The 2021 Festival of Education took place online over two weeks. This year, like always, there was great diversity of topics and speakers. I’m very grateful to the organisers for featuring governance too. Katie Paxton and I had a “fireside” chat about “Governance during and after the pandemic”. You can watch our session using this link.
Schools Week published my top blogs of the week.
This week’s top blogs cover leadership lessons from the ‘death of football’ (@daisychristo), making the most of the final weeks of term (@missdcox ), safeguarding (@HelenStevenson4) and attitudes to disabilities (@bennewmark) .
Gary Lineker is not dead and neither is football – yet @daisychristo
If you follow Daisy Christodoulou on Twitter you’ll know that she is very knowledgeable about assessment. You may also be aware that she is a keen follower of both cricket and football; the latter being the subject of this blog, which contains plenty of lessons for school leaders.
Continued in Naureen Khalid’s blogs of the week, 26 April 2021
On 15th April 2021, I attended the launch of Maria O’Neil’s book Proactive Pastoral Care. I was delighted that Maria asked me to be on the panel. I had read the book with my governor hat on and had made some notes in preparation. I thought it would be good to share these, so here goes.
The first thing which I liked about the book is that it makes you think what you can do about pastoral care proactively rather than waiting till something needs a reaction from you. As governors, we hold school leaders to account and we should check if systems and processes are there to stop something happening as well as how school leaders deal with things after they happen ie holding them to account for the proactive as well as the reactive.
Maria’s book is useful for governors as it gives us indications of what to hold the school leaders to account for as far as pastoral care is concerned. For example, right at the beginning of the book Maria talks about what she considers to be the core elements of proactive pastoral care: character education, parental engagement and PSHE curriculum. So, right at the start of the book this gives governors three lines of enquiry. She also talks about school culture. The first core role of governors is to ensure there is clarity of vision, ethos and strategic direction. Ethos is a Greek word meaning character. Much of what Maria discusses in the book, such as well being, school culture, eliminating bullying, character education etc all contribute to the ethos or character of the organisations we govern and therefore reading this book can help governors fulfil part of their first core role.
I loved the fact that Maria makes the point that character education isn’t about fixing people and that it isn’t only about what happens in PSHE lessons. Again, this helps governors judge whether or not character education is the golden thread which runs through the whole school curriculum.
Governing boards should ensure that they engage with stakeholders. In fact, NGA has proposed that this be the fourth core role of governors. Maria has a whole chapter on community pastoral engagement which governors would find useful.
I’m very glad that Maria has included a chapter on e-safety. Again, this will give governors valuable insights into this topic and help them plan how to ask the right questions of their school leaders.
Finally, I love the questions for Reflections at the end of each chapter and the space to write down your thoughts. These include questions the board can ask itself such as
How would you describe your school culture? Does it provide the most ideal growing situation?
What are your school values?
And questions to ask of school leaders such as
How often do staff receive pastoral training?
What opportunities do your curriculum and teaching provide for character development?
Maria’s book is very easy to read and you can dip in and out of it. I have really enjoyed reading Maria’s book and I know I will be using it in the future.
Last year when I published a blog celebrating seven years of blogging, I did it as the nation went into lockdown. At that time I didn’t think that we would still be living with restrictions a year later. But we are and, like last year, I am going to celebrate eight years of blogging because it’s an important milestone for me and because I think maintaining routines are even more important during stressful times.
Because of the strange year we’ve lived through, I didn’t blog as much as I normally do. When I started blogging, I wasn’t sure how long I would keep going or if people would want to read my posts. Eight years later I have build up a following for which I am very grateful. A look at the past year.
The top ten most viewed posts were
And the most viewed post was
The top ten search term which brought people to my site were
- ofsted questions for governors
- questions ofsted ask governors
- ofsted questions for governors
- section 6 school governors handbook
- avoiding influenced company status definition
- are school governors meetings minutes public
- local authority influenced cannot exceed 19.9%
- avoiding influenced company status
- ofsted handbook word version
- governing matters
I’m glad people are thinking about influenced company status. It’s important that people who govern academies know and understand this. The blog in which I discuss this arose out of a twitter discussion which is one of the reasons why I am on twitter.
