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.
Effective governance relies on there being a balance between the challenge and support the board offers the head and school leaders.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
The next thing you should hold school leaders to account for are the schools’ risk assessments.
- 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?
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.
- 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.
Remote learning is another are we should be holding school leaders to account for.
- 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.
- Will accountability will change post COVID?
- Should it?