The 2021 Festival of Education took place online over two weeks. This year, like always, there was great diversity of topics and speakers. I’m very grateful to the organisers for featuring governance too. Katie Paxton and I had a “fireside” chat about “Governance during and after the pandemic”. You can watch our session using this link.
Because of the lockdown, normal forms of CPD have been suspended. Many people have stepped up to offer online CPD sessions. One such organization is Chiltern Teaching School Alliance. They have put on an impressive series of free leadership training sessions. I was delighted when I was asked to do a session on governance. Governance sometimes isn’t as visible as it should be and anything we can do to change that is to be welcomed. Therefore, a huge thanks to Arv Kaushal, Claire Justin and Sufian Sadiq for giving me to talk about governance.
My session was on the role and impact of governance. The session was recorded and is on the Chiltern TSA video channel. It is being posted here with their permission.
This year’s Festival of Education had sessions which would have been of interest to governors. I have previously written about my session with National Schools Commissioner, Dominic Herrington. Below is a short account of some other sessions I was able to attend.
Ruth Agnew’s session was on “Effective Governor Challenge”. Ruth started by making the point that welcoming and enabling effective challenge is an aspiration and asked how if people welcome challenge. Good, professional relationships are important in schools. Too much trust and friendly relationship can hinder challenge. Ruth then talked about why and how schools start to decline. She said that problems start when processes to ensure accountability start to falter (lack of skills and training, too trusting a relationship, misplaced loyalty, too reliant on head for information, governors not acting strategically, etc). Ruth said that she had not found a better resource of what effective governors do than the “Learning from the Best” Ofsted report. Ruth said none of the things mentioned in the report are rocket science! Ruth mentioned that sometimes heads model the questions governors should be asking. She thought this isn’t necessarily a problem but it must not become the default. Ruth also encouraged us to think how we frame our questions. “How did we do in SATs this year” is better if it’s framed as “What do these results tell us about us meeting our objectives for this cohort”. Ruth said challenge isn’t lobbing questions like tennis balls at the school leaders. We shouldn’t be using checklists. Instead, we need to look at things with fresh eyes and then if we find an issue Ruth wants us to be like a dog with a bone!
Dr Kate Chhatwal spoke about accountability and peer reviews. According to Kate, the advantages of a peer review system are:
- We don’t need permission to take part in peer reviews
- It works with top performing schools as well as those needing support
- It allows identification and sharing of excellence
Kate talked about how Challenge Partners conduct peer review. The important point is that this is “doing with and not doing to”. Challenge Partners are also doing MAT reviews but they don’t have a strict framework for this as MATs are still in their infancy. They start with a simple question, “What is the MAT doing to ensure the children it serves achieve better than they might otherwise, and is it working?”. This was a very interesting session and I think as time passes peer reviews may become more important. I completely agreed with Kate when she said that you are a system leader only if you care for the children beyond your own institution.
The session by Katie Paxton-Dogget and Tara Paxton-Dogget was titled “Matchmaking for academies”. Katie started by saying that more and more schools are joining or forming multi-academy trusts (MATs). As Labour hasn’t said they will return schools to local authority control, even if there is an election and we have new inhabitants in Sanctuary Building, finding a good MAT will be important for many schools. Katie explained the difference between academies and maintained schools. She said when people say autonomy is lost upon joining a MAT, they should be asked about the level of autonomy maintained schools have. Katie went on to the discussions governors should have when they are considering joining a MAT.
- Revisit your vision and ethos. You should be looking at MATs which share your ethos
- Consider what type of MAT you want to join
- Think about geographical location of your school and other schools in the MAT
Tara made the point that as in human relationships, even if partners have differences as long as they share values the relationship can thrive. Tara’s school had recently become part of a MAT. She said that as far as students were concerned they hadn’t noticed any striking changes. There was more contact between students now which she thought was a good thing to have come out of being part of the MAT. It was good to hear from a student too, especially one as articulate as Tara.
The other session I attended was by Andy Guest on, “Is our model of school governance broken?” Andy started by asking posing the question, “If you started with a blank page, would you design what we currently have?” Andy also made the case for simplifying things by
- Committing to either academisation or reverting to LA as having both isn’t working
- Creating a simpler quality/compliance/value for money framework
- Committing to a capability model across the system and be honest about the role of stakeholder engagement
Andy was of the opinion that governance has to change if we want an equitable and sustainable school system
There was a lot to think about in this session and I’m sure these conversations will continue.
