Fledgling parent governors need not be intimidated by new roles or acronyms, writes Glennis Foote
So they've persuaded you (possibly against your better judgement) to be a parent governor? Now what? With any luck someone will come to welcome you before the first meeting. It could be the head, the chair, or just the governor who lives down the road, but take it as a good sign. If no one approaches you and the first meeting is imminent, take the initiative and introduce yourself to any or all of the above. And try not to feel put off. After all, it could have been an oversight. (on the other hand, you may be joining The Governing Body that Time Forgot.) Unless you are a director of education or the council's governor training manager, the first meeting you attend is likely to be at the least puzzling, possibly totally baffling. Education, like every other human activity is riddled with acronyms. EWO is confusing enough written down but when the head speaks of "a visit by the eewoe" a new governor can be forgiven for total incomprehension.
You have two possible courses of action here either to keep quiet, pretend you understand and hope it all becomes magically clear (it won't), or ask. The chair should take the hint and expand acronyms for a few meetings at least. Don't think of it as showing your ignorance but as doing the rest of the governors a good turn (several of them probably wouldn't know an eewoe if they met one).
There are perhaps still some governing bodies in the country where a governor is considered pushy if she utters a word before the second anniversary of her appointment but let's hope yours isn't one of them. Speak, of course. Ask questions, especially. But remember, too, to absorb as much as you can. And we all need to remind ourselves from time to time that the real title of the last item on the agenda is Any Other Urgent Business.
Outside the meetings of the full governing body there are two areas in which you need to develop some expertise. The first is the nature of governing itself: the law, governors' duties and responsibilities and, not least, the limits of power. A good place to find out about all this is a governor training course. Perhaps your local authority organises a foundation or introductory course for governors (if not, why not?).
At the risk of stating the obvious, you also need to become something of an expert on your particular school. The chair will be able to tell you what strategies are in place for learning about the school. They may include regular visits, pairing with a member of staff, governor pigeonholes in the staff room, or a governor of the month scheme. Use the mechanisms already in place, suggest others if you feel inspired, but never step outside them.
As well as having things to learn you have things to offer. Perhaps you run your own business and understand the esoteric mysteries of a budget the finance committee will kiss your feet. Or maybe you are the health and safety rep at work the committee of the same name needs you (but will avoid kissing your feet on the grounds of hygiene). Maybe you are a builder and could serve on premises, or a mother at home who would like to explore under-fives provision. Whatever skills you have, you can be sure that they will be put to use just don't expect to get paid.
In fact, the rewards may seem non-existent. A lot of work, commitment, stress and for what? Certainly you can't expect to change the face of education as we know it and you'll find that the majority of the population haven't got a clue what governors do. Plaudits will be noticeable by their absence. So why do it? Only you can answer that but I hope the word "children" comes into it somewhere.
Good luck. Oh, and thank you.
Glennis Foote is a governor in Cambridgeshire and an EWO is an education welfare officer, sometimes known as educational social worker.