Author Archives: governingmatters

Sixth anniversary matters

My blog is six years old today (28th March 2019)! When I started blogging I wasn’t sure how long I would keep going or if people would even want to read what I write. Six years later, here I am, still blogging and the number of people reading (and subscribing) steadily increasing. Thank you to all of you who read, comment on and share my blog.

A look at the past year:

The top ten most viewed posts were:

10. Schemes of delegation matter

9. Informing governors about inspection matters

8. SEND governor matters

7. Maximising governance time matters; a checklist. With thanks to Aidan Severs

6. Ofsted inspection handbook (Sept 2018) and governance matters

5.Elected governors and removal from office matters

4. Questions you may be asked and other Ofsted inspection matters

3.Good practice matters for governing bodies

2. Ofsted grade descriptors;Sept 2015; Guest post by Shena Lewington

The most read blog this year was

1. Ofsted questions for governors

The five most used search terms which led users to my blog were:

1. Ofsted grade descriptors
2. Ofsted questions for governors
3. Ofsted questions for governors 2018
4. Ofsted questions and answers
5. What are the procedures to remove a parent governor

This year two of my blogs made it to the Julia Skinner’s list of Top Blogs of the Week in Schools Week. The first was Why Blogging Matters and  the other one was Relationships between Charity Boards and Executive Teams Matter. 

This blog has been viewed in 104 countries (a big jump from 64 last year)! I’m sure most of them must have ended up here by mistake as I can’t imagine why anyone in Kyrgyzstan, for example, would be interested school governance in England. Most of the views, as expected, were from the UK, followed by the US.

I can honestly say that even after six years I still enjoy putting my thoughts down on here. It gives me a chance to tell people where I stand on various issues and enter into debate on governance related topics.

I also use my blog to review what has happened during the year and that blog serves not only as a review but also as a repository of important links.A shorter version was published by Schools Week too.

One of the things I enjoy blogging about is my account of the conferences I attend. I try and look at the presentations from a governor’s point of view. An example of this is my recent blog on researchED Birmingham (researchED is a grassroots movement trying to make teaching more evidence based). In this blog I’ve written about questions governors should be thinking about and asking about the topics covered in the presentations.

Lastly, I was really happy to see this tweet.

It’s wonderful that Brian sent this during March. Best birthday present ever! Thank you, Brian.

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Reducing teacher workload matters: Department for Education Guidance for trustees and boards by

Department for Education has today published materials to help boards and trustees help support workload reduction in their school(s) and for themselves. The links to various materials are as below.

Support for governing boards and trustees: workshop

Handout: Summary sheet to accompany workshop

Workshop discussion template

Practical tools: Ongar Primary School Governing Board reflections on reducing workload across a school

Governance matters at #rEDBrum

Regular readers of this blog and my twitter followers know that I am a bit of a conference junkie! One of the conferences I enjoy attending are researchED ones. I was really happy to have been asked by Claire Stoneman to do a session at the researchED Birmingham conference and to be part of a panel. We (Steve Penny and I; Steve had kindly offered to drive us to Birmingham) reached Erdington Academy at around 8.30am. After registering we made our way to the canteen for tea and a pastry and then to the hall for the start of the proceedings. Below is a short account of the sessions I attended and what I think their relevance to governance is.

Tom Bennett and the Claire Stoneman started us off, both explaining why researchED is so important. Tom talked about the importance of research informed practice if we were to progress as profession. He also appreciated the fact that people have given up their Saturday to be here and that the speakers are speaking for free. Claire said that organizing #rEDBrum was like throwing her ideal party. She told us about the context of her school and that she didn’t want her children’s future to be risked on a whim or fancy. We could not afford to waste time and children deserved the best education and teaching rooted in research. Not giving them this was akin to gambling with their future.

It was then time for the keynote address. This was given by Professor Daniel Mujis, Head of Research at Ofsted. My main takeaways from the keynote were

  • The importance of schools working as communities: A shared culture with a strong buy in from parents is important to improve behaviour and drawing on the culture of the community can help with this.
      • As governors, we need to ask ourselves if our school is actually a close knit community or not. Ask yourself if you know what the behaviour is like in your school.
  • Cultural capital isn’t equally shared and this is one reason for inequality. We should be teaching our kids a curriculum which adds to their knowledge and doesn’t replicate what they already know. Using pupil interest to drive the curriculum is a mistake.
      • When your head and senior leaders are discussing the curriculum with you, do you ask questions around cultural capital?
      • Do you know your students and their backgrounds well enough to know if they lack cultural capital which other children may have?
      • How does your curriculum help in reducing this gap as well as the inequality?
  • Healthy school environment where debate is encouraged is needed as democracy is built on it. For this to happen we need an environment where we different/opposing views can be aired and where we learn from each other.
      • Do governors know if this happens in their schools?
      • Do you have debate societies as well as an environment where people can learn from other cultures?
      • Is there an environment where different views are heard and understood?
  • Does your school have a broad curriculum for ALL students?
      • How do you ensure you are not giving them more of the same?
      • Do you expose your scientists to literature and arts and your humanists to science and maths?
      • Is there progression in what’s taught?