Links to Wakelets (collated tweets) from some of the sessions I attended are given below;
How can we balance trust, autonomy and accountability in the system? Panel discussion at Festival of Education 2019 (Becky Allen, Ben Newmark, Carolyn Roberts, Sean Harford, Naureen Khalid)
Ofsted’s new Education Inspection Framework (Sean Harford, Matthew Purves and Paul Joyce)
I would recommend governors attend the Festival in 2020. I am sure the organisers will have sessions around governance again. Other sessions are useful too as they are on various other aspects of education which governors may want to know more about. Dates for 2020 have been announced (18th -10th June 2020). The organisers are offering a 40% launch discount and there is a special rate for governors (£45 for a day ticket, £59 for both days).
One of the most awaited educational events, The Festival of Education, took place on 20th and 21st June 2019. This year was the 10th anniversary of the Festival. We were treated to two days of inspirational speakers who presented on a whole range of topics. I’m delighted that governance was represented too, for which the organisers deserve our thanks.
I was very happy that my application to hold a governance session was successful. I’m also very grateful to Dominic Herrington, National Schools Commissioner (NSC), who accepted my invitation and joined me for a chat on the first day of the festival. Below is a short account of what we discussed in the 40 minutes available to us. Where I have added post-event comments, I have done so in pink.
Dominic started by thanking governors for their time and commitment to governance of our schools. He talked a bit about his role. As NSC, Dominic, working with Regional School Commissioners (RSC) and other educational leaders and
- Helps develops multi-academy trust (MAT) improvement strategies
- Supports MATs so that they are sustainable and strong, via constructive assistance and challenge
- Encourages regional teams to share best practice and learn from one another to encourage closer
I started our discussion by asking Dominic what, in his opinion, is good governance and why is it important. Dominic replied that governance has vital role in our schools, particularly due to the degree of autonomy in English education system as compared to the rest of world. We need good governance because governance performance three important functions:
- It act as a stimulus for improvement
- It provides an ‘Insurance’ policy for school leaders
- It is responsible for ensuring clarity of vision and strategic direction
We discussed features of effective governance. Dominic referred to the three core functions which, when performed well, lead to effective governance. These are:
- Overseeing the financial performance of the school and making sure its money is well spent
- Holding the headteacher to account for the educational performance of the school and its pupils
- Ensuring clarity of vision, ethos and strategic direction
We went on to talk about the relationship between the executive leaders and governors. Dominic said that if there is strong executive leadership then we can usually assume that governance is strong too. There is a strong correlation between effective governance and strong executive leadership. This is why Ofsted consider governance under Leadership and Management (L&M). Ineffective governance invariably leads to ineffective leadership and this is not just education sector specific. [There is discussion in governance circles if governance should be considered under L&M. I personally think that it should. We are part of the Leadership and it’s only right that when Ofsted judge L&M, they comment on the effectiveness of governance.]
As we were discussing ineffective governance, I asked Dominic about the role played by NSC and RSC when ineffective governance is identified. Dominic started by emphasising that occurrences of inadequate governance are rare and that the vast majority of schools are not failing [This was good to hear]. We do, however, have to deal swiftly and proportionally where this has been identified. Inadequate governance doesn’t take long to be identified (via Education and Skills Funding agency, RSCs, LAs or parental complaints). Dominic said that prevention is always better than cure so it is important that we identify cases where governance isn’t as good as it could be and offer support before it becomes ineffective. He said he was interested in how we can best enable system leadership. The multi-academy trust model gives school leaders the flexibility to share resources across a number of schools. Dominic said we have seen best outcomes for children being delivered where there are school leaders working across several schools to support weaker schools. We have some excellent examples of where academy sponsorship has had a transformative impact on schools. We do need to ensure that schools are matched with a sponsor who fits the school and has the capacity to raise standards.
Dominic also stressed the importance of recruiting good people and mentioned Academy Ambassadors and Inspiring Governors who can help boards find suitable people. This led us to talk about governor CPD and I asked if training should be made mandatory. Dominic agreed that his was always a hot topic. Personally, he was not very keen on making it mandatory. He said he would be worried about the quality of CPD and would rather that we work from bottom up and offer support. He mentioned that there is training available, including Department for Education funded training. [My personal thoughts on this are that GBs/trusts should make it mandatory for their members to keep up to date and commit to CPD. They should also make induction training available to all new appointees and the expectation should be that this would be done within a reasonable time after appointment.]
