Category Archives: Review

Vice Chairs matter

Vice Chair (VC) of governing boards is an important role but in many cases it is not a well defined role. Investing in developing of this role offers great scope for developing leadership skills and distributed leadership. In this blog I would like to write about what a VC could do and how the role can be developed so that it adds value to the board.

Role of the Vice Chair

  • Deputising for the chair
  • Usually the only explicit function of a VC is to act as a deputy to the Chair. If a chair is unable to attend a meeting it falls to the VC to chair the meeting. If the chair needs to be away and is not contactable, the VC should deal with matters which may arise in the chair’s absence.
  • CPD co-ordinator
  • Some boards ask the VC to be responsible for the CPD of the board members. The VC, with the help of the clerk, maintains the training record and also signposts CPD opportunities. The VC may also help in maintaining the skills matrix.
  • Sounding board
  • The VC should act as a sounding board for the chair. Leading the board, like leading the school, is a lonely job. A good VC can act as a critical friend to the chair, giving support, advice and a fresh perspective.
  • Sharing the workload
  • We know that chairs are increasingly spending a great deal of time on governance. VC could share some of this workload. Chairs, too, need to learn to delegate so that the workload is shared equally amongst governors.
  • Appraisal
  • The VC can help and support the chair in the appraisal of the board members and the clerk. This is helped by the fact that a VC can have a good view of how the board is functioning. The VC can observe how meetings are run and how members contribute as they are unburdened by the responsibility of running the meeting (which is the job of the chair) or having to take minutes (the clerk’s role). The VC can also support the chair’s appraisal process.
  • Communication with committee chairs
  • The VC can support the chair by being the person responsible for communication with the committee chairs. This can be to plan committee meeting agendas, help ensure that the committees function well, within law and understand their delegated functions.
  • Providing alternative route for raising concerns
  • Every school must have a complaint policy. Staff, too, should also know how concerns can be raised. There can be occasions when people, for whatever reason, feel they cannot have an informal chat with the chair to resolve an issue. There can be occasions when the issue concerns the chair or there are tensions between the head and the chair or amongst members of the board. In these cases a good VC may be the person who is contacted and who can help resolve the issue. The VC must ensure that they do not undermine the chair or increase discontent in the board and form factions.
  • Succession planning
  • Perhaps the most important role of the VC is the implied responsibility to take on the chair’s role in due course.

Recruitment

Your governance document will detail how the VC is appointed. It is almost always an elected position. During this year’s election, I asked people to stand for VC with the view of taking the chair in the future. I made it clear that if circumstances changed or if they changed their mind then that was ok. I didn’t want people not to stand fearing that they would have to take the chair. I also made it clear that this was not a requirement, rather a way to try and get some succession planning in place and give people time to think of chairing in the future. As it happens, someone who would like to chair in the future stood and were elected.

How to be an effective Vice Chair?

  • Work closely with the Chair so you develop a good, professional working relationship with them.
  • Attend training/CPD which will help you understand the role. Many of the courses advertised for chairs are suitable for VCs too. Consider doing the Chair Development course which is offered by National Governance Organisation and other providers.
  • Have a discussion with the chair and work out which responsibilities you would like undertake.
  • Consider chairing a committee. This will provide you valuable experience in making agendas and running meetings
  • Look upon the clerk as a valuable source of information and support.
  • Develop a good relationship with other members of the board so that the whole board functions as a team.
  • Ensure that you prepare well for meetings. You may have to chair a meeting at short notice so you need to be able to do that
  • Keep up to date by reading widely, attending conferences, interacting with other governors, etc.

How can Chairs help VCs prepare for their role?

  • The Board, with input from the Chair, should agree and publish a job description for the VC.
  • The Chair should try and involve the VC in everything that they can. There may be things which Chairs will have to keep to themselves but most of the day to day governance can be shared.
  • I have asked our clerk to copy the VC in her emails to me (those which are not confidential to the Chair). I will be asking the VC for feedback on agendas etc as a way of preparing them for their role.
  • The Chair should consider letting the VC chair a meeting once the VC feels they can do this. This will be a valuable learning opportunity for them. A good way to do this would be to start with leading on an agenda item before going on to chair a meeting.
  • If the board has committees the Chair should ask the VC to consider chairing one of the committees.
  • The Chair should consider asking the VC to attend meetings they have with the head.

Chair/Vice Chair relationship

The relationship between the Chair and VC should be a close working relationship. The Chair should be able to rely on the VC to act as a sounding board and give advice and support when needed. The Chair should put into place measures which will develop the VC’s practice. The Chair and VC should be able to work closely together, sharing responsibilities with each other. However, they must take care that their relationship does not appear to be a cosy one to the rest of the board. An experienced VC may be able to offer support to a new Chair during the early months of the Chair’s tenure.