Prof Mujis ended his keynote by encouraging everyone to take part in the consultation into the new framework (consultation is open till 5th April).

The next session I attended was by Mark Lehain, provocatively titled, “Getting SLT to behave on behaviour”. He started off by asking the audience to think of an answer to the question, “Why educate?”. This is such a powerful question and the answer would determine why we do a lot of what we do. This might be a good exercise to do as a board. Mark went on to show us some stats. The number of teachers who told Teacher Tapp (a free app which asks three questions each day) that they dreaded going to work was a shock. A Delta poll found that 75% of the teachers polled thought that low level disruption occurs frequently or very frequently in their schools and 72% reported that a colleague had left the teaching profession due to bad behaviour. Mark asked the audience if the same was true of them and around half of the audience responded that they had left a school due to bad behaviour. As governors this should be of great concern to us for three reasons

  • Teachers leaving the profession due to bad behaviour in schools will fuel the retention problem
  • As governors we need to be mindful of the effect bad behaviour has on staff well being
  • As governors we also need to consider the effect bad behaviour has on the well being and education of other students

As governors

  • Are you aware what behaviour is like in your school?
  • Are you aware how bad behaviour is tackled in your school?
  • Do you conduct exit interviews?

Mark said that as a head his test was, “Is this good enough for Sophie (his daughter)?”. I think that is a good question for all of us to ask ourselves; is what we are doing good enough for our own children.

Session 1 was followed by a panel debate. On the panel were Stuart Lock, Heather Fern, Sonia Thompson and myself with Tom Bennett in the chair. Stuart, in reply to a question about culture, made a very important point. He said that we often talk about vision and culture rather than talking about things which actually affect what happens in schools. Stuart also made the case for prioritising professional learning and CPD for teachers. Heather posed some questions which I think are some governors could ask too. She asked us to consider

  • Which subject has the strongest curriculum?
  • How do you know?
  • What can other departments learn from this subject?

Sonia, speaking from a primary phase point of view, said that designing primary curriculum was scary. This needed greater subject specific knowledge and progression of cultural capital.

When asked about a governor’s role in curriculum designing I said this, again, is one area where we need to be mindful of not stepping into the operational. Instead, we should be asking questions such as

  • Do we have a broad and balanced curriculum?
  • What do we think a child leaving our school should know?
  • Does our curriculum follow a progression model?
  • Is our curriculum in line with our school values and how do we ensure that it is? This is important as what is taught becomes the public declaration of out ethos and values.
  • How do we ensure it is accessible to all?
  • What CPD is available for staff to help them develop their subject knowledge and help them in curriculum designing?

Stuart agreed that the role played by governors is an essential one. It was good to hear an executive principal say this about governors/trustees.

For Session 2 I decided to attend Andrew Percival’s session who talked about his school’s development of a knowledge rich curriculum. If you have a curriculum in which you can change the order of things you are teaching then that is not a progression model. The five principles which Andrew’s school used to develop their curriculum are

  • Acquisition of knowledge is at the heart
  • Knowledge is specified in meticulous detail
  • Knowledge is acquired in long term memory
  • Knowledge is carefully sequenced over time
  • Focus on subject disciplines

As governors, are you aware how your school is going about building its curriculum so it follows a progression model and builds up content in the long term memory? Andrew made another point which we as governors should be mindful of. He said building up a curriculum is a big and hard job. Heather, earlier in the day, had said that Ofsted is aware of this and realise and appreciate this. As governors we should be careful that we don’t expect to see a complete overhaul of our curriculum in a very short period of time. Ofsted don’t expect this and we certainly shouldn’t.

I next went to hear Summer Turner talk about subject communities. Summer said a subject community is not a place where someone tells others what to do; everyone be they a head or a trainee teacher is equally important. A subject community is where teachers, academics and other subject specialists can come together and exchange ideas. Summer thinks that perhaps these are more needed by primary schools. A subject community can facilitate subject specific CPD, evolve wider networks and help form a professional library which is subject linked. Summer thinks subject communities are vital for school improvement because they can

  • Help with recruitment and retention
  • Help with curriculum development
  • Help with teacher development

I found this talk fascinating. I wonder what, if anything, governors can do (should we do?) to encourage our staff to join such communities. We can of course ask our leadership team if our staff have thought of subject communities as way of getting subject specific CPD. Governors, too, I think should be part of governor communities. One very good way of doing this is to follow @UKGovChat on Twitter and join governor groups on Facebook (School Governors UK, Jane-School Governor’s Group, Governing Matters are three such groups).

