Category Archives: Challenge

Understanding what is meant by critical friend matters

Critical friend is a term which you may often see being used to describe governors. If you are new to governance you may wonder what the term actually means. I’ve been asked questions about being a critical friend and have tried to explain this many times but I’m never sure if I’ve managed to get my point across and explain the term well. The other day I read a blog by Michael Salter which I thought was helpful. Michael is an Australian teacher whose blog Pocket Quintilian I absolutely adore! Michael’s interests are in the field of linguistics and classics and in many of his blogs he examines the etymology of words which makes his blog unique. In his latest post he looked at the etymology of “critic, critical and criticism”. Michael writes,

Critic, critical and criticism (as well as crisis) come from the Greek krínein, to judge. This in turn comes from a Proto-Indo-European root meaning sieve – an instrument for sifting, or separating, different things. This same archaic root was the origin of the Latin crimen, which gives us discriminate…a word which, sadly, is hardly ever used now in its positive sense. And this is not unconnected with what I have to say next.

Art, music and literary critics are tasked with making judgements based on their knowledge of the art form in question. And why are they entrusted with this task? Presumably, one would hope, because they possess a rich store of knowledge in their chosen turf.

When I read the above passage, I paused and thought that I should use what Micheal has written to explain the concept of being a critical friend. The “friend” bit of the phrase is easy but some people may misinterpret “critical” bit of the phrase and think that our role is to be one who is “inclined to find fault”. Our role is not to find fault; our role is to sieve information, separate different things which are provided to us and then make a judgement on how well the school is fulfilling its duty to our pupils. To do this well we need to arm ourselves with knowledge first. This is where CPD comes in. We need to equip ourselves with knowledge relating to the curriculum, assessment systems, progress data, finances, cohort characteristics, how various groups of pupils are performing etc. Once the board, as a whole, has this body of knowledge we can ask informed question and make judgements. In other words be the critical friend it is our job to be.

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Governors and curriculum matters

On 11th June 2019 governors (Jo Penn, Jane Owens,  Fee Stagg and I) attended “Curriculum Thinking: Three Masterclasses which had presentations from Mary Myatt, Tom Sherrington and John Tomsett. I would like to thank Mary, Tom and John for inviting us. As we self-fund most of our CPD, this generous invitation was greatly appreciated. I am going to write about those parts of the day which I think will be of interest to governors.

The first presentation was by the wonderful Mary. She started by saying that wrong priorities and focusing on SATs had resulted in a narrow curriculum. I would urge governors to ask questions around the curriculum offer. Are you sure your school is offering broad and balanced curriculum? All children deserve to be taught a rich, broad and balanced curriculum and governors can ensure this by asking questions of our school leaders. As governors are you certain that the school has high expectations for all the students? How do you know this?

Mary went on to talk about high challenge and low threat. She said that we don’t mind being challenged or put under pressure as long as there are no threats and we aren’t made to look stupid. We are a challenge seeking species. She also stressed the need to separate the person from their work and making a judgement on the work and not on the person. This was in relation to students and their teachers but I think this relates to our work too. Our role as governors is to hold the school leaders to account. Do ask challenging questions but frame them in such a way that the senior leaders don’t feel threatened. If they do feel threatened then the chances are you may not get the information you want and need as they may be scared to give it to you. Don’t forget that we are supposed to challenge and support and act as critical friends where being a friend is very important too. Mary also talked about data collection and the uselessness of populating endless spreadsheets. As governors, we need to be very aware of this too. Are we asking for too much data and hence adding to teacher workload? Is the data we’ve asked for/are getting actually useful?

Mary was followed by Tom Sherrington. He started by saying that the curriculum defines your school. This is very important from governance point of view. Our first core function is to ensure clarity of vision and ethos. Do we know if our curriculum matches the vision we have of our school? Does our curriculum ties in with the ethos of our school? Some of the other questions Tom wants school leaders to ask while looking at the curriculum are the questions we should be asking in our governing body meetings too. Questions such as:

  • Do we understand the context of our school?
  • Is the curriculum a good fit for our context? Tom gave examples of teaching about Islam in Spain, Benjamin Zephaniah which would show that thought has been put into what to teach and why
  • What do we want our school to do that we can be proud of?
  • This is especially for primary school governors. How do our school leaders/we support our teachers who may not be subject specialists to get the support they need to design and develop the curriculum?
  • Does the curriculum allow excellence to develop?
  • What does a broad and balanced curriculum mean in practice?
  • Do you as governors understand why the number of options a student is allowed take is what it is? (More options mean there is greater breadth, fewer means there is greater depth)
  • Are the Ebaac and Progress 8 choices for the benefit of the school or the student?

