Eight anniversary matters

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

10. Accountability matters during the COVID-19 crisis; BELMAS RIG presentation

9. Ofsted’s Education Inspection Framework and governance matters

8. Staff wellbeing surveys matter: Guest Post

7. Self evaluation matters

6. Vision statement matters

5. Online complaint panel matters

4. Igniting passion for governance matters

3. Virtual meetings matter: Lessons from the pandemic

2. Ofsted Questions for Governors

And the most viewed post was

Good practice matters for governing bodies

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.

Sponsored Post Learn from the experts: Create a successful blog with our brand new courseThe WordPress.com Blog

WordPress.com is excited to announce our newest offering: a course just for beginning bloggers where you’ll learn everything you need to know about blogging from the most trusted experts in the industry. We have helped millions of blogs get up and running, we know what works, and we want you to to know everything we know. This course provides all the fundamental skills and inspiration you need to get your blog started, an interactive community forum, and content updated annually.

Igniting passion for governance matters

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.

Slide 2:

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.

Side 3:

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).

Slide 4:

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.

Slide 5:

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.

Slide 6:

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.

Slide 7:

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.

Slide 8:

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

Slide 9:

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.

Slide 10:

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.

Slide 11:

You may be wondering why I think it is important that teachers know about governance and governors.

Slide 12:

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.

Slide 13:

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.

Slide 14:

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.

Slide 15:

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.

Slide 16:

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.

Slide 17:

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.

Slide 18:

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.

Slide 19:

Joining a board is a very good way of building your network beyond your own school or trust.

Slide 20:

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.

Slide 21:

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.

Slide 22:

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.

Slide 23:

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.

Slide 24:

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.

Slide 25:

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 leadership matters; @BELMASOffice IGNITE event

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!

Top Blogs of the Week: Schools Week (25 Jan 2021)

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?

@katiecpd

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.

Virtual meetings matter: Lessons from the pandemic

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.

Local governance matters

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.

Top Blogs of the Week: Schools Week (23 Nov 2020)

Schools Week have published my Top Blogs of the Week.

A theatre of dominance
@ThisIsSethsBlog

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.

Continued in Naureen Khalid’s blogs of the week, 23 November, 2020.

Online complaint panel matters

Due to the present COVID crisis, governors have been meeting virtually. A lot has been written and discussed about these meetings. I was thinking about governor panels in the present situation. Ideally, panel hearings should be held in person but there may be circumstances where this may not be possible. In such cases it would be advisable to draw up a protocol which should be sent to all parties beforehand. Below I have listed a few things which could be included in the protocol.

  • Ensure you follow your complaints policy to the letter
  • Inform participants well in advance that
    • The panel will meet virtually and why
    • The link will be sent to them a day before the panel meets (ask them to check junk folders and inform the organizer (the clerk) that they’ve received it. It’s especially important that they inform the clerk if they haven’t received the link.
    • Tell them that the link should not be shared with anyone
    • The panel could be sent two links; one to be used for the panel meeting and the second for the panel deliberations. This ensures that there will be no one present during the deliberations who shouldn’t be there
  • Offer to hold a test run
  • The organizer/clerk of the meeting should share their contact number with all the participants. The clerk should have contact details of the panel, school representative and complainant so the clerk can get in touch with people (and they with the clerk) on the day if needed (for example in case of trouble logging on).
  • Think about using a platform which has a “waiting room” facility
  • Ask participants to join 5-15 minutes before the start so that any logging on problems could be ironed out
  • Ask everyone who will be participating to inform the clerk if they will be accompanied by family/friend/union member. If your policy mentions that legal representation is not allowed, then make that clear
  • Decide what will happen if the complainant does not join the meeting within the specified time and has not informed the organizer why (will you postpone or will the meeting go ahead in the complainant’s absence)
  • Decide what will happen if the complainant, school representative or one or more of the panel members are unable to join in or lose their connection during the meeting
  • Inform everyone that they should be in a room where they can’t be overheard or interrupted
  • Ask them use headphones if possible
  • Ask them to keep cameras on and microphones un-muted during the proceedings (unless they are conferring with the person accompanying them. Please see comment by Ros below)
  • Inform them that recording of proceedings is strictly prohibited
  • Ask participants to sign in using their names so that the organizer can recognize who is trying to join the meeting and admit them
  • Ask your clerk if they are happy to clerk and if they need any help/resources and would they prefer someone else to look after the technology side of the things (this person needs to respect confidentiality of the proceedings and take no part in the proceedings)
  • Decide how the papers will be sent to all participants (paper copies or online)
  • Decide before hand if screen sharing will be allowed. If yes, then decide how that would work
  • If the meeting has to be stopped for a little while (for example the complainant gets upset and needs time to regain composure and withdraws for few minutes) then the school representative should be asked to withdraw too so they aren’t alone  with the panel. The clerk should put them into the waiting room/lobby.

Is there anything else you would include? I would also like to hear from anyone who has experience of online panels.

Accountability matters during the COVID-19 crisis; BELMAS RIG presentation

On Wednesday, 24th June 2020, I attended BELMAS Governing and Governance Research Interest Group meeting.  Due to COVID-19 restrictions this RIG was held online via Zoom. The theme of this RIG was “The importance of governance in education during a time of crisis”. I talked about accountability during a time of crisis. Below are my slides and the notes that go with them.

Slide 3:
Effective governance relies on there being a balance between the challenge and support the board offers the head and school leaders.

