THE shortage of governors with professional skills at Oxfordshire’s schools has led one of the region’s major education trusts to launch a campaign reaching out to local business people.

River Learning Trust (RLT), a multi-academy trust that operates more than 20 secondaries and primaries, is looking to recruit community governors to serve in its schools.

The trust, whose secondary schools include Cherwell and The Swan in Oxford, as well as The Marlborough School in Woodstock, has decided to act now before the problem begins to affect the education of its children.

Community governors are different from parent governors because they often have no direct family link to a school where they volunteer.

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Their experience and expertise in areas such as finance, legal matters, HR, health and safety, premises management and marketing mean governing boards are able to properly scrutinise and support headteachers and other senior leaders at schools.

The shortage of governors with these skills is not just an issue in Oxfordshire.

Last year, Governors for Schools, a charity that recruits professionals to sit on governing boards, warned that the problem was affecting schools across the country.

It said that vacancies on governing boards had risen by almost 40 per cent in the previous two years – and it claimed that the situation was worsening the financial crisis in schools, because a lack of expertise meant that less efficient budgetary decisions were being made.

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Louise Askew is head of governance at RLT and is spearheading its recruitment campaign. She said that while the picture at RLT is not as bleak as that painted by Governors for Schools, it was still a concern for the trust.

“We are certainly not in a position where schools are failing to make good decisions on financial matters,” she said.

“But there is a concerning direction of travel in terms of governor numbers and we felt it best to act now before it becomes an issue that impacts on the young people at our schools.

“It’s why we are reaching out to business people in Oxfordshire with the message that becoming a community governor is fulfilling and makes a difference to the lives of young people.

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“Our schools will always get first-class support from the central team at the trust, but you cannot beat having people on the ground with expertise and local knowledge.

“It’s that combination of specialist skills and a knowledge of how a particular local community works and thinks that makes community governors so valuable.”

One RLT school that is currently looking to recruit governors is Charlbury Primary School, where Scott Lewis is the headteacher.

Mr Lewis, who took the reins at the school earlier this year, said: “Running a school is obviously not just about teaching and educational issues – there are so many different aspects of managing here and we have to make decisions on very different things on a day-to-day basis.

“Getting a broad range of support from people who have professional and life experience is absolutely invaluable.

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“We really need those kinds of people to come forward, because a school that functions well serves its community well.”

Paul Thomas is headteacher of Tower Hill Primary School in Witney, another RLT school that currently has vacancies for governors with business and other specialist expertise.

Mr Thomas said that support for headteachers from people who ‘have been there and done it’ is a feature of all great schools.

“A school where people from the business community are providing guidance is more likely to be one with a solid platform that allows teachers to go out and do what they do best – which is to teach inspirationally,” he said.

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“We know that times are difficult and that the pandemic has meant that many people are having to concentrate simply on looking after their own families.

“But we feel that there are people out there who might have been motivated by the contribution of key workers during the crisis, and seen how communities have rallied round.

“These people will be looking to make a difference in some way. We say to those people that one way they can do that is by volunteering to ensure their local school is a great place for their community’s children to start their journeys in life.”