HR can make a huge difference in school governance

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HR's role in the school sector is weak, far behind many other public service organisations

As I walked my son to his primary school on the first day of term we saw a beautiful rainbow arched over the building. The headteacher greeted us smiling and told the children that she had specially ordered the rainbow to welcome them back to school.

School leaders are performing all sorts of miracles every day as they grapple with the major challenges in the school sector. One of those is the biggest teacher recruitment and retention crisis in our time, which is also affecting the talent pool for school leadership.

This matters to us all, whether parents ourselves wanting a good education for our kids, or major employers waiting for the next pool of talent to emerge from the school system.

It is no coincidence that the role of HR in the school sector is weak. It is far behind the curve of many major public or commercial services and is still incredibly transactional and old fashioned. Some are bucking this trend and there is emerging HR talent in the sector, but it is nowhere near at scale. I am making it my mission to change this.

Governance is important here. Academy Ambassadors is an organisation that helps match skilled professionals to multi-academy trust boards. Academy trusts are essentially charitable bodies that run schools in a local area, and at a national level. Academy Ambassadors research has shown that relatively few academy trust school groups have an HR professional on their main trustee board. This is no doubt the same for individual school governing bodies. School leaders and trust CEOs therefore are not getting the challenge and support they need to develop great people practice.

Added to this, the academy trust sector has seen some bad apples tar its reputation on governance themes that many HR directors will be well versed in: executive remuneration, culture and ethics.

When I speak to school leaders about these issues they often rise to the challenge and want better HR. The door is open.

You can make a huge difference to your local school and a local or national group of schools by volunteering for a governance role. This could be a school governing body or a multi-academy trust (some of which are now major national charities).

Experienced HR professionals can bring so much to the table, contributing to good governance ethics and supporting school leadership and the board to know what to expect from effective HR practice. You are also having a direct input into the education of your future workforce and can help the school or trust understand what employers are looking for.

The CIPD has long championed school governance as a great volunteering opportunity for HR as it recognises it can give people good continuing professional development and board-level experience. I want as many HR professionals as possible to put this on their new year’s resolution list and volunteer to get involved.

I can guarantee you won’t regret it. Working with schools was the best career decision I ever made and is full of joy and reward. While we can’t always bring rainbows, we can make a huge difference to the education and life chances of children.

Mandy Coalter is founder of Talent Architects, a trustee of the Diocese of Coventry Multi Academy Trust and former director of people at United Learning

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