Blogging has given me the confidence to write some other pieces too. During the past year I have been fortunate enough to be asked to contribute an article for the digital journal published by the Confederation of School Trusts. I decided to focus on chairing a local governing body in a big multi-academy trust. I have also started doing blog reviews for Schools Week; the latest can be read here. If you blog on governance or know someone who does, please let me know. I would love to feature more voices from the governance world. If there are blogs which you think governors would be interested in even if they are not directly related to governance, then please send those my way too. Schools Week also published my Lockdown Diary: A week in the life of a school governor.
Visible governance is very important to me and I am happy to do my bit to raise the profile of governance and governors in any way I can. For this reason I was honoured to have been given an opportunity to speak by the Chiltern Teaching School Alliance, at IGNITE which was one of the events marking 50th anniversary of BELMAS and during the #GLTNationalInsetDay and the #BBReignite events.
I have enjoyed blogging and sharing my thoughts with you during these eight years. Thank you to all who read/comment/share my blogs. Hopefully, I’ll see you at my 9th anniversary party! Till then, stay well and keep governing.
Flora Cooper, Headteacher, put on a fabulous event on Saturday 13th March. The event was titled Reignite: Burn Bright. Flora’s idea behind this was that we have had a crazy year and now is the time to remind everyone why we do what we do. She asked presenters to prepare talks which would be ten minutes long and would aim to fire up the audience. She wanted this event to be a “chance to remind everyone in education the impact they have on those they work with and the difference they are making to the world. It’s also a chance to encourage them to #BurnBrighter so that together we can make the system look the way we want it for our children”. It was a fabulous event with some really inspiring speakers and me! You can read the tweets from the session using this link.
I was honoured to have had the opportunity to present. My slides and accompanying notes are below.
I’m going to be talking about governance today and I hope I can ignite an interest in governance in you.
There are about 250,000 governors in England. Legally people can’t be paid to be governors so we are all volunteers. This makes us one of the largest volunteer forces in the country.
Coming to our role now: The purpose of governance is to provide confident leadership. Board members are strategic, non-executive leaders of the organisation. Irrespective of the type of organisation we lead, we have three core functions. Our first core role is to ensure there is clarity of vision (so everyone knows where we want to be in the next year, 3 years, 5 years and so on), that there is clarity of ethos (so that everyone is clear about our values) and that there is clarity of strategic direction (so everyone understands how we will get to our destination and make the vision a reality).
Our second core function is to hold the executive leaders of the school to account for the performance of the pupils, performance of the school and the performance management of staff.
State schools are funded by public money. We are custodians of this public money. Our third core function relates to this. We have to look after the financial performance of the school and ensure that money is well spent.
As strategic leaders board members bring about school improvement indirectly. Being custodians of the vision and finances, we ensure that the resources are allocated to best achieve the strategic goals. Through our monitoring and by in-depth questioning of data we help drive school improvement. And finally, we provide support to the executive leaders, the heads.
It is important to remember that a school governor is a governor for all children and it is our responsibility to ensure that each child is given a chance to burn bright and shine.
You undoubtedly realise that how important these three core roles are. Because our work involves these important roles, governance must be effective if we are to provide the best possible education to every child. For governance to be effective, the Governance handbook says we need leadership which is strategic and which understands accountability. We need people with the correct skills and the right structures in place and the board needs to understand compliance and evaluation.
The National Governance Association lists eight elements of effective governance which are:
- Ensuring that the right people are around the table
- Understanding roles & responsibilities
- Good chairing
- Professional clerking
- Good relationships based on trust
- Knowing the school
- Commitment to asking challenging questions
- Confidence to have courageous conversations
The board leadership is the accountable leadership of the organisation. The current educational system is one of high stakes accountability. The board leadership faces accountability pressures itself from central government, from local authorities, from communities etc. Effective boards ensure that they hold the executive leadership to account in a way which doesn’t lead to fear in the organisation but instead is a way of determining what isn’t working and putting it right. The work of governors is one of supporting and challenging school leaders. Governance is most effective when there is balance between the challenge and support we offer the school leaders.
During the present COVID crisis, we have to adjust that a little bit so that we are offering more support to our school leaders. They are working under extremely trying circumstances so it’s up to us to ensure that instead of burning out, they continue to burn bright.
