When Richard Ayling (BA 1968) retired from the business world, he still wanted to put his skills and experience to good use and discover a new way to contribute to society. Here, he describes the challenging and highly rewarding path he found himself on after applying to be a School Governor.
How does someone go from studying medieval German literature in 1966 to being Co-chair of Governors in a school for autistic children in 2021?
My career after leaving Cardiff University with an Honours Degree in German led me through a variety of roles in business development and international consulting and leadership, including a four-year spell living in Frankfurt and two years based just outside Paris.
I finally retired in 2017 and wanted to give something back to society. I knew my experience in business management and knowledge of organisational psychology had to be of use to somebody, and I was happy to volunteer my time. During my career, I coached and developed many associates and clients, and really enjoyed watching younger people grow and develop. A similar position in a school environment felt like the right fit.
Taking that first step
Although all schools need Governors, they are particular about who they appoint, as they are looking for people with a range of skills to join their boards. I applied via Governors for Schools and had four interviews before being invited to join the governing board of Forest Bridge School in Maidenhead.
A stimulating environment
There is a huge learning curve, which is in and of itself very stimulating. Schools are managed by central government, and some of the practises take a little getting used to. There is a vast array of legislation around what you can and cannot do as an academy, and, as a Governor. I am legally obliged to ensure that the school follows the rules. The legal framework means that my accountabilities are very similar to those of a director in a PLC.
Learning about autism
Forest Bridge School is a school for autistic children. I needed to fast-track my understanding of autism and the implications for the school of managing a wide range of pupil behaviours. Making my once-a-term tours of the school, accompanied by one of the senior teachers, has given me an incredible insight into the range of challenges, and joys, in the learning environment at Forest Bridge.
Roles and responsibilities
We have a total of five committees, each of which meets once per term. Every Governor is on the Full Governing Board, and typically on two others. I chair the Resources Committee (school finances, resources including staff, site and premises management including health and safety) and attend the Audit Committee. Our meetings, which normally last for about two hours, are diarised for the entire year so everyone can plan around the dates. I have also become involved in fundraising to help the school purchase the specialist equipment needed.
Eyes on – not hands on!
Desperate to get involved in the day-to-day affairs of the school, I was quickly put right. The role of a Governor is eyes on, and absolutely not hands on! Our role is to review, guide, discuss, challenge, approve where needed, appraise and, more than anything, support. For example, we made decisions together with the school leadership team about whether to keep the school open during the COVID-19 lockdown. This was one of the most difficult things I have had to do in my entire career.
What makes it fun
There are so many aspects of this role that make it well worth doing. Seeing the joy in a teacher’s face when she has had a successful development session with a pupil, interacting with the PTA equivalent on fundraising and achieving challenging targets, getting a “Good” OFSTED report, and seeing the pleasure of achievement from the whole staff.
I also had the chance to be Father Christmas in a very itchy costume and seeing the different reactions of the children as they came in to receive their presents was a delight!
This role has given me the opportunity to deal with some very difficult issues and bring all my skills from my previous commercial career to bear in a meaningful fashion.
And the icing on the cake is the feeling that I am contributing, albeit in a small way, to society.
Only one; I wish I had done this earlier in my career. All my fellow Governors have full time jobs and manage the time commitment. It has been such a rewarding and stimulating experience and, even now in my 70s, I have learned so much from my role. I would whole-heartedly recommend becoming a Governor to any of you reading this article. It really is worthwhile.
Considering becoming a School Governor? Sign up to Cardiff Connected and join our School Governors’ group to get access to a supportive community and more information.