Governance in the spring and summer terms; reflecting and looking ahead matters

This has been a long and tiring term. As Easter approaches and governance slows down (it never stops completely!) I find myself sitting down with a cup of tea and looking back and reflecting on the term that was and also looking ahead to the last term of the year.

A major event in the Spring term was an inspection. One of the schools, Crofton Junior, belonging to Connect Schools Academy Trust where I’m a trustee, was inspected just before half term. This was a Good school and had had a short inspection last April. The inspection felt very thorough but fair. Governors and trustees met with the Inspector and had a chance to talk through what we knew of the school’s strengths and where we could do even more. The Inspector had read our minutes and understood MAT governance. The feedback was constructive. On a professional level, the inspector we met was knowledgeable and we could tell he had done his homework. On a personal level he was very accommodating. I had had to leave by a certain time and the inspector had no problem with that and quickly put me at ease. I didn’t have to reference Sean Harford’s myth busters as any trustee/governor who could attend the feedback was invited to do so. Ofsted come in for a lot of criticism (and some of that is justified) but I think when they get things right then we should talk about those too. This inspection was one such example. Although we don’t things for Ofsted, it was reassuring to find that they thought the same as us, that we were providing an education which our children are entitled to. Looking back, the one thing which stands out about the two days is how the whole community pulled together and were happy to do so. Our children are amazing. The staff and parents too. I think that’s what makes it an outstanding school. Yes, results are amazing, behaviour impeccable but it’s the “this is my school, I’m proud of it and I’ll do my best for the children” attitude which makes me really happy. Looking to the next term, we will continue doing what we’ve always done; our best for every child under our care.

The second thing which has been keeping me busy is governor recruitment. We have been looking to fill our community governor vacancies. We appointed two governors last term; one who is a deputy head in a local secondary school and the other has extensive experience of stakeholder engagement and project management. I’m not sure whether it’s because we are in a leafy, London suburb or just lucky but to get such great governors to add to the skill set we already have bodes very well for us. These candidates came to us via Inspiring Governance and Governors for Schools.

Reflecting on the process, I’m quite happy with the way we did it. We gave the candidates all the necessary information, sent them links to the Governance handbook and made clear the responsibilities that we as governors have. We had an interview process where we probed how their skills could complement those already present. We also worked through some scenarios. Although both candidates were not current governors they were able to work through these scenarios and gave us answers which indicated that they were aware of issues such as conflicts of interest, confidentiality etc. I think we will continue to use this process when we have further vacancies. It gives the candidates an idea of what’s involved and it gave us a chance to see how they could fit in with the team. I’m also a firm believer that although we are volunteers we need to approach governance in a professional manner and going through an interview process makes that clear. I am, however, aware that there are areas where there aren’t many people who put themselves forward to become governors and so interviewing someone who does may be a luxury people can’t afford. If that is you, I would still encourage you to meet with prospective candidates so that they have a chance to find out what being a governor is all about.

We have also thought about how to ensure that these governors understand their role. The trust is putting together a training programme and the first one they’ve been invited to is an induction session. I am also in the process of putting together an induction pack which will be ready by the time we go back. Once they have had a chance to work through it, I would like to ask them their thoughts about the whole induction process. I’d like to know what worked best, what didn’t and what could be made better. They have been assigned a mentor each and maybe this is something they could discuss with their mentors.

While I was writing this blog, I was made aware of this tweet.

This is something GBs should think about. If you have a vacancy then it may help to advertise the fact on your website. You never know, someone may come across it and decide to get in touch with you.

I have also been reflecting upon the Leadership Conference I attended as Chair of an LGB. My school is part of United Learning. Once a year they hold a two day Leadership Conference where all heads of schools and chairs of LGBs are invited. The members of the board, the CEO, Jon Coles, the Regional Directors and the Company Secretary attend too. This is a really good way to get to know other heads and chairs, to hear from the board and the CEO and to feedback to them. Communication in a MAT is very important and needs to be two way; from the board to the LGBs and from the LGBs to the board. The Leadership Conference is one way United Learning accomplishes this (there are other events too where the board and LGBs get together). Education with character is what United Learning is all about. This was evident at the conference from the keynote speech from Andrew Triggs Hodge OBE (retired British rower and a triple Olympic Gold Medallist and quadruple World Champion) to the stunning musical performance by students from Manchester Academy, a United Learning sponsored academy.

If MATs decide to have LGBs then these LGBs should add value and to do this LGBs should know what’s happening at the board level and should be able to communicate what’s happening at the local level. The vision and values that drive the work of the trust should be explicit and should drive the work of the LGBs. My other trust is a much smaller (and newer) than United Learning. Trust wide communication is something we are very keen to get right. We are exploring how we can best achieve this.

