Developing as a governor: Rachel Kirk, East Coast College

Rachel Kirk joined the governing body at East Coast College in October 2023 after retiring from her role as an Assistant Principal in another college. Early on, the College’s Director of Governance recommended that Rachel and other new governors register for the Education and Training Foundation’s (ETF’s) online Governance Development Programme.

A different kind of role

I became a governor because I really enjoyed my experiences in the sector, and I wanted to feel I was still contributing in some way to Further Education across this part of East Anglia. I had actually been a staff governor years ago, so had some experience. Now I’m link governor for higher education because I was very involved in college-based higher education for many years. My background gives me a certain level of understanding and empathy with the staff. On the other hand, I find it difficult sometimes because I want to get involved but I need to stand back as a governor to support and challenge rather than step in and help out.

Training as a new governor

We have a Director of Governance who highlighted the ETF’s Governance Development Programme to three of us who started as governors last October. She gave us the links to the ETF’s learning management system and asked us to register and start the programme, so I’ve been doing as much as possible since. I was very familiar with the ETF as I’d been a teacher trainer and a quality improvement manager for many years and had worked with them as well as using their CPD, so I knew the training would be tailored to the sector.

First impressions

This is the first time I’ve come across governance training for the sector, and I think it’s really good. I think it’s right that we should do it because it does give you an understanding of your responsibilities. Also, for those people who don’t have an educational background, it gives an understanding of the sector.

I assume each college provides support for its governors in its own way, I don’t suppose there is a standard approach to CPD that boards of governors follow. I think it’s really helpful to have the structured ETF programme of CPD and I hope that colleges generally are using it.

Outline of the ETF’s Governance Development Programme

So far, Rachel has completed 24 courses out of a total of 31. All courses are mapped onto three skill levels – core, proficient and highly effective – to reflect different levels of experience of being a governor and of the sector. Governors can pick and choose courses flexibly from six learning pathways covering:

  1. Being an effective board member
  2. Strategy and educational character
  3. Quality and standards
  4. Finance, risk and audit
  5. Board leadership and organisational development
  6. Curriculum. All courses are free thanks to funding from the Department for Education (DfE).

Rachel’s experience of the online courses

The ETF learning management system is straightforward, it’s very easy to work your way around and to follow. I’ve been able to work through the courses quickly in many cases because I’m familiar with the topics. You can do them at a pace and in a way that you feel comfortable with.

Of the various formats – live workshops, podcasts, self-directed learning materials and online courses – I’ve found the online courses the most useful because they are so flexible. You can sit down and do half an hour on a course then come back a bit later. I like being able to dip in and out of them. Generally, the level has been fine.

Most relevant courses

The courses I’ve found most useful are for finance, risk and audit because these were the areas I was unfamiliar with. I’ve taken ‘Financial management for board members’, ‘Strategic financial management and understanding funding’ and ‘Audit for audit committee members’. There’s a module on leading a committee which I’d like to do if I’m ever asked to lead a committee.

Light bulb moments

I suddenly had a couple of light bulb moments in the strategic financial management course to do with the regulatory framework. It’s all about the governance of the Further Education environment. I thought I understood the regulatory framework, but I hadn’t appreciated the responsibilities and the accountability of the governors in detail. That was really helpful to clarify, because governors actually bear a lot of responsibility and it’s important that we understand what that is.

Learn more and register for the Governance Development Programme courses