Suzy Horton doesn’t work at Craneswater Junior School or have a child there but for the last eight years has been a big part of school life.
Every success makes Suzy feel proud and she is often thinking about how things can be improved to make Craneswater run even better in the future.
She might not be a parent or teacher at the Southsea school but as a member of the governing body the 46-year-old is an extremely important person.
The governing body of a school scrutinises finances, approves budgets, sets strategies for school performance, monitors head teacher performance and pupil attainment and helps the head decide how to spend money, among many other duties.
And these volunteers are also encouraged to spend time in school, finding out how everything works and giving support, including reading to children and helping with activities.
‘Collectively we have a big responsibility in everything, the whole success of school,’ says Suzy, who lives in Southsea. ‘Working in partnership with head teacher, we’re involved in all kinds of things.
‘We take the information the head gives us about the way the school is being run and make decisions about how to move forward, improve on that.‘
Suzy and her governor colleagues are extremely committed to their roles. ‘I feel very loyal to the school,’ she says. ‘I’ve got to know the staff and what’s happened in terms of development and I feel part of the future of it’
But there aren’t enough people like them around. Portsmouth is currently suffering a shortage of governors and the city council is encouraging people to come forward in an attempt to fill vacancies.
‘We’re struggling a little bit in some areas. We certainly need more governors from the community towards the Eastney area,’ says Susannah Greenwood, governor support officer at the council. ‘It also seems to be more difficult to recruit to infant schools and smaller schools. I think maybe people think their skills are best used in large schools or they were last at a secondary school, so they immediately think of that. But we want to raise awareness for all schools and throughout the city.’
Governing bodies are made up of head teachers and school staff, parents, local authority appointments and members of the community. Portsmouth schools have 140 vacancies out of 880 posts. In Fareham and Gosport there are 94 vacancies out of 925 posts and in Havant and Horndean 81 out of 725.
Suzy believes part of the problem is that people find the idea of becoming a school governor daunting. And some people don’t think about volunteering if they don’t have any connections with the school.
As a former deputy head teacher in London Suzy was aware of the problem in recruiting governors and knew her skills could be put to good use. But she says it’s not necessary to have a strong educational background. ‘I think it’s good for a community to be connected to a school and for a governing body to represent that community. People who do not have connections with the school bring an objectivity and I think it’s important that people come from different backgrounds.’
The government has introduced changes to the make-up of governing bodies. It wants to reduce the size and the need to fill a certain amount of roles, instead recruiting governors on the basis of skills required.
But Susannah says there is still a need for dedicated and enthusiastic community and parent governors with a range of skills, experience and ability. Training courses are offered to those who take up the role.
One of the problems is retention of governors and the council and head teachers want people to be aware of the extent of responsibilities before they take up posts.
Victoria Page, currently interim head at Langstone Infants and Moorings Way Infant School (full time at Langstone from end of March) says: ‘I think it’s important people have a good understanding of what the role of governor is. It’s about standards, employing staff, policy, some schools have very big budgets, and then there are staffing issues and Ofsted inspections. The governing body is held responsible for these types of things and I think it’s a really difficult job. But if they are aware of that and take it all on board, they are extremely valuable.’
Governing bodies have a powerful role and if the school receives an ‘inadequate’ rating from Ofsted the buck stops with the governing body and the focus falls on its effectiveness.
But the rewards can be tremendous. The training and development of skills looks great on a CV and there is often a feeling of camaraderie.
And then there is a feeling of being valued and doing an important job.
HOW TO BECOME A GOVERNOR
To find out about becoming a governor visit portsmouth.gov.uk and search for governor, call (023) 9284 1716 or email email@example.com
Or approach the school you are interested in and enquire.
An information event for people wanting to find out more about current vacancies in Hampshire and being a governor is being held at Bridgemary School, Gosport on February 22 from 6pm to 8pm. Anyone interested will need to book in advance by contacting the main area office at firstname.lastname@example.org or phoning (023) 92441 511.