Helen shares her views and experiences of being a trustee as part of our series of Trustees Stories.
I’m a trustee and chair of the board at Northern Star Academies Trust which has eight schools across North and West Yorkshire. The trust currently has 3,500 children and over 500 members of staff, and a turnover of just over £20 million. I joined the board in 2016 but I’ve been involved in governance in schools, as well as in charities, for more than 20 years. I also have a job running a charity.
I first got involved as a parent at my child’s school many years ago. I’ve been on several boards since, and I was asked to join the board of Norther Star given my experience. I quickly became fascinated by governance in schools, as I realised how decisions made far away by the government can impact people locally.
It was about getting involved in my community. It was about securing better outcomes for all children – I wanted to feel that I could make a difference. My interest in the role grew as I was doing it: it gave me an insight into how public money is spent which I found fascinating.
The trust has a strong mission and vision of what we want to achieve for children, and that definitely keeps me motivated.
That’s the number one thing about being a trustee – agreeing a strategy with senior leaders on how to move your trust forward. You need focus and purpose and that’s what enables you to remain engaged.
Strategic thinking is a fundamental quality trustees need to bring. It’s important to understand you are there to help solutions to be found and you do that through supporting and challenging the senior leaders.
Trustees determine the most important things for the children in our schools to be experiencing and achieving. And if you ask any young person their biggest concern these days, it will generally be climate change. So, we developed a strategy to be a Green Trust: to bring in initiatives in estates and in the curriculum. It’s very rewarding to be able to respond to children’s concerns; they have put their trust in us as educators and we cannot let them down.
Without doubt time is the biggest challenge. But if you are strongly motivated to help children and the community then it goes with the territory. I do enjoy the meetings and I enjoy the time I spend with our chief executive because she’s very talented and motivated. Those conversations buoy me up, because when you are together and having those discussions, it spurs you on to believe you can deliver your mission for the children.
I would encourage people to come forward to help local schools and trusts. It is very rewarding and when you go into schools and see the children, you are reminded why you are doing what you are doing. Education is so important for people so that they can achieve the life chances that they deserve and to develop as a as a fully rounded individual. Without good governance, schools would simply not be as effective as they can and should be.