Looking ahead to the summer term we will continue looking at the curriculum, something we had started doing before the inspection. Communication, as I mentioned above, is another thing we will be working on. The board has started reviewing our vision and values. This is important as the trust is growing. On a personal level, I’m looking forward to attending educational events and presenting at some of these. I have the following events in my diary. It would be lovely to see you at some of these events.

There will also be the summer term board and LGB meetings. Looks like the next term will be a busy one too but that’s just how I like it to be.

Holidays between terms are a good time to sit back and reflect and also to look ahead. What was your last term like and what are you looking forward to in the summer term?

Sixth anniversary matters

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

A look at the past year:

The top ten most viewed posts were:

10. Schemes of delegation matter

9. Informing governors about inspection matters

8. SEND governor matters

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

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

5.Elected governors and removal from office matters

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

3.Good practice matters for governing bodies

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

The most read blog this year was

1. Ofsted questions for governors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lastly, I was really happy to see this tweet.

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

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.

 

All I want for Christmas …… are governance things that matter

As Christmas is fast approaching this is a seasonal blog but with a message. The link to Christmas maybe a bit tenuous but I hope you will enjoy it nevertheless.

On the first day of Christmas my governing body sent to me an induction package.

New governors need support to understand the role and their responsibilities. One way we can do this is by having a good induction programme in place. I have previously written about induction for new governors.

On the second day of Christmas my governing body sent to me a subscription to online training.

Professional development is important for new governors as well as those who have been on the governing body for some time. Training ensures that we remain effective. Governors may find online training fits in better with their day jobs and home life. Governing bodies should investigate if their members would prefer online training. My previous blogs discussing training are here, here and here.

On the third day of Christmas my governing body sent to me contact details of my mentor.

One way a governing body can help a new governor understand the role is by asking an experienced governor to act as a mentor. This will help ease the new person into the role. They may feel more comfortable asking questions/clarifications outside of meetings.

On the fourth day of Christmas my governing body sent to me a governor expenses policy.

Governors are volunteers and paying them to carry out their duties is not allowed.However, they are allowed to claim legitimate expenses such as photocopying costs, childcare expenses etc. Governing bodies should have a Governor Expense Policy in place. Having a policy in place and governors being clear that that no individual should be prevented from becoming a governor or carrying out their duties because of expenses incurred doing so is important as it ensures that the governing body is inclusive.

On the fifth day of Christmas my boss told me how much time I could have off for governance.

Employees can get time off work for certain public duties as well as their normal holiday entitlement. Governance falls into this category. Employers can choose to pay them for this time, but they don’t have to. We should make sure our governors know this. We should also try and encourage employers to make it as easy as possible for their employees to carry out their governance duties.

On the sixth day of Christmas my governing body sent to me the bio of our new, young governor.

Younger people continue to be underrepresented in school governance. The graph is taken from School Governance in 2018, a report of the annual survey by the NGA in association with Tes.

Having younger people on governing bodies means we get a different perspective and the young people who join us get valuable experience.

On the seventh day of Christmas my governing body sent to me news of the appointment of an independent, professional clerk.

A good clerk is pivotal in ensuring that the governing body is as effective as it can be. It is true that good schools will have good governing bodies. It is, I think, equally true that good governing bodies have good clerks. It is considered best practice to have independent and professional clerks. Having school staff clerk governing body meetings can give rise to conflicts of interest so is best avoided. We must also realise that good clerking is much, much more than minute taking. The clerk should be able to advise the chair on matters of governance and help ensure that the governing body works in an efficient and effective manner.

On the eighth day of Christmas my governing body sent to me a protocol for virtual meetings.

Governing bodies are allowed to meet virtually, via Skype, for instance. This is a good way to involve people who may find it hard to get to the meeting on time. It can also help where the governing body is discussing something of an urgent but important nature and one or more governors cannot get to the meeting. I would recommend that the governing body agrees a protocol for this.

On the ninth day of Christmas my governing body sent to me papers well in advance of the meeting.

In order to have an effective meeting, it is essential that governors are sent papers to be considered at the meeting well in advance. This allows them to study them and come prepared to the meeting. We all should take responsibility for this. Reports which have been requested from the school should be sent out on time. If governors are writing a report, they too should ensure that it goes out on time.

On the tenth day of Christmas my governing body sent to me a promise that meetings would run to time.

Everyone’s time is precious. Heads, SLT and governors would either have put in a whole day’s work before coming to the meeting or will be heading to work after the meeting ends. In both cases it’s important that the meeting runs to time. There is also the fact that if the meeting is a very long one then concentration may start to wane. If the discussion goes on and on then chances are that its going around in circles. The role of the chair is very important. The chair should ensure that everyone stays on topic and that the discussions are sharp and focused. Timed agendas are one way of trying to keep to time.

On the eleventh day of Christmas I met a head who understands governance.

