Category Archives: Governors

Effective relationships between boards and executive leaders matter

On 1st July 2021 I spoke at the TSWW Summer Conference. This year, due to COVID, the event was a live online event. Below are my slides and notes to accompany them.

Slide 1:

Boards are responsible for governing the organisation and school leaders are responsible for the operational day to day running of the organisation. For the organisation to be able to deliver a good education to its pupils, the relationship between the board and the school leaders must be based on trust, integrity and, very importantly, on understanding of each other’s roles. During this session I will be talking about how boards and schools leaders can work effectively together and what expectations they have of each other.

Slide 2:

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

Slide 3:

Before we talk about the role and functions of these 250, 000 volunteers, a word about school governance structures first. Maintained schools are governed by board of governors. Academies are governed by board of trustees. Multi-academy trusts have a trust board which is responsible for all the schools in the trust. Each individual school can also have a local governing body. The role and responsibilities of the local governing bodies is decided by the main trust board. The local governing bodies have no powers in themselves. Any responsibility they have is determined by the trust board. These delegated responsibilities are laid out in the scheme of delegation which is determined by the trust board.

Slide 4:

Coming to our role now: The purpose of governance is to provide confident strategic leadership. One of our core functions is to ensure the clarity of vision and ethos. Your vision tells people where you hope your school will be next year, in the next 3 years, in the next 5 years and so on and what sort of people will your students be when they leave you. The vision is set by the board with input from the executive leaders. The board also clarifies the ethos and the character of the school. The board should ensure there is a clear strategy or road map in place in order to achieve the vision. .

Slide 5:

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

Slide 6:

State schools are funded by public money. We are custodians of this public money. Our third core function relates to this. We have to look after the financial performance of the school and ensure that money is well spent.

Slide 7:

So, irrespective of what type of school, we are governing, whether a maintained school or an academy, we have three core functions:

  • Ensuring there is clarity of vision, ethos and strategic direction
  • Holding the school leaders to account for the performance of the school, performance of the pupils and the performance management of staff
  • Ensuring the money is well spent

Slide 8:

It’s very important for both governors and school leaders to understand their respective roles. The governors’ role is one of scrutiny and can be described as eyes on, hands off. The school leaders, on the other hand, are responsible for the day to day running of the school so their role is very much a hands-on role.

Slide 9:

The board leadership is the accountable leadership of the organisation. The current educational system is one of high stakes accountability. The board leadership faces accountability pressures itself from central government, from local authorities, from parents, from communities etc.

Slide 10:

Effective boards ensure that they hold the executive leadership to account in a way which doesn’t lead to fear in the organisation but instead is a way of determining what isn’t working and putting it right. Talking about accountability; a word about Ofsted. Ofsted findings shouldn’t come as a surprise to governors. They should know how their school, pupils and staff are performing. If findings do come as a surprise then they haven’t been performing their role well. They should also be able to explain to Ofsted what the school is doing to support pupils if results aren’t what were expected. During an inspection the board and the school should be seen to working together and this will only happen if they have been doing so before the inspectors walked in through the door.

Slide 11:

The work of governors is one of supporting and challenging school leaders. Governance is most effective when there is balance between the challenge and support we offer the school leaders.

Slide 12:

Moving on to the relationship between heads and boards.

Slide 13:

It is the board which appoints the head and this is perhaps one of the most important things that governors will do during their governance career.

Slide 14:

Heads are not, to borrow a popular phrase, just for Christmas. Therefore, boards take great care while appointing heads. They appoint someone who they is right for the school, who shares the same vision and values and who will be able to make the board’s vision a reality.

Slide 15:

The interview process is a chance for the board to find the best candidate for their school and for the candidate to gauge if the school is one where they can see themselves working. It is also a chance for both the board and the candidates to determine whether they have the same vision for the school and education of pupils.

Slide 16:

A word about when someone isn’t successful at interview. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t have what’s needed to be a head, it’s just that the school and they aren’t a good match. I like to explain it using the example of gloves and hands. This hand is perfect as is the pair of gloves but they aren’t a good match for each other. Governors should ensure that they give comprehensive feedback to the unsuccessful candidates. We have a responsibility to all candidates and not just to the candidate we appoint. Good feedback to unsuccessful candidates helps them develop and that is good for the sector.