I then made my way to Stuart Lock’s session. Stuart talked about behaviour in his school. He said that he won’t say behaviour is impeccable because nothing can be perfect. However, it is good because when it’s bad school leaders deal with it. Stuart made the point that “sweating the small stuff keeps the standards high”. He also talked about culture and values and elaborated what he had said during the panel session. He thought culture is very hard to define and value statements can become “waffle”. Stuart said that they carry out anonymous staff surveys which keep them grounded. They also have open and frank discussions about pupil performance and these conversations do not form part of performance management so staff feel they are able to ask for help if they need it. It is also very important for them that the leadership is visible. Hearing Stuart speak made me think of some questions governors could ask themselves:

  • How good/bad the behaviour is in your school?
  • How do you know how good/bad the behaviour is?
  • Do you know if policies are applied consistently?
  • Do you know what staff, parents and pupils think about behaviour in the school?
  • Do you see results of staff surveys? Do you do survey staff yourself?
  • How do you ensure your school values aren’t just a statement of something nice to have? How does it distinguish you from other schools? If someone were to read your vision/values statement could they identify your school or is it so general that it could apply to any school in the country?

There were some brilliant speakers in the fifth and final session but as I was speaking myself I had to miss those. Slides from my session are here if you would like to have a look.

All in all, it was a wonderful day and I took away a lot from it. I’m very grateful to Claire for outing governance on the programme and for inviting me. Even if I had not been speaking I would have made every effort to go. I think it is important for governors to attend events other than pure governance events. As governors we need to be interested in education and this interest should go beyond governance in our own school. As governors we may, at times, feel slightly detached from what happens in classrooms, what do teachers think and the direction education and educational research is moving in. Attending events such as these gives governors a chance to meet and exchange ideas and views with teachers. It may help you to better understand what is happening in your school. These events are a great networking opportunity. Some of the contacts you make may be helpful to teachers in your school too. And best of all, researchED events are very reasonably priced which is an important consideration for us volunteers.

Further reading:

Blogs:

Curriculum, Community, Culture and Collaboration by Beth Greville-Giddings

#rEDBrum 2019 takeaway by Nick Wood

The Problem(s) with the Teachers’ Standards This is a summary of Matt Burnage’s session

Getting Better Teaching: Part 1 – Teacher Experience Getting Better Teaching: Part 2 – The Value Of Stability by David Weston

My Wakelet collections of tweets from various sessions:

Prof Daniel Muijs

Panel discussion

Mark Lehain

Andrew Percival

Summer Turner

Stuart Lock

Demystifying school governance matters

On 2nd March 2019 I did a session on governance at researchED Birmingham. I’m very thankful to Claire Stoneman and Tom Bennett for  giving me the chance to talk about governance to teachers. My slides from the session are below. I’m also adding a few lines of explanation so the slides make sense to those who weren’t there in person.

Slide 2:

For teachers who haven’t worked as or with governors, governance may appear to be something mysterious that happens behind closed doors in the evening when all the teachers have gone home. You may hear your head say governors want data on X or governors are coming in to monitor Y. And that’s about it. So today I’m going to try and lift the veil on who we are and what we do and hopefully by the end of the session you will know a bit more about what we do and what research tells us about who governors are.

Slide 3: 

There are about 250,000 governors in England. Legally people can’t be paid to be governors and hence we are all volunteers and this makes us one of the largest volunteer forces in the country.

Slide 5: 

One of our core functions is to ensure the clarity of vision and ethos. The GB appoints the head and this is perhaps the most important thing that governors will do. We appoint someone who we feel will help us deliver our vision. Yes, it is a partnership; it has to be for it to work well but ultimately it’s the governors must ensure there is clarity around the vision, culture and the ethos of the school.

Slide 6:

It’s the governing body which sets the strategic direction of the school and decides where the school will be in 3,5,10 years’ time.

Slide 7:

Our second core function is to hold the executive leaders of the school to account for the performance of the pupils and the school and the performance management of staff.

Slide 8:

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.