You may be wondering why I think it is important that teachers know about governance and governors.
Well, firstly if you work in an organisation then you should know how it is governed and who governs it. Schools are no different so you should have some idea of who your governors are and what they do.
If you understand governance and what your governors are trying to achieve then we can all move forward in the same direction to bring about school improvement and burn brighter together and this means that there is less chance of a “us and them” feeling or culture developing which, if it does, can be very toxic.
The other reason I wanted to talk about governance today is that we would love it if more teachers joined governing boards and I hope that my talk will make you want to find out more and eventually join a board. I’ve talked a little bit about the core role of governors so you know what you’ll have to do if you join a board. Obviously, before you join a board, you would also want to know about the benefits of joining a board.
Firstly, it’s very valuable CPD. You gain experience in thinking strategically, looking at problems using a strategic lens and thinking of long term solutions.
If you join the board of a different school, then you gain understanding of how others do things differently to you. Your school may be facing similar problems and the board you’re on may have different solutions to the same problem. You bring that knowledge back to your school. The board you’re serving on benefits from your experience and different perspective too.
Serving on the board of a different school and being exposed to different practises helps you reflect on your own practice which is always a good thing.
Working as a governor means you gain experience of looking at budgets, at finance, at HR etc. This experience will be especially useful if you want to go for senior leader or headship positions in the future.
Joining a board is a very good way of building your network beyond your own school or trust.
Another great advantage of serving on the board of a different school is that you may get a chance to be involved with appointing a senior leader or even a head. You will get to see how boards go about what is perhaps one of the most important jobs they have to do. Again, this experience will be invaluable if you decide to go for these positions yourself one day.
As a member of a governing board, you will obviously learn about governance and this knowledge will help you work better with your own board.
You would have developed specialist knowledge and skills as part of your job. You will know a lot about assessment, curriculum development, safeguarding, SEND etc. This knowledge will be invaluable to the board you join.
As a staff member, you are already helping pupils in your school. By joining a different board you will help pupils of that school burn brighter too.
I hope this has given you a flavour of what governance is all about and I hope you will think about volunteering yourself as a board member. I also hope you all have been ignited by the different talks today. I know I have and will be. Thank you Flora and Tom for putting on a fabulous programme.
I would like to end by thanking each and every one of you. Nothing in your training would have prepared you for working in a pandemic. Yet you have managed to keep schools open for those who needed to be in and provided education to those who were at home. You and your colleagues have worked under very trying circumstances. The impact you have had and continue to have is immense. Let’s all continue to Burn Brighter together and continue to shine on for our children.
The video recording can be seen here
Governance is hugely important but, for the most part, it is usually hidden till things go wrong. Raising profile of school governance is important. If we shout about what good governance is, we can contribute to sharing of good practice. By making governance more visible we can also encourage more people to join boards thereby increasing the diverse pool of expertise available to boards. All this will help ensure school provide a good education to all our children which is why the vast, vast majority of get involved with governance in the first place.
One of the ways I have been doing this is by putting my name forward to speak at various events, especially events where the audience will have a mixed audience. The latest such event was the IGNITE event organized by BELMAS (British Educational Leadership and Administration Society).This was one of a series of events being organized to celebrate the 50th birthday of BELMAS. The event was held online and had a very interesting format. Presenters were allowed three minutes to speak on various aspects of leadership. I submitted a proposal to speak on governance and was accepted (thank you, BELMAS). The event was chaired by Prof Megan Crawford.
As I had three minutes and in the audience would be people who may not know much about governance, I decided to keep to the basics. My presentation is as below (this is not a transcript so differ slightly from what I said during the event).
I will be speaking on governance leadership.
Effective governance is key to ensuring success of schools. The purpose of governance is to provide confident leadership. Board members are strategic, non-executive leaders of the organisation. Irrespective of the type of organisation they lead, they have three core functions; ensuring clarity of vision, ethos and strategic direction; holding school leaders to account and ensuring the financial health of the organisation.
As strategic leaders board members bring about school improvement indirectly. Being custodians of the vision and finances, they ensure that the resources are allocated to best achieve the strategic goals. Through their monitoring and by in-depth questioning of data they help drive school improvement. And finally, they provide support to the executive leaders, the heads.
