As part of the ‘Be a Governor’ campaign with Bristol Learning City, we asked Professional and Financial Sector Chair for the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership, Chris Bull, about his involvement as an ex-governor, and what value it adds to businesses and schools.
Dr Adam Marshall, Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce, commented earlier this year that Britain is facing a shortage of employability skills and that there needs to be a change in attitude towards work-related education as it should be valued as much as academic learning. He also stated that there needs to be more interaction between businesses and school, with more business chiefs becoming school governors. He said that many teachers, not just school pupils would benefit from work experience in business.
What do you think about Dr Marshall’s comments?
I think he is absolutely right to raise, and keep raising, this challenge. Although I doubt our country is alone, there is a lack of adequate interaction and communication between the world of work and the world of school today. One of the challenges is the lack of time and resource available within the school curriculum and that requires a major change involving government. It also limits the ability of teachers to spend time understanding the changing nature of work in 21st century Britain, still less undertake their own work experience. I am wary about governor-level business participation being seen as a panacea; the accelerating academisation programme and the scale and complexity of today’s secondary schools and FE Colleges demands that business influence is absorbed directly by teaching staff and executive management as well.
"Business needs to ensure it does not lose touch with the generation who will form their future workforce."
You were once a governor. Why did you choose to become one?
I became a primary school governor, then Chair of Governors, when my young children were going through the school. Partly because I was passionate about preserving and supporting education based in the heart of our small, rural community and wanted to find a way of directly helping. Partly because I felt I had some skills that could be useful to a governing body and that, in a state education system, parents had a responsibility to contribute in whatever way they could.
What would you say are the advantages/benefits to businesses being involved with schools?
At a time of significant demographic and social change, business needs to ensure it does not lose touch with the generation who will form their future workforce. More directly, business – as Adam Marshall points out – has been pointing out that many recruits lack the ‘employability skills’ employers expect. Businesses cannot expect schools and colleges to address and resolve this issue themselves. In my experience the education sector’s perception of what these skills are often doesn’t align with what many businesses are talking about. Finally, in a period of early entrepreneurial activity and an emphasis on innovation and technology change, business should want to tap as early as possible into the ocean of ideas and insights talented young people have and not hang back waiting for them to emerge, fully formed, from an extended University course.
If businesses would like to become involved as a governor, how much time does it take up and what does it involve?
It varies depending on the role and number of additional projects and committees I’ve been involved in. As Chair over recent years, typically probably 10 hours per month term-time. Most governors’ work is focused around termly meetings of the governing body or committees – reading papers, attending meetings. A broad range of different skills – especially from the worlds of business and of education – really help governing bodies deal with issues and make decisions. Senior roles add more dealing with correspondence, regular liaison with Head Teacher and other staff, and sometimes involvement in difficult issues of exclusion, complaint, budgetary options etc.
"A broad range of different skills – especially from the worlds of business and of education – really help governing bodies deal with issues and make decisions."
Lastly, why would you say early engagement is important for the future of skills?
Basic employability skills need to be defined and agreed between employers and education. They should be embedded in the curriculum from primary phase onwards, as they take many years to nurture and develop. The tendency to focus all effort on 6th Form is far too late, as these skills – including confidence and ability to deal with colleagues and/or customers – build over time. More focused careers and enterprise information and coaching should be provided, at the latest, in the run-up to choosing GCSE subjects (so from the beginning of Year 9), as early considerations about career pathways and preferences should inform those choices.
About Chris Bull
He regularly enjoys appearing as Keynote Speaker, Conference Chair and panellist at conferences in Europe and the US, as well as presenting in-house to leadership teams in client organisations.
Could you become a governor?
Business West has partnered with Bristol City Council to encourage more individuals to become school governors. Find out more about the potential benefits to you and your business, the skills schools are looking for and how you can get involved.