The vast majority of heads do understand governance and the important role played by governors and they work with them to bring about school improvement. They understand that one of the roles of governors is to provide challenge.These heads relish these opportunities to show the work being done by them and their teams. But there are a few heads who think in terms of us and them. When a head understands governance and when the governing body understands the role of the head then they work well together and the children benefit. The National Governance Association (NGA), the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) and the Local Government Association (LGA) collaborated to produce a guidance document on what do school leaders and governing boards expect of each other which is well worth a read. The National College(as it was then) had also produced a resource, Working effectively with a Governing Body.

On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love sent to me the Ofsted myth busting document.

There are lots of myths around how many governors (and which ones) can meet inspectors during an inspection, who is allowed to attend the feedback meeting and who is allowed to see the draft inspection report. Ofsted has helpfully published a myth busting document addressing all these myths. Have a look also at two of my blogs where I’ve talked about Sean Harford addressing this issue. These can be accessed here and here.

What twelve  governance related gifts would you like your true love to send to you?

Reviewing 2018 and governance matters. With links

The year started with a new Secretary of State, Damian Hinds,  taking up office and ended with him writing to Amanda Speilman, HMCI, about Ofsted’s summary evaluations of multi-academy trusts (MATs).

The notable events of the year as they happened:

January

Emma Knights, CEO National Governance Association received an OBE in the New Years’ Honours List along with other governors.

Damian Hinds became the Secretary of State for Education. Sam Giymah replaced Jo Johnson as minister for higher education, Robert Goodwill was removed from his post as minister of state for children and families and Nadhim Zahawi was appointed as parliamentary under-secretary of state.

The updated its statutory careers guidance for schools to bring it in line with the government’s new careers strategy.

Amanda Spielman, while speaking at the Association for Science Education’s annual conference discussed the importance of a challenging curriculum with sufficient time to teach science stating “exams should exist in service to the curriculum, rather than the other way around.” She also said that “too few governing bodies look to understand curriculum quality or hold leaders to account for the curriculum beyond looking at test outcomes”.

Staff wellbeing was in the spotlight throughout the year. Figures released as a result of a freedom of information request showed that 3,750 teachers were on sick-leave for a month or more during the 2016-17 school year as a result of stress and mental health issues.

Sir David Carter (National Schools Commissioner) said governors and trustees are the “unsung heroes of the education system”. He also said that “effective governance lies at the heart of school improvement.”

Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP (Chair of the House of Commons Education Select Committee) wrote to Lord Agnew, the minister with responsibility for the school system and school governance, expressing “concerns over a lack of transparency and accountability” in the multi academy trust (MAT) system, lack of communication to parents and an overlap between the roles of regional schools commissioners (RSCs), Ofsted and the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) in the accountability system and MATs “stripping assets from their schools”.

National Foundation for Educational Research (NEFR) published a report on the effect of changes to school funding on school spending in England. Amongst other things it found that

  • The “observed benefits of higher spending are typically greater” for disadvantaged pupils
  • Schools are expected to face ongoing significant cost increases, especially in regard to staffing

The £45 million MAT Development and Improvement Fund, announced last year, was allocated to over 400 multi-academy trusts (MATs) “to improve underperforming schools” with £30 million of this money going to around 300 academy trusts in areas facing the greatest challenges across England”.

The next six Opportunity Area plans (Bradford, Doncaster, Fenland and East Cambridgeshire, Hastings, Ipswich and Stoke-on-Trent) were announced. They would share £25 million across 75 projects aimed at giving “more support for schools, many of which will increase pupils’ literacy and numeracy skills”.

Damian Hinds, wrote an article in The Times welcoming the “rigorous new curriculum and a return to core academic subjects” introduced in recent years and supporting the need for “high-quality vocational routes” post 16.

The changing role of governors in MATs was discussed in tes and concern expressed that the number of governors was being slashed as schools joined MATs.

The revised 2016/17 GCSE exam data for secondary schools and were published showing 365 schools are below the floor standard in 2017 and 271 meet the coasting definition”. This means that 12% of state-funded schools are “below the secondary floor standard”.

DfE released official statistics on MAT performance measures for 2016-2017. The MAT performance tables comparison and benchmarking of performance for both Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 4. These tables currently only include MATs with three or more schools that have been part of the trust for at least three years.  According to these tables, 45% of MATs performed “significantly below average” in terms of pupil progress in Key Stage 4 in 2017.

DfE updated its guidance for schools causing concern emphasizing that formal action for coasting schools would occur only in exceptional cases and, most commonly, “the RSC will look to work collaboratively with school leaders to bring about improvement” using a range of support mechanisms.

Damian Hinds and Nick Gibb spoke at the World Education Forum. Damian Hinds spoke about core academic subjects being at the heart” of preparing students for success in the future and the importance of soft skills, character and resilience.  Nick Gibb spoke about the importance of a curriculum in ensuring education equity by furnishing pupils with the knowledge they need, so that they are best prepared for the rigours of a globalised 21st century jobs market.