Board members understand that members of the school management are operational leaders. Effective governance ensures that creating the vision and strategy is a collaborative effort between the strategic leaders on the board and the operational leaders of the organisation who then create the operational plan. A good relationship between the non-executive and executive leaders is essential. The board is often described as a critical friend and the relationship as one of challenge and support. Prof Chris James and colleagues argue that these terms are unhelpful as they appear to give the impression of the board being critical and confrontational. They suggest that the work of the board is best described as one of scrutiny.
Board members have a crucial role to play in community engagement. The arrival of MATs on the educational scene has brought governance challenges. Some communities feel a sense of disconnect with the trust board and there is perceived lack legitimacy of this governance model. In my view leadership at the local school level should be maintained. Every school or a small local cluster of schools should have a local governing body with its membership consisting of people who have strong links with the local community and an interest in their school.
The board leadership is the accountable leadership of the organisation. The current educational system is one of high stakes accountability. The board leadership faces accountability pressures itself from central government, from local authorities, from communities etc. Effective boards ensure that they hold the executive leadership to account in a way which doesn’t lead to fear in the organisation but instead is a way of determining what isn’t working and putting it right.
Finally, governors also play an important role in system leadership by serving as National Leaders of Governance.
During the discussion someone asked about research into governance. I replied that, i my opinion, there isn’t as much research as there should be. Governance is an important area and should be researched robustly. So, if you were thinking of researching some aspect of governance, go for it!
Schools Week have published my Top Blogs of the Week.
Separation of powers, accountability, responsibility and humanity are Naureen Khalid’s top picks of the topics from this week’s education blogs
Should the chief executive be appointed as a trustee?
While governors and trustees take a strategic view, a school’s executive team has responsibility for its operational leadership. The role of the board is to hold the executive to account. That’s why in the charity sector CEOs are generally not appointed to the board. Yet whether this should be the case in schools and academies (which are exempt charities) has been a cause for debate.
Continued in Naureen Khalid’s blogs of the week, 25 January 2021.
I was delighted to be asked to present a session on governance as part of the Greenshaw Learning Trust’s National Inset Day. Thank you to Ben Parnell for featuring governance in your brilliant programme. My slides from the session and accompanying notes are below.
Slide 2: At the start of 2020 none of us would have imagined that we would be governing in a pandemic. The greatest danger we had to look out for is that governance stopped. Our way of working changed but we had to make sure that we did keep on governing.
Slide 3: Under normal circumstances, we have three core roles. First is ensuring clarity of vision, ethos
Slide 4: and strategic direction.
Slide 5: Secondly, we hold the heads and their teams to account for the performance of pupils, staff and the school
Slide 6: Thirdly to look after the financial health of the school. In order to carry out these roles, we hold governing body meetings with the head and their team, we ask for various reports and we carry out monitoring visits. Our purpose in asking for these reports, holding these meetings and carrying out monitoring visits is to carry out our role of a critical friend.
Slide 7: Although things are very different and difficult now, our core roles are still the same. The greatest danger we must look out for is that we let stop governing. Our way of working has changed but we must make sure that we keep on governing. Governors may feel, for example, that strategic thinking could be put on the back burner now, but we need to remember that our schools and communities have endured and lived through hardships which a year ago were unimaginable. Boards need to be ready to learn lessons from this experience and evaluate why we do what we do. We must ask ourselves if our strategic planning and vision are still fit for purpose and take the long view. We need to be ready to put the lessons learnt during this year into practice.
Slide 8: Let’s now talk about how we perform our core roles. In order to carry out these roles, we hold governing body meetings with the head and their team, we ask for various reports and we carry out monitoring visits. Our purpose in asking for these reports, holding these meetings and carrying out monitoring visits is to act as a critical friend. The way we work has changed in the pandemic. Where things have become difficult, we have also had opportunities to evaluate how we work. The pandemic has taught us some valuable lessons and I will be sharing some tips to improve the way governors and trustees work and carry out the business of governance in the future. The most striking change has been in the way we hold meetings. Meetings in person had to be abandoned as safety concerns are paramount. Some boards may have had the occasional online meeting before the pandemic. Most of the time this was to allow someone to dial in who could not attend in person.