I was interested in getting Dominic’s opinion on whether MAT governance was complex. Dominic’s view was that it is not; rather it can be an opportunity as Local Governing Bodies and Trust Boards give us the option of different forms of governance. Dominic emphasised that most MATs are local MATs formed of six or less schools. He did stress the importance of Schemes of Delegation (SoD). Dominic said that SoD need to be clear and these must be explained to everyone. The lines of accountability need to be clearly defined too. We need to ensure that people understand their respective roles. [This is an important point. Good, clearly defined SoD, which are understood by all, are crucial. National Governance Association (NGA) has done some work on this which should help trustees who are reviewing their SoD.]
I was also interested in hearing Dominic’s opinions on how to increase governance literacy across the sector. Dominic started by saying that being a governor is a noble contribution to our communities. He said that governance has a higher profile now than it did five years ago when it was hardly talked about. We need to continue raising the profile of governance and encourage teachers, headteachers, retired teachers, and people from other sectors to join governing bodies. We should talk up governance which is why he was happy to come to the Festival and discuss governance with us. [I think that it is important that we talk up governance and do what we can to raise awareness of what governance is and its importance. Attending and presenting governance sessions at various events in one of the ways we can raise awareness. Taking part in twitter chats and blogging is another. Julia Skinner has been trying to get more of us blogging. If you are a blogger and write about governance, please do let Julia know and she may review your blog for Schools Week.]
Dominic is a governor too and my next question was related to this. I asked him if he was a governor on a governing body (GB) where governance wasn’t as effective as it could be, then what options were open to him. In other words, how could individual governors challenge an ineffective GB? Dominic said that the best course would be to try and find an ally in the GB, perhaps the chair and discuss concerns with them. If that doesn’t work then get in touch with the LA, RSC, etc. Dominic hoped that if ever a governor was faced with this situation, they wouldn’t give up and leave but try and change the GB practice so it does become effective.
The session also included questions from twitter and the floor.
- In reply to a question about parent governors, Dominic said he was very keen on GBs having parent governors. He is one! At the same time he also emphasised the need to have a diverse board.
- Asked why the Headteachers Boards are called that and why are there no places for governors on it, Dominic replied that the system allowed for co-option of someone with governance experience and he had co-opted members in the South East. The system is evolving and may change in the future.
- The next question was about the options open to an academy committee (local governance) if they are unhappy with the MAT. Dominic said that he hoped that it could be solved at the local level but if the situation can’t be resolved then they should contact their RSC. He also made the point that this is not very usual and he had had dealt with only a few cases in his time as RSC.
- The CEO of a MAT referenced research from NGA and asked if the time being put into governance by chairs was sustainable. Dominic said that some people put in a lot of time because they enjoy the role. The system is still young and developing and further down the line chairs may not need to put in as much time as they do now (MATs are growing slowly now. MATs are joining other MATs which is less demanding than setting up a new MAT).
- A governor made the point that she worries that she can’t get into school and spend as much time there as she would like. Dominic replied that spending time in school isn’t the only way a governor adds value to their GB. Dominic said he cannot spend time in his school either. He adds value via other contributions. [This is an important point. A good board works as a team. Not everyone has to do everything and every contribution is valuable irrespective of the nature of the contribution.]
- There was a question about mixed MATs/church schools. Dominic said that Church of England has been running schools for years and have a significant place in the educational landscape. Dominic reported that he had not come across any real issues with mixed MATs as yet.
- In response to another question Dominic said that there are no plans at the present time to inspect MAT boards.
I am grateful to Dominic for taking time out of his busy schedule to come and talk to governors. I’m also grateful to everyone who attended the session. Dates for the 2020 Festival of Education have been announced (18th -10th June 2020). The organisers are offering a 40% launch discount and there is a special rate for governors (£45 for a day ticket, £59 for both days). I will be attending the Festival and hopefully will see many of you there.
On 15th June 2019 I made my way to Rugby to for researched Rugby organized by Jude Hunton. It was an amazing day and I heard from some fabulous speakers. Here I am going to write about the day from a governor’s perspective.
The first session I attended was by Ben Newmark. Ben is a Vice Principal, teacher and blogger. Ben’s talk looked to answer the question, “why teach?” Ben answered this by posing some more questions.