Slide 9:

So, irrespective of what type of school we are governing (maintained or academy) we have three core functions:

  • Ensuring clarity of vision, ethos and strategic direction
  • Holding the school leaders to account
  • Ensuring the money is well spent

Effective governance is of huge importance because governance is responsible for these core functions and also because effective governance can enable and provide a degree of protection to school leaders to try something different. Then there is the fact that although individual governors will come and go, the governing body stays and it’s the governing body which ensures that the vision and ethos of the school carry on long after individuals have departed. Ofsted also recognise the role of governance and it comes under Leadership and Management and will continue to do so under the new framework too.

Slide 10:

We’ve talked about the core functions of governing bodies and why effective governance is important. A question which is frequently asked is how governors bring about school improvement. Tony Breslin has written a report for RSA. He says there are 4 ways governors do this.

  • As they are custodians of the vision and the finances they can allocate resources where needed
  • They have to be aware of various targets. They are aware of floor targets and other national and internal data and use this to ask questions to drive improvements
  • They generally have individuals or committees whose brief is to look at various areas. For example the governing body may have individual governors linked to areas such as safeguarding, literacy, wellbeing, SEN. Or the governing body may have committees, for example a committee looking at teaching and learning and another one monitoring resources and finances. By assigning individuals or committees to these areas and monitoring these areas the GB helps to drive school improvement.
  • Finally, a good supportive GB and a good supportive chair will be able to retain good heads. Headship is a lonely place. If a head feels supported by the governing body and the chair in particular they are in a better position to do their job and stay on post to do the job, hence driving up school improvement.

Slide 11:

Now that we know about what governors do, it would be good to see what research tells us about the people who perform these roles.

There are no official statistics available which look at the demographics of those who govern our schools. National Governance Association, the NGA, is a membership organisation which represents governors.  Since 2012 NGA, in partnership with TES, has been surveying governors since 2012 and these surveys are the best source of data on this topic and I will be referring the results of the last two surveys today.

Slide 12:

If we first look at the age of the people who responded to the survey, then we find that in 2017 53% of the respondents were aged 40-59.

Slide 13:

This reduced slightly to 51% in 2018. The2018 survey compared the age of the respondents and the age of the general public. If you compare the figures nationally then 34% of the population falls into this age bracket. This shown we have some work to do to attract younger people to governance.

Slide 14:

Looking at ethnicity now. The 2018 survey showed that 93% of the respondents were white as compared to 86% of the population and 74% of primary and secondary students. This may r may not be a very bleak situation.

Slide 15:

The 2017 survey had looked at the age as well as ethnicity. This showed that in the younger age groups there were more governors who identified as BAME. Obviously, we mustn’t be complacent but if this trend continues and we are able to attract more governors in the younger age brackets then there is hope for the future.

Slide 16:

2018 was the first year NGA included a question on disability. 5% of the respondents said that they considered themselves to have a disability which is far lower than the 22% of people that reported a disability in the government’s Family Resources Survey 2016/17. This could be because responses were based on respondents’ own definitions of disability, which may not be aligned with that of the government. It may, however, also indicate that people with a disability experience more barriers to volunteering as school governors and trustees. Ensuring that school governance roles are accessible to people with disabilities is an area for future work.

Slide 17:

Now a look at the gender and some characteristics of chairs.

  • 59% of primary school chairs were female (62% governors were female) compared to 48% of secondary school chairs (53% governors were female). NGA 2018
  • I was also interested in looking at the age of the people who chair governing bodies. Prof Chris James of Bath University has researched governance extensively. He found that they were almost all over 40 years of age (94%). If we break this down further then we see 31% of chairs are between 40 and 49 years of age and 28% between 50 and 59. About a third were over 60 (34%). Chris James

Slide 18:

On average, they spend approximately five hours a week on governing matters and over one in 10 chairs spend more than 10 hours a week. Looking at the time   chairs reported spending on governance and the age at which they volunteer to chair governing bodies may indicate that as a fair degree of work is involved older people who may have more time to spare take up the chair’s position. Another thing to consider is whether the time is being spent on strategic stuff and how good are the chairs at delegation.

Choosing the right board matters

I have previously written about what may make a person the “right” person to have on your board. I think it is equally important for people to consider if the board they are thinking of joining is the right one for them and conducting own due diligence. Below are some things you may want to consider when you are thinking of joining a board/governing body.

Values, ethos and culture

This is perhaps the most important. Make sure that the board and the school leadership share your values and ethos. It would be very difficult, if not impossible, to work as an effective member of the team if you have different values. Visit the school, talk to the chair, vice chair, other governors and the head and other staff and try and see if they share your hopes for the young people under their care. Think about what your goals for the children of that community are and how closely are they aligned with the goals the rest of the board has.

Skills and experience

Every board member brings their unique skills and experience to the board.

