Getting more IT professionals involved with schools will play a vital role in encouraging the next generation of computing practitioners, writes Victoria Temple, Press and Community Engagement Officer at BCS.

The National Centre for Computing Education (NCCE) has put together a guide for IT professionals to offer an overview of the support available to help you as a volunteer.

Simon Peyton Jones, Chair of the NCCE and Governor at Chesterton Community College, said: ‘Computing professionals are particularly valuable as governors. Schools need our belief in our subject, our technical expertise and our address books. Every school is working out what computing as a school subject means, what a great education in computing looks like and how to offer pathways in computing that suit every child.’

Inspiring governance

Lynn King is Head of Governance Programmes for Education and Employers, which runs the Inspiring Governance programme to connect skilled volunteers who are interested in serving as school governors and trustees with schools in England.

‘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,’ she said, adding that anybody over 18 can be a governor: no specialist knowledge of experience is needed 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 would welcome the skills that IT professionals can bring.

‘Governing boards that are diverse make the best decisions,’ said Lynn. ‘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”.’

Giving back

Being a school governor is rewarding, using your energy and skill to make a real difference to the futures of children and young people. Governing boards have three main functions: agreeing long term strategy, holding senior leaders to account for school performance, and overseeing financial performance.

“Being a school governor is rewarding, using your energy and skill to make a real difference to the futures of children and young people.”

‘It’s also a great way to apply and refine your professional skills and to grow new networks,’ said Lynn. ‘And getting more IT professionals involved in supporting school governance, 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.’

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.

She was asked to become a governor because she had been volunteering at the school for over seven years, running fun and creative STEAM workshops and a mentoring programme.

‘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,’ she said. ‘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.

‘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 ran several coding clubs and also mentored the pupils, helping them understand what is possible. We have also led a couple of digital security sessions for the parents.’

A sense of community

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

‘I’d 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,’ he said.

‘Aside from the professional development aspect (which 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 in which it operates.

 “Aside from the professional development aspect (which has helped me in increasingly senior roles) the best thing has been the unexpected emotional bond that I now feel towards the school.”

‘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.

He’s also used his IT professional expertise to support the development of computer science at the school. ‘We now have 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.

‘As a governing body, we’d like to see more local community governors involved, regardless of their skills and to strengthen both the professional side and the involvement of the community. This is something that BCS members might want to consider.’