It was a successful chief executive who turned to Richard Levinge and said he knew the skillset he needed for the boardroom – but being a school governor was a different challenge altogether.
It is just one of the anecdotes which began to chime with the former financial advisor who was also a business manager for one of the biggest firms on the Gloucestershire legal scene.
It was that law firm that introduced him to the then fast-growing world of academy schools – one of its specialisms.
But as a school governor he was already having conversations about the changing demands around schools and what was fast-becoming an increasingly complex.
“I am a Governor at Milestone School and went to some of the training on offer. I found it very dry – reading power points and ticking boxes. I thought there was an opportunity to introduce some training for good quality governance,” said Mr Levinge, who had run his own financial services firm before selling it to the Jelf Group.
It was these experiences which led him to found Ease Training in 2013 to “bring life and vibrancy to organisational governance” and introduce “training events and bespoke consultancy in the education and charity sectors”.
He began quietly at first, testing the water. But his hunch that there was pent-up demand proved correct and word about Ease Training has spread fast with the company now working across the West and beyond.
In other parts of the country the pressure on governors has brought the demands of the modern role into sharp focus.
Earlier this year a governors in West Sussex wrote to MPs threatening to go on strike at being asked to implement budget cuts which will make staff at their school redundant.
“You might be part of a group of academies responsible for a budget of £14million and the same number of staff as a medium-sized company.
“Governors are not just responsible for money, but also for safeguarding and good governance generally,” explained Mr Levinge, who is also a former chairman of bereavement charity Cruise.
He runs the business with digital marketing manager Amber Smith and 20-plus speakers covering subjects as diverse as charity trustee training, digital health, staff well-being, and implementing effective assessments.
“We knew first-hand that good governance isn’t just about formal, professional skills. It’s at least as much about relationships and confidence: how people behave and work together to tackle complex strategic challenges,” said Ms Smith, A former pupil at Pate’s Grammar School and Psychology graduate of Bristol University Ms Smith worked for Winston’s Wish and WellChild before completing her Master’s degree at Bath University.
“Our training starts with a focus on professional competence, but integrates work to build individual and team confidence. So volunteers feel better equipped and ‘at Ease’ in their governance role.”