Automatic disqualification rules for charity trustees and charity senior positions were issued. As academies are chariots these will apply to academy trustees too.

Sir David Carter wrote an article for NGA’s Governing Matters magazine setting out how governing boards can help support disadvantaged pupils.

February

During a debate at the Institute of Education Sir David Carter said that he would bring to an end the practice of visits on behalf of RSC in close proximity to visits by Ofsted as that created pressure and added to the workload of school staff.

National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) called for a “national framework for salaries within the state school system” following concerns of high pay of certain academy CEOs.

The Local Government Association (LGA) submitted a briefing to the House of Lords focusing on the LGA’s concerns around councils having no power to enter homes or see children who are home educated which made it difficult for them to carry out safeguarding duties. The briefing also raised concerns around illegal schools.

Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Children and Families, Nadhim Zahawi MP, responded to questions on educational outcomes of children with autism recognising that it is frequently taking too long for children to receive a diagnosis of autism and the disproportionate number of children with autism being excluded from school.

The Education Committee held its second evidence session into Alternative Provision (AP). Witnesses were critical of rigid school behavioural and zero tolerance policies. Witnesses emphasised the failure to recognise the impact of poverty.

March

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the School System, Lord Agnew, wrote to the chairs of all academy trusts in England

  • Recognising the important work that they do for young people’s education. He emphasised that trusts that are performing well should not see frequent interventions from the Department for Education (DfE).
  • Urging them to ensure that budgets are managed to deliver value for money, particularly when setting the pay of lead executives
  • Emphasising the role of chairs in reducing teacher workload by only collecting the necessary information
  • Ensuring that trust governance contacts are up to date

The National Audit Office (NAO) published a report on conversion of maintained schools into academies.

  • The conversion of almost 7,000 schools has cost roughly £745 million since 2010-11.
  • Challenges around the conversion of schools into academies are likely to increase in future
  • Creating coherence in the school system “will be crucial to secure value for money and provide children with access to good end-to-end schooling”.

In 2016 the government had consulted on its proposed reforms on reporting and acting on child abuse and neglect.  The outcome of the consultation and  the government’s response confirmed that no further legal duties will be imposed on school staff (and other practitioners, groups and organisations) to report child abuse concerns or to take appropriate action where they know or suspect a child is at risk of or actually suffering from child abuse.

Ofsted’s Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman told the Education Select Committee that “accountability systems need to reflect the way that the system actually operates today” which was why Ofsted would like to be able to inspect MATs. While speaking at the ASCL Conference she talked, amongst other things, about curriculum, about Ofsted not expecting schools to prepare for inspections and about moving away from a compliance approach to safeguarding.

DfE announced a review to better understand the inequalities surrounding the school exclusion system.

The Education Select Committee heard from Damian Hinds (who acknowledged the significant cost pressures that schools are experiencing but suggested there would be no additional funding ahead of the comprehensive spending review in 2019, did not answer directly if Ofsted were to be permitted to inspect MATs) and  Nick Gibb (who told MPs that the DfE is not struggling to find sponsors for schools across the country as a whole).

April

The chief executive of the Education and Skills Funding Agency, Eileen Milner, wrote to the chairs of all academy trusts in England that pay two or more salaries between £100k and £150k, asking them to justify these salaries.

James Bowen, a senior director at the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) writing inTes talked about the important role played by governors and trustees in schools. He also emphasised the need for high quality training, mentoring and support.

Ofsted announced changes to its inspection timeframe under which schools previously judged ‘good’ will now receive a short inspection approximately every four years rather than every three years. Schools judged ‘requires improvement’, ‘serious weaknesses’ or ‘special measures’ will be re-inspected within 30 months (previously the timeframes were 30, 18 and 24 months respectively) while monitoring inspections would continue as before.

The Education Select Committee announced inquiries into the level of school and college funding and into support for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

Ambition School Leadership and LKMco published research “into the leadership, vision, strategy and operations of multi-academy trusts (MATs)”. Five models of school improvement within MATs were identified, which trusts may move through as they grow.

Sir David spoke about the crucial role of governance in ensuring schools are the best they can be at the London Regional Conference. He also expressed the view that it was not good practice for the lead executive in an academy trust to also be a trustee. Later on in the month Sir David announced his retirement from the Civil Service.

May

Secretary of State for Education, Damian Hinds, addressed the National Association of Headteachers annual conference in Liverpool and  discussed the role of Ofsted, the future of accountability measures, academisation and improving career support for teachers.

DfE  announced the setting up of a Selective Schools Expansion Fund of £50 million for existing selective (grammar) schools to expand their premises to create new places.

