.

If there was greater understanding of such support, there could well be less of a problem in getting people to come forward to be governors.

They would realise that the work can be very challenging, but can also be very rewarding indeed.

Heather Leverett (previously known as Currie), is Essex's governor services manager. The views expressed are personal ones

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