- Do teachers make society more equal?
- Do teachers make society happier?
- Do teachers make society better?
- Do teachers make society more productive?
Ben went through these questions and concluded that it was none of the above. Teachers teach because all children are entitled to be taught the best that has been thought and said in the world (Ben would add danced and drew and cooked).
It is a good idea to ask ourselves why we volunteer as governors (and be truthful in our answers). Is it because we want every child who walks through our doors to leave having been taught all that they are entitled to know? Are we able to serve in the best interests of all children and not only our own child or only children of our own school? Do we collaborate with other schools/trusts so that the interests of all the children are served? Ben said to the audience that if they ever feel disheartened they should go outside and look at children walking to school. Think how much more they know now than they did before and how much more they will know by the time they leave school and know that this increase in knowledge is why teachers teach. I think this is a very good exercise for governors to do as well. Look at children walking to and from school and know that your effective governance has had a hand in making sure they leave school knowing much more than they did when they joined.
The next presentation I attended was by Sam Strickland who is a Principal in Northampton. Sam talked about school improvement. For him school improvement has two strands; curriculum and behaviour. Get these two right and you will start to see improvement. Sam went through some of the non-negotiables which he believes makes his school a safe place for everyone. Sam is a great believer in “You permit what you promote; you promote what you permit”. As a governor my take-away message from Sam’s presentation was the importance of consistency and clear messages. As a governor, I am not going to tell you what your behaviour policy should be like. What I will say is that you should make sure that the policy is not at odds with the ethos and culture you want to promote in your school, that the policy is consistently applied so pupils, staff and parents all know where the red lines are, that it leads to a supportive environment where everyone is respected.
Sam also talked about curriculum. I loved the fact that hyperlinks to knowledge organisers are sent to parents so they know what their children are expected to know. As governors, we should ask our leaders how they communicate with parents about curriculum. Sam’s school places huge emphasis on CPD for teachers. This is another thing governors should ask the head about.
Besides the presentations, there were also two debates held on the day. On the panel for the first one were Kat Howard, Tom Rogers, Andrew Old and Karen Wespieser. Topics under discussion were teacher voice, Ofsted, parental and teacher responsibility and work load and teacher well-being. The second debate had Sam Strickland, Katie Lockett and Joe Nutt discussing social mobility. As I was chairing these debates, I didn’t take make any notes. Relying on my memory may not be the best way to write about what people had to say in these debates as it may not be accurate. What I will do instead is write the questions I put to each panel and one or two contributions which I did manage to jot down.
- Do we get to hear the classroom teacher voice in discussions on exclusions etc?
- Where does the teacher’s job end and the parent’s job begin?
- Would you agree that workload and well-being is a teacher’s responsibility?
- If you were to start designing school accountability from scratch, what would you keep and what would you get rid of as far as Ofsted were concerned?
- Where do you see governors adding the most value in our schools?
- Thinking about social mobility: Is social mobility desirable and is social immobility a more accurate term?
- Is the purpose of school to make kids cleverer or is it to bring about social mobility?
- Social mobility or social justice, which one would you go for?
- Does didactic teaching, extra-curricular activities have an effect on social mobility?
- How can governors support you in helping kids achieve?
Karen suggested that training on exclusions should be mandatory for governors. Katie made the case for diverse boards. Joe encouraged teachers to join governing bodies. The debate got heated when Ofsted came up! Joe made the point that Ofsted is well respected internationally.
All in all, it was a fabulous day. I really enjoyed the various presentations and the chance to network. I must thank Jude for inviting me to be part of the day. If you were to ask me if governors should attend researched, my answer would be a definite yes! If you are interested in reading more about the day, then have a read of the following.
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.
On 8th June 2019 I attended #BrewEdEssex This event was organised by Vic Goddard, Jean Louis Dutaut, Dean Boddington and John Bryant. The theme as teacher recruitment and retention. I’m very grateful to the organisers for letting me speak at this event and talk about the role governors can play in this. My slides from my 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.
Before we go on to discuss the role governors can play in recruitment and retention, a bit of back ground about who we are and what we do. Exact data isn’t available but there are around 250,000 of us. As we are legally not allowed to be paid, this makes us one of the largest volunteer forces in England.
We have three core functions.