The Education and Skills and Funding Agency  published information on the enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) certificate that chairs of academy trusts must have. Chairs are also required to have their application countersigned by the secretary of state for Education.

The Public Accounts Committee heard evidence from Emma Knights of NGA as part of their inquiry into the value for money delivered on converting schools to academies.

The National Audit Office (NAO) has published a report on the value for money of Ofsted inspection of schools. It found that “as a result of decisions by the Department and Ofsted, the level of independent assurance about schools’ effectiveness has reduced”. It also reported that 44% of headteachers said that inspection had led to improvements in their school while 71% agreed that inspectors provided useful feedback. 99% of Ofsted inspectors who are also serving practitioners said that the knowledge and experience gained was valuable to their own school(s).

The House of Commons Education Select Committee held an accountability session with the minister for school standards, Nick Gibb. Grammar schools, executive pay, recruitment and retention and English Baccalaureate were some the topics he was asked about.

June

The NGA, the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) and the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) published a joint letter to thank school governors and trustees.

Secretary of State for Education Damian Hinds and Shadow Secretary of State Angela Rayner attended the NGA Summer Conference. The Minister announced

  • Doubling of funding for governance training and support to £6 million up to 2021.
  • Requirement for academy trust accounts to detail staff earning over £100,000 and the percentage of teaching time those individuals undertake.
  • A “more robust process” to manage related party transactions within which “from April 2019 trusts will have to seek approval from EFSA [Education and Skills Funding Agency] for related-party transaction payments of more than £20,000” whilst “transactions below £20,000 will need to be formally declared”.

The Academies Financial Handbook, effective September 2018, was published

  • Requiring rusts to share monthly management accounts with the chair
  • Requiring trusts to meet regularly enough and for bigger trusts to consider meeting more than three times a year
  • Removal of the term “ex officio” from the description of the senior executive leader, to show that he or she does not automatically become a trustee.
  • Requiring trust boards to ensure their approach to executive pay is transparent, proportionate and justifiable

Dominic Herrington was  confirmed as the interim National Schools Commissioner (NSC).

Education Policy Institute published a report comparing the performance of ‘academy chains’ and the collective performance of maintained schools under different local authorities. They found

  • “What matters most is being in a high performing school group, not being in an academy rather than a local authority maintained school or vice-versa”
  • Local authorities in London outperform other areas of the country
  • There are cases of high performance and of sustained underperformance among both local authorities and academy chains

The education and youth ‘think and action-tank’ LKMco and the school mental health organisation Minds Ahead  published a report into the scale and causes of youth mental health issues. The report found that “75% of mental health problems begin before the age of 18”. The report also highlighted that “school leaders, including governors [and trustees] have the power to set the climate within their schools and to place pupil wellbeing at the heart of their decisions”.

SEND Governance Review Guide commissioned by Whole School SEND and co-funded by the DfE and Driver Youth Trust in partnership with governance leaders was published.

Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) published a guide for governing boards on Understanding your Data setting out the broad range of information governing boards might need to consider when fulfilling their duties.

Secretary of state Damian Hinds appeared before the House of Commons Education Select Committee to answer MPs’ questions on a whole range of issues including school funding, careers guidance, the wellbeing of pupils, exclusion of children with SEND, the accountability system and teacher workload and retention.

July

Ofsted Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman spoke at the Education Policy Institute about the inspection of schools which are part of multi-academy trusts (MATs). She reported two common misconceptions that inspectors encounter:

  • Schools in MATs often see themselves as separate to the leadership of the trust rather than part of the same legal entity
  • “Local governing bodies” are the accountable body for the governance of the school when in fact that is the role of the trust board

She also reported that Ofsted will begin a training programme to improve inspectors’ understanding of MAT structures and governance.

DfE published non-statutory guidance for mixed schools (maintained, academies and other independent schools) on gender separation and aims to provide support to school leaders, staff and governing boards in identifying what is legally acceptable when it comes separating pupils by sex.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) published a new analysis comparing changes in school spending per pupil in Wales and England since 2009-10. It found that spending per pupil reduced by 8% in England compared to 5% in Wales.

Ofsted published an update for its inspectors, which includes a clarification that schools should inform all governors/trustees of the inspection and that arrangements should be made for inspectors to meet the chair of governors/chair of the board of trustees and as many governors/trustees as possible during the inspection, and that as many governors/trustees as possible should also be invited to attend the final feedback meeting.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) published a report in to its converting schools to academies inquiry. The report said that the government seemed not to be learning the lessons from high profile academy failures. It called for greater transparency for parents and for support for schools which wanted to become academies (including finding sponsors).

Education Select Committee (ESC) took evidence from experts as part of its inquiry into special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). In her evidence Baroness Warnock said that schools should be rewarded for inclusivity.