Slide 17:

Once the head is appointed, the board should ensure they have a smooth start and that support is available to them. This is especially important if this is their first headship. The chair should set up meeting so that they can talk through what the head needs. This will also give them a chance to talk through the schedule of board meetings and ensure that the dates are convenient for the new head. The board and the chair should ensure that the head has all the documents they need or at least knows where to find them. The head would probably only have met the appointing panel It is a good idea to arrange an informal meeting with the rest of the board. The chair should discuss the format of the head’s report and what information the board requires the head to provide. The chair and the board should also ask if the head would like to have a coach or a mentor and if they would then the board should facilitate this. All of these steps will help ensure a good and effective relationship between the new head and the board.

Slide 18:

Coming now to the Chair and Head Relationship.

This is a really important relationship. John Tomsett says, “No-one explained to me the importance of the head teacher’s relationship with the chair of governors. It is the most important relationship for a head teacher because, if for no other reason, your chair of governors is your boss!” This point is sometimes not understood by some heads as well as some chairs which leads to a confusion over their roles and who does what.

Side 19:

Headship is a lonely place. Chairs should be supporting the head. Heads should feel they can use their chairs as a sounding board. It is the board’s responsibility to look after the well-being of the head and chairs play a crucial role in this.

In order for the head and chair to work effectively together, they should be meeting regularly. These needn’t be very long meetings but it is good to have them in the diary for the coming term or even the year. The head should also be able to contact the chair when they feel they need to outside of these meetings.

Slide 20:

Heads should tell chair anything of importance so there are no surprises for the chair or the board. The relationship needs to be a professional one and not a cosy one.

Slide 21:

In order to work effectively, there are certain things boards expect from heads.

  • Heads should be sharing the SDP with the board so that the board can have an input into setting the strategic priorities as well as knowing about KPIs and the people responsible for delivering them. This also helps in schools visits as governors monitoring a certain area will know who to go and talk to.
  • Governors should be involved in the school’s self evaluation also.
  • The head should ensure that the information requested by the board is sent out in a timely manner. Heads should discuss with the chair and the board about what they need reported in the head’s report. Sometimes, schools give so much data to governors that they can’t see the wood for the trees. At other times there is paucity of data given to the board. Both of these are wrong and a barrier to effective governance. The correct info, in the right format and amount should be sent out on time. Governors are volunteers but many have day jobs too so they need to receive reports in time for them to be able to read and digest them before the meeting.
  • Heads and the school should facilitate school visits by governors as that provides them with valuable information to carry out their job

Slide 22:

  • When new governors join a board they should have an induction session which should include a tour of the school and a meeting with the head. This will ensure that they are clear about their role and that they start to understand their school and its context.
  • Schools should fund training and CPD for governors as that’s really important for them to be effective. Governors sometimes ask me if they can afford to spend money on their own CPD and my reply to them is can they afford not to?!
  • The school should pay for a professional clerk for the governing body and heads should be clear that the clerk works for the chair and board and not the head or the school. It is best practice not to employ a staff member as a clerk because the clerk should be able to tell the head what is expected of them and that is difficult to do if the head is your boss too.
  • The school budget should include governor expenses. Governors can’t be paid to govern schools but they are legally allowed to claim out of pocket expenses such as child care costs incurred when they attend meetings. The board should have a governor expense policy in place and the budget should have an allowance for this built in.

Slide 23:

Coming now to what heads should be getting from boards if the two are to work effectively together.

  • We talked about leaving operational matters to head earlier. For the executive and the non-executive to work effectively together, they should avoid stepping on each others’ toes. The day to day running of the school and other operational matters should be left to the head and their teams. Governors appoint heads. They spend a large portion of the budget on staff salaries. So, let the professionals you’ve appointed do the jobs you pay them to do.
  • Confidentiality is very important. Things will be discussed in the boardroom by the head which are confidential in nature. Similarly, things discussed by the head with the chair may be confidential too. Heads should be able to trust chair the board not to breach confidentiality.
  • Good heads relish and welcome challenge. They aren’t threatened by it. It in fact provides them with an opportunity to show what is working well in school or what plans have been put in place to remedy what isn’t working well.
  • At the same time, the head and staff should be able to rely on support from the board.
  • Boards asking for data, information, reports etc should always bear in mind the workload pressures heads and their teams work under. Don’t add to it
  • The well being of the head and staff as well as pupils should be something the board actively looks after and promotes. Heads and staff who feel supported and who feel their wellbeing is important will perform better. The board should ensure that well-being isn’t a tick box exercise or an empty gesture or something like a yoga session which may not be everyone’s cup of tea.
  • We talked about why it’s important for governors to visit schools. Governors also need to remember that schools are working environments and it may not always be convenient to have visitors. Governors should have a visit protocol they follow and they should always arrange these visits beforehand. Governors who do a monitoring visit should report back to the board. It is a good idea to send the draft report to the staff member they met during the visit so that the staff member can correct any factual mistakes in the report before the report is circulated to the full board.

