The chair of governors who says the young add 'spark' even if accounts aren't their thing

10th December 2010 at 00:00

When he became a school governor, aged just 21, Timothy Jones admits he was more used to attending university parties than meetings with the PTA.

But three years on - and now believed to be the youngest chair of governors at a secondary in England - Mr Jones has issued a warning to the Government about its proposals to overhaul governing bodies.

Plans to make the bodies leaner and meaner with more specific skills could freeze out younger people with more "energy and spark" than some of their older colleagues, he fears.

"The perspective that young people can bring is useful. When I joined, I had recently sat AS-levels and knew about virtual learning environments, things the older members might not have direct experience of," said the Oxford University psychology graduate, who lives at home with his parents.

Mr Jones, chair of governors at the 1,300-pupil Therfield School in Leatherhead, Surrey, suggested that changes to governing bodies announced in the education white paper would mean younger people being sidelined on governing bodies.

"If young people on governing bodies are seen as a novelty item, what if they are the first ones to go because they might not have a defined skill set to bring?" he said.

"A governing body might elect to keep an older local businessman with experience in accounts or auditing. Young people can be skilled or trained in a variety of things, but it's the less tangible things - for example, the energy and spark they can generate - that can be harder to define."

But Mr Jones, a trainee educational psychologist, said he was not against the plans to allow governing bodies to slim down, as leading one could be "a bit like directing an oil tanker rather than a speed boat".

He also supports plans to give more autonomy to governing bodies - as long as vulnerable groups such as special needs children do not get neglected.

Mr Jones, who became a governor aged 21 and was elected to the chairman's post unopposed, said he was looking forward to bringing his youthful outlook to taking the school towards foundation and trust status.

And the influence of the young looks likely to grow at Therfield. Since Mr Jones became chair, a 23-year-old has been appointed and a 22-year-old has shown interest in a position.

"The attitude of the other governors has been positive; they have always been very welcoming and personable," Mr Jones said. "A few have taken me under their wing. It can be a daunting environment to go into. The first term I started as a governor only weeks after I had been busy with university parties and balls."

Therfield head Susan Willmansaid: "I don't take much notice of people's ages. Timothy has made an enormous contribution, listens to everybody and draws together the views. Chairs can be dictatorial, but he is able to bring the whole body on board with things and he's a really good strategic thinker."

Emma Knights, chief executive of the National Governors' Association, said the concerns about governing bodies snubbing young members might be misplaced.

"The Government is not saying you just need a focus on skills, and they were talking about having a wide range of people rooted in the community," she said. "We do not want or expect the skills issue to push out other people with other sorts of experience."


Lean, mean business machines

- Schools will be able to reduce the size of governing bodies, as long as they have two parent governors.

- Governing bodies will be encouraged to appoint people with "business or management experience".

- There will be more clarification of governing bodies' "accountabilities and responsibilities".

- Schools will be encouraged to appoint trained clerks.

- Governors will be able to access to more comparative school data.

- Training will be provided by the National College.

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