Headteachers’ Roundtable Summit matters

On Friday 23rd Feb 2018 I attended the Headteachers’ Roundtable Summit. The Headteachers’ Roundtable was set up on 12th October 2012 during a meeting at the Guardian Offices. The group started on social media and now has 30, 000 twitter followers and an active blog. The group is a think tank and works to develop educational policies. The notable publications so far have been the Five Policy Papers for the General Election 2015, Alternative Green Paper 2016 and the Doorstop Manifesto 2017. The two striking things about the group in my view are that they think its right and proper that politicians should be involved in education and that they crowd source and develop their policy ideas.

It is because of the fact that they seek views when developing their policy statements that I think people involved in education, including governors, should try and attend their events. As governors are responsible for setting strategic direction their input into policy discussions is of vital importance. It was appreciated by all the governors who were able to attend that the organisers, recognising the voluntary nature of governance, were able to offer a discounted ticket price. The other advantage to governors of attending events such as these is that we get to meet people outside of our schools/LAs/MATs. Education isn’t only what happens in our schools. As they say there is whole world out there and it helps if we know what’s happening outside of our schools.

Every session I attended was informative and interesting. In this post I’ll write about points from the various presentations I attended which I think governors should be aware of.

The Opening remarks were delivered by the Stephen Tierney. Stephen talked about accountability systems which are affecting how we work/operate. He also mentioned off rolling of students. This is something governors should be looking into. Ask for number of students on roll in each year at the beginning of the year and at the end. Ask for explanations if there is a difference in these. How confident are you that students are not being off rolled for the sake of league tables etc? Stephen also talked about the accountability system affecting recruitment of teachers. While, as governors, we can’t do much about the accountability system, we can try and make our schools an employer of choice. We can also try and ensure that we retain staff by making sure that it is not what is happening in school which is driving staff away. As governors do you know if your school conducts exit interviews and do you get to see the results of these? If your head/SLT come to you with a new initiative do you ask about the implications introducing that new system will have on your workforce? Are they being told to do extra work or is the new system a better one and is replacing an old one?

In the morning session there were two keynote sessions. In the first one Laura McInerney in conversation with Robert Halfon MP, Chair of the Commons Education Select Committee. It was good to see the Chair of the Committee engaging with heads, teachers and governors. He said that although he was in favour of academies and autonomy, he felt there wasn’t enough transparency in the system. If you are a trustee in a MAT, then I’d like to ask you how transparent are your decisions? Would you be able to explain the reasoning behind them (obviously there may be some things which you may need to keep confidential to the board but these will be few. Confidentiality shouldn’t be used as means of avoiding transparency.

The second keynote was delivered by David Benson, Head Kensington Aldridge Academy. It was an honour to listen to David talk about the way he, his staff, staff of neighbouring schools and most importantly his students coped during the days and weeks after the Grenfell Tower fire. David Benson gave a shout out to his governors which was wonderful to hear. He talked to us about the days after the fire and how the students and staff coped. This was made possible by the ethos and culture of the school which is supportive and collaborative. As governors do we know, really KNOW, what our school culture and ethos is? How would your head/staff and governors have responded if it had been you in their place? How do you make sure that the new staff are totally committed to the ethos of your school? David Benson placed great emphasis on the teaching and learning framework and the strong CPD programme. As governors do you know how strong your staff CPD programme is? Is it effective? Does it help staff to develop and cater to their needs and the need of the whole school?

The next session I attended was by Sir David Carter. Other sessions taking place at the same time were Fixing the Middle Tier: The Hoodinerney Model (this aims to streamline roles/responsibilities of everyone from Secretary of State to heads; Laura McInerney and Matthew Hood), Radical changes to tea her workload through intelligent assessment practice (exploring impact of marking and assessment on workload relative to their impact on learning; Tom Sherrington) and Our Biggest Blindspot in Education (looking at Initial Teacher Training and retention; Prof Samantha Twiselton). Sir David Carter’s session was entitled “The Standards You Pass By Are The Standards You Accept”. David believes that this quotation (of a remark made by an Australian general) applies to all leaders. He then posed some questions which I think we, as governors, should be asking ourselves. These questions were:

