Barry O’Brien, partner, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer
Overloaded, overcomplicated and overlooked. That’s not a description of a day in the life of a corporate lawyer, but one of the key findings to come out of a new Business in the Community (BITC) report on school governors.
Off the back of that report a national campaign was subsequently launched in October this year, aimed at getting more employers to support their employees to serve as school governors.
The BITC report ‘Governing our Schools’ highlights research conducted by the University of Bath and sponsored by Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer. This shows that there are around 40,000 school governor vacancies in the maintained sector – and that the business and professional community has the ideal skills set to fill these vacancies.
Increasingly head teachers are responsible for – and in many instances overburdened by – complex legal, financial, building, IT and HR issues.
Governors with business and professional experience can be invaluable in supporting them in meeting these challenges.
Ideally, business and professional governors can be at the centre of a wider partnership with the school. At Freshfields, for example, we have developed partnerships with Redlands Primary School in Tower Hamlets and Haggerston Secondary School for Girls in Hackney, where I am a governor.
As well as encouraging volunteers to participate in reading and numeracy programmes, mentoring and work experience, having a Freshfields representative on the board of governors provides the opportunity to tap in to the many other experts in our firm if and when the schools need them.
Being a school governor is a big commitment in terms of time and responsibility, so the individual has to want to do it voluntarily and be able to dedicate the time to the task.
I see our job as partners in the firm as being providers of the support and encouragement that enables our people – partners, associates and non-lawyers – to follow through with these responsibilities.
In particular, at Freshfields we provide the time needed during the working day to enable our school governors to meet their commitments.
Being a school governor is fulfilling and rewarding. All our volunteers find that it enables them to use their skills and knowledge in a different way – one which is beneficial to the school and also, as an additional benefit, to the firm.
Of course, partners can bring a wealth of experience to a school’s governing body. But associates and non-lawyers can also add enormous value by bringing different and diverse skills to the table, particularly to disadvantaged schools.
I believe strongly that the legal community should be encouraging its best and brightest to commit to being school governors. Not only will our schools benefit, but so will our businesses.
Having motivated individuals is what we all want in the workplace, and volunteering as governors enables all of us to use the skills and knowledge we have in a different way.
Readers interested in reading the BITC report – and I hope there are many – can access it at www.bitc.org.uk.