  • Ask the chair/vice chair how they see the board benefitting from your skills and experience. They should be clear that your skills and experience will be used by the board to carry out strategic functions and not operational ones. Some boards can make the mistake of thinking that appointing someone with particular skills means the school can get someone who can do pro bono work for the school/board.
  • Ask them if a skill audit has been done and are there other governors with skills similar to yours. A board should be made up of people with diverse skills and experiences. Having too many people with the same skills will not help the board.
  • Try and determine if and why the board needs your skill and perspective. You can then decide if you will make a valuable contribution or not.

Instrument of Governance

You should read this carefully. If you are thinking of joining the trust board of a single or multi-academy trust then you should read the Articles of Association. If it is a local governing body (LGB) you are thinking of joining then read the Scheme of Delegation.

Culture of the board

It would be very beneficial to meet the chair and talk about the culture of the board.

  • How does the chair approach their role?
  • What is the relationship between the board members and the board and the executive?
  • Do board members meet outside of the boardroom?
  • How do the board members communicate with each other, with the executive and with the parents and the community?
  • Do you get the feeling the board challenges as well as supports the executive?

The way the board operates

After having read the instrument of governance, try and form an idea of what should a board which has to carry out those functions look like.

  • Is the board too big/small to carry out all those functions?
  • If it is too small/big then how would that affect your work as a board member? Will it mean that you have too much/too little to do?
  • Try and get hold of minutes of few past meetings. They should give you an idea of the workings of the board and the challenges it faces.
  • Do the minutes tell you how good the board is at asking challenging questions and the executive at providing answers?
  • The role of the board is to govern and not to manage. Do the minutes give you the impression that the board is focused on strategic issues or does it have the tendency to stray into the operational?
  • Do the minutes read like the minutes of a governing body or a PTA?
  • Ask if the board has committees and if it does which one would you be expected to sit on.
  • Would you be expected to do monitoring visits? How are these planned and structured?
  • Does the board employ an independent clerk? A qualified, professional and independent clerk is very important and will support good governance.
  • Do also ask if there is a possibility of observing a meeting before you finally decide. This is beneficial for both you and the board.
  • How does the board help a new member settle in and get to grips with the work of the board? Is there a mentor scheme for new members?

Expectations of the board

You will need to find out how often the board meets and at what time. You should also ask

  • How long do meetings normally last?
  • What type of training are you expected to undertake?
  • Does the board help you source this training?

Chairing

Although all governors are equal, the chair does have additional responsibilities and can set the tone for how the board functions. The way the chair operates will give you an idea about how the board operates. Before deciding to join the board you should ask to meet the chair.

  • Do you get the feeling that the chair is knowledgeable, approachable and open to new ideas?
  • Do you think the chair is great at building a team and getting the best from the team members?
  • Does the chair think strategically and with an eye on the long term future of the school?

The head/CEO

Prospective new board members should be offered an opportunity to meet with the head/CEO. This meeting is for the benefit of the new member and gives them an opportunity of ask questions. The head/CEO should not view this as an opportunity for them to interview the prospective candidate. The appointment of new members is not their job.

Conflicts of interest

Try and determine if you will have any conflicts of interest. These do not necessarily rule you out but you and the board should be aware of these so they can be managed. If there is a chance of a related party transaction then serious consideration should be given to whether it is in everyone’s interest that you join the board.

Expenses Policy

Do ask the chair if the board has a governor expenses policy. Good boards will have something in place or will be willing to put one in place. Although this is a voluntary role and you are not legally allowed to be paid you should be able to claim expenses incurred during the performance of your role. You should not have to decide that governance is not for you because of the reasonable expenses you may incur.

To join or not to join

At the end of your due diligence you will get an idea if the board and you are a good match or not, whether you have the right expertise and the time to make valuable contributions and if there is a good fit as far as the culture and ethos is concerned. If you decide that, for whatever reason, this is not the board for you but you still want to help the school then there are other avenues you can explore. If you feel your skills are perhaps not needed by this particular board then do keep looking for one where your skills will be useful. If time is an issue, then perhaps look for a board where the timings work for you or leave it for a while and try again later when you have more time to devote to governance. Deciding to walk away because it is not the right board/time is the right thing to do because joining a board where you have these reservations won’t help you or the board.

 

Staff wellbeing surveys matter: Guest Post

Bruce Greig is an entrepreneur and school governor. He served as Chair of Governors through two Ofsted inspections and worked with four headteachers. He set up School Staff Surveys after discovering how enlightening an anonymous staff survey can be and decided to make it easy for every school to run them. Below is a guest post written by Bruce on the topic of staff surveys.