Slide 24:

We’ve talked about heads and the board. But what about other staff? Boards should invite SLT to attend board meetings. It’s important that the SBM attends meetings too, especially those dealing with finance. School visits and attending school events will mean governors get to meet other staff too. The board should also know what staff think of various issues and staff surveys are a good tool to determine what staff think and feel. The board should also ensure that the culture in the school is one which makes all staff feel valued and that their voices are heard.

Slide 25:

A word about appraisal now. The second core role of governors includes holding the executive leaders to account for performance management of staff. Governors should not be apprising individual teachers. That’s for their line managers to do. What governors should do is ensure that the appraisal system

  • Is a fair and transparent one
  • That any targets which are set are ambitious but achievable and are linked to the school’s strategic priorities
  • The same is true for the appraisal of the head too. That should be a fair and transparent process too. The head’s targets should also be ambitious, achievable and linked to the school’s strategic priorities. Many boards like to include a personal target too. This can be something about the head’s career development or well-being etc. Boards benefit from having an external advisor present during the head’s appraisal. Vast majority of board use external advisors but this isn’t a requirement for academies.

Slide 26:

This was a quick run through of the things executive leaders and boards can do to develop an effective working relationship. If the board, head, SLT and all other staff members work effectively together then it’s the children who benefit. After all, ensuring our children are happy and are getting a good education in a safe environment is why we are in education in the first place.

Proactive Pastoral Care and Governance Matters

On 15th April 2021, I attended the launch of Maria O’Neil’s book Proactive Pastoral Care. I was delighted that Maria asked me to be on the panel. I had read the book with my governor hat on and had made some notes in preparation. I thought it would be good to share these, so here goes.

  • The first thing which I liked about the book is that it makes you think what you can do about pastoral care proactively rather than waiting till something needs a reaction from you. As governors, we hold school leaders to account and we should check if systems and processes are there to stop something happening as well as how school leaders deal with things after they happen ie holding them to account for the proactive as well as the reactive.
  • Maria’s book is useful for governors as it gives us indications of what to hold the school leaders to account for as far as pastoral care is concerned. For example, right at the beginning of the book Maria talks about what she considers to be the core elements of proactive pastoral care: character education, parental engagement and PSHE curriculum. So, right at the start of the book this gives governors three lines of enquiry. She also talks about school culture. The first core role of governors is to ensure there is clarity of vision, ethos and strategic direction. Ethos is a Greek word meaning character. Much of what Maria discusses in the book, such as well being, school culture, eliminating bullying, character education etc all contribute to the ethos or character of the organisations we govern and therefore reading this book can help governors fulfil part of their first core role.
  • I loved the fact that Maria makes the point that character education isn’t about fixing people and that it isn’t only about what happens in PSHE lessons. Again, this helps governors judge whether or not character education is the golden thread which runs through the whole school curriculum.
  • Governing boards should ensure that they engage with stakeholders. In fact, NGA has proposed that this be the fourth core role of governors. Maria has a whole chapter on community pastoral engagement which governors would find useful.
  • I’m very glad that Maria has included a chapter on e-safety. Again, this will give governors valuable insights into this topic and help them plan how to ask the right questions of their school leaders.
  • Finally, I love the questions for Reflections at the end of each chapter and the space to write down your thoughts. These include questions the board can ask itself such as
    • How would you describe your school culture? Does it provide the most ideal growing situation?
    • What are your school values?
  • And questions to ask of school leaders such as
    • How often do staff receive pastoral training?
    • What opportunities do your curriculum and teaching provide for character development?

Maria’s book is very easy to read and you can dip in and out of it. I have really enjoyed reading Maria’s book and I know I will be using it in the future.

Igniting passion for governance matters

Flora Cooper, Headteacher, put on a fabulous event on Saturday 13th March. The event was titled Reignite: Burn Bright. Flora’s idea behind this was that we have had a crazy year and now is the time to remind everyone why we do what we do. She asked presenters to prepare talks which would be ten minutes long and would aim to fire up the audience. She wanted this event to be a “chance to remind everyone in education the impact they have on those they work with and the difference they are making to the world. It’s also a chance to encourage them to #BurnBrighter so that together we can make the system look the way we want it for our children”. It was a fabulous event with some really inspiring speakers and me! You can read the tweets from the session using this link.