Data released by DfE showed that there was a 15.5% rise in the number of permanent exclusions and a 12.5% rise in the number of fixed rate exclusions in 2016/2017 compared to 2015/16.

A new research report from Ofsted into obesity, healthy eating and physical activity in primary schools outlines that schools should not be seen as a “silver bullet” to tackling the complex societal issue of childhood obesity.

August

DfE published the results of a study using a series of “two-day, in-depth, qualitative case studies” with a range of London and non-London schools with consistently good and poor outcomes for disadvantaged pupils. The research looked to assess whether school cultures and practices conducive to high performance were “unique to, or more deeply ingrained in, high-performing London schools” compared to others across the country.  The report concluded that pupil performance was a better indicator of cultures and practices than where a school was located geographically. High-performing schools tended to “hold particularly high expectations”, “engender positive relationships” across the school community and “responded positively to pupils’ aspirational goals” regardless of location.

Ofsted published the findings of its Annual Teachers Survey 2018: Teachers’ Awareness and Perceptions of Ofsted. It found:

  • 51% disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement that “Ofsted acts as a reliable and trusted arbiter of standards across all different types of schools in England” compared with 35% who agreed or strongly agreed
  • 62% of teachers whose school had been inspected by Ofsted felt “the final judgement reached by the inspection team was a fair and accurate assessment”.
  • Two thirds (66%) of teachers had heard of off-rolling and a fifth (21%) had seen it happen

A ruling from the Upper Tribunal means that schools must make appropriate adjustments for pupils with violence linked condition before looking towards exclusion.

September

The Tes/NGA survey report, “School governance in 2018” was published. Amongst other things it found

  • Three quarters of governors and trustees have a negative view of the government’s performance in education over the past year
  • Just one in five are confident that they can manage budget constraints without compromising the quality of education. Only half of respondents said that that they are balancing income and expenditure with almost a third drawing on reserves
  • Staff recruitment is particularly challenging in regions surrounding London and in schools with lower Ofsted grades

In a letter written to CEOs, principals and Chairs of Trustees, Eileen Milner, Chief Executive of the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA), outlined the most significant changes to the Academies Financial Handbook. The letter drew their attention to the changing of rules on related party transactions, the expectations for trusts to ensure that they are “transparent, proportionate and justifiable” in regard to executive pay, the role of trustees in scrutinising the trust budget, and ensuring they keep up to date on the monthly financial management reports of the trust.

Amanda Spielman, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Ofsted, published a new commentary which outlined that a new inspection framework will have the curriculum as a central focus and acknowledged that Ofsted had placed “too much weight on test and exam results”.

Over 1,000 headteachers from all over the country marched to Westminster to deliver a letter to Phillip Hammond, the chancellor, calling for increased funding and outlining how seven years of budget cuts have resulted in financial crisis for a lot of schools.

October

Damian Hinds, the Secretary of State for Education, announced key policy measures:

  • English hubs
  • Maths hubs
  • £10 million to “support the spreading of best practice and knowledge on behaviour management and classroom management”
  • Careers guidance
  • T Levels: capital funding to support the roll-out of the new technical qualifications
  • Sports Action Plan

Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman, has announced some of the changes Ofsted plans to make to the schools inspection framework. The aim of these changes is to move Ofsted’s focus from headline data to how schools are educating pupils and the substance of the curriculum. A formal consultation on the new draft framework will take place from January with implementation planned from September 2019.

Damian Hinds, the Secretary of State for Education, announced a £24million government investment in the North East of England. The “Opportunity North East” scheme is intended to provide opportunities and job prospects to young people, tackling issues which can cause areas to feel “left behind”.

Key for School Leaders published a report entitled The Challenges of Leading a Rural School . It discussed the specific issues facing rural schools.

While speaking to the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) Nadhim Zahawi, children and families minister, talked about  the important contribution maintained nursery schools make to closing the attainment gap.  He urged “all councils, all local authorities, not to make premature decisions on the future of these schools at this stage.”

November

The Institute of Directors published report setting out six key challenges facing school governors, as it seeked to encourage and enable business leaders to bring their expertise to the boards of schools and school trusts.

House of Commons education select committee heard from educational experts, schools and local authorities as part of their inquiry into education for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

DfE’s Workload Advisory Group published its report which includes recommendations for governing boards. The Secretary of State for Education accepted all of the report’s recommendations and committed to take action in a joint letter which was signed by NGA, amongst others.

The Department for Education (DfE) published the academy sector annual reports and accounts for 2016/17. The accounts show

  • 125 trusts (4% of academy trusts) were paying at least one member of staff more than £150,000
  • Details of the numbers of academy trusts (185 in all) in cumulative deficit at the end of August 2017
  • The number and value of related party transactions conducted in that year: 2,399 totalling £134 million.
  • Figures for pupil attainment in different types of school

DfE updated its guidance on mental health and behaviour in schools with information on how to identify behaviours that may be related to a mental health problem. It Also covered are the questions of working with other professionals and external agencies, along with where to find extra support.

