Category Archives: Research

Governors and #rEDRugby matters

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.

#rEDRugby debates

My day at #rEDRugby

#rEDRugby blogs

Governance matters at #rEDBrum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As governors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further reading:

Blogs:

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

#rEDBrum 2019 takeaway by Nick Wood

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

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

My Wakelet collections of tweets from various sessions:

Prof Daniel Muijs

Panel discussion

Mark Lehain

Andrew Percival

Summer Turner

Stuart Lock

Demystifying school governance matters

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

Slide 2:

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

Slide 3: 

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

Slide 5: 

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

Slide 6:

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

Slide 7:

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

Slide 8:

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

Slide 9:

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

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

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

Slide 10:

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

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

Slide 11:

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

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

Slide 12:

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

Slide 13:

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

Slide 14:

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

Slide 15:

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

Slide 16:

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

Slide 17:

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

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

Slide 18:

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

Staff wellbeing surveys matter: Guest Post

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Developing staff

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

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

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

Feedback and appraisal

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

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

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

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

Teamwork

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

Being fair and respectful

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

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

But also explicitly ask about discrimination:

And harassment:

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

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

 

Robert Hill’s views on various matters to do with MATs; Part 1

Robert Hill, Visiting Professor at UCL Institute of Education, policy adviser to Prime Minister Tony Blair and other Cabinet ministers, senior research manager for the Audit Commission, management consultant and social policy researcher,  has written three guest blogs on the topic of MATs for Capita Sims. These blogs are bing posted here with Capita Simms kind permission. Below is the first blog of the series. To read the original please click here.

As a MAT leader, how can you support successful growth?

The number of multi-academy trusts (MATs) is continuing to grow, and along with this many MATs are expanding too in order to reap the benefits associated with size. It’s clear that in order to be viable, as both economic units AND as agents of school improvement, small MATs need to grow.

Of the 2,723 academy trusts, over 1,700 comprise just one academy (either a free-standing converter or a MAT with just one school waiting, or trying, to acquire more). Over 700 MATs have five or fewer academies and just 350 are responsible for six or more schools. However, the number of academies in a MAT doesn’t tell you everything – the number of pupils is also relevant. Modelling undertaken by the National Schools Commissioner suggests that:

  • when MATs have around 1,250 pupils (or three middle-sized primary schools) a topslice of five per cent will typically enable them to fund an executive head, finance director and HR manager. Beyond these posts, schools will still need to buy-in or employ other expertise they need – including for school improvement.
  • as MATs grow towards having between 2,500 to 3,000 pupils (or one secondary school and four primaries) they can additionally pay for extra functions to be provided centrally such as ICT strategy, management and procurement, school improvement support and estates and maintenance.
  • when MATs double in size again and have 5,000+ pupils (or two secondaries and eight primary schools) their topslice could also buy executive heads for their clusters, estates, finance and HR teams, ICT network support, a range of school improvement support, marketing and PR.

However, MATs face three big challenges in trying to grow to a viable size. First it is often hard to find the right schools that fit with their vision and expertise. There is no easy answer to this, though the more MATs establish a clear strategic view of the sort of trust they want to develop and the geography they want to serve, the more this will provide the basis for a focused conversation with local authorities and the Regional School Commissioner’s office about suitable opportunities for growth.

Second, MATs are now aware that there is a risk of biting off more than they can chew in terms of making commitments to bring about school improvement. A later blog in this series will discuss this.

Third, how do MATs build the infrastructure they need to support a larger number of schools in advance of additional schools joining the trust – and having the extra income they will bring? Again there is no off-the-shelf answer but here are my five top tips.

Five top tips for building the infrastructure needed to support growth

1. Develop a plan for managing the increased scale of the MAT. An executive head or a CEO can oversee three – or if they are geographically concentrated and not too big – four or even five schools. But at some point the MAT will become too large and unwieldy to sustain this model. Learnings from both the corporate sector and existing larger MATs suggest that geographical clusters provide the appropriate scale to share resources, leaders and learning – and to exercise oversight. So MATs need to work out which functions might best be carried out at school, cluster and MAT level and how they can complement each other.

2. Set a realistic level of topslice to fund the development of the MAT’s infrastructure. Resist the temptation to reduce the amount charged to schools in order to try and make it more attractive to join your MAT. The average topslice among MATs with two or more academies is 4.6 per cent.