I was honoured to have had the opportunity to present. My slides and accompanying notes are below.

Slide 2:

I’m going to be talking about governance today and I hope I can ignite an interest in governance in you.

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

Side 3:

Coming to our role now: The purpose of governance is to provide confident leadership. Board members are strategic, non-executive leaders of the organisation. Irrespective of the type of organisation we lead, we have three core functions. Our first core role is to ensure there is clarity of vision (so everyone knows where we want to be in the next year, 3 years, 5 years and so on), that there is clarity of ethos (so that everyone is clear about our values) and that there is clarity of strategic direction (so everyone understands how we will get to our destination and make the vision a reality).

Slide 4:

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

Slide 5:

State 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.

As strategic leaders board members bring about school improvement indirectly. Being custodians of the vision and finances, we ensure that the resources are allocated to best achieve the strategic goals. Through our monitoring and by in-depth questioning of data we help drive school improvement. And finally, we provide support to the executive leaders, the heads.

Slide 6:

It is important to remember that a school governor is a governor for all children and it is our responsibility to ensure that each child is given a chance to burn bright and shine.

Slide 7:

You undoubtedly realise that how important these three core roles are. Because our work involves these important roles, governance must be effective if we are to provide the best possible education to every child. For governance to be effective, the Governance handbook says we need leadership which is strategic and which understands accountability. We need people with the correct skills and the right structures in place and the board needs to understand compliance and evaluation.

Slide 8:

The National Governance Association lists eight elements of effective governance which are:

  • Ensuring that the right people are around the table
  • Understanding roles & responsibilities
  • Good chairing
  • Professional clerking
  • Good relationships based on trust
  • Knowing the school
  • Commitment to asking challenging questions
  • Confidence to have courageous conversations

Slide 9:

The board leadership is the accountable leadership of the organisation. The current educational system is one of high stakes accountability. The board leadership faces accountability pressures itself from central government, from local authorities, from communities etc. Effective boards ensure that they hold the executive leadership to account in a way which doesn’t lead to fear in the organisation but instead is a way of determining what isn’t working and putting it right. The work of governors is one of supporting and challenging school leaders. Governance is most effective when there is balance between the challenge and support we offer the school leaders.

Slide 10:

During the present COVID crisis, we have to adjust that a little bit so that we are offering more support to our school leaders. They are working under extremely trying circumstances so it’s up to us to ensure that instead of burning out, they continue to burn bright.

Slide 11:

You may be wondering why I think it is important that teachers know about governance and governors.

Slide 12:

Well, firstly if you work in an organisation then you should know how it is governed and who governs it. Schools are no different so you should have some idea of who your governors are and what they do.

Slide 13:

If you understand governance and what your governors are trying to achieve then we can all move forward in the same direction to bring about school improvement and burn brighter together and this means that there is less chance of a “us and them” feeling or culture developing which, if it does, can be very toxic.

Slide 14:

The other reason I wanted to talk about governance today is that we would love it if more teachers joined governing boards and I hope that my talk will make you want to find out more and eventually join a board. I’ve talked a little bit about the core role of governors so you know what you’ll have to do if you join a board. Obviously, before you join a board, you would also want to know about the benefits of joining a board.

Slide 15:

Firstly, it’s very valuable CPD. You gain experience in thinking strategically, looking at problems using a strategic lens and thinking of long term solutions.

Slide 16:

If you join the board of a different school, then you gain understanding of how others do things differently to you. Your school may be facing similar problems and the board you’re on may have different solutions to the same problem. You bring that knowledge back to your school. The board you’re serving on benefits from your experience and different perspective too.

Slide 17:

Serving on the board of a different school and being exposed to different practises helps you reflect on your own practice which is always a good thing.

Slide 18:

Working as a governor means you gain experience of looking at budgets, at finance, at HR etc. This experience will be especially useful if you want to go for senior leader or headship positions in the future.

Slide 19:

Joining a board is a very good way of building your network beyond your own school or trust.

Slide 20:

Another great advantage of serving on the board of a different school is that you may get a chance to be involved with appointing a senior leader or even a head. You will get to see how boards go about what is perhaps one of the most important jobs they have to do. Again, this experience will be invaluable if you decide to go for these positions yourself one day.