Slide 9: Now, we have had to have everyone dial in. This meant that we had to quickly find suitable platforms and come to grips with technology. Some boards found this relatively easy, others took some time to get used to this new style of working. I think virtual meetings are here to stay. In time, I think boards will use a blended approach, meeting virtually as well as online and this will be a good thing. Holding meetings online has had some benefits too.
Slide 10: Governors have reported that time keeping and attendance at meetings has improved
Slide 11: As have the discussions which have become more focused. Really long meetings are very rare now as sitting in front of a screen for long periods of time is not the easiest of things to do. Hopefully, good time keeping, and focused discussions will carry on even after things return to normal.
Slide 12: So, my first tip would be look at your agendas in order to streamline your meetings. Can they be trimmed down, so you focus on the really important issues? Review the papers you send out before the meeting. If there is something which is being circulated for information only then mark it as that and don’t spend time on it at the meeting. Another good tip is to mark items on the agenda as For debate, For decision etc. This will help focus everyone’s attention to what needs to be done.
Slide 13: If we will continue having online meetings then there are some questions we should be asking ourselves if we are to get the maximum benefit out of online meetings. Questions such as
Is the online format getting in the way the board operates? Are board members able to ask challenging questions in the same way as before?
Is the online format off putting for some or is everyone able to contribute to the discussion and be heard?
Are all our governors able to access online meetings? Does everyone have the required technology? Does anyone need help in getting set up and navigating their way around the platform?
Are we happy with the online platform we have chosen and are we using all its functions effectively?
Slide 14: One of the ways we perform our role is by carrying out monitoring visits. Again, the pandemic has meant that we have not been able to go into schools for these monitoring visits. Some of the monitoring has been done remotely.
Slide 15: The safeguarding link governors, for example, have had online meetings with the DSL to assure themselves and the board that the school is doing all that in can to safeguard children. Governors have missed going into schools. It is, for most of us, the most enjoyable part of our role. We love seeing the children and the way the school works. Hopefully, once the pandemic is over, we will be able to resume these visits.
Slide 16: However, till that happens we must ask ourselves
During these visits are we focusing on strategic priorities and key policies such as safeguarding and wellbeing?
Are we reading papers etc beforehand and preparing for the meeting?
Virtual visits should follow the same protocols as the visits when governors go into schools. As in the past, we should arrange online visits these beforehand, This, in fact, is much more important now as school staff will have their hands full much more than normal.
It goes without saying that confidentiality must be observed
And report of the visit should be circulated like they were being done before
The pandemic has shown us that visits can be done online. This will be especially useful for those governors whose day jobs mean they can’t get into schools during school hours. Visits are an important way of developing relationships with staff and so being able to chat to staff online will be of great value and benefit to these governors.
Slide 17: So, think about whether some of the monitoring visits could continue being virtual visits once the pandemic is behind us.
Slide 18: Governance is about balancing the support and challenge we provide to our school leaders
Slide 19: During the pandemic we have, rightly, tilted the balance and offered more support than challenge. We have reduced our demands on the school for data and papers etc. When the pandemic is over, we should go back to how things were with support and challenge being in balance, but we must evaluate what information we ask the head and school to provide us. We must look at how we work now and what we did pre-COVID.
Slide 20: Is there some information we asked for which created workload for the school but didn’t really help us perform our role? Right at the start, when we went into lockdown many boards were just asking for safeguarding information. I’m not saying that that is all we should ask for going forward. What I am saying is, that we must ask ourselves if the information we receive is worth the increased workload created. We must ask ourselves if the school is spending lots of time putting information together which is basically useless as it won’t help pupils move forward.
Slide 21: We must remind ourselves of what James Pembroke, who knows more about data and assessment than anyone else I know, said “Bad data is NOT better than no data at all”.
Slide 22: So, that’s next tip; before going back to how things were, think whether you need to ask for the same information you used to before COVID, did it create workload for school leaders and whether it was helped you perform your role.
Slide 23: The board is a corporate body and one of the soft skills needed by board members is the ability to be an effective team member. As I said earlier, due to the pandemic the board meetings have had to be held online. One of the problems faced by some boards with this is the fact that it has been difficult to maintain good board dynamics online, especially if you have members who have just joined. It’s hard to pick up body language clues and it’s difficult to build up relationships.
