Volunteer stories: making a difference in education



Pupils in class

Professor Joe Yates is the Pro-Vice-Chancellor for the Faculty of Arts, Professional and Social Studies. In his other life, he’s a school governor. We chat with him to find out more about this other pivotal role.

There are over a quarter of a million volunteers governing state-funded schools in England. Being a school governor is a varied and challenging role, yet the positive impact it has on children’s education is hugely rewarding, as Joe can attest to.

Joe Yates

Joe was a sports governor at a primary school for four years. Each year he helped out on the school’s week-long outward bound trip, giving support to the children who found it physically challenging. He went on to support a local sixth form college, contributing his valuable experience gained from working in higher education. He is currently based at a special school in Sefton, which is particularly significant for him:

“On a professional level, I am passionate about inclusion and diversity. On a personal level – my eldest son has disabilities so I felt it was important for me to support a special school in particular. I also grew up in the area where the school is located so I wanted to give back to that community.”

Being involved in decision making to support the education of pupils with special needs presents a new, yet rewarding, set of challenges for Joe:

“The role of governor at a special school has the added dimension of ensuring the school does its very best to support the different needs of the pupils and that the curriculum and support available is calibrated to their needs. The school needs to act as an advocate for those individuals and I feel, as a governor, you need to really advocate for these children and young people too.”

He and his fellow governors support the school leadership team to develop a shared vision of providing an inclusive learning environment for the pupils which supports their growth and delivers educational excellence.

Chairing the Performance and Quality Committee at the school, he has played a key role in revising their committee structure to deliver better outcomes. He was also able to connect the school to the outdoor learning programme known as Forest School, provided through LJMU’s School of Education, so they can offer the programme to their pupils. In addition, Joe is looking at developing a pilot programme to develop resilience in children with learning disabilities to help better protect them from criminal exploitation.


“It’s extremely rewarding. The personal and professional growth you can gain from volunteering is fantastic. Giving back to the community is important for me on a personal level – but I have also learned a lot and it has encouraged me to look at things, in my own role, differently.”

Joe is able to bring what he has learned from higher education to his governor role.

“My role in the university helps inform my role as a school governor in terms of the transferable leadership skills I have developed working with colleagues in the Faculty of Arts, Professional and Social Studies. Things I’ve learned here at LJMU are also transferable to my volunteer role and vice versa. I feel volunteering as a governor in a school for children and young people with special educational needs really makes me appreciate the challenges and opportunities that difference and diversity bring. It’s a great leveller and reminds me why I got into education in the first place.”

Why volunteer?

Here are just some of the benefits of volunteering:

  • It helps you build confidence
  • You’ll gain a sense of wellbeing and achievement
  • You can learn new skills
  • You can make new friends
  • It can help enhance your employment prospects
  • It’s fun
  • You’ll be recognised for your hard work
  • It makes a positive impact
  • You’ll gain a better understanding of the challenges that affect people and society
  • You’ll work as part of a team and experience a sense of belonging
  • It can provide a welcome distraction from stressful circumstances in your own life
  • You’ll spend your spare time in a meaningful way

Want to find out more about becoming a school governor? Take a look at the Inspiring Governance website. If you’d like to find out about other opportunities to volunteer, take a look at our volunteering section.

The 'Making a Difference' Awards recognise the fantastic volunteer work that our staff and students take part in. If you know an individual or a group that deserves to be recognised, please complete a nomination form.



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