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We're not all old, grey and boring

Positive publicity about governors should help your school attract more candidates. Nicky Parker reports

School governors are the biggest government voluntary workforce in England.

Yet around 12 per cent of 350,000 positions are vacant at any one time, the majority of which are for parent and community governors.

Whereas the local authority recruits its own governors, responsibility for attracting parent and community representatives lies with schools themselves.

It is not always an easy task. Many people are put off applying by the perception of what governors are like. "I thought they were all old, grey and boring", says Zo Curnow, governor at Manor Field infant school in Basingstoke.

The responsibility and time involved is also a concern for prospective candidates.

Traditional approaches include cold calling local businesses, using the LEA, and blanket letters to parents. But even with the odds stacked against them, some schools seem to have no difficulty in recruiting governors. What is the secret of their success?

Janet Dyson, chair of governors at Great Bardfield primary school and Helena Romanes secondary school in Essex, believes active recruitment is the right way to go. They plan well ahead of when vacancies are expected and publish press releases in the local paper and parish magazine to generate interest.

"We have a good response to our publicity and often interview people for vacancies. We look for different skills that we might be lacking within the governing body, such as accounting or personnel. All the governors are also encouraged to recommend relevant people and approach them," says Ms Dyson.

"I don't find approaching companies works very well. We do recycle governors by asking parent governors who are interested to become community governors at the end of their term."

Jane Pratt, chair of Robert May's secondary school in Odiham and Chiltern primary school in Basingstoke, disagrees with identifying specific skills.

"I think that it isn't necessary to recruit accountants for the finance committee, for instance. Governors need to take a strategic view and the training provided by the LEA will equip them with the skills necessary to fulfil their committee roles," she says.

Ms Pratt does agree that recycling parent governors to fill community vacancies can work well. "Some people believe that this creates a governing body with too many parents, but I disagree. If the governing body is full and everybody is pulling their weight, I don't see that it matters," she says.

In 1999 the Government set up the School Governors' One-Stop Shop (SGOSS).

It works with individual schools and LEAs as well as directly with employers, Student Volunteering England and university student unions.

Steve Acklam, chief executive of SGOSS, explains how they recruit volunteers. "We use three mechanisms - setting up exhibition stands within organisations, giving presentations to small groups of people and targeting postcode areas with leaflet drops in residential areas, local doctors and community centres."

Michael Rumble, chair of Peterborough primary school, was one of the first governors recruited by SGOSS and has subsequently used them to fill a community governor vacancy. "I would definitely recommend them. I received eight applications within 48 hours of contacting them and all the candidates were good calibre. We didn't interview them all, but chose one candidate, who has proven to be excellent."

The overriding message from all these successful recruiters is that the initial message has to be right. Being a school governor is an opportunity to do something different in the community, but there are also benefits for the volunteer. SGOSS suggests that not only does it provide positive publicity for businesses, but also personal development for employees and an opportunity to build skills such as finance, personnel and marketing.

Ms Dyson agrees: "Positive publicity on the role of the governor is really important."

Ms Pratt is also keen to promote what is involved in the role. She believes that attending new parents' evenings, fundraising and PTA events and being seen by parents helps to strengthen the message. "Many people are unsure of what is involved, so it is a good idea to explain that the role is not rocket science but largely common sense," says Mr Acklam.

Mr Rumble handles parent governor vacancies by direct approach to individual parents whom the school has targeted as appropriate. "We have not found a letter of invitation alone to be successful."

SGOSS is happy to share some of its publicity material for schools' own use. The DfES has also produced Help Schools Help Children - School Governor Tool-kit. This provides some advice and a CD-Rom with publicity material that can be tailored to individual schools.

Ms Pratt is keen to stress that the work continues after new governors join. "Recruiting people is only half the battle, it is vital to retain them too. For me, that means a good internal induction for governors and interesting, purposeful meetings."

SGOSS Tel: 0870 2413881Web: Volunteering EnglandTel: 0800 0812146Web: Tel: 0845 6022260Web:

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