Slide 24: My next tip would be to think how you can help the board work well together.
Slide25: Hopefully, soon we will be able to meet in person again and that will help team members getting to know each other. One simple way to do this would be to gather 15-20 minutes before the meeting starts and use that time to socialise.
Slide 26: In the meantime, you may find it helpful to have an additional online meeting whose sole purpose is to get to know each other.
Slide 27: There are things which we have had to continue doing during the pandemic and recruitment is one such thing. I have sat on an SLT appointment panel and conducted interviews for vacant governor positions. Like everything else, these have had to be conducted online too. The interview process has been shorter, and I think candidates may have felt more at ease, sat at home in front of their computer rather than coming into school an facing a group of strangers across a table.
Slide 28: If you have conducted interviews online I would suggest you evaluate how thy went and are there things you may want to retains when there is no longer the need to hold online interviews.
Slide 29: One of the things my board has had to do online is appraisals. This has worked well too. This time around a trustee asked if they could observe the process. We asked the heads and the CEO who were happy to have the trustee observe. The trustee observing the process kept their camera and mic switched off during the meeting so they wouldn’t distract others. Next year we will have a trustee who has observed the process and knows how this works, who could be part of the appraisal committee. An online observation of the board’s work is something which can be continued even when we start meeting in person.
Slide 30: My next tip would be to think which of the practices you’ve started during online meetings you could continue doing even when meeting in person. In other words, think outside the box.
Slide 31: One other thing which has changed markedly during this year is the access to online CPD. School halls, lecture theatres etc where these events were normally held lie empty while we attend sessions in the comfort of our homes like you may have done. While this is a good thing and allows access to many more people, we must make sure that we are targeting things which will fill gaps in our knowledge and not attending sessions for the sake of attending them.
Slide 32: So, I would like us to allow time for ourselves to reflect upon what we have learnt and see if we can apply it to our practice to improve it.
Slide 33: No presentation on governance will be complete if clerking isn’t mentioned. If boards have worked effectively during the pandemic and have adapted to online working, then a lot of the credit must go the clerks. They have had to quickly switch to clerking online, they have had to support governors adapt to working online, they have kept on top of what the board has had to do, and they have kept the routine governance work going.
Slide 34: My next tip would be to employ good, independent professional clerks and value them and I would urge boards to ensure that they say a huge thank you to their clerks for the way to have risen to the challenge this year has brought.
Slide 35: Wellbeing has been a particular concern of governors during the pandemic. The pandemic has placed a huge amount of pressure on heads and their teams. Governors and especially chairs have been very mindful of this and have ensured they have supported heads and checked on them frequently. Although governors and chairs are generally very good at this, we need to ensure that we continue looking after our heads even after the pandemic is behind us. What is equally important is the wellbeing of governors. Chairs and other governors should remember to check in on their colleagues.
Slide 36: I would like to end my presentation with what is my top tip; look after the wellbeing of heads and your board members and remember to take time out for yourself too. Self-care is as important as caring for others.
37: This was a quick run through of what governance has been like during the pandemic and what lessons can be learnt. Before I end, I would like to say a huge thank you to heads and staff of our schools. You all are awesome. I would also like to thank trustees and governors for the way you all have supported your schools and communities.
Trust is a digital journal for executive and governance leaders. It is produced by Confederation of School Trusts and National Teacher Accreditation. The December 2020 issue published an article written by on my experience of chairing a local governing body in a large multi-academy trust.
Chairing a Local Governing Body in a Multi-Academy Trust
Articles of Association afford Multi-Academy Trusts considerable flexibility with regard to their governance structures. The simplest structure is a trust board (accountable for all the schools in the trust) and governance at the local level with Local Governing Bodies (LGBs) to which the board can delegate powers. Local governance can take many forms and school trusts are free to choose the model which works best for their schools. They can, for example, choose to have one LGB per school or a cluster model with one LGB looking after more than one school or a mixture of both.
You can read the rest of the article here.
Schools Week have published my Top Blogs of the Week.
A theatre of dominance
In this post, Seth Godin, founder of learning platform Akimbo, states that people who take part and those who watch sporting events may not realise that there are two forms of ‘theatre’ taking place, a theatre of dominance and a theatre of affiliation.