Sunday, 7 November 2010

You couldn't pay me to do it

I've had these thoughts going round in my head for a while. They first started after reading posts on Garry's Blog up North and Kate's Five F's Blog and resurfaced again when @ModernGovernor asked a question via Twitter.

The question was "Should School Governors be paid?"

I have been a school governor at the mini me's school for over three years now and a governor at another school for over 18 months. If you are not aware, a school governor is a member of the board of governors in state schools and this board acts as the "critical friend" to a school. It is the board of governors that set the policies and procedures that a school works by and ensures that they work to those policies and procedures. It is there to support the work of the staff but also to challenge in areas where they think there could be improvements made. All governors are currently volunteers (although in some schools out of pocket expenses may be reimbursed).

It's the word volunteer that Garry and Kate inspired me to write about . They have both given a substantial amount of their time to causes they believe in and if you read the posts that are linked, you will see that they were both at a cross roads about their continued involvement in their chosen activities.

It made me think about my volunteering career (I use the word career deliberately) and what I had got out of it and possibly more importantly, what I was going to get out of it in the future.

In the late 80's and early 90's (I know, you didn't think I was that old) I was one of Maggie's Millions. I had gone to Tertiary College (remember them?) but didn't do very well for reasons that I don't really want to go into now. I went and was "lucky" enough to get a position as a trainee draughtsman. A very respectable job for someone who had done fairly well at school but appallingly at college. However, that only lasted for 12 months and while I did get to go on some excellent site visits (Elkes Biscuits in Uttoxeter was a regular jaunt where we got to wander around the Farley's Rusks bakery. The aroma still haunts me) most of the time I was used as a labourer for the building work that my employer was having done and when that was complete, amazingly so was my traineeship. As I entered an enforced sabbatical I decided that I needed to fill my time with something constructive.

And so it was I became a compulsive volunteer. My childhood ambition had been to work in the radio industry so I thought the best way to find my way down that path was to volunteer at my local hospital radio station. I was at the point of my life when I had no responsibilities, so working towards a life ambition was the right thing to do. Initially I was just working in the station two nights a week and neither of them entailed any radio work. The station was funded via a shop that sold refreshments to staff, visitors and patients. All new volunteers had to do a stint working the shop before even getting anywhere near a studio. But that was OK. I was asked to do the Saturday and Monday evening stints. This worked out quite well. The Saturday night was an incredibly quiet shift. Most people had a life so there were fewer visitors. This meant I could chat and, in effect, become the producer of the late night Saturday Show. The Monday night was even better because this was the night the shop stock run happened and the station board met. This meant I got to know everybody of influence (and all those who hung around trying to kiss ass) quite well. It was also the night that new volunteers were interviewed and tried to get to know the ropes. All in all an excellent networking opportunity.

I won't go into detail about my time at that hospital radio station. I have plenty more blogs to write and they can fill some of them. Suffice to say that I enjoyed my time so much there that I spent all day every day there. And when I say all day it was often from 9 o'clock in the morning until gone midnight. It wasn't all about the radio. I grew to love the community aspects of the station more and more. Not just the social side with the other volunteers (most of my current friends are from those days) but also how the station served the hospital community. The shop was an obvious example, and we had regular customers that we got to know as well as their background stories. We also realised what an important service we were providing for them.

And then there were the ward visits. These didn't happen as often as they should but were always well appreciated when they took place. The maternity unit was a regular source of requests, although when asked to play a song for them once, I neglected to check what was next on the turntable.

 After a couple of years I realised that I needed to get out and earn a crust again. So instead of applying for every job in radio that I could I decided that I wanted to be a teacher. Once again I thought how can I prove to myself that this was the right route to go down. I know. I'll volunteer at my local primary school and see how I like it.

I loved it. I spent the next three or four years spending most of my days supporting in the classroom of a year 6 class. The most amazing moment of my life was when one of the pupils was given here Maths SATS score (of which I had given her specific one to one tutelage in order to get a Level 3). She got a Level 4 and promptly burst into tears. She ran over and gave me a hug. That's a fantastic feeling to think that you have been able to help somebody achieve their potential. I've often seen the recruitment ads that show famous people talking about teachers that have inspired them and I now from that experience that it isn't all flannel. Teachers really do shape the future of our children and good ones need to be nurtured as much as the children.