I’ve been a school governor since 2011. A long while ago we asked our headteacher to run a staff wellbeing survey. We had heard mutterings of discontent from some staff, but others seemed very happy. Sometimes governors’ work is like the blind men appraising an elephant: you only see little glimpses of what’s really going on.

That survey we ran turned out to be transformational. It started a gradual, but dramatic, improvement in our the school staff culture.

Culture is very hard for governors to assess. Staff are often on their “best behaviour” during a learning walk or other governor visit. You don’t necessarily get a sense of how staff interact, and how they feel, when governors are not around.

We now do the same survey every year, and I think that every school should do this. In fact, I became so taken with the idea I set up a little side business just doing staff wellbeing surveys for schools: School Staff Surveys.

Here are some of my favourite questions (there are 69 questions in all, adapted from the world-renowed UK Civil Service People Survey).

Simple questions, but telling. And you can’t really ask a staff member this face-to-face (or, if you did, you can’t be sure of getting an honest answer). Of course, this survey question won’t tell you for sure whether or not your head is doing a good job, but it will help inform you. Staff might answer “Agree” because they just love the fact that the head lets them hide away in their classroom untroubled by observation or feedback. Or they might “Disagree” because they dislike a head who is actually doing a great job.

So the survey digs a little deeper into this, with questions like:

You can see that these more probing questions would help governors understand in more detail how the school is being led and managed.

Developing staff

As governors, we are well aware that recruiting staff is difficult: distracting, time-consuming and hard work. So it is much better if schools can do everything they can to develop and grow their existing staff. How’s that going? This question gives you an steer:

Staff might agree to this because they think to themselves “yes, I could go on those courses if I got round to asking”. Does your school actually have the processes in place to ensure that that development actually happens, and is it worthwhile? This more specific question gets to the crux of that:

And if you are able to develop and grow your staff, you should then get a resounding Strongly Agree to this question:

Feedback and appraisal

Since the introduction of performance related pay for teachers in 2014, it has been absolutely crucial that schools get their appraisal process right. Back in 2013, the last TALIS survey showed that around half of all teachers in England felt that feedback and appraisal was just a box-ticking exercise. If that shows up in the next TALIS survey, a lot of schools will be sitting on a tinderbox of potential grievances.

You are unlikely to hear from a teacher face-to-face that they think their appraisal is a waste of time. But if they do quietly think that, you could have a big problem on your hands – if their pay has been determined each year by a process they think is inadequate.

A regular wellbeing survey can look at this issue with questions like:

It isn’t just about how teachers view their own appraisal. It is just as important that staff feel others are managed well too, especially if they think other staff are not doing a good job. A question like this addresses that:

Teamwork

There are few things more toxic for a school staff culture than a staff member who doesn’t muck in. Won’t share resources, makes no effort to help out colleagues. I have heard of a school where a teacher appeared super professional and dedicated in her interactions with governors, but completely wrecked the school’s team culture in her interactions with staff. Literally leaving other teachers in tears. Had it not been for other staff speaking up, governors would have had no idea of the effect this teacher was having on the rest of the small team.

Being fair and respectful

Now we are getting into more sensitive territory. You’d hope that, if staff were not being treated fairly, or were suffering harassment, they would speak up. But I’ve learned that teachers are very reluctant to speak out about anything which might rock the boat (compared to my experience of other modern workplaces). If they keep their heads down, they have a very secure job. If they rock the boat, they fear that they might attract the dreaded career-ending “capability procedure”.

Your survey should include a couple of basic questions on this, like:

But also explicitly ask about discrimination:

And harassment:

Now then if you get a “yes” to either of these questions, the school can’t necessarily take any action. The survey is anonymous. The respondent might wish to remain anonymous. But your head, or CoG, could at least say to staff that the survey has shown that someone feels they have not been treated right and make sure everyone knows how to address their grievance safely if they want to.

There are another 40 questions in the survey that I run. There are plenty of ways that schools can run a survey like this. The UK Civil Service People Survey questions are in the public domain – you can put them into a Google Form or into Survey Monkey for free. One step up from that is a simple paid-for version like mine (School Staff Surveys), which takes the time and effort out of doing it all yourself. Or there are other providers like the Education Support Partnership who will administer a survey for you and follow it up with consulting and advice to help you address the issues it raises.

 

Relationships between Charity Boards and Executive Teams Matter

 

On 6th February 2019 I attended an event “Building a Strong Relationships between Charity Boards and Executive Teams” organised by the consultancy and advisory firm, Gallanach. I found out about this event through Mike Bath. Mike and I follow each other on twitter and often discuss school/academy finance and governance. As academies are charities, the discussions during the evening are directly related to academy trustees and school leaders but as the discussion focused on governance it is also applicable to maintained school governance. For this reason, in this post, I will be using “governors” rather than trustees when I talk about school governance.

