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Exeter diocese urgently seeks more school governors to meet regional shortage

12 February 2021


A “Be a Governor” image used as a press release in the diocese’s campaign

A “Be a Governor” image used as a press release in the diocese’s campaign

A SHORTAGE of school governors in the diocese of Exeter has prompted an urgent campaign for recruitment to vacant posts in its 133 church schools. One school has four vacancies. The shortfall is greatest in Plymouth and Torbay.

Devon has some of the highest numbers of children at school during the lockdown: some schools have had 50-per-cent attendance. The pandemic had compounded the governor shortage, the diocesan education adviser responsible for governance, Christina Mabin, said. There was increased pressure on head teachers and staff, and key decisions needed to be made on keeping staff and children safe.

A recruitment campaign begun in January 2020 had had to be suspended. There had been natural wastage in the year that followed, and the move to virtual working after school closures had led to the loss of elderly governors who felt unable to engage in this way, Mrs Mabin said. Recruiting others in a virtual way was also proving very difficult.

“The first thing [potential recruits] want to do is visit a school, meet the head, get a feel for the place, and see if it’s the right fit. How can you do that when you’re on a screen with someone?” The church community had traditionally been the first port of call for foundation governors in church schools, but, as churches were also closed and communities were isolated, that avenue had proved more difficult, she said.

Governors are required to have a detailed and strategic knowledge of their school. They are responsible for the strategic oversight of the school, for monitoring pupils’ achievement and attainment, for overseeing the teaching and learning, for reviewing staffing patterns, and overseeing finances. They must be over 18, but there is no upper age limit. The ideal is that they bring a mixture of different backgrounds, ages, aptitudes, and abilities.

It had been a real struggle during the pandemic, Mrs Mabin said. “Decisions have to be made about closures when staff are having to isolate, and judgement has to be made about whether there are enough staff to carry on.

“Governors make decisions about staff safety. Governance in school is so critical — who else is making sure that the Christian vision is alive and working, underpinning everything you’re doing? Who is looking after the staff when they’re worn out and working weekends? Who is making sure that their health and well-being is good, and what is being done for them?”

She is hoping to capitalise on the willingness of people to volunteer in this time of crisis — evident from the thousands, for example, who came forward to offer help with vaccinations. “Education is at the forefront: it’s the front line,” she said. “We want to say, ‘Here’s an area where you can volunteer.’ We are going to have to become much more flexible in our recruitment, with a change of mindset and a wider trawl.”

An interview on Radio Devon has already provoked some expressions of interest. The acting diocesan director of education, Sara Lockwood, said: “School leaders and their staff are doing a great job throughout the pandemic in serving the needs of their students and families.

“They are working long hours to ensure school communities are safe and that students’ well-being and education are continuing positively. Governors play a vital role in this work. People who can come forward to be governors could make a real difference right now.”

The shortage of governors is acknowledged to be a national problem of long standing, especially in small rural communities. The Bishop of Exeter, the Rt Revd Robert Atwell, initiated a diocesan day of prayer for all schools on Tuesday of last week, and thanked schools for their resilience.

“You, too, are in the front line,” he told them. “Many staff are now doing two jobs at once: teaching pupils of key workers and vulnerable children in school, plus delivering online lessons for those who are at home. Education professionals are demonstrating a level of commitment to the children and young people in their care that is truly inspiring.”

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