One of our core roles is ensuring there is clarity of vision and ethos in our school/academy/MAT. This is really important as ethos and culture of our schools will impact on retention. Governors play an important part in defining the vision and ethos and then we make sure that all our practices and policies reflect this. We need to ensure that the ethos in the schools we govern is one of mutual respect, of professional respect, of collaboration and support. If we can build up such a culture we will go a long way in ensuring that firstly teachers want to come at work in our schools and secondly, the teachers that do work in our schools stay in teaching. I’ve deliberately said stay in teaching and not stay in our schools because what we want is a school where we grow and develop our teachers so that they are ready to take the next step in their career and that may involve moving schools. This is the most positive thing we can do. In many cases we are the employer so it’s important that we recognise the role we play and the duty we have as employers.
One way in which a school or trust can start to address the recruitment and retention problem is by showing itself to be an employer of choice. For this to happen we need commitment from governors to treat this as a priority and to aspire to be an employer of choice. So, what does this mean in practical terms? I’ll talk about retention first as I think if you can retain your teachers then the recruitment problem becomes less of an issue.
So, why it is important to retain teachers? David Weston has blogged about this where he’s looked at research which showed that teachers get better over time, initially more quickly and then, typically, a little more slowly from around three to five years, More experienced teachers improve academic outcomes and non-academic outcomes, very experienced teacher is particularly effective at reducing absence of the most vulnerable pupils and experienced teachers make their colleagues more effective. So retaining experienced teachers is of huge importance.
The first step to becoming an employer of choice is for governors to judge ourselves using staff satisfaction as one of the criteria of how successfully we are as leaders. How do we do that?
Firstly, we must make sure staffing is discussed at every board meeting. We need to ask heads to report on staffing issues at every meeting. This will go a long way in making the head and SLT and staff realise that staff are important to us.
We should also be surveying staff, at least annually. These surveys should give us an insight to how staff are feeling, what issues are causing a concern
Obviously, positive feedback is good to have. Who doesn’t like to hear good things?
But perhaps more important is to be open to hear negative feedback and to act on it. If governors become defensive or don’t encourage heads and SLT to be open to hearing different views then it’s very difficult to bring about change. Staff should be made to feel valued and one way to do that is to seek their views and change things which are negatively impacting on them.
And one of the most important issues we may get feedback on is workload issues. Though the day to day running of the school is something we should not get involved in but as governors we do need to understand workload issues. Ask questions relating to workload. We must ask our heads how are they ensuring teachers are not getting crushed under workload. Anytime a new policy or new initiative is brought to us we need to ask about workload implications of that initiative. If staff are being asked to do something new, we need to ask what are they not required to do. Again, culture and ethos has a part to play here. Do we know and do we facilitate collaboration so teachers have supportive networks and are not constantly re-inventing the wheel. We must also look hard at ourselves. Are we adding to workload by demanding data? Is all the data that we ask for actually useful? Are we putting pressure on our heads who then may be passing it down to teachers? How are we supporting our heads? Have we ensured that they have a team around them who they can rely on for finance, HR etc and leave them free to concentrate on teaching and learning?
Workload issues bring me to another thing; flexible working. Are we as governors aware of what our staff needs are as far as flexible working is concerned?
This again is something where the culture and ethos we are responsible for plays a part. Are we fostering a culture where staff feel able to talk to senior management and working together come up with a solution which means they can work reduced hours. This applies to heads too. As governors are we ready to have a conversation with our head when they indicate they would like a job share?
Another way we can make staff feel valued so that they stay in the profession is by committing to their development. When the budget comes to us for approval do we look at the CPD budget? Do we ensure that the money being spent is being spent wisely? Do we put measures into place which allow our staff to develop and flourish? Are we making it easier of for staff to get further qualifications? When we appoint new heads, especially if it’s their first headship, do we offer them a mentoring scheme? Some people may be a bit wary of developing staff in case they left to go elsewhere. I think, firstly, we owe it to them. Secondly, prospective new staff will see that you’ve nurtured and developed staff and they can expect the same so they will be keener to join and this helps in making you an employer of choice.
Flexible working, manageable workload and development opportunities all contribute to teacher well-being. There are other things we can do too. Governors should make sure behaviour policies are working and are being implemented consistently. When we go into schools we can see if behaviour is like we would want it to be. If teachers don’t have to fight at this front they can get on with doing their job which is teaching. We can have other initiatives as well such as each teacher is allowed to take off for family events like watching their own child in a play. Like I said this is all to do with the culture. As culture, good or bad, will trickle down from the top as governors we need to be aware that the culture is one where teachers are valued and know they are valued.