The event had presentations from Ian Joseph, Managing Director Russam GBS and Trustee of Kidscape and Sarah MaGuire, CEO Partnership Support Group. The evening was facilitated by Norman Blissett (Director, Gallanach). There was discussion around lots of areas affecting governance, most of which I have tried to capture below. I have then tried to relate them to school governance.

Roles of the board and the executive:

Norman started the evening off by talking about the role of the board and the executive. According to Norman, it is essential that there is a mutual understanding of roles of the board and the executive. Norman outlined the role of the board which he said was to

  • Set the vision and values of the organisation
  • Set the strategy of the organisation
  • Delegate functions to the executive
  • Be accountable to stakeholders

Department for Education has defined three core roles of governors in the Governance handbook. These are

  • Ensuring clarity of vision, ethos and strategic direction;
  • Holding executive leaders to account for the educational performance of the organisation and its pupils, and the performance management of staff; and
  • Overseeing the financial performance of the organisation and making sure its money is well spent.

The National Governance Organisation, NGA, has been discussing adding a fourth duty to the above three, that of accountability to stakeholders. Emma Knights, their CEO, has written about this here. There has been some debate around this with some feeling that performing the three core functions well entails being accountable to stakeholders. Others feel that ensuring decisions taken by the board take into account the views of stakeholders (parents, pupils, staff, and community) should be explicit and that can be done by making it the fourth core function. This is an important discussion and one we must have.

Norman also emphasised the need for everyone to understand that there is a fine line between scrutiny and management and Sarah touched upon the operational and strategic roles. This is something that we, as school governors absolutely must understand. This is one of the reasons training/CPD, especially for those new to school governance, is so important. Sarah also talked about how if the CEO brings too much detail to the board the difference between the strategic and operational may get blurred. She also mentioned that trustees sometimes can focus too much attention on things they do in their day jobs. She has noticed this especially from trustees who come from finance or HR background. This can lead to discussion becoming more operational. Too much time spent discussion things which you do in your day job also means that the rest of the items on the agenda don’t get the time they deserve.

Ian talked about the absolute importance of having clarity around roles. He touched upon the roles of the chair of the board and the CEO, more on that later on.

Transparency:

Norman talked about the importance of having a “culture of candour”. Everyone in the boardroom should be prepared to challenge and be challenged. Problems should be tackled immediately but trustees need to be able to spot these. If there is an occasion where a question from a trustee is brushed aside then Norman says that should raise a red flag. This is something which the Chair may need to explore, perhaps outside of the meeting. Norman also said that trustees should have open access to the organisation.

Ian agreed that transparency is hugely important. He made the point that there should be no nasty surprises for trustees. The executive needs to be open and upfront with the board so problems can be looked at in a timely manner and solutions found.

This is something which we as governors and school leaders need to understand too. As governors, think about what happens when you ask for information. Are you getting so much information that you can’t see the wood for the trees and is that because something is being hidden from you in open sight? Or are you not getting enough information and is that perhaps because things are not going as well as they should? Transparency isn’t only for the boardroom. One of the Nolan Principles is Openness (Holders of public office should act and take decisions in an open and transparent manner. Information should not be withheld from the public unless there are clear and lawful reasons for so doing.) Are your minutes easily accessible? Do you publish your minutes on your school website? Do you take care in deciding which part of the discussion should be declared confidential? As far as open access is concerned, yes, governors need to be able to come into school to carry out their monitoring role but they should remember that the organisation is a after all a school and our monitoring should not disrupt education. Transparency also means that we should inform the head that we are coming in and why. Transparency from all sides fosters trust and is essential for good relationships.

Chair and CEO relationship:

A good Chair/CEO relationship is a feature of an effective board. Norman said there needs to high challenge as well as high support. Relationships need time and effort put into them. Norman suggested that it’s a good idea for the Chair and CEO to spend time together, both formally and informally.

Ian agreed that this is an important relationship. He said it’s essential that both the Chair and the CEO understand their respective roles. The role of the Chair is to lead the board and the job of the CEO is to run the charity and deliver its objectives. The Chair and CEO relationship needs to be based on mutual respect. The Chair should be a professional of equal standing which promotes respect for each other.