Slide 21:

As a member of a governing board, you will obviously learn about governance and this knowledge will help you work better with your own board.

Slide 22:

You would have developed specialist knowledge and skills as part of your job. You will know a lot about assessment, curriculum development, safeguarding, SEND etc. This knowledge will be invaluable to the board you join.

Slide 23:

As a staff member, you are already helping pupils in your school. By joining a different board you will help pupils of that school burn brighter too.

Slide 24:

I hope this has given you a flavour of what governance is all about and I hope you will think about volunteering yourself as a board member. I also hope you all have been ignited by the different talks today. I know I have and will be. Thank you Flora and Tom for putting on a fabulous programme.

Slide 25:

I would like to end by thanking each and every one of you. Nothing in your training would have prepared you for working in a pandemic. Yet you have managed to keep schools open for those who needed to be in and provided education to those who were at home. You and your colleagues have worked under very trying circumstances. The impact you have had and continue to have is immense. Let’s all continue to Burn Brighter together and continue to shine on for our children.

The video recording can be seen here

Top Blogs of the Week: Schools Week (25 Jan 2021)

Schools Week have published my Top Blogs of the Week.

Separation of powers, accountability, responsibility and humanity are Naureen Khalid’s top picks of the topics from this week’s education blogs

Should the chief executive be appointed as a trustee?

@katiecpd

While governors and trustees take a strategic view, a school’s executive team has responsibility for its operational leadership. The role of the board is to hold the executive to account. That’s why in the charity sector CEOs are generally not appointed to the board. Yet whether this should be the case in schools and academies (which are exempt charities) has been a cause for debate.

Continued in Naureen Khalid’s blogs of the week, 25 January 2021.

Virtual meetings matter: Lessons from the pandemic

I was delighted to be asked to present a session on governance as part of the Greenshaw Learning Trust’s National Inset Day. Thank you to Ben Parnell for featuring governance in your brilliant programme. My slides from the session and accompanying notes are below.

Slide 2: At the start of 2020 none of us would have imagined that we would be governing in a pandemic. The greatest danger we had to look out for is that governance stopped. Our way of working changed but we had to make sure that we did keep on governing.

Slide 3: Under normal circumstances, we have three core roles. First is ensuring clarity of vision, ethos

Slide 4: and strategic direction.

Slide 5: Secondly, we hold the heads and their teams to account for the performance of pupils, staff and the school

Slide 6: Thirdly to look after the financial health of the school. In order to carry out these roles, we hold governing body meetings with the head and their team, we ask for various reports and we carry out monitoring visits. Our purpose in asking for these reports, holding these meetings and carrying out monitoring visits is to carry out our role of a critical friend.

Slide 7: Although things are very different and difficult now, our core roles are still the same. The greatest danger we must look out for is that we let stop governing. Our way of working has changed but we must make sure that we keep on governing. Governors may feel, for example, that strategic thinking could be put on the back burner now, but we need to remember that our schools and communities have endured and lived through hardships which a year ago were unimaginable. Boards need to be ready to learn lessons from this experience and evaluate why we do what we do. We must ask ourselves if our strategic planning and vision are still fit for purpose and take the long view. We need to be ready to put the lessons learnt during this year into practice.

Slide 8: Let’s now talk about how we perform our core roles. In order to carry out these roles, we hold governing body meetings with the head and their team, we ask for various reports and we carry out monitoring visits. Our purpose in asking for these reports, holding these meetings and carrying out monitoring visits is to act as a critical friend. The way we work has changed in the pandemic. Where things have become difficult, we have also had opportunities to evaluate how we work. The pandemic has taught us some valuable lessons and I will be sharing some tips to improve the way governors and trustees work and carry out the business of governance in the future. The most striking change has been in the way we hold meetings. Meetings in person had to be abandoned as safety concerns are paramount. Some boards may have had the occasional online meeting before the pandemic. Most of the time this was to allow someone to dial in who could not attend in person.

Slide 9: Now, we have had to have everyone dial in. This meant that we had to quickly find suitable platforms and come to grips with technology. Some boards found this relatively easy, others took some time to get used to this new style of working. I think virtual meetings are here to stay. In time, I think boards will use a blended approach, meeting virtually as well as online and this will be a good thing. Holding meetings online has had some benefits too.