3. Sort out your approach on autonomy and standardisation. Some MATs aim to cede as much autonomy to their schools as possible – it’s seen as a ‘reward’ for a school making improvement. Other MATs operate fairly tight centralised models. But autonomy and standardisation should not be seen as polar opposites. It may well be right for some systems and procedures to apply to all schools – whether because of legal necessity (in areas such as HR and safeguarding); financial or operational efficiency (ICT, procurement, performance and financial management) or because it aids the development of a common language about learning and school improvement. In these cases MATs will either immediately or over time be wise to adopt systems that automatically collect and enable data to be analysed in multiple ways – i.e. at pupil group, subject, school or MAT level.

But if everything is standardised then the opportunity to learn from difference or for a school to express its identity is limited. Deciding what goes in which column is, therefore, important. And so is the process for agreeing this. MATs should be aiming to align their practice by co-constructing with their school leaders and local governing bodies the answers to these issues.

4. Review arrangements for leadership and governance. Arrangements for MATs to involve and consult with school leaders and local governing bodies in a small trust may be relatively informal. CEOs and boards should think ahead to how they will operate when their MAT is double its existing size. MATs might need to consider restructuring their board, reviewing the local governance model, establishing a forum for liaising with chairs of governors, holding more structured executive team meetings with school principals, formalising how middle leaders across the trust work with each other, and using intranets, websites and apps to communicate with pupils, parents and staff.

5. Appoint a chief operating officer (COO), or director of finance with a broad remit, as early as possible in the life of the MAT to lead the work on developing the MAT’s infrastructure. Funding may be an issue but the expectation should be that a COO will rapidly earn back their salary from the savings they make in rationalising the operations of the trust. The next blog in this series will look at financial management across academies and MATs.

 

 

Governors and @researchED1 matters

researchED is a grass-roots movement which aims to improve research literacy and allows educators to access best research. 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, especially if your teachers are engaged in research. Understanding what educational research is all about and what good educational research looks like may help you to question and understand the impact of what teachers in your school may be doing. It may be that some of the teachers from your school are also interested in attending the event. This provides an ideal opportunity to go together and discuss educational matters with your teachers outside of a board meeting. Such interaction between staff and governors is invaluable.

These events usually have a presentation from Ofsted. I have had the opportunity to listen to Mike Cladingbowl, Sean Harford and Amanda Spielman at these events. The presentations are usually followed by a question/answer session and I have always used the opportunity to ask a governance related question.

The other good thing about attending such events is the networking opportunities they provide. Some of the contacts you make may be helpful to teachers in your school too. Best of all, unlike many other events, researchED is very reasonably priced. This is important to me as I do not ask the school to purchase my ticket for me. The ticket includes access to all sessions and includes lunch too.

I have attended researchED conferences in the past and have blogged about them. If you are interested in reading these blogs then the links to them are as below.

Ed 2014 Matters

Governors Go To researchEd Cambridge!

Governors go to #rED15 because research matters Part 1

Governors go to #rED15 because research matters Part 2

If this has whet your appetite then there are two researchED events coming up. The first on 1st July 2017 in Rugby and tickets can be bought using this link. The second is the 2017 National Conference on Sept 9th 2017. More information about this (including how to buy tickets) is here.

If you do go to either or both of these then please do tweet/blog. And if you do go to the National Conference, then hopefully I’ll see you there!

Multi Academy Trusts matters; Education Select Committee Report 

At midnight tonight (28th Feb 2017) the Education Select Committee published its report into the inquiry examining a range of issues relating to multi-academy trust accountability and governance structures. The report also looks at characteristics of successful trusts and the Government’s plans for future expansion.

The Report can be read here.

Evidence given by Lord Nash, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the School System, Department for Education, and Peter Lauener, Chief Executive, Education Funding Agency. Oral Evidence Watch the session.

Evidence given by Jennifer Bexon-Smith, Regional Schools Commissioner, East Midlands and the Humber, Rebecca Clark, Regional Schools Commissioner, South West England, and Janet Renou, Regional Schools Commissioner, North of England. Oral Evidence   Watch the session

Evidence given by Dr Melanie Ehren, Reader in Educational Accountability and Improvement, UCL Institute of Education, Professor Merryn Hutchings, Emeritus Professor, Institute for Policy Studies in Education, London Metropolitan University, Natalie Perera, Executive Director, and Karen Wespieser, Senior Research Manager, National Foundation for Educational Research; Paul Barber, Director, Catholic Education Service, Reverend Steve Chalke, Founder, Oasis Community Learning, Andrew Copson, Chief Executive, British Humanist Association, Reverend Nigel Genders, Chief Education Officer, Church of England Education Office, and David Wilson, Director, Freedom and Autonomy for Schools, National Association Oral Evidence   Watch the session.

