As National Head of Governance Development at the Education and Training Foundation and a certified trainer, Fiona Chalk works as a dynamic influencer and supporter of educational governance and volunteers as a trustee at Plumpton College in East Sussex.

Founded over 100 years ago on a 400-acre plot in the South Downs, Plumpton College is one of the leading land based education centres in the UK, farming 2,500 acres containing a wide variety of animals and livestock centres. The College also delivers many non-farming land based courses, attracting viticulture students from home and further afield with its superb commercial winery facility. The college welcomes international students, local students, apprenticeship students and adult learners and also offers higher education through the associate College of the University of Brighton.

We spoke to Fiona about her motivations for becoming a trustee at Plumpton College, the benefits the role brings both professionally and personally and why she would recommend the role to professionals looking for a development opportunity and the chance to make a difference to young people’s lives.

How did you get involved in the world of governance?

I started work in the corporate sector and moved into the education sector about 15 years ago, first as a governance professional, and then a governance consultant and a board advisor. I’ve worked across all sectors of education – primary, secondary, and further education. For the past year, I’ve been working as the National Head of Governance Development at the Education and Training Foundation, designing and developing training and executive education programmes for college boards. In summary, all the work that I do is dedicated to supporting governing boards, and for those who sit on or work with boards to become people who make an impact through their board work, and that’s basically my passion. I’m a governance geek!

What made you decide to apply for the role of trustee at Plumpton College?

The reasons were twofold: One is about my passion for children, young people, young adults, and others having access to a great education and I wanted to contribute to that as it is such an important part of people’s journey in life. Secondly, I came from a farming background and I think it’s really important when you become a trustee, it is in an area that you know and have a real interest in. I’m a huge supporter of further education, and my first role as a governance professional in FE was actually at the college that I studied at, in Canterbury – I just find FE colleges such inspirational places, all my children have been through further education on their way to university which has underlined my passion for the sector.

What have been the personal and professional benefits of the role?

To feel part of an organisation that’s truly making a difference to thousands of young people’s lives is very rewarding, and to be able to contribute to that, in some small way, is really satisfying – I get a lot of personal satisfaction from seeing our students achieve. On a professional level, sitting on the other side of the table so to speak, to be able to understand the lived experience of a governor in a further education college has served to elevate the work I do professionally to support those college boards in improving their governance.

What has been the most memorable moment in the role?

A standout moment was the college’s achievement of opening One Garden Brighton, which is a beautifully restored walled garden in the heart of Brighton. It has been rediscovered and reinvented with funding from a number of sources, and has recently opened up to the public for the first time ever. It provides a base for students to undertake teaching and learning on a whole raft of subjects, including horticulture, catering – they’ve got a great restaurant – and other subjects such as dog grooming, and it’s phenomenal to see the what the staff and students have achieved there. As well as seeing the enjoyment from students, it also allows the general public to enjoy the experience – I believe it’s one of the leading outdoor attractions in the Brighton area. It’s just wonderful to see and celebrate their achievement.

Would you recommend the role?

I absolutely would. Our students are our future, and what better thing is there to do than invest in them through ensuring that they get a great education and prepare them for life as successful and responsible citizens? I’d recommend it to anybody in a middle or senior management position to take on a trustee role – getting that experience of sitting on the opposite side of the table to the executive provides a fabulous learning experience that can really drive your performance. All the while contributing to a worthy cause –  it’s a win-win situation for everyone.