Slide 10: Governors have reported that time keeping and attendance at meetings has improved

Slide 11: As have the discussions which have become more focused. Really long meetings are very rare now as sitting in front of a screen for long periods of time is not the easiest of things to do. Hopefully, good time keeping, and focused discussions will carry on even after things return to normal.

Slide 12: So, my first tip would be look at your agendas in order to streamline your meetings. Can they be trimmed down, so you focus on the really important issues? Review the papers you send out before the meeting. If there is something which is being circulated for information only then mark it as that and don’t spend time on it at the meeting. Another good tip is to mark items on the agenda as For debate, For decision etc. This will help focus everyone’s attention to what needs to be done.

Slide 13: If we will continue having online meetings then there are some questions we should be asking ourselves if we are to get the maximum benefit out of online meetings. Questions such as

  • Is the online format getting in the way the board operates? Are board members able to ask challenging questions in the same way as before?
  • Is the online format off putting for some or is everyone able to contribute to the discussion and be heard?
  • Are all our governors able to access online meetings? Does everyone have the required technology? Does anyone need help in getting set up and navigating their way around the platform?
  • Are we happy with the online platform we have chosen and are we using all its functions effectively?

Slide 14: One of the ways we perform our role is by carrying out monitoring visits. Again, the pandemic has meant that we have not been able to go into schools for these monitoring visits. Some of the monitoring has been done remotely.

Slide 15: The safeguarding link governors, for example, have had online meetings with the DSL to assure themselves and the board that the school is doing all that in can to safeguard children. Governors have missed going into schools. It is, for most of us, the most enjoyable part of our role. We love seeing the children and the way the school works. Hopefully, once the pandemic is over, we will be able to resume these visits.

Slide 16: However, till that happens we must ask ourselves

  • During these visits are we focusing on strategic priorities and key policies such as safeguarding and wellbeing?
  • Are we reading papers etc beforehand and preparing for the meeting?
  • Virtual visits should follow the same protocols as the visits when governors go into schools. As in the past, we should arrange online visits these beforehand, This, in fact, is much more important now as school staff will have their hands full much more than normal.
  • It goes without saying that confidentiality must be observed
  • And report of the visit should be circulated like they were being done before

The pandemic has shown us that visits can be done online. This will be especially useful for those governors whose day jobs mean they can’t get into schools during school hours. Visits are an important way of developing relationships with staff and so being able to chat to staff online will be of great value and benefit to these governors.

Slide 17: So, think about whether some of the monitoring visits could continue being virtual visits once the pandemic is behind us.

Slide 18: Governance is about balancing the support and challenge we provide to our school leaders

Slide 19: During the pandemic we have, rightly, tilted the balance and offered more support than challenge. We have reduced our demands on the school for data and papers etc. When the pandemic is over, we should go back to how things were with support and challenge being in balance, but we must evaluate what information we ask the head and school to provide us. We must look at how we work now and what we did pre-COVID.

Slide 20: Is there some information we asked for which created workload for the school but didn’t really help us perform our role? Right at the start, when we went into lockdown many boards were just asking for safeguarding information. I’m not saying that that is all we should ask for going forward. What I am saying is, that we must ask ourselves if the information we receive is worth the increased workload created. We must ask ourselves if the school is spending lots of time putting information together which is basically useless as it won’t help pupils move forward.

Slide 21: We must remind ourselves of what James Pembroke, who knows more about data and assessment than anyone else I know, said “Bad data is NOT better than no data at all”.

Slide 22: So, that’s next tip; before going back to how things were, think whether you need to ask for the same information you used to before COVID, did it create workload for school leaders and whether it was helped you perform your role.

Slide 23: The board is a corporate body and one of the soft skills needed by board members is the ability to be an effective team member. As I said earlier, due to the pandemic the board meetings have had to be held online. One of the problems faced by some boards with this is the fact that it has been difficult to maintain good board dynamics online, especially if you have members who have just joined. It’s hard to pick up body language clues and it’s difficult to build up relationships.

Slide 24: My next tip would be to think how you can help the board work well together.

Slide25: Hopefully, soon we will be able to meet in person again and that will help team members getting to know each other. One simple way to do this would be to gather 15-20 minutes before the meeting starts and use that time to socialise.

Slide 26: In the meantime, you may find it helpful to have an additional online meeting whose sole purpose is to get to know each other.