The last speaker of the day was John Tomsett. He too made the point that our core purpose, our vision and our values should shape our curriculum. John quoted Christine Counsell.

As governors are we sure our curriculum helps our disadvantaged pupils to “gain the powers of the powerful”? Some more questions posed by John which governors can adapt.

John then showed us an extract from his school’s Ofsted report.

The curriculum reflects leaders’ integrity, because it is designed to match pupils’ needs and aspirations regardless of performance table measures

Do we as governors, have the confidence that this is true of our school also? This links back to what Tom had said about asking ourselves if the Ebaac/Progress 8 choices for the school or the pupils.

The day ended with a panel session with Mary, Tom and John taking questions from the audience. Someone wanted to know how to manage the curriculum in a school where there is a high degree of pupil movement. Mary mentioned MOD schools and that it may be an idea to have links with them. This is a question governors (who should know if their school falls into this category) can ask of their leaders. Jo asked who owns the curriculum and what is the role of governors in this? Tom said that it should belong to the stakeholders. John talked about the importance of governors hearing directly from subject leads and being prepared to ask critical questions. Governors absolutely have a role to play here. This is why I am grateful to Mary, Tom and John for inviting us. It was a great opportunity to hear from three people who have done so much work on curriculum design and development and hopefully this blog would have given you a flavor of the day and given you some questions to ponder on and to ask of your school leaders.

Tweets from the day have been collated here.

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.

The Governor’s Role from a non-governor perspective; Guest Post by Dr Christine Challen

Dr Christine Challen is a Lecturer who describes herself as being passionate about supporting students & preparing them for HE. She believes that continual reflection in practice is key to successful teaching. She is a new blogger who has found her writing muse. Below are her reflections on the role of a governor from the perspective of someone who is not a governor herself.

I thought it would be a great way to start the New Year, with a different spin on Governance. Having never been a governor myself what do I perceive to be the role of a governor within a governing body? More importantly how does and should this impact on the school or college both for staff and pupils/students and ultimately the vision and/or future of the institution?

Before we begin let’s explore what the role of the governor within a governing body is:

“The role of the governing body is to provide strategic management, and to act as a “critical friend”, supporting the work of the headteacher and other staff. …Governors must appoint the headteacher, and may be involved in the appointment of other staff.”

I have specifically chosen this definition as I like the term “critical friend,” However, while it is easy to be taken in by the word friend, for some this will conjure up an element of pleasing and not wanting to “stir the broth.” This is well balanced by the word critical in front because for me that is exactly what a governor should do.

Now I do not for one minute want you all to think that this means it is all about finding fault and being negative but it is key to be questioning, and within this sometimes thinking outside the box for a positive impact not only on staff and students but the future vision of the school.

The term “strategic management.” is an unfortunate description as it implies “continuous planning, monitoring, analysis and assessment” which by default suggests accountability.

In my Bera Blog (2017) I  have described how the presence of business and accountability in education is damaging not only for staff and student wellbeing but also what the real and true meaning of education is about.

The press, media and twitter are full to bursting with real genuine concerns and views from senior experienced educators about high numbers of staff and students with mental health issues as well as challenging behaviour and how we tackle this and provide a truly inclusive education for all to contribute positively and successfully to society and employers. Additionally, there is now an even greater need to embrace the view that we need enriching curriculums that will provide much more individualised approaches to education rather than the constant assessment and exam culture.

The big question is how do I see the role of a governor from an inexperienced eye?

My pet hate is folks that treat this role as a great addition to a CV, instead of a commitment to institution, pupils and staff and a serious role paid or not.

Governors need to fully embrace the attribute of “critical friend” even if it means challenging questions and asking for changes that may not necessarily tick boxes but have lasting changes both personally and academically for schools, pupils and staff alike.

Although Governors need to work with leadership teams, they also need to stand firm in their views even if they are counter to the popular opinion within school boards if we are truly to change education.