As governors we need to ensure we have a good whistleblowing policy in place and that people have confidence that if they raise concerns through this they will be listened to, the issue will be thoroughly investigated and they won’t suffer any consequences. We should be looking at staff absence data and asking questions around that so we can pick up any problems that may be leading to a high absence rate. We must also ask how staff returning to work will be supported. If staff do leave, for whatever reason, we should be offering exit interviews. Again, the culture in the school should be one where people won’t mind speaking their minds at these interviews.
A quick word about headteachers now. Headship is a lonely place. Once we have appointed a good head we need to make sure we support and nurture the head too. The GB/head relationship, especially the chair and head relationship is of crucial importance. Yes, we must challenge them but we must be ready to provide support too. Heads are juggling a lot of balls a lot of the time and it’s up to us to support them and let them know that you’re there for them. A good head is more likely to stay on if they have a good GB and chair than if they don’t.
Governors are directly involved in appointing heads and members of the SLT team. For headteacher appointments in MATs they may have the CEO or regional director etc as part of the panel. Some panels will also have advice from an independent person. Governors will be looking for a person who shares their ethos and will be able to deliver the vision they have of the school moving forward. There are a lot of myths around like governors only appoint someone in their image etc. The vast, vast majority of governors just want the best candidate for their school. It’s my view and one shared by the NGA that The other appointments for classroom teachers, HoD, support staff etc should be left to the head to manage but there are things we should be monitoring.
So, what do governors need to consider when they are looking at how recruitment works in their school? All the things I’ve just talked about are things which will attract people to apply but only if you tell them you have all this in place. This is where marketing comes into play. We need to make sure people who are thinking of applying now what great stuff is going on in our schools. We need to ensure that we communicate our vision clearly. We want to appoint someone who has the same vision as us. This becomes especially important when appointing head and SLT as they are then ones who will be delivering the vision so they need to be in tune with the governing body. Does our ad make it clear we are an equal opportunity employer? It’s not simply the matter of adding alone at the bottom of the ad saying that you are. Does the ad reflect this? Have we looked at out short listing process? Have we considered blind short listing? Are we sure our interview brings out the best in the candidates? Do we give feedback after interviews? Good feedback to unsuccessful candidates is important for their development.
This tweet caught my eye the other day. I have Dean’s permission to share this today. Apart from the fact that in my opinion governors should not be involved in interviewing for positions other than SLT and head, I see no value in asking these questions of an NQT. Just think back to when you were an NQT and were asked this.
So, in summary,
Now you must be thinking that this was all about what governors could do and should do so why is Naureen telling us all this? Three reasons really:
- You work in schools which are governed by trustees or governors should you should know what they should be doing as retention and recruitment for that matter affects you all
- Some of you may be governors yourself and therefore you can go back and see how are things being done in your governing body
- Lastly, if you are not a governor then I would urge you to think of becoming one. Think of joining a governing body of another school. For you that will be great CPD and for that governing body they’ll have someone who understands education and the pressures that go with the job.
This has been a long and tiring term. As Easter approaches and governance slows down (it never stops completely!) I find myself sitting down with a cup of tea and looking back and reflecting on the term that was and also looking ahead to the last term of the year.
A major event in the Spring term was an inspection. One of the schools, Crofton Junior, belonging to Connect Schools Academy Trust where I’m a trustee, was inspected just before half term. This was a Good school and had had a short inspection last April. The inspection felt very thorough but fair. Governors and trustees met with the Inspector and had a chance to talk through what we knew of the school’s strengths and where we could do even more. The Inspector had read our minutes and understood MAT governance. The feedback was constructive. On a professional level, the inspector we met was knowledgeable and we could tell he had done his homework. On a personal level he was very accommodating. I had had to leave by a certain time and the inspector had no problem with that and quickly put me at ease. I didn’t have to reference Sean Harford’s myth busters as any trustee/governor who could attend the feedback was invited to do so. Ofsted come in for a lot of criticism (and some of that is justified) but I think when they get things right then we should talk about those too. This inspection was one such example. Although we don’t things for Ofsted, it was reassuring to find that they thought the same as us, that we were providing an education which our children are entitled to. Looking back, the one thing which stands out about the two days is how the whole community pulled together and were happy to do so. Our children are amazing. The staff and parents too. I think that’s what makes it an outstanding school. Yes, results are amazing, behaviour impeccable but it’s the “this is my school, I’m proud of it and I’ll do my best for the children” attitude which makes me really happy. Looking to the next term, we will continue doing what we’ve always done; our best for every child under our care.