Slide 27: There are things which we have had to continue doing during the pandemic and recruitment is one such thing. I have sat on an SLT appointment panel and conducted interviews for vacant governor positions. Like everything else, these have had to be conducted online too. The interview process has been shorter, and I think candidates may have felt more at ease, sat at home in front of their computer rather than coming into school an facing a group of strangers across a table.

Slide 28: If you have conducted interviews online I would suggest you evaluate how thy went and are there things you may want to retains when there is no longer the need to hold online interviews.

Slide 29: One of the things my board has had to do online is appraisals. This has worked well too. This time around a trustee asked if they could observe the process. We asked the heads and the CEO who were happy to have the trustee observe. The trustee observing the process kept their camera and mic switched off during the meeting so they wouldn’t distract others. Next year we will have a trustee who has observed the process and knows how this works, who could be part of the appraisal committee. An online observation of the board’s work is something which can be continued even when we start meeting in person.

Slide 30: My next tip would be to think which of the practices you’ve started during online meetings you could continue doing even when meeting in person. In other words, think outside the box.

Slide 31: One other thing which has changed markedly during this year is the access to online CPD. School halls, lecture theatres etc where these events were normally held lie empty while we attend sessions in the comfort of our homes like you may have done. While this is a good thing and allows access to many more people, we must make sure that we are targeting things which will fill gaps in our knowledge and not attending sessions for the sake of attending them.

Slide 32: So, I would like us to allow time for ourselves to reflect upon what we have learnt and see if we can apply it to our practice to improve it.

Slide 33: No presentation on governance will be complete if clerking isn’t mentioned. If boards have worked effectively during the pandemic and have adapted to online working, then a lot of the credit must go the clerks. They have had to quickly switch to clerking online, they have had to support governors adapt to working online, they have kept on top of what the board has had to do, and they have kept the routine governance work going.

Slide 34: My next tip would be to employ good, independent professional clerks and value them and I would urge boards to ensure that they say a huge thank you to their clerks for the way to have risen to the challenge this year has brought.

Slide 35: Wellbeing has been a particular concern of governors during the pandemic. The pandemic has placed a huge amount of pressure on heads and their teams. Governors and especially chairs have been very mindful of this and have ensured they have supported heads and checked on them frequently. Although governors and chairs are generally very good at this, we need to ensure that we continue looking after our heads even after the pandemic is behind us. What is equally important is the wellbeing of governors. Chairs and other governors should remember to check in on their colleagues.

Slide 36: I would like to end my presentation with what is my top tip; look after the wellbeing of heads and your board members and remember to take time out for yourself too. Self-care is as important as caring for others.

37: This was a quick run through of what governance has been like during the pandemic and what lessons can be learnt. Before I end, I would like to say a huge thank you to heads and staff of our schools. You all are awesome. I would also like to thank trustees and governors for the way you all have supported your schools and communities.

Local governance matters

Trust is a digital journal for executive and governance leaders. It is produced by Confederation of School Trusts and National Teacher Accreditation. The December 2020 issue published an article written by on my experience of chairing a local governing body in a large multi-academy trust.

Chairing a Local Governing Body in a Multi-Academy Trust

Articles of Association afford Multi-Academy Trusts considerable flexibility with regard to their governance structures. The simplest structure is a trust board (accountable for all the schools in the trust) and governance at the local level with Local Governing Bodies (LGBs) to which the board can delegate powers. Local governance can take many forms and school trusts are free to choose the model which works best for their schools. They can, for example, choose to have one LGB per school or a cluster model with one LGB looking after more than one school or a mixture of both.

You can read the rest of the article here.

Top Blogs of the Week: Schools Week (23 Nov 2020)

Schools Week have published my Top Blogs of the Week.

A theatre of dominance
@ThisIsSethsBlog

In this post, Seth Godin, founder of learning platform Akimbo, states that people who take part and those who watch sporting events may not realise that there are two forms of ‘theatre’ taking place, a theatre of dominance and a theatre of affiliation.

Continued in Naureen Khalid’s blogs of the week, 23 November, 2020.

Online complaint panel matters

Due to the present COVID crisis, governors have been meeting virtually. A lot has been written and discussed about these meetings. I was thinking about governor panels in the present situation. Ideally, panel hearings should be held in person but there may be circumstances where this may not be possible. In such cases it would be advisable to draw up a protocol which should be sent to all parties beforehand. Below I have listed a few things which could be included in the protocol.

