We spoke to Portia Bailey who runs the Chief Executive’s Office at the Education and Skills Funding Agency in the Department for Education. Portia joined the board of governors at Runshaw College in Leyland in the North West last year, having been a school governor for five years previously. Runshaw College has around 6000 students and offers a range of options for 16-19 years old as well as adult education and apprenticeships.

Portia Bailey

What made you initially decide to volunteer as a college governor?

I had always wanted to work in education and thought as a relatively new graduate being a school governor would give me some knowledge and experience when applying for roles in this area. Fast-forward five years I had an established career in the Department for Education and a particular interest in apprenticeships and T Levels. With my experience of being a school governor I thought this was a good opportunity to take on more responsibility and become an FE governor.

What skills and insight have you brought to the governing board from your role at the DfE? 

Running the Chief Executive’s office in the ESFA means I have a good knowledge and oversight of the whole organisation – this has allowed me to see the big picture when working with the college and ensure the rest of the board also understand this. I have a really good grasp of the new T Level programme which my college are rolling out this September, so I have offered to be the link governor to support the college in this area.

What skills have you taken from volunteering as a college governor back into the DfE? How has this helped you in your role?

Being a governor has allowed me to really understand how the policy we develop in the department is realistically delivered, and the impact of the decisions we make on young people and adults in the FE system. For example, throughout the pandemic, decisions were being made at such pace, it was extremely helpful to be able to feed back to the DfE in real time how the sector was coping with them.

I now have experience of sitting on a senior board which holds a lot of responsibility, and this has increased my confidence to challenge in my role and makes similar situations in the DfE seem less daunting. On a personal note, being a governor has also helped me identify new options and opportunities for my future career path.

Would you recommend the role of governor to others working in the DfE/The Civil Service?

We are so lucky that in the DfE we all have five volunteering days a year, and what better way to spend them than by giving back to your local community and developing your knowledge about the education system. I would recommend that you sign up to Inspiring Governance to explore the opportunities in your area and you can decide what type of school or college you are interested in governing. You can also contact the DfE Governor and Trustee Network, which I co-chair and which organises regular teach-in sessions on becoming a governor, L&D to help develop your skills, and mentors for new governors.

Once you join a governing board, I would recommend spending some time in the education setting getting to know students and staff so you can really understand the strengths and challenges the college has. I’ve always been a link governor to an area I’m passionate about, such as careers, apprenticeships or T Levels and then have been able to spend more time in the college focusing on this, using my expertise to advise and help develop this area.

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