Ruth’s counting the rewards of volunteering

I’m the sort of person who likes to help or try to make a difference.”

Ruth McFarland

Ruth McFarland is Chair of Governors at Curdworth Primary School, part of the respected Arthur Terry Learning Partnership (ATLP). The qualified chartered accountant and mother of three, first became a volunteer Parent Governor in 2011 before progressing to the role of Chair.

A familiar face in the village of Curdworth, Ruth is no stranger to volunteering. In addition to her governor role, she is Acting Chair of Committee for Curdworth Pre School, Treasurer for School PTFA and a member of Curdworth Events Committee, which this year organised a soapbox race in the village, welcoming around 4,000 spectators.

Just last month, Ruth and her son Jack donned their trainers to take part in the Birmingham Kids Mud Runner race to raise funds towards a new school playground.  Here, the dedicated volunteer talks about her commitment to school and community life.

Why did you become a governor?

I was appointed in November 2011 as a parent governor, voted in by the parents.  Both my parents were governors at my primary school and grammar school in Northern Ireland so when I saw the vacancy I thought I should apply. Plus, I’m the sort of person who likes to help or try to make a difference rather than one that sits back and ‘lets someone else do it.’  Being from Northern Ireland (I moved over in September 2004) until my daughter started school, my husband and I only really had work colleagues and a few nursery parents as friends.  When Emma started Curdworth Primary School in September 2009 this opened up a whole new group of friends, including other parents, so when the vacancy for parent governor was advertised I thought I’d to take the opportunity to try to help improve things for my daughter as well as our friends’ children.

What is the main role of a governor?

To work together as a team to make sure their school provides a good quality education for all pupils.  This means that they must work with the headteacher to raise the standard of education within the school, keeping it as a key priority while leaving the operational (day-to-day) activities the responsibility of the headteacher.

What is your professional/family background and how is it relevant to your governor role?

I’m married to Derrick and we have three children Emma (14) who is a pupil at Sutton Grammar School for Girls and past pupil of Curdworth Primary School, Jack (10) year 5 pupil at Curdworth Primary School and Will (8) currently going through transition from Curdworth Primary School to Evergreen (autism unit) at Water Orton Primary School.  My husband is Managing Director of Keystone Lintels Limited, a manufacturing company based in Swadlincote with head office in Northern Ireland.

I am a chartered accountant with Institute of Chartered Accountants in Ireland.  I qualified with KPMG in Belfast and then moved to KPMG Birmingham office after getting married in 2004.  I worked for 15 years in total with KPMG predominantly in their audit function.

In 2016, I joined Synapse Information Limited in a finance and operations role for 18 months when I decided to put my career on hold to be at home for Will – he needed me to be here for him whilst we got his Educational Health Care Plan approved and during his transition to his new school.  Once he is settled in, I will resume again – I am currently considering my options and not sure what I will end up doing.  Whilst helping Will transition and caring for him at home, I’ve enrolled to complete a diploma in autism through homebased learning – I am keen to ensure Will and other children like him are employable adults when the time comes, with my experience caring for an autistic son and working as an auditor within many businesses over the years coupled with a qualification in autism I really hope I can make a positive impact!

My experience as a chartered accountant helps with being a governor from the finance side of things and running a business whilst my role as a parent brings an understanding from a parental point of view.

What are your responsibilities as Chair of Governors?

To lead the governing body and work closely with the head teacher and senior leadership team providing supportive challenge to ensure each child in school receives the best possible education they can in a safe and friendly environment.

Why should somebody become a governor and who would the role suit?

Anyone who has a positive outlook and a can do/want to help attitude should become a governor.  The role would suit anyone with this attitude that is in any way interested in the education of our young people that can commit to attending meetings, training, doing school visits whilst able to adhere to the confidentiality aspect of the role.  It’s not, for example, a parent who wants to change things within school for their own child/(ren) – it’s a role about the big picture, such as the long-term strategy for the school.

What is the most rewarding part of being a governor?

This has to be going into school, particularly into the classroom during governor visits and witnessing first-hand the happy and enthusiastic children learning in a friendly and safe environment who are more than eager to share their learning with you with great confidence.  In addition, meeting enthusiastic staff right from the headteacher, teachers, teaching assistants, to the receptionist and lunchtime staff who are all working hard together for the children of Curdworth – this makes me proud to be part of the school.

What benefits has your school experienced since joining ATLP?

Being a governor in a MAT, especially with the schools all being so local to Curdworth, as well as the Coleshill School being the one where most of our pupils progress to, is just brilliant.  Being part of something bigger in the local area is just what we needed.

Governors have benefited greatly from the training, networking with other governors, but staff have benefited to no end – the support that Lisa, as headteacher, has had is outstanding from practical help, such as caretaking, finance and HR, as well as the mentoring from the executive headteacher (primary), Anna Balson.  I know that Lisa appreciates this very much and joining has given her the capacity to do her job as headteacher even more effectively.  Also, for other staff members the support has been exceptional, with experienced outstanding staff meeting and sharing their ideas and experiences with our team.

Curdworth Headteacher Lisa Dodd (pictured with pupils from the school) and Ruth are both dedicated to giving children the best opportunities.

Do you have any advice for those who are considering becoming a governor?

Don’t make the decision lightly – there is a time commitment involved to attend meetings, school visits, attend training, and you have to be interested in the overall strategy of the school and not the day to day operational side. Do your research first and the best way to do this is speak to individual governors about their time commitment and experiences – it will keep you busy but also provide great rewards and satisfaction.

What is like to be part of Curdworth Primary School?

The village of Curdworth is a tight-knit community and reminds me of home (Northern Ireland) how residents look out for one another. The school itself is so special because due to its size, everyone knows everyone in the school. It’s a very friendly, safe and supportive setting for our children to learn.  Parents, grandparents and the community as a whole are very supportive and attend fetes, sports day, Christmas productions, fundraising events – they especially love a good raffle!

Lisa and I have a very close working relationship. We both have a positive, ‘can-do’ attitude and don’t mind rolling up our sleeves to get things done. Lisa has done a fantastic job since arriving in our school. She leads by example and gradually introduced the necessary changes to make it what it is today and continually heading for that, dare I say it, outstanding status.  It’s great to work with someone who is so enthused to make Curdworth Primary School the best it possibly can be for each child.

All the staff are brilliant, they are so committed to doing a good job for the children- they’re a small team, but work extremely hard – I saw this first hand when I was in school nearly everyday for seven months helping to support my son – now that’s he’s transitioned to his new school I miss my Curdworth Primary family, but still get to see them in my parental role and Chair of Governors role.

What inspired you to take part in the Birmingham Kids Mud Runner?

Ruth, pictured with her son Jack, regularly helps raise funds for school and community. In June, she was among the members of Curdworth’s Women’s Institute who took part in fundraising activities.

My son Jack and I thought this would be a fun event to take part in, as well as an opportunity to raise some funds to revamp our outdoor space at Curdworth Primary, plus good for our fitness and perhaps that of others!  We managed to rope a few other families in (even three past pupils, which I think shows the community spirit I mentioned earlier).  It was very muddy, but so much fun and we hope to do this again next year and get even more people involved.  So far, we have raised £1,280 and plans are underway as to how we can spend this as well as how to raise even more given the importance of the outdoors for our children.  As SEND Governor I particularly want to ensure we explore how spend can help our children on the SEND register as well as all others.

For anyone interested in making a difference by becoming a governor with the ATLP, please email Claire.swann@atlp.org.uk with a brief pen portrait of your skills and experience.