Department for Education-Written Evidence

Jamie Reed MP Written Evidence

Philip Kerridge Written Evidence

Governors go to #rED15 because research matters Part 2

Saturday saw people interested in education and research make their way to South Hamstead High School for the Annual ResearchED Conference. This is Part 2 of my blog about the day and covers sessions by Tom Sherrington, David Didau and Sam Freedman. Part 1 covers sessions by Laura Mcinerney, John Tomsett and Carol Davenport.

Tom Sherrington: Research Literacy and Literacy Research

Tom started his session by talking about research. According to Tom a high proportion oi conversations we have about research don’t reference specific research. Tom had a look at a DfE publication which ranked various interventions. He found that the study which ranked first was done over 20 years ago and was based on work done in one school. Tome said that sometimes citations have a power greater than what they should have. Citations get reported! Tom made the point that we should question the validity of the research. Tom said that in publishing that report DfE had been lazy but teachers cannot afford to be. Some well known literacy intervention research is based on a small scale enquiry. Tom made the point that in secondary schools with students with literacy problems, ordinary literacy teaching is ineffective. Tom’s school used “Accelerated Reader” but it required 1:1TA support and ICT access so they are going to stop using it. His school is going to start using the Thinking Reading programme. Tom was very clear that he was not recommending this programme at this stage as he hadn’t started using it. 6TA’s will be trained in the delivery of this programme. Students will be taken out of lessons for 3 half lessons so they don’t miss an awful lot of the lessons they are being taken out of. Tome says he realises this programme is an investment but in a secondary school where you have students with a reading age of 9 you have to make that investment as because of the literacy problems these students can’t access the rest of the curriculum either. The way this programme work, each lesson will generate a score so Tom and his school will be able to evaluate the programme. Tom ended by appealing to teachers that if they are asked to participate in studies by universities they should say yes! As a governor what I took away from this session was the fact that if the board is asked to sanction spending money on an intervention strategy, then the board should ask for the evidence which supports that strategy and to evaluate that evidence thoroughly.

Tweets about Tom’s session are Storified here

Tom’s blog is here

David Didau Foxy Thinking: How to Use Research to Embrace Uncertainty and Take Sensible Risks

David’s talk was about knowledge and ignorance. David used Ted Hughes’ poem The Thought Fox as a metaphor for how we may be thinking about research (feeling our way through ignorance before grasping an idea). At the same time dealing with the “unknown unknowns” is like looking for a black cat in a dark room when the cat may not be there anyway. It is, therefore, easier to concentrate on the known knows. But certainty has problems too. We don’t know what we don’t know and we prefer people to be sure even if they are wrong. David then went onto talk about foxy thinkers (know many little things, know more about what they don’t know) and hedgehog thinkers (know one big thing, usually see what they want to see). The link to education comes from the fact that when we do find answers they may lead to more questions. Education is complex and trying to say that this is what good teachers do so you should too. Every tool we have (observations etc) have drawbacks and this makes people think teachers shouldn’t be held accountable. David argues that what we should be looking at is developing “intelligent accountability” so teachers feel trusted, supported and accountable. This will mean they will be concerned with “being” good rather than just “looking” good. This reminded me of the system John Tomsett has started introducing in his school where there is joint lesson planning, no observation and then a joint discussion to evaluate. As governors we need to strike the right balance between trust and accountability.

In other words, from this

to this

Above two images courtesy David Didau

Storify of tweets from David’s session can be accessed here

David has blogged about his session and also included his slides.

Sam Freedman: Five Big Policy Challenges for the Next Government

Sam started by warning us that this was going to be a depressing talk. But I think, firstly this needed to be said and secondly Sam did offer some possible solutions so not all doom and gloom!

Sam started by talking about school led system where improvement is led by a good school. This doesn’t mean that the school has complete autonomy over the “what” which should still be prescribed by the government but the “how” is up to the school. Though some chains are doing amazing stuff, on average academies are performing the same as other schools. Similarly although some free schools are doing very well its still too early to tell. There is no systematic evaluations of NLE’s/Teaching schools/School Direct. So, what can we conclude from this? School improvement can happen in chains and federations but that is due to effective deployment of good people. We thought 5-10% of school leaders had the capacity to be system leaders. But system improvement is much harder to achieve, harder than we realised and one reason for this is that we were London centric. We can now either make this work or go back to the government telling us what to do and national Strategies.

