Taking a hand in the running of the school gives teachers a valuable overview and could boost promotion prospects, reports Stephen Hoare.
Becoming a teacher-governor can be a step in the right direction for any member of staff with aspirations to senior management or headship.
Graham Yapp, head of Beaumont School in St Albans, Hertfordshire, was deputy head and a governor at his previous school before winning his current post, and two of his teacher-governors have now left to become senior managers in other schools. "Anyone wanting to take on a senior position in a school needs to be strong in their academic area but it also helps to have had involvement in the governing body," he says.
Being a governor gives the wider picture, especially in areas such as finance, staffing, standards and curriculum. Charles Cross, Beaumont's key stage 3 science co-ordinator and a governor for the past two years, says:
"If changes are happening, you hear about them sooner and have more background information."
Besides the two teacher-governors, Mr Yapp also co-opts senior staff on to governing-body working parties and, wherever possible, rotates responsibility. "Having a number of colleagues involved in the governing body helps me manage the meetings and the information load."
Teacher-governors are first and foremost elected representatives. Voted on by colleagues, their job is to represent the views of the staff, not to further personal ambitions. Head of history, Carol McKay, Beaumont's other teacher-governor, says: "You should never put the interests of your career above that of the staff and school. As a middle manager and a long-serving teacher, I feel I can speak frankly at governing body meetings."
Mr Cross adds: "Being a link between governors and staff puts you in a position of trust. At meetings you are not speaking as an individual."
Nevertheless, through being able to watch strategic decision-making at close quarters, teacher-governors can learn a lot about management from their private-sector colleagues. Linda Adams, BT marketing manager and Beaumont's chair of governors for many years, has helped organise management training for governors and a new system of staff appraisal. The Beaumont governors also pay particular attention to the selection process.
Ms Adams says: "Teacher-governors involved in the interviews are surprised at how thorough we are. They learn that we look for candidates who are able to think in a management role. A three-page letter on 'my philosophy of education' is not the way to apply for a top job these days."
Such insights, coupled with the experience of sitting on interview panels, may help teacher-governors when they apply for senior posts.
The responsibilities also provide teachers with experience of the extra demands that management jobs can entail. It means exercising different skills from those normally used within the school hierarchy. Powers of persuasion and negotiation are important, as is patience. Mr Cross says:
"As teachers, our instinct is to hate bureaucracy but as a governor you see that developing a policy is a slow process. It's ruling by consent."
Beaumont's teacher-governors are also learning to balance the occasional conflict of interests. Ms McKay says: "Right now, target-setting for GCSE results is a hot issue. Putting children under even more pressure to do well will have implications for my pastoral role."
But Mr Cross has no doubts that becoming a teacher-governor has helped him develop as a senior teacher. "Seeing the broader picture has enabled me to understand why certain decisions have to be made. The information that governors are given helps with target-setting and bench-marking. You are dealing with live issues."