  • Ensure you follow your complaints policy to the letter
  • Inform participants well in advance that
    • The panel will meet virtually and why
    • The link will be sent to them a day before the panel meets (ask them to check junk folders and inform the organizer (the clerk) that they’ve received it. It’s especially important that they inform the clerk if they haven’t received the link.
    • Tell them that the link should not be shared with anyone
    • The panel could be sent two links; one to be used for the panel meeting and the second for the panel deliberations. This ensures that there will be no one present during the deliberations who shouldn’t be there
  • Offer to hold a test run
  • The organizer/clerk of the meeting should share their contact number with all the participants. The clerk should have contact details of the panel, school representative and complainant so the clerk can get in touch with people (and they with the clerk) on the day if needed (for example in case of trouble logging on).
  • Think about using a platform which has a “waiting room” facility
  • Ask participants to join 5-15 minutes before the start so that any logging on problems could be ironed out
  • Ask everyone who will be participating to inform the clerk if they will be accompanied by family/friend/union member. If your policy mentions that legal representation is not allowed, then make that clear
  • Decide what will happen if the complainant does not join the meeting within the specified time and has not informed the organizer why (will you postpone or will the meeting go ahead in the complainant’s absence)
  • Decide what will happen if the complainant, school representative or one or more of the panel members are unable to join in or lose their connection during the meeting
  • Inform everyone that they should be in a room where they can’t be overheard or interrupted
  • Ask them use headphones if possible
  • Ask them to keep cameras on and microphones un-muted during the proceedings (unless they are conferring with the person accompanying them. Please see comment by Ros below)
  • Inform them that recording of proceedings is strictly prohibited
  • Ask participants to sign in using their names so that the organizer can recognize who is trying to join the meeting and admit them
  • Ask your clerk if they are happy to clerk and if they need any help/resources and would they prefer someone else to look after the technology side of the things (this person needs to respect confidentiality of the proceedings and take no part in the proceedings)
  • Decide how the papers will be sent to all participants (paper copies or online)
  • Decide before hand if screen sharing will be allowed. If yes, then decide how that would work
  • If the meeting has to be stopped for a little while (for example the complainant gets upset and needs time to regain composure and withdraws for few minutes) then the school representative should be asked to withdraw too so they aren’t alone  with the panel. The clerk should put them into the waiting room/lobby.

Is there anything else you would include? I would also like to hear from anyone who has experience of online panels.

Joining a MAT? Stakeholder questions matter

When a school decides to join a multi-academy trust (MAT), the first thing the governors/trustees should do is carry out due diligence into practices, ethos and culture of the MAT they are thinking of joining. Keeping the stakeholders informed is of vital importance too. This can be done by holding information evenings/events where stakeholders are invited to hear about the proposal and ask questions. Information should also be readily available on the website. One additional thing that can be done is to have a document on the website with answers to questions which governors/trustees think stakeholders may ask. This document should be updated by adding additional questions which people will be sending in once they have digested all the information which has been provided to them. Below are some questions you may want to include in your document. Obviously, there will be many more questions which will be specific to your school/situation but these will give you an idea of the type of questions people are likely to want answered.

  • What is a MAT?
  • Will joining the MAT change the ethos of our school?
  • You have said protection of ethos is one reason for joining this MAT. Can you expand a bit more on this?
  • Why do you think this MAT is a good fit for us?
  • What is the formal channel for comments / suggestions to be passed to the school?
  • How will the consultation comments be shared?
  • Can you comment on the school funding shortfall?
  • Will the MAT “get rid” of expensive staff?
  • How will the Condition Improvement Fund applications work if we join the MAT?
  • Will there be a pressure on us to hire more NQTs?
  • What will happen to the wide range of subjects we offer and to the twilight courses?
  • What will happen to the school’s governing body?
  • Can we have sight of the scheme of delegation?
  • What are the exit options for leaving the MAT?
  • What happens to the funds collected by our parents for our school?
  • What are the teachers’ opinions about this proposal?
  • Will we be expected to use the MAT’s curriculum?
  • How would pay change for staff?
  • What is meant by top slice? How much is it and what will it pay for?
  • Who will be responsible for appointing our headteacher and other staff?
  • How will MAT trustees govern our school if they are not in the same city as us?
  • Will our uniform change?
  • Will the school name change?
  • Will our school continue to be recognizable as X school or will it become indistinguishable from other schools in the MAT?
  • Our school has always looked after pupils with SEN really well. Will that continue being the case?

I hope you will find these useful.Please do add any questions you think are missing in the comments.

Visible governance matters

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.