Sam then went on to talk about the five challenges facing education which are

  • Resources
  • Infrastructure
  • Teacher supply
  • Leadership
  • Expertise

These are actually all to do with capacity. As far as resources are concerned, this will be a great challenge for school boards. Boards will see £3 billion drop in 5-16 funding. If you govern urban schools you may see pounds being moved out of these schools to rural ones. Boards will have some very difficult decisions to make when funding cuts start hurting even more than they do now. Sam thinks universal free school meals will go. Welfare cuts will have an effect on schools too. If schools can think of ways top use teacher time more effectively then they may be able to make some savings.

Sam then touched upon the role of regional school commissioners. Although they play a hugely important role (and this will increase when they become responsible for “coasting schools”) not everyone seems to know about them. Sam thinks the government will either have to rethink the RSC role or reshape it into smaller areas. The role that LA’s play is another issue. When the student number bulge hits the secondary schools LA’s will face a school place issue which will be a challenge as LA’s can’t force academies to expand. The government may want to rethink this. Sam thinks that one of the biggest problems was the over expansion of chains which clearly not able or ready for this expansion. This is again an area where boards have to think really hard before they decide on joining MAT’s for example. They should explore all options, including those of smaller, local groups.

The next challenge is of teacher supply. Even in subjects such as English where we are told targets are beig met, schools are saying they are having difficulty recruiting. There is a “perfect storm” emerging due to economic recovery, falling graduate numbers and financial pressures on schools, Sam’s proposed that tuition fee for PGCE should be scrapped and there should be a central application system.

Leadership challenges are to do with the fact that Sam and other governors are finding that it is becoming increasingly difficult to recruit heads. Around half the heads will be retiring. There are not enough people who are equipped top do the executive head or chain CEO roles. Increased accountability is also putting people off, especially true of headships in challenging schools. Sam thinks this can be solved to some extent by non-teachers talking up chain CEO/executive head roles. I think this idea has merit and needs to be explored further by boards. As far as accountability is concerned Sam is of the opinion that schools need an inspection system, but the present system needs a rethink. What is needed is a system which will not penalise schools with low ability intakes.

The last challenge is that of expertise or lack of. There is lack of high quality CPD. Change has started to happen but it will take a long time to bear fruit. Assessment levels have gone but have been replaced by similar systems. Assessment expertise needs to be built up. Management expertise is lacking in schools and schools are panicking leading to teacher burn out. School environment for teachers has a huge impact on student outcome. Sam thinks we need to start thinking of bringing expertise from outside to improve school environment for teachers.

Sam’s session may have been “depressing” according to him but it was a very good session and he did present some possible solutions to the problems faced by education and educators.

Tweets from Sam’s session have been Storified here

Sam’s slides are here

Further reading:

Blogs and presentations, collated

Links to the Storify of tweets from the sessions covered in Part 1 are given below

Laura McInerney

John Tomsett

Carol Davenport

Governors go to #rED15 because research matters Part 1

Saturday saw people interested in education and research make their way to South Hamstead High School for the Annual ResearchED Conference. Amongst them were four governors from my school (Steve Penny, Jo Penn, Colleen Young and I. Colleen was wearing three hats; governor, SLT and secondary Maths teacher). The day’s programme was packed full of interesting talks being delivered by wonderful people. I’m sure the day will come when this event will have to be held over two days! I’ll write this blog in two parts. Part 1 covers sessions by Laura Mcinerney, John Tomsett and Carol Davenport. Part 2 covers sessions by Tom Sherrington, David Didau and Sam Freedman. I have previously written why governors may want to attend these events.

