Soccer mum entrepreneur takes over at the helm

13th July 2001 at 01:00
Jane Phillips, new chair of the National Association of Governors and Managers, talks to Laurence Pollock

This may not be make or break time for the National Association of Governors and Managers, but Jane Phillips, the new chair, faces the task of pushing after the sea change which has taken place in the past three years.

Phillips has recently succeeded John Adams, who steered NAGM away from the shallows and miseries of decline, several years ago.

NAGM is the loose cannon in the massed ranks of school governors. Unlike the National Governors' Council, it seeks individual membership rather than affiliating schools, and is entirely self-funding.

Its profile had declined in the 1990s, however, until a shake-up under Adams, the economics professor who became chair in 1998. He described it as in a "fairly torpid state" at the time.

A self-conscious change agent, Adams oversaw an office move, recruitment of new staff, a fresh range of publications and a shake-up on the executive. The only battle he lost was a thwarted plan to change the name. So it was new wine in old bottles.

Membership is on the rise again and Adams is confident that Phillips, from Elstree in Hertfordshire, is the right person to build on the platform that has been created. He sees her as a catalyst for modernisation, a great "finisher" with good communication skills and an ability to make contacts.

Phillips' curriculum vitae fairly bristles with teaching, governing and educational management experience. The early part of her life saw her juggling governing, teaching (particularly special needs) and raising her own children before setting up Phillips Education Associates - a consultancy - nine years ago.

Drawing on her qualifications as an occupational psychologist, Phillips has run a stress management course for GPs and trained nuclear inspectors to carry out interviews.

Phillips has made a strong and rapid impact on NAGM. For a decade she was active in Hertfordshire, joining the national executive just three years ago and becoming vice-chair last year.

Steve Adamson from the group says it particularly valued her experience as a business psychologist. One NAGM executive member says: "She is very clever at seizing opportunities and linking them together - a breath of fresh air."

Although the chair is re-elected annually, they must stand down after three. So with the completion of John Adams's triennium, there was a vacancy.

For Phillips - after three decades of mixing family and educational responsibilities, including her time as a "soccer mum" watching two daughters play football and picking up an affiliation to Arsenal - the timing was just right.

Now Amy and Sian have left home their mother has more freedom. She has scaled down some of her educational consultancy work to concentrate on NAGM. Husband Glynn continues to do the cooking and "listens to me interminably talking about my passion - education".

Aged 50, she has been through several phases of her working life and attributes her personal development to adult learning - teaching certificate in her twenties, Open University courses in her thirties and, more recently, a master's degree in occupational psychology.

Phillips hopes that her period as chair of NAGM will bequeath a legacy of entrepreneurialism - although she is quick to make a distinction between this personal credo and the public-sector entrepreneurship approved by Chancellor Gordon Brown. It's more of a technique than a comment on public versus private, she insists.

"I love to grab opportunities as they pass by, to network, putting people in touch with each other." She also espouses NAGM's strong reservations about any privatisation agenda in public schooling.

"Entrepreneurialism can come from within the system: it is there already, but needs to be encouraged. An entrepreneurial local education authority will look to the future, use outsiders' expertise, learn from them."

Despite these caveats, she still wants an education delivery system which is cost effective.

The Department for Education and Skills will have to deal with a new player who believes it lacks entrepreneurialism. Instinctively diplomatic, however, she makes a clear distinction, between what must be said in private and what is expressed in public.

Locally, NAGM's gain will be school governance's loss - up to a point. Phillips has stepped down as chair at St Nicholas junior school in Elstree, but continues to serve as a chair of personnel. After the closure of the secondary where she served, she decided it would not be possible to take on another secondary governorship - for now.

The governing body at St Nicholas seems to have successfully handled the change in her status. A national figure heading your board is daunting at the best of times - especially when they are still around after stepping down. But Vicky Jackson, the new chair, has no worries: "She wants to take a back seat, but has been there if I needed her advice. I have changed quite a few things, quite boldly, but she has not been critical in any way."

Phillips describes education as her hobby. But she also confesses to being a francophile who enjoys visiting France, while making no claims to linguistic fluency. After her track record of energy, achievement and forbidding competence it is comforting to know she has one grade B area. Whether it stays that way after the summer holiday, however, is anyone's guess.

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