Governance matters at Festival of Education Part 1

I attended the Festival of Education held at Wellington College on 21st and 22nd June 2018. The fact that there were sessions related to governance was greatly appreciated by everyone who has an interest in school governance. We even got a mention when Julian Thomas, Master of Wellington College addressed the speakers at the end of day one!

Below are the notes I made during the governance related sessions. In order to keep the blog to a reasonable length, the blog will be in two parts. I hope they will be of some use and you will think of putting in a proposal yourself next year or just come along to listen to the various speakers.

Handling public difficulties – essentials for school leaders and governors (Ben Verinder;
Managing Director of Chalkstream).

This was an informative session. As governors/trustees there may be times when we are facing a difficult situation and have to communicate with the press/public/parents/communities. Ben made the point that teachers and school leaders are trusted by the public so we are starting from an advantageous point. Other points made by Ben are as under

  • If at all possible speak while standing in a classroom
  • Never say “No comment”. There will be times when you can’t say much. In these situations rather than saying no comment say something along the lines of “I’m sorry I can’t say much at the moment because…” and give the reason. Just saying no comment makes people think you are hiding something.
  • It is a good idea to have key facts about your school on your website so journalists researching the story will be able to use that
  • If you have journalists coming to the school then it may be better to invite them in. He advantages of this are that
    • They won’t harass staff/students at the gate
    • You have some control
    • By asking them in you are being open and inviting and they may be less harsh in their write up
  • It is essential to have a risk management and the most important thing to have in place is a team which will come into action when needed. The team
    • Should evaluate the situation and judge how “scared” it needs to be
    • The team needs a leader and a spokesperson. These shouldn’t be the same person as the spokesperson will be handling the communications and can’t then be expected to lead too.
    • Make sure all communications are consistent. The messages sent to staff/parents/press should be the same. If the press are told one thing and the staff/parents another then there are chances that the communications sent to parents/staff will find their way to the press.
    • Chair of Governors/nominated governor could be on the team. They could help take care of the head and staff
  • The way you develop relationships is important. If you have invested in building a relationship with your local press then this will be useful when you are dealing with a crisis
  • You will be receiving lots of advice from different quarters. Evaluate it. Ben gave us the example of Thomas Cook (carbon monoxide poisoning at one of their properties) and Alton Towers (accident at one of the rides). Thomas Coo didn’t apologise whereas Alton Towers immediately did. The reputational damage was lass in the latter case
  • Remember everyone will want to comment on your school. Be prepared for that
  • If you have a bad Ofsted report
    • Say you are sad and at the same time indicate that you are not complacent and have a plan of action to tackle issues raised in the report.
    • Say what you will do to address the concerns raised in the report
    • Highlight the good things that the report has listed
    • Important the message to the staff and parents is consistent
  • Issues with school uniform
    • If you are changing the uniform then make sure this is communicated well and in plenty of time
    • Be very clear what is acceptable and what is not
    • In this case too, a relationship which has been developed over time with the local media will be useful. Pre-empt challenges
    • Before making changes/bringing in new rules do think if they are necessary or are they over the top.

Academies – asset stripping, profit-making and disempowering? Panel Discussion. Katie Paxton-Dogget, Panel Chair. Author How to Run An academy School; Emma Knights OBE, CEO NGA; John Banbrook, Finance Director Farringdon Academy of Schools, Jon Chaloner, CEO GLF Schools; Sarah Chambers, Academy Support Manager)


Katie started by asking if headlines of asset stripping, power stripping etc are true. Emma made the point that disasters happen in all sectors. It’s effective governance which can stop these from happening. We are bad at recognising bad practice. We have too many related part transactions. We need to get better at learning from instances when things have gone wrong. These are all reported publicly but what we need is independent review of these cases so lessons can be learnt. We need is to ensure that we have no crooks, cronies cowards!

Katie then asked the panel that if she was a governor of a single school would she/her school lose power if her school joined a MAT. Jon answered by asking a question himself, “What powers do you think you have?” He went on to say that it is important to remember that in MATs the responsibility rests with the MAT board. John made the point that there really wasn’t great autonomy under local authorities either. Outstanding schools had converted because they wanted to take control of the funding and school improvement. He and his school improvement team have a great deal of contact with the schools in his MAT.

The discussion then moved onto funding. Sarah made the point that legally the MAT board can top slice or do GAG pooling. Emma said MAT trustees need to understand the role of a MAT trustee. Some still think of in terms of “it’s my school” rather than the whole trust. Jon said that GAG pooling doesn’t sit well with him. His trust has schools no one wants. Funding is an issue which will keep commanding our interest for a long time to come. John said that when thinking about funding people have to consider the cost of teaching staff. Teachers working for his trust are happy and tend to stay, resulting in schools having staff with high salaries. Schools also find it difficult to appoint NQTs as it is an expensive area where NQTs tend not to apply.

This was a really interesting session and could have done with more time but we could not overrun as Emma was chairing one after this one.

A Vision for State Schools in England: Where Do We Want To Be – And How Are We Going To Get There? Panel Discussion. Emma Knights OBE, CEO NGA, Panel Chair; Alison Critchley, Chief Executive RSA Academies; Andrew Warren, Executive Director/Chair Manor Teaching School/ Teaching Schools Council; Ros McMullen, Executive Principal Midland Academies Trust.

 

This was another very interesting discussion. Ross made the point that that we are where we are and asking to go back to the old LA controlled system won’t be beneficial. She also said that school leaders who work in special measure schools and help them to get to good are the people who actually know how to improve schools. This high quality leadership is the magic bullet if there is one. She also wanted a change in the system so that school leakers did not spend time writing bids which they usually never manage to get. The Headteachers Round Table would like an end to this system. She said that workload has reduced to some extent for staff but not for heads. She would like the Secretary of State to stop visioning and let school leaders get on with their jobs. She would like schools/MATs to work together and help each other so that collaboration isn’t force upon us from the centre.

Andrew’s worry was that a large number of schools are not in MATs and they don’t have LA support now. This is especially worrying for schools in rural areas. We have a responsibility to help these schools which aren’t in the MAT “club”.

Alison was of the opinion that there are various ways schools can collaborate and cooperate with each other. They should be allowed to do so and the structures can follow after the ways of collaborating have been worked out.

This session ended with Ros saying that leaders need to be given time and space. It’s about our mindsets too. We tend to beat ourselves a lot. We need to talk up schools, the large majority of which are good, happy places.

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2 thoughts on “Governance matters at Festival of Education Part 1

  1. Pingback: Governance matters at Festival of Education Part 2 | Governing Matters

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