Laura McInerney: What Works for One Might Not Work for All

As I was leaving home I received an email from Dropbox informing me that my photo flashback was ready to view. The photos were from Laura McInerney’s session at last year’s ResearchED! So, it was fitting that this year I started the day by going to her session and I’m really glad I did as it was a very fascinating talk. Laura spoke about group psychology and why what works for one may not work for all. Laura highlighted some studies which we should be familiar with, how “power” is gathered in groups and how group work actually works. Asch Conformity Study has shown the effect peer pressure can have. In experiments people were asked a question. All but one member of the group had been told how to respond to the question, sometimes giving the correct answer and at other times the wrong one. The researchers were interested how the last person responded after having heard the others. This person was later asked why he responded the way he did. Results showed that 5% of people will change their minds from the start. 72% will change their minds at least once. When asked why, they said they thought they were wrong! This fascinated me! Thinking in terms of board discussions this is something the Chair, perhaps, should be aware of, especially if there are one or two new board members. During a discussion or vote would they conform to what the rest of the board was saying or the way they were voting? Is there any way the Chair could perhaps make sure that the new members were saying what they really felt rather than thinking they were wrong and following the rest of the members? Laura then talked about the Zajonc Drive studies. These showed that people (and cockroaches!) perform better when watched. The third study (Robert’s cave experiment) showed that groups competing with finite resources (including teacher support and attention) do not behave rationally. The take away message, for me as a governor, from these studies was that we need to be aware of these when we are deciding whether or not to invest in a certain intervention technique. When evidence is presented to you that the technique works ask yourself could the Zajonc and Robert’s cave studies explain why it worked. Laura also explained how what works for one teacher may not work for all teachers. If you want to see what people were tweeting about Laura’s session click here to read my Storify of her session.

John Tomsett: Hope Over Fear

This is the first time I heard John speak and it won’t be the last! John talked about what evidence based teaching isn’t. He explained what role a research lead could play in a school. This, I think, is important. I would love to see more schools think about research leads and I would love these research leads to work with governors as well as other school leaders. A good research lead can help the board to ask the right questions. He/she can help the board evaluate the evidence, as John put it scrutinise the evidence for the “how”, “who” and “why”, all questions which a board needs to be asking. John went on to talk about lesson observation and the question he asks of himself; “How can I observe you in a way that will best help you improve your teaching?” John now does joint lesson planning and then the teacher comes back to evaluate together and discuss. As governors it is not our job to make judgements on individual teachers. John’s talk made me realise that when formulating a governor monitoring policy what the board should be asking the head and SLT is how can we monitor what is happening in the school to best help improve outcomes for our students. I think we stand to gain much more from a monitoring policy which has this question as its basis. John went on to discuss this year’s A Level results. He is convinced that developing metacognition through medelling thinking has great benefits. He also mentioned that he invites his students to take part in his 360 o evaluation. This is something which is considered best practice for board chairs as well. I think chairs and heads should be encouraged to adopt this practice and each should ask the other for an evaluation as well. Few John Tomsett quotes which I especially liked are

  • How can I observe you to help your teaching?
  • Exams are done. Results are in. Now use them to learn from them
  • The best pastoral care we can provide is a good set of exam results

All of the above are equally applicable to boards as to teachers.

John has previously  written about improving lesson observation.

To read my Storify of tweets from John’s session, please click here.

Carol Davenport: Gender Equity in Science

Carol talked about trends in subject uptake looking at years 2013-2015. Fewer girls studied Computing or Physics as compared to boys and whereas fewer boys studied psychology. While looking at the popularity of STEM subjects, maths has shown the most improvement and this may be because it is seen as a useful subject to have while applying for university places. Carol then discussed the finding of three reports; Aspires, Five Tribes and “Not for people like me?” The Aspires study reported that the low uptake of STEM is not because of the negative image of STEM. As governors the important message for us is that the family’s “science capital” plays an important part as does the white, male, middle-class image. If, as governors, we are finding that our girls and minority groups are not opting for science then we need to ask our SLT what they have identified as the problem. Is it the image or are family attitudes putting them off? Can this be changed and how can the board help in doing this? Do we, as governors know, if our school is focusing more on the higher ability students to get them to opt for science? Do we, perhaps unconsciously, give out the message that science is only for the “brainiest” students? What information do we provide to our children regarding STEM careers? Are our students thinking that science is “not for people like me”? If we, as governors, are finding that girls and students from minority backgrounds are not taking up STEM then are we aware why that is? Carol emphasised that for change to happen we will have to involve families and start talking about the various STEM careers early enough and regularly. This was a fascinating session and if I had had time I would have liked to ask Carol’s opinion on whether schools should be looking at segregating genders for STEM lessons.

To read my Storify of tweets from Carol’s session, please click here.

You may also want to have a look at Wellcome Trust’s Questions governors can ask about maths and science and Wellcome Trust’s Review of the extent to which Ofsted reports mention science.

Further reading:

ResearchED 2015 blogs and presentations, collated

Links to the Storify of tweets from the sessions covered in Part 2 are given below

Tom Sherrington

David Didau

Sam Freedman