How long have you been on the governing body?
I have served as an LEA-appointed governor of Wellington Primary School in Tower Hamlets since February 2008. Wellington is a state primary school with 220 pupils, and is my local primary school.
I attended a state primary school myself and then was the first person in my family to go to university, so I know the value of a good education, especially during the early years. That's why I am passionate about raising aspirations, helping young people reach their potential and being an active citizen engaged in my local community. Becoming a governor was a perfect way to do this, allowing me to combine my passion for education with the ability to use my professional skills and experiences to become actively involved in the management of my local school and help the pupils and teachers as much as I can.
What are your particular areas of responsibility or interest on the governing body?
Most of my work is done as a member of the full governing body, where governors work with the head teacher and senior staff leadership team to set the school's strategy, manage the budget, and oversee every aspect of the running of the school, from teaching quality to managing the current construction programme under which many of our classrooms will be refurbished and new teaching facilities will be built.
In addition, I have also been elected Chair of the Curriculum & Standards Sub-Committee which monitors the quality of teaching at the school and works with the teachers to raise standards and hit our targets for exam results. It has been very satisfying and inspiring to see the progress that the children have made over the 2 and a half years that I've been a governor, and the dedication and enthusiasm of the teachers. I also sit on the Headteacher's Performance Review panel, where I work with our headteacher to ensure he is achieving the targets that he and the local education authority have set. I have also arranged for a class of Year 6 children to visit my former university (Cambridge University) as part of an access initiative to encourage state school children to apply to university, and in particular to consider Oxbridge.
I have led the creation of a school breakfast club, working with child nutrition charity Magic Breakfast. Magic Breakfast is small charity of which I am trustee, and we partnered with investment bank Morgan Stanley, to fund a breakfast club, which will allow 20 underprivileged children each morning to have a nutritious breakfast (bagels, cereal, fruit and juice) before they start school. Wellington serves a largely deprived inner-city community in East London, we have a high proportion of children taking free school meals, and we found that some children were coming to school without having had breakfast, which affected their ability to concentrate in class. I personally sponsored the cost of the milk for cereal for the first year to kick-start the project, and since we launched it in February 2010, the breakfast club has been a great success, and the children not only get a nutritious start to the day, but also start the learning day in a gentle way by playing numeracy and literacy games with volunteers from Morgan Stanley.
Working with a local credit union, I have also supported the creation of a school bank, which allows every pupil to start a bank account to encourage them to get into the habit of saving, which will stand them in good stead when they become consumers themselves. Only deposits can be made at the school (no withdrawals), so hopefully by the time each pupils leaves the school, they will have some savings as they move onto secondary school. It only takes to open an account, and I have said to the headtaeacher that I will give any child that needs it £1 to start their account if they promise to keep saving – so far the response has been good!
How has your firm supported your involvement with the school?
Clifford Chance works with the Governors One Stop Shop to encourage as many employees as possible to become governors, which is how I got involved myself. The Firm has allowed me to attend governors' meetings and read papers, and the time spent on school governor duties (and indeed other community and pro-bono activities) are taken into account during appraisals and calculating performance-related bonuses, so the Firm has been supportive of my work.
I have also arranged for senior staff from the school to use our meeting rooms for strategy planning (a quiet space to work away from the noise of a primary school), and I am also hoping to arrange for a class of Yr 4 and 5 children to visit our office (which is a 30-storey tower in Canary Wharf) to paint the view from the 30th floor, especially as we can see the Olympic Village and much of East London from there!
What have you learned from being a governor?
I have enjoyed working with the full range of people involved in running a school and making it successful, from parents and pupils to teachers and colleagues from the local education authority and local community groups and charities who support schools.
Being a governor means you are responsible for the long-term future of the school and everyone connected to it, especially the pupils and teachers. Schools are subject to large numbers of policies , law and regulation, but the experience of doing legal work certainly helped. My service as a governor has also helped me to develop my project management, finance and leadership skills, especially as we must take a long-term perspective on the decisions we make. Chairing committees, and leading projects where my colleagues are usually older than me has allowed me to draw on their experiences and ideas, and to be better at listening to a variety of views and opinions.
I am very interested in education policy, and look forward to contributing to the Conservatives' developing policy on schools and education, and being involved first-hand in a school has given me a much broader perspective on issues ranging from school standards and exams to school food and how schools in a local area learn from and support each (for example, Wellington is part of a network of similar schools in East London that work in partnership with secondary schools to share best practice).
What was the greatest challenge?
Our excellent headteacher left a year after I joined the governing body to take up a similar post at a larger school nearby, leaving the Wellington governors with the great challenge of appointing a successor. We felt that appointing the right headteacher was crucial to being able to achieve our long-term objectives which included maintaining the progress we had made in terms of exams results and school standards. We wanted someone who would lead and inspire the teachers, have the confidence of parents and pupils, and who shared our vision of raising aspirations, as well as being someone who would fit well into the school's fabric and get on well with all its community stakeholders. Thankfully, we found a great replacement, and the selection process reminded me of how important a strong and inspiring headteacher is to keep a school happy and successful.
Would you recommend it to others?
Absolutely. Schools, especially in our inner cities, depend on volunteers for their governors, so all lawyers, non-lawyers, parents and school staff can and should feel encouraged to get involved. Professionals of all backgrounds have a huge amount to offer in terms of expertise, contacts and ideas. Aside from their legal skills which will help in understanding and implementing the many policies that schools are subject to, lawyers in particular bring substantial project management, team-work and leadership skills to a governing body giving lawyers a fantastic platform to make a valuable contribution to their local school and the life chances of young people in their local communities.
Alan is raising funds for the Magic Breakfast by running the Royal Parks Half Marathon later this year. If you would to support him please visit http://www.justgiving.com/alanmagicbreakfast