All businesses need accountants – and that includes schools. From financial planning, to scrutinising budgets, to holding senior leadership to account, schools rely on their governing body. School governors are the largest volunteer force in education, but thousands of primary and secondary schools across the country need volunteers to bring their skills to a governing board.
Sam Butler is an accountant and a school governor at a primary school in Warsop, Nottinghamshire. Sam became a school governor using the free governor recruitment service provided by educational charity Governors for Schools. He talks about how he got into the role, how sitting on a governing board has helped his career, and why more accountants should think about getting involved in governance.
When you think about a school, you don’t really think of a business. But modern schools are run like businesses and need to run efficiently whilst ensuring a positive student outcome, which brings unique challenges.
Many Headteachers are career teachers and have worked into seniority from the outset. Whilst they look after the operational side of running a school, they don’t always have a broad range of business skills. That’s why it’s important to have other people working with the Headteacher – the governing board – to make sure the school has access to the expertise necessary to make the right decisions.
Getting into governance
I knew I wanted to do something that would expand my skillset, and I knew I wanted to volunteer. I found Governors for Schools online and decided to apply. It was an easy process and was turned over quite quickly – four weeks later I was a governor at my local primary school.
As an accountant, I bring specific qualities to my governing board and give guidance around the school’s finances. Cuts are getting tighter and funding is already difficult so you need someone with financial acumen to find ways around those problems. As a governor, it’s your job to challenge credibility of information and accountability of the senior management, which as an accountant, is something that’s already part of the job. It’s a great opportunity to challenge the established ways of thinking while understanding why certain decisions are made. I feel more informed now to question proposals and decisions more robustly.
Accounting in action
Our governing board recently had to sign off the school budget. Historically, the governing board had done so without looking into the figures with too much scrutiny, but given my financial background I was keen to dissect and understand the reasoning behind the decisions. Looking into the budget was helpful for us as a governing board as it gave us the opportunity to challenge the parts we didn’t think were fair or realistic. I’ve asked to change the process so that we have visibility of the budget earlier, and can be more involved before it reaches the board for sign off.
Develop your career
Being a governor is good for your training and continued development as an accountant and it’s something I think more people should get involved in. I’ve seen how executive decisions are made, been part of board meetings, and made financial decisions that affect the wider business. I’ve enjoyed being exposed to a completely different field that I otherwise wouldn’t, and it’s been eye opening to see how difficult it can be to get education right.
Initially, I went into the role thinking that it would be a great career move – which it is. But the connection I’ve developed with the students, the School and the wider community has since eclipsed the career benefits. Being a governor is such a worthwhile thing to be involved with - when you’re making these big decisions about budgets, policies and planning, you know that you’re affecting real people and shaping children’s futures, which is really fulfilling. It’s a great life choice as well as career choice.
If you’d like to find out more about becoming a school governor through Governors for Schools you can get in touch with the charity via firstname.lastname@example.org
Schools can promote their school governor or other voluntary vacancies for free on ICAEW Volunteers.