Developing as a governor: Pat O’Neill, South and City College Birmingham

Pat O’Neill is a longstanding governor at South & City College Birmingham and shares his experience of using the Education and Training Foundation’s (ETF’s) online courses for governance development. Previously a banker and now retired, he has enjoyed contributing his expertise to the governing body of one of the largest vocational colleges in the UK.

Pat’s journey to becoming a governor

As I approached retirement, I put my name forward to become a governor. I knew the college well from my working days as it was one of the accounts I looked after at the bank. I was responsible for not-for-profit accounts and education was part of my brief.

I’m registered blind. I lost my sight for unknown reasons when I was an adult with a young family, already working at the bank. I had to learn Braille and how to use aids for walking and so on, and it was very challenging. The bank was very good, they helped me a lot, as did The Queen Alexandra College in Birmingham. I had to start a new life and I finished up as a Business Development Manager at the bank.

As a result of my professional and personal experience, I felt I had something to contribute to education after retirement and that being a governor would be a worthwhile thing to do.

How Pat started using the ETF’s Governance Development Programme

Being treated equally has been the highlight of being a governor. Undertaking training like any other governor to develop my knowledge and skills is part of that. Governors are expected to know more and more now, so it’s important to have expert input. Our Head of Corporate Governance, Parveen Ghulam, alerted the governing body to the ETF governance development programme and the online courses in particular, recommending that we take up the offer as it would be good quality from the ETF.

How Pat found the online governance modules

The training was tremendous. It took me a while to get through the courses, but the learning management system helped with my sight impairment. The use of audio throughout helped me a lot. Everything about the content was good. It was easy to read and easy to learn. The length was good – I found the level of detail just about right and I was able to relate to a lot of the material on there.

Background on the ETF’s Governance Development Programme

Pat completed five courses in total mapped onto three skill levels – core, proficient and highly effective:

  • Introduction to curriculum design and planning (Core)
  • Understanding your curriculum offer and student profile (Core)
  • Board responsibilities and duties for senior postholders (Proficient)
  • Partnership working (Highly Effective)
  • Board involvement at inspection (Highly effective).

Governors can pick courses flexibly according to interest and experience. With over 30 short courses on offer in six learning pathways, there is something for every role and level of experience. All courses are free thanks to funding from the Department for Education (DfE). The aim is to support and equip governors like Pat with the necessary skills, knowledge and behaviours to fulfil their responsibilities with confidence and help their boards to operate effectively.

Outcomes from Pat’s learning experience

The ETF’s online courses have given me more confidence. I was glad to get fresh input on what is needed in key areas like curriculum planning and partnership working. It is always good to have another perspective from someone knowledgeable. Afterwards I was able to compare notes and discuss the training with other governors on my board who had completed the same course, thanks to co-ordination by our Head of Corporate Governance. Undertaking the training as a group then discussing together afterwards was recommended by the course and it really helped to embed the learning.

I enjoyed the course on ‘Board involvement at inspection’ the most. I feel I can now go into a meeting with inspectors with some confidence and know what they are likely to ask.

Learn more and register for the Governance Development Programme courses