Wellbeing, inclusion and individualised education need to be a top priority if we are to ensure that all are able to contribute positively and effectively to a better academic and pastoral environment for all.

They may well be reminded that “rules are for the obedience of fools and the guidance of wise men” and this for me sums up how governors can affect change.

As we pack away our decorations for another year  here is my message to all governors out there – remember your role is pivotal to making changes. Be creative, be questioning, think outside the box, challenge the school and heads and keep at the forefront of your mind the pupils and staff both new and experienced.

Your voice is important and can make changes for the better.

So, as we all ring in the New Year all governors alike let the bells ring even louder for the changes you can make in our schools and education to ensure we do our future generation proud. Look after our teachers not just professionally but their wellbeing as well.

Finally, and aptly as governors remember the words of Nelson Mandela

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” as governors use your voice to enable this for a better future and social justice in society.

 

Teacher workload matters; what does the Report say about the role of governors

The Report of the Teacher Workload Advisory Group, chaired by Professor Becky Allen has been published recently. This is a hugely important piece of work. Below, I have extracted those parts of the report which apply to governors. I would encourage you to read the whole report too.

Overarching recommendations (Page 6)

  • School and trust leaders and governors should review their data processes according to these principles. (Page 6)

Reporting on different groups of pupils and spending

Supporting disadvantaged pupils to succeed at school is quite rightly a focus, and schools should be expected to make good use of public money – governing boards have a role in agreeing this spending and monitoring its impact. However, the current DfE requirements to report on the effectiveness of pupil premium spend to Ofsted at the point of inspection, and via reports on the school website, can create unnecessary burdens for teachers, school and trust leaders and governors. There is insufficient evidence to show that the current approach to reporting has a positive impact that justifies the burden. (Page 16)

Reporting to governing boards (Page 19)

Governing boards are responsible for setting strategic direction for their schools, holding senior leaders to account for performance and overseeing financial performance. They need access to high quality data in order to carry out these functions effectively. However, they need to be clear that theirs is a strategic oversight role rather than an operational management role, and the data they need should be commensurate with this role.

Governors should normally be prepared to receive information in whatever form it is currently being used in the school. They should agree with school and trust leaders what high-quality data they need, and when, in order to fulfil their role effectively and to avoid making unreasonable, ad hoc data requests during the course of the school year. This includes consideration of any in-year data they receive, how meaningful this is and whether this can be reduced.

Governors should also consider whether data is proportionate, how school and trust leaders are collecting it, and the frequency and time costs of data collection. For example, they should not routinely see data on individual pupils, ‘flight paths’ or other teacher judgement tracking data. They should understand the limitations of attainment, progress and target setting data, and be able to access training on the effective use of data on pupil performance.

Recommendations

  • The DfE should revise the governance handbook, competency framework and other guidance to reflect the principles of this report, and speak to governors to test what guidance and training they need.
  • The DfE should incorporate myth busting for governors into the teacher workload toolkit or other guidance, to address misconceptions of what is required by the DfE or Ofsted and where policy has changed.
  • The DfE should also continue to improve the content and usability of Analyse School Performance based on feedback from schools and governors, and place emphasis on supporting governor needs. The DfE should ensure schools are able to access comparative performance information as soon as possible.

ANNEX A: Summary of recommendations

Recommendations to the Department for Education:

 Revise the governance handbook, competency framework and other guidance to reflect the principles of this report, and speak to governors to test what guidance and training they need.

  • Incorporate myth busting for governors into the workload reduction toolkit or other guidance, to address misconceptions of what is required by the DfE or Ofsted and where policy has changed.
  • Continue to improve the content and usability of Analyse School Performance based on feedback from schools and governors, and place emphasis on supporting governor needs. The DfE should ensure schools are able to access comparative performance information as soon as possible. (Page 23)

Recommendations to Ofsted and other organisations:

  • School and trust leaders, and governors should review their data processes according to these principles.
  • Local authorities and multi-academy trusts should not request data on targets and predictions to hold schools to account. Where this is required to enable, for example, providing additional support to schools, this should not be in a different format to the format the school uses, and should not add to the number of data collections. (Page 24)

ANNEX B: Summary of advice to schools

 Governors should:

  •  normally be prepared to receive information in whatever form it is currently being used in the school. They should agree with school and trust leaders what data they need and when. This includes consideration of any in-year data they receive, how meaningful this is and whether this can be reduced. (Page 25)

Further reading:

Government Response

Important points of the report: Twitter thread by David Weston 

Some important quotes from the report: Twitter thread by Benjamin D White

 

 

 

Schemes of Delegation matter

On Friday, 5th October 2018 I attended the ICSA Academy Governance Conference. The day was packed with really good, thought provoking presentations. In this blog I will write about what various presenters had to say about schemes of delegation (SoD).