So I went to college (to do a business and finance qualification. Don't ask). Although technically it was a full time course, i had lectures two days a week which left me with three days to spend volunteering in the school (as much in the school office as the classroom) and the weekends to carry on with my hospital radio (now in the children's hospital where I eventually rose to be the station manager and station director at various times).

At some point I also became a town councillor in my home town. Another voluntary position which started to take up evenings again. As far as local politics is concerned it was the Blue Square Conference compared to the bright lights of the Premiership (or national government) but it was interesting. It also allowed me to become a school governor for the first time. I was appointed the town council rep on the board of governors where I had been volunteering for a long time. I didn't get up to speed as far as being a governor was concerned as I was only appointed on a one year basis and as luck would have it, thanks to my voluntary work in the school and my successful completion of my college course, I was appointed to a part time post working for the LEA that the school was in. As this was seen as a clash of interests at the time (it is now considered a benefit to the school, how times change) The director of Education wouldn't let me be reappointed as a governor again.

The part time job soon became a full time job (13 years ago this week) and unfortunately within a year or two the hospital radio station that I was involved in, was closed down by the hospital trust. For the first time in over ten years I was no longer a volunteer. I was by then engaged to my beautiful fiance (she will read this) and my relationship and subsequent wedding became my number one priority. I moved to the posh end of the county to live with her and married bliss ensued.

There was something missing though. I felt that I needed to get back into radio. My local station had recently advertised for volunteers so I thought I would send in a letter to see what would happen. To my surprise they asked me in for a chat and said they needed someone to support their Saturday afternoon sports show. I wouldn't be doing anything on air but I would be preparing all the cuts that would be featured in the programme from the football commentaries that were coming in as well as being in touch with the local football and rugby teams for score updates. It was almost like a real job in radio, without the money.

For five hours a week I was doing what I enjoyed most. Volunteering. And it was in an area I loved as well. Eventually, the live sports show was axed and a pre recorded show was scheduled in its place. however, to meet their local remit they still needed some sports inserts. My first paid employment in radio no less. And an on air position (sort of) as well. Of course, I was the only one in the studio complex at the time and once the initial excitement had worn off, it became more like a job. I think that this is when I realised that there are some things that I enjoyed because the biggest pressure was from me to get things as perfect as possible. When somebody started giving me money to do it, it became an obligation and a chore. The challeng, if anything had gone up a notch, but the difficulty hadn't. I just lost all  the things that I enjoyed about the role. The biggest one being that it was voluntary.

My first mini me came along and the people at the station were fantastic but I saw this as a perfect opportunity to make a break. I decided that if I couldn't make a living from being in radio, and now with a family to support that was my first priority, then I would make sure that I lavished time on them instead of money.

Voluntary work is still something I love to do and when the opportunity to be a governor at my childrens school I jumped at the opportunity to give my time freely and, hopefully, make a difference in their education. I have also volunteered as part of my local community radio station which has given me the taste once more.

As I said at the start, this post was originally inspired by Garry and Kate and was just meant to be me rambling on about my voluntary career. Then the question about paying governors was raised by Modern Governor which set me thinking. Would I enjoy being a governor as much if I was financially recompensed? Certainly not. I would feel as though there was an ulterior motive for some, if not all, of the governors to be there. They may not all be there to do the best for the pupils and the school. there top priority may be to supplement their income. This may be an incentive to attract good people into governing, but it isn't, in my opinion, the est way to motivate the volunteers to do their best work. If the motives are more pure then i think the effort and work done by the governing body is more honest.

Footnote: Since I started writing this blog post the government have announced that they intend to force jobless to do work. This insenses me. If it is something that would be done by willing volunteers, then set up some sort of organisation to co-ordinate the volunteers, but if there is no one willing to do it for nothing and there is no money in the coffers to pay for it to be done then it doesn't get done, When I was out of work, I was rewarded for doing voluntary work with a small weekly addition to my benefits. It wasn't something that would tempt me to turn down gainful employment if it came my way, but it recognised the effort that I had put back into my local community whilst underemployed. I did have to go out and find my own voluntary work, although I had put that particular cart before the horse successfully. If the current government were to introduce the reward in return for the community service work then I would say all power to their elbow.However, it does seem that the scheme that has been drawn up is more akin to a community service order that the courts would punish a petty criminal with and this, in my opinion, is Dickensian in it's thinking. Why not go the whole hog and reintroduce the workhouse.

Any way, rant over. I promise that my next blog post will be a more light hearted one about drowning.

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