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Young and at heart of the community

At the tender age of 23, is Bill Holledge the youngest chair of governors in the country? asks Laurence Pollock

WHERE did you get him? That's the question which Lin Whyte's headteacher peers ask when they hear about her new chair of governors.

Bill Holledge is a Cambridge graduate, works in consulting, travels the world, but still gets into school every week and is available for weekend meetings. He has familiarised himself intensely with the school's management system.

This autumn he was elected chair of governors unopposed by the board of Bar Hill primary school, near Cambridge, after he had been a member for only a year. Bill received particular support from the parent governors - quite a compliment, as he has no school-age children of his own. At the age of just 23 that is hardly surprising, however. He is thought to be the youngest chair in the country.

So how did Peter Pan become a governor and take on a role normally reserved for seasoned veterans of school governance?

It was just a question, initially, of wanting to be more involved with the local community. "After I graduated in 2000, I was living in Bar Hill and working in Cambridge. I didn't think I was involved in the community and I have always been interested in education. I had decided against training as a teacher, at the time, so becoming a governor seemed a good way of getting involved," says Mr Holledge.

He sees the lack of family commitments as a virtue ("I have quite a lot of time to devote to the role") and his employer, Analysys, a leading European telecoms consultancy, has been flexible in the time off needed to do the job - although he has to make up the hours.

So what were Bar Hill and Bill Holledge doing before they met? They were born 10 years apart. The school opened in 1968 with a mere 29 pupils to serve a growing new community on the outskirts of Cambridge. Today Bar Hill has expanded substantially and its primary school now has 370 pupils.

Bill grew up in Warrington, attended his local primary school and then St Ambrose's, an independent Catholic school in Altrincham. He read English at Magdalene College without having a particular career in mind: "Like a lot of humanities undergraduates there was no clear career path."

He has not changed his mind about teaching, but after an internship with Analysys turned into a job offer, he felt working in the private sector would bring some wide-ranging expertise and would be useful for his personal development. He works as a project editor providing reports and doing presentations to clients worldwide, making sure communication is as clear as possible. He recognises the influence of his business expertise on school governing.

"I work very closely with individuals to make sure they are clear about what they are trying to say and to build consensus. I think these skills are transferable into education and the public sector."

He also believes that education still has quite a long way to go to realise the full benefits of information and communications technology. But he is bothered by the emphasis on performance data and testing in education.

But how has the chair hit it off with the head, the key axis in any school management system?

Bill describes the relationship as "mutually robust". "We get on very well and that convinced me I could take on the job. We have a very strong working relationship."

While the school and Bill were growing up, Lin Whyte was working in teaching, including three headships. She is immensely experienced but still surprised to find someone as young and keen as her new chair.

"Other heads ask me 'where do we find another Bill Holledge?'" she says.

"He comes into school every week, sometimes at 7.45am, and will visit classes to familiarise himself with teachers, staff and children. We sometimes work together at weekends. He is very good on interpersonal skills and emails a lot during the day."

She stresses, however, that he comes to a board which has plenty of existing talent and an effective predecessor as chair.

Bill may work hard, but he counts chairing governors as part of his "play hard" routine. He also sings twice a week with Sidney Sussex College choir and is learning to scuba dive. Meanwhile, Bar Hill school is enjoying Bill's dynamo effect and he has gone a long way to achieving his aim of involvement with the community.

Do you know a younger governor or chair of governors? Email Karen Thornton at karen.thornton@ or call 020 7782 3282

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