Many IT professionals are already supporting their local school and the next generation by being a school governor, writes Victoria Temple, Senior Press Officer at BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT.

BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT is passionate about encouraging the next generation in computing. Lynn King (pictured above), Head of Governance Programmes for Education and Employers, told us about how becoming a school governor supports the next generation and can give BCS members valuable personal and professional development.

Having a good quality education has a huge impact on the future life chances of children and young people. Governing boards make significant decisions about schools to ensure they are successful for every pupil. A school Governing Board needs volunteers drawn from across the school’s community that bring different skills, experience and perspectives to the table.

Anybody over 18 can be a governor and you don’t have to be a parent. In fact, 250,000 people (including many from the computer industry) are already governors, yet there remain national shortages and schools throughout England would welcome the skills that IT professionals can bring. Governing Boards that are diverse make the best decisions.

It is estimated there is at least one vacancy on every school governing board in England and, if you consider there are over 23,000 schools, that’s a lot of empty seats around the board table.

As a school governor, you’ll be a role model for children thinking about their future in the workplace. It is a strategic role, and like any board position, it should be approached as ‘eyes on and hands off’. The three core functions of a governing board are:

  • Agreeing a long-term strategy for ensuring compliance of the school’s clarity of vision, ethos and culture
  • Holding executive and senior leaders to account for the conduct and educational performance of the school and its pupils
  • To oversee the financial performance of the school and agree the budget and staffing structure required to deliver the strategy.

There are many benefits of being a school governor, not least how rewarding it can be to invest time, energy and skills to make a real difference to the education and futures of children and young people and to serve your community. It’s also a great way to apply and refine your professional skills and to grow new networks.

Another potential benefit of more IT professionals getting involved in supporting school governance, is that it will certainly raise the pressing importance of computer related subjects at a strategic level within education.

IT professionals on school governing boards could potentially work with the senior leadership team to develop an IT strategy, or even liaise with career leads, helping them to make links with organisations that can give pupils first-hand experiences of the computer industry.

Inspiring Governance is a government-backed governor recruitment service connecting volunteers with schools in England. It is run by the charity Education and Employers and comes with 12 months of individual CPD accredited training and support for all newly appointed governors, provided by sector experts the National Governance Association (NGA).

Find out more about becoming a school governor and also watch the Education and Employers campaign video

Andrea Palmer is Chair for BCS Women, a member of BCS Council and sits on the Society Board.  She became a school governor about three years ago at Cubitt Town Junior School, the Isle of Dogs in London. She has worked in the energy sector for over 20 years in various IT roles from business analysis, programming, project management, business change and leadership.

What made you choose to become a school governor?

I was asked to become a governor because I have been volunteering at the school for over seven years running fun and creative STEAM workshops and a mentoring programme. The headmistress said she wanted to co-opt me.

What has been the best thing about being a school governor?

I have very much enjoyed seeing how a school runs and adapts particularly in difficult times like during the pandemic - their commitment and flexibility has been outstanding.

What challenges have you faced as a school governor this year, particularly because of the coronavirus pandemic?

This year has seen particular challenges because of the coronavirus pandemic. The school I’m associated with is in a deprived area, so they have had several challenges particularly in the area of digital poverty.

Has your IT professional expertise been useful and have you been able to support the development of Computer Science, or digital skills at your school?

My own IT background has enabled me to use my network to find and repurpose devices for the children to do home schooling and also create a crowd-funding site with the school to raise money for equipment.

Prior to the pandemic through my work, we have run several coding clubs and also mentoring the pupils helping them understand what is possible. We have also led a couple of digital security sessions for the parents.

Cubitt Town Junior School is raising funds to support education during the pandemic.

Giuseppe Sollazzo became a governor in 2015 and is now Chair of Governors at The Devonshire Hill Nursery and Primary School in London.

Giuseppe graduated in Computer Science in 2004, completed a masters in 2007, and has worked in IT in medical settings and has been Head of Data at the Department for Transport. He is now Head of AI Skunkworks and Deployment at NHSx.

What made you choose to become a school governor?

I had had an experience as a charity trustee and wanted to do something as strategic again, but for a local cause. I was recommended to look at school governors, and I really liked the idea.

What has been the best thing about being a school governor?

Aside from the professional development aspect, that has helped me in increasingly senior roles, the best thing has been the unexpected emotional bond that I now feel towards the school and the drive that I have to make it successful. As much as things are often challenging, I find that the achievements of the schools are stellar in the context it operates. I remember once heading to the school play with my partner and mother-in-law, being welcomed as members of the school community and being given front row seats - it made me realise how much I cared about the school and its community.

What challenges have you faced as a school governor this year, particularly because of the coronavirus pandemic?

The financial situation of the school has always been solid, but even with falling rolls, uncertainty about the funding formula, and the fact that the parent community is, on average, in a difficult socio-economic position and therefore not able to raise charitable funds, things have been challenging and we've had to cut some resources. The pandemic has made things more difficult for attainment in a situation in which many children are not native English speakers and so cannot rely on parents for reading to them. That said, the SLT and teaching staff have been amazing, and statistics suggest the attainment is holding.

Has your IT professional expertise been useful and have you been able to support the development of Computer Science, or digital skills at your school?

Yes. We have now a so called "STEAM Engine", a room dedicated to science, technology, engineering, arts, and maths, guided by an experienced crafty teacher, who's also setting up our "forest school". We have definitely invested in digital, but also in the idea that crafts of the "sciencey" type (e.g. building a volcano, using arduinos, creating self-standing towers, programming robots) all belong together.

Anything else you’d like to share?

As a governing body we’d like to see more local community governors involved, regardless of their skills. With their willingness, and the ability of the school to get support to train them, we could strengthen both the professional side and the involvement of the community. This is something that the BCS members might want to consider.

Find out more about becoming a school governor

The National Centre for Computing Education (NCCE) has put together a guide for IT professionals who would like to find out more about supporting schools and young people and the role of a governor.