The second thing which has been keeping me busy is governor recruitment. We have been looking to fill our community governor vacancies. We appointed two governors last term; one who is a deputy head in a local secondary school and the other has extensive experience of stakeholder engagement and project management. I’m not sure whether it’s because we are in a leafy, London suburb or just lucky but to get such great governors to add to the skill set we already have bodes very well for us. These candidates came to us via Inspiring Governance and Governors for Schools.
Reflecting on the process, I’m quite happy with the way we did it. We gave the candidates all the necessary information, sent them links to the Governance handbook and made clear the responsibilities that we as governors have. We had an interview process where we probed how their skills could complement those already present. We also worked through some scenarios. Although both candidates were not current governors they were able to work through these scenarios and gave us answers which indicated that they were aware of issues such as conflicts of interest, confidentiality etc. I think we will continue to use this process when we have further vacancies. It gives the candidates an idea of what’s involved and it gave us a chance to see how they could fit in with the team. I’m also a firm believer that although we are volunteers we need to approach governance in a professional manner and going through an interview process makes that clear. I am, however, aware that there are areas where there aren’t many people who put themselves forward to become governors and so interviewing someone who does may be a luxury people can’t afford. If that is you, I would still encourage you to meet with prospective candidates so that they have a chance to find out what being a governor is all about.
We have also thought about how to ensure that these governors understand their role. The trust is putting together a training programme and the first one they’ve been invited to is an induction session. I am also in the process of putting together an induction pack which will be ready by the time we go back. Once they have had a chance to work through it, I would like to ask them their thoughts about the whole induction process. I’d like to know what worked best, what didn’t and what could be made better. They have been assigned a mentor each and maybe this is something they could discuss with their mentors.
While I was writing this blog, I was made aware of this tweet.
This is something GBs should think about. If you have a vacancy then it may help to advertise the fact on your website. You never know, someone may come across it and decide to get in touch with you.
I have also been reflecting upon the Leadership Conference I attended as Chair of an LGB. My school is part of United Learning. Once a year they hold a two day Leadership Conference where all heads of schools and chairs of LGBs are invited. The members of the board, the CEO, Jon Coles, the Regional Directors and the Company Secretary attend too. This is a really good way to get to know other heads and chairs, to hear from the board and the CEO and to feedback to them. Communication in a MAT is very important and needs to be two way; from the board to the LGBs and from the LGBs to the board. The Leadership Conference is one way United Learning accomplishes this (there are other events too where the board and LGBs get together). Education with character is what United Learning is all about. This was evident at the conference from the keynote speech from Andrew Triggs Hodge OBE (retired British rower and a triple Olympic Gold Medallist and quadruple World Champion) to the stunning musical performance by students from Manchester Academy, a United Learning sponsored academy.
If MATs decide to have LGBs then these LGBs should add value and to do this LGBs should know what’s happening at the board level and should be able to communicate what’s happening at the local level. The vision and values that drive the work of the trust should be explicit and should drive the work of the LGBs. My other trust is a much smaller (and newer) than United Learning. Trust wide communication is something we are very keen to get right. We are exploring how we can best achieve this.
Looking ahead to the summer term we will continue looking at the curriculum, something we had started doing before the inspection. Communication, as I mentioned above, is another thing we will be working on. The board has started reviewing our vision and values. This is important as the trust is growing. On a personal level, I’m looking forward to attending educational events and presenting at some of these. I have the following events in my diary. It would be lovely to see you at some of these events.
- 4th June Delivering Better Governance in Changing Times
- 8th June #BrewEdEssex (one ticket remaining)
- 11th June Curriculum Thinking: Three Masterclasses (sold out)
- 15th June #rEDRugby
- 20th and 21st June Festival of Education (early bird tickets till end of April)
There will also be the summer term board and LGB meetings. Looks like the next term will be a busy one too but that’s just how I like it to be.
Holidays between terms are a good time to sit back and reflect and also to look ahead. What was your last term like and what are you looking forward to in the summer term?
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
- 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.
My Wakelet collections of tweets from various sessions:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.