  • How do you embody your values?
    • How do you enact your values?
    • How do you ensure those who you lead can “see” your values?
    • If you ask them can they say what your values are?
    • Are your values “visible” and explicit when you
      • Appoint staff
      • Promote staff
      • Performance manage staff
      • Praise and sanction students
      • Respond to upset/challenging visitors to your school
      • Create strategic plans (this is very important from a governance point of view. Governors set the strategic direction of their schools and their values should be a thread running through these plans)
      • Set targets
  • How do you help others to model ethical leadership?
    • Is the behaviour you want to model for others the behaviour they see when they look at you?
  • How does your leadership raise expectations in your community?
  • What standards would you never walk past?
    • When thinking of behaviour of?
      • Adults and children
      • Adults and other adults
      • Parents and school
    • When considering inclusion?
    • What considering equality for all for
      • Entitlement to quality teaching (for all children in the community and not just within your school)
      • Professional development
      • Wellbeing of staff (staff are not robotic practitioners) [I have written previously about wellbeing and our responsibilities]

Sir David also talked about coaching and mentoring and said coaching/mentoring new CEOs is a part of his job that he really enjoys. The following questions are the ones he asks the most when coaching/mentoring.

  1. What are your current developmental goals and how far have you come in the last 12 months?
  2. How challenging of your own performance do you want to be?
  3. How close is the alignment between your personal leadership competencies and the behaviours you show most frequently?
  4. Do you embody your own motivations and values?
  5. What habits and insecurities hold you back?
  6. Do you behave differently when you are being observed in public as opposed to a more private setting?

Chairs and governors often mentor new governors. If you are one who mentors new people on your board you may like to modify the above questions to suit your governance setting and use them.

Sir Carter emphasised the need to model good, ethical leadership. This is important for governors to do too. He also emphasised that ethical leadership will look after ALL children. He asked us to pick up the phone and offer support to the school down the road who we know is facing difficulties. Chairs of Governors should remember that NLGs are there to offer support. So if you need some help then contact your nearest NLG who will happily support you. He also pointed out that there are no quick fixes to bring about school improvement. Having said that, there is no time to waste; if improvement will take five years then year one is as important as year five. We also need to recognise that a school which doesn’t have good results yet but is doing all the right things to get there is different from a school which has a meaningless strategy.

Sir Carter said that schools belong to communities. Our role as ethical leaders is to create a legacy so that the school is in a better place than when we started leading it. Sir Carter also gave us four questions the answers to which would indicate how ethical our leadership is. These are:

  1. The Sleeping Test: If I do this can I sleep at night?
  2. The Newspaper Test: Would I still do this if it was published in a newspaper?
  3. The Mirror Test: If I do this can I look at myself in the mirror?
  4. The Teenager Test: Would I mind my child knowing I did this?

Sir Carter ended his presentation by asking us the following:

What are the standards that you would never walk past if accepting them meant children remained dis-advantaged?

As governors I think it’s very important that we reflect on the above five questions individually and as a board.

One of the afternoon keynotes was by Laura McInerney. She walked us through the history of education policy, various education secretaries and challenges facing us. The three issues we should watch out for are:

  • No moiré funding
  • More selection, possibly at post 16
  • Sex education

Laura also told us about Teacher Tapp, which she and Prof Becky Allen have been developing and which is starting to yield some interesting data. The one remark that really stuck with me was when Laura said,

People give us their taxes and their children

As governors we must ensure that we spend people’s taxes wisely and educate their children well.

The last keynote was delivered by Geoff Barton. He talked about five things we should be looking to change.

  • Accountability: The high stakes accountability is making us fearful and timid. Geoff said we need to stop thinking and talking about Ofsted and banish the Ofsted banners.
  • I think this is an area where as governors we can lend support to our heads and SLT. If your head wants to have a mocksted, then challenge them. Ask them what would a mocksted show which they don’t know already. Ask them to justify spending money (of there is precious little anyway) on consultants offering mocksteds. Ask them if that spend is value for money. Ask them if the same support can’t be accessed from elsewhere. Perhaps, see if your head would like an experienced head to as a mentor. This would be more supportive and helpful and contribute more to your head’s professional development than getting someone in to do a mocksted. And it would be less stressful too, I imagine.
  • Think about flexible working. Trust your teachers
  • Tell your school’s story
  • Look after your young people. Help them to navigate social media. Bring a human dimension to how you deal with them.
  • This, again, is something governors can and should be asking our school leaders.
  • Be ethical.
  • Irrespective of our leadership role, ethical leadership is something we all should practice. Governors have a hugely important role to play in setting the tone and the expectations. If the Governing Body behaves in an ethical manner then so will the rest of the institution. Geoff, like Sir David Carter, mentioned the mirror test. An ethical governor, head, member of the SLT, teaching and support staff should be able to look themselves in the mirror when they make any decision or take any step.

In the coming weeks and months members of the Headteachers’ Roundtable will be reflecting on the discussions which took place on the day and formulating policy documents. So keep an eye out for them. In the meantime:

Further reading:

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