Slide 4:
Because of COVID, heads and school leaders are experiencing a great deal of stress and uncertainty and people may feel that boards should be offering slightly more support and slightly less challenge nowadays.

Slide 5:
What we have to watch out for is that when we tilt the balance towards more support and less challenge, we don’t end up in a situation where there is no governance. So, we do need to continue to have governing board meetings and we do need to continue asking questions.

Slide 6:
What should we be holding the school leaders to account for during the present crisis? One of the most important things we need to ask questions about nowadays is safeguarding. With normal contact between children and schools, now greatly reduced, assuring ourselves that the school is doing all that it can to safeguard pupils is important.

Slide 7:

  • Schools would have put into place new policies or changed some of the current practices. We need to assure ourselves that these changes are not weakening our existing child protection or safeguarding policies.
  • Schools would have updated their child protection policies. Have you seen the updated policy? Are you satisfied that it addresses situations or concerns which may arise during the crisis?
  • Under normal circumstances, schools keep up to date records concerned with safeguarding, child protection etc. We need to assure ourselves that this is still happening, that concerns or issues are being recorded at that records are up to date.
  • With so much learning taking place online, we need to ask questions around online safety as well. How can the school assure us that staff and students are aware of online safety issues and that they know who to turn to if they have some concerns.
  • Under normal circumstances, schools work closely with external agencies, like CAMHS, social service, MASH etc. We should be asking questions around how is the school exchanging information with theses agencies.

Slide 8:
The next thing you should hold school leaders to account for are the schools’ risk assessments.

Slide 9:

  • Opening of schools to a wider group of people and how that is managed are operational decisions. But the board needs to be aware of these new arrangements are so ask questions around this.
  • The schools would have done various risk assessments. You should have had sight of these and you should have tested the robustness of these by asking questions.
    • Questions such as how will children and staff be kept safe?
    • Has the school sought advice from local H&S teams and were plans drawn uo in light of this advice?
    • Does the risk assessment cover remote learning?
    • Have the needs of vulnerable children and staff been considered? Some children and some staff may need individual risk assessments. Has the school done that?

Slide 10:
Children are obviously very important but it’s important to hold the school to account for how it deals with parents and staff of its pupils.

Slide 11:

  • These are hugely stressful times and therefore communications need to be timely, clear and appropriate. If communications are good then many of the problems either don’t arise or if they do arise, they can be handled more easily.
  • You also need to ask if the school is taking the views of parents and staff into consideration.

Slide 12:
Remote learning is another are we should be holding school leaders to account for.

Slide 13:

  • For example, do you know what has been out into place for pupils who are not in school? As governors it’s not up to us to tell the head what to teach and why but we should ask questions about how the school is looking after the education of pupils who are at home
  • Remote learning is all well and good but do we know if all our pupils able to benefit from it. Does each child have access to a computer? Even f they have access to a computer at home they may have to share it with other family members or there may be issues with data, bandwidth etc. Governors should be asking questions around this to ensure that pupils are not being disadvantaged.
  • Staff wellbeing is our responsibility to. Do we know if remote teaching is adding to teacher workload? I have heard examples of heads wanting teachers to compile data on how students are performing. I’ve even heard examples of line managers doing online lesson observations. If this data is presented to you then you have to ask some really serious questions.

Slide 14:
Discussion:

  • Will accountability will change post COVID?
  • Should it?

 

Joining a MAT? Stakeholder questions matter

When a school decides to join a multi-academy trust (MAT), the first thing the governors/trustees should do is carry out due diligence into practices, ethos and culture of the MAT they are thinking of joining. Keeping the stakeholders informed is of vital importance too. This can be done by holding information evenings/events where stakeholders are invited to hear about the proposal and ask questions. Information should also be readily available on the website. One additional thing that can be done is to have a document on the website with answers to questions which governors/trustees think stakeholders may ask. This document should be updated by adding additional questions which people will be sending in once they have digested all the information which has been provided to them. Below are some questions you may want to include in your document. Obviously, there will be many more questions which will be specific to your school/situation but these will give you an idea of the type of questions people are likely to want answered.

  • What is a MAT?
  • Will joining the MAT change the ethos of our school?
  • You have said protection of ethos is one reason for joining this MAT. Can you expand a bit more on this?
  • Why do you think this MAT is a good fit for us?
  • What is the formal channel for comments / suggestions to be passed to the school?
  • How will the consultation comments be shared?
  • Can you comment on the school funding shortfall?
  • Will the MAT “get rid” of expensive staff?
  • How will the Condition Improvement Fund applications work if we join the MAT?
  • Will there be a pressure on us to hire more NQTs?
  • What will happen to the wide range of subjects we offer and to the twilight courses?
  • What will happen to the school’s governing body?
  • Can we have sight of the scheme of delegation?
  • What are the exit options for leaving the MAT?
  • What happens to the funds collected by our parents for our school?
  • What are the teachers’ opinions about this proposal?
  • Will we be expected to use the MAT’s curriculum?
  • How would pay change for staff?
  • What is meant by top slice? How much is it and what will it pay for?
  • Who will be responsible for appointing our headteacher and other staff?
  • How will MAT trustees govern our school if they are not in the same city as us?
  • Will our uniform change?
  • Will the school name change?
  • Will our school continue to be recognizable as X school or will it become indistinguishable from other schools in the MAT?
  • Our school has always looked after pupils with SEN really well. Will that continue being the case?

I hope you will find these useful.Please do add any questions you think are missing in the comments.