As in any other form of governance, the relationship between the Chair and the head of school/trust is a very important one. Chairs and heads should make time to meet each other regularly. The head should also know that he/she can contact the chair at any time should they need to. Being the head of a school can be a lonely job and the head should know they can rely on their chair for support. It’s also important to remember that this relationship needs to be professional at all times. If there is a perception that the relationship between the head and chair is cosy that can lead to problems. NGA has published numerous guides which are useful for chairs of governing bodies. Professor Chris James, Bath University, has conducted research into various aspects of school governance. Here he talks about his study to examine the workings of private sector boards to see if there are any lessons or messages for school governing bodies as far as the head/chair relationship is concerned. If you are a chair and need some help/support/advice then National Leaders of Governance (NLGs) will be able to provide you with that.

All about beneficiaries:

Everyone who spoke at the event was clear that the charity, the board and the executive should be clear that everything they do has to be for the benefit of their beneficiaries. Norman talked about the importance of the board and the executive having a shared idea of the purpose of the organisation. Obviously, for schools the purpose is to provide a good education to children and this is something the board and the executive will agree on and share. What does need to be agreed and shared is the vision and ethos of the school which will drive how education is delivered to the children.

Ian was very clear about the need for both the board and executive to be clear that they are thee for the benefit of the beneficiaries of the charity.

Sarah talked about this too. She thought it was important that the trustees knew the issues faced by the beneficiaries so that they could tailor the work of the board accordingly.

Board composition:

Sarah made a point during her presentation that the board discussion can sometimes suffer if the trustees have the same or similar skills. For example, she has noticed that in boards where most of the members have a financial or HR background, then most of the discussion tends to focus around these areas and very little time is given to discussing things outside of their comfort zone. This is why boards need a wide variety of skills.

In response to a question from the floor about diversity, Ian said that diversity is important. What is also important is to think very carefully about this. A BAME, with a PhD from Oxford who listens to Radio 4 may not be bringing the diversity which you are looking for. I made the point that this must be more than a token gesture and that people still need to feel valued and not feel they are there to tick boxes.

Ian said that people should not join boards because it looks good on their CV but at the same time we should be encouraging more people to join by emphasising the skills they will pick up by being on a board. Another member of the audience said that his board has started appointing what they term “apprentice trustees” who participate fully in board discussions. It is hoped that this way they can see how the board works and perhaps then join as trustees.

The problem of finding people willing to serve as governors is one which may school governing bodies face too. Those schools which would benefit from strong governing bodies are the ones who find it harder to recruit people.

During the panel session, I asked if it’s appropriate for the CEO to choose trustees. The panel members and audience thought that the CEO should not appoint trustees and although it’s a good idea for a prospective trustee to meet with the CEO, this must be for the benefit of the trustee and not the CEO.

Meetings, planning, appraisal:

Sarah talked about the importance of well planned meetings. Good preparation for a meeting involves thinking carefully about the agenda and making sure what goes into the papers is well thought about. This is essential for school governors too. The Chair, head and the clerk should work closely on this. They should ensure that the papers go out at least seven days before the meeting with the expectation that everyone would have read them before the meeting.

Discussions during the meeting should be sharp and focused. Sarah asked trustees to think about the impact their discussions would have on the beneficiaries. If you can’t identify an impact then ask yourself why you are meeting. Again, this is something we as governors need to ask ourselves; will tonight’s meeting have an effect on the education of our children. It is important here to say something about the headteacher’s report too. Make sure your head knows what information you need and in which format. The head’s report is the vehicle by which the head can give governors the information they need. The content of the report should be driven by what the governors need.

The matter of away days came under discussion too. It was suggested that these days are a good way to discuss matters, re-visit and understand the purpose of the organisation and build relationships. There should be days when the executive and the board can meet away from the boardroom. There should also be opportunities for the board members to meet each other away from the boardroom. I know may governing bodies do do this and I think it is an effective way for discussion issues outside of meetings. These away days should still be focused so as to make best use of everyone’s time.

Sarah touched upon appraisal during her presentation. She said it would be a good idea for trustees to have a one to one conversation with the chair/CEO so that they can understand why the trustee joined the board. Sarah also thought that a light touch appraisal of trustees by the chair with input from the CEO was also a good idea.

Qualities of a good trustee:

Norman ended the event by asking Ian and Sarah what they thought were good qualities to have in a trustee. Sarah’s top five were

  • Willingness to listen
  • Willingness to be open
  • Willingness to push executive
  • Being very clear what the link is to the beneficiaries
  • Willingness to get involved

Ian added three more

  • Laser like focus on beneficiaries
  • Common sense
  • Being able to ask questions

All in all this was a really enjoyable event for me and I am sure for everyone else who attended. I found it very useful to listen and interact with people involved with governance who work in sectors other than schools.