A SoD is a key document which lays out which functions have been delegated to which body. The trust boards of multi-academy trusts (MATs) determine the extent of delegation to local governing bodies (LGBs). Once this has been decided the SoD must be published on websites.

Leora Cruddas (CEO Confederation of School Trusts) spoke about the importance of a good SoD. She said that trustees need to own their SoD and not get someone external to the organisation to draw it for them. Sam Henson, Head of Information National Governance Association, spoke in the afternoon. He said that NGA publishes model SoD but he agreed with Leora that trustees should look at these model documents and adapt them to their MAT. Different MATs use different SoD. Sam informed the delegates that NGA now uses the term “mixed delegation” rather than “earned autonomy”. Leora also said that the SoD should not be a long, complicated document but should be simple and easy to understand by anyone reading it.

As MATs grow they need to keep the governance structure under review. It is also a good idea to review your SoD and see if it is still fit for purpose. Is it making the LGB feel part of the MAT? Do they feel that they are an effective and valuable part of the whole organisation? As Leora said why have committees if you don’t give committees work to do? The MAT does, however, need to ensure that the LGB understands that it is the trust board which is the legally accountable body. At the same time the board needs to assure that the work is not being duplicated at any particular level. The role of the LGB is not to hold the board to account. This does not mean that there can or should be no challenge from the LGB. Good governance requires good, constructive challenge. The LGB should be acting as the eyes and ears of the trust board and feeding back local concerns as well as what is working well to the board.

Liz Dawson and Anna Machin (Ark Schools) spoke about how governance is structured in their organisation. They have decided to call their SoD Accountabilities Framework. They said that important points to remember when drawing up a SoD is that you are really clear about the role, purpose and function of each layer of your governance structure. As an organisation matures or grows it is helpful to review your SoD. It is also a good idea to get feedback when you are thinking of revising your SoD. This will help people feel part of the process and they will feel they own the document.

The fact that the SoD can and should be under review is a very important one. When MATs are looking for schools to join their organisation they should make it clear to them that the SoD the MAT has at that moment in time may not be the same further down the line, that revisions are possible. Any governing body which is considering joining a MAT must realise that the SoD is something which the trust board is legally allowed to change. They should understand that powers delegated to them may be withdrawn or increased in the future. If and when this happens, it must not come as a shock. This is not to say that the board should not explain why that has happened. As noted above revisions which have considered feedback from everyone concerned will have more buy in from everyone. A very interesting point was made by an audience member that if anyone was going for a headship in a school which was part of a MAT, they should consider the SoD carefully. This brings me to another important point. Everybody who is involved with MAT governance should know their Articles, SoD and other governance documents inside out.

Functions which are delegated to LGBs may include monitoring how the school is operating within the agreed policies, managing its finances, meeting agreed targets, engaging with stakeholders, reporting to the board, etc. Liz and Anna had mentioned that although their heads of schools are not line managed y the LGBs, the chair of the LGBs are part of the heads’ appraisal team as they work closely with the heads and their input is valuable.

SoD also came up in the presentation by Hannah Catchpool (Partner, head of academies, RSM) and James Saunders (Audit Director, RSM). They said that questions from an auditors’ point of view concerning the SoD are

  • How up to date is your SoD?
  • Are all staff aware of it?
  • Are people following the SoD and only approving/signing off things they have delegated powers to do so?

In summary, the scheme of delegation is a very important document. It lays out the functions delegated by the board to the LGB. It should be easy to read and understand. It must be published on the website and everyone in the organisation must be aware of it and should know what they are delegated to do. The board is legally empowered to change the SoD. The SoD should be kept under review and this is especially important when the MAT grows or undergoes other changes.

If you are interested in reading the tweets from the conference, you can do so using this link.