DfE announced that a new statutory assessment system for pupils not in subject-specific study will replace P scales 1 to 4 from 2020. The ‘7 aspects of engagement’ approach focuses on abilities in specific areas such as awareness, curiosity and anticipation.

School Dash and RS Assessment produced a report exploring the association between pupil characteristics and outcomes in primary reading and maths. The data which will be useful for governors focuses on

  • Performance of summer born children as compared to their peers
  • Comparison of performance in maths between boys and girls
  • Comparison of attainment in reading between disadvantaged children and peers

House of Commons Public Accounts Committee held an inquiry into academy accounts and performance.

December

Ofsted published its annual report for 2017/18.

Key findings relating to schools:

  • 95% of early years providers are judged good or outstanding, with 86% of schools judged at least good.
  • Between January 2016 and January 2017, 19,000 pupils in years 10-11 “dropped off schools rolls”, with around half of these not appearing on another school roll.
  • Ofsted identified around 300 schools with “exceptional levels” of pupils coming off-roll.
  • Local area SEND inspections found continued lack of coordinated 0-25 strategies and poor post-19 provision.
  • A subsection of schools which have been persistently judged less than “good”, with over 490 “stuck in a cycle of poor performance” since 2005. Spielman called these “stuck schools”.
  • Leadership capacity within the sector is “worryingly thin”.

Priorities for the year ahead:

  • In December, following some targeted piloting and inspector training, Ofsted will be changing the process for reviewing MATs by introducing MAT summary evaluations.
  • From September 2019 Ofsted will use the new Education Inspection Framework (EIF) to rebalance inspection and look more into school curriculums.

Sean Harford, Ofsted’s National Director, Education, published a blog setting out “A new approach to evaluating the work of multi-academy trusts”. Ofsted published guidance for inspectors for summary evaluation of MATs. Damian Hinds wrote to Amanda Spielman saying that Ofsted will “need to be clear that these are in no sense a school inspection, or something which can affect the normal schedule for school inspections, and ensure there is no suggestion that these schools have been assessed or inspected.” He also urged that inspectors “ensure that these visits do not create undue burdens on the schools or MAT”.

Nick Gibb, Minister of State for School Standards, wrote to Amanda Spielman asking that Ofsted increase the level of inspection for outstanding schools to 10% (rather than the current 5 – 10%).

Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) released new guidance to help schools engage with their parents to “improve children’s academic outcomes”.

Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) released new guidance to help schools engage with their parents to “improve children’s academic outcomes”.

Primary school performance tables for 2017/18 were released.Governors can compare the performance of their school with comparable schools.

Schools Week published my review of 2018 which can be read here.

Blogging matters

Blogging 2

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

During my time on social media I have noticed that more and more have started to blog. I have also noticed that  governors are not well represented amongst these bloggers. I think that governors should think about blogging about their experiences, thoughts, best practises etc.

Why blog?

  • Blogging is a powerful means of getting your ideas out to a wider audience.
  • You can use blogs to highlight issues which may interest other governors (for example, I had asked Ofsted to clarify what they expected governors to do during a school monitoring visit. I published the response I received on my blog which meant that governors who follow my blog were able to read Ofsted’s response).
  • Blogging can be a means of sharing good practice (for example how to carry out monitoring visits).
  • Blogging can be a means of starting a debate (for example should Ofsted inspect MATs).
  • Blogging can make you reflect on your own practice.
  • You can use certain times of the year (your blog anniversary, New Year) to look back and celebrate your achievements or examine why you didn’t accomplish all that you had hoped to and then work out what to do next.
  • Blogs can be used to collate information. At the end of each calendar year I write a review of the year where I collect links to important information published during the year. This saves me time when I need to look up something.
  • You can use it to compile resources. I, for example, have been collecting questions governors have been asked during Ofsted inspections.
  • I use my blog to “store or file” important documents (I have the links to Governors Guide to the Law and the various versions of the Handbook saved on my blog.
  • You may find posts on other blogs which are of interest to you. These can then be re-blogged on your site bringing them to the attention of people who follow your blog
  • I have used blogs to write about conferences I have attended. This serves two proposes. It becomes a permanent record of what I found interesting which I can go back to. This also means that people who could not attend the conference in person can read about it on my blog.
  • If you are writing a thesis, article, book or preparing a speech, then blogging can be a means of “road test” your ideas.
  • Sometimes, while discussing something on Twitter, you are constrained by the fact that you can use 280 characters only. Following the Twitter discussion with a blog is one way of getting your point of view across fully.

What stops people blogging?

  • Some people may feel they don’t have enough free time to blog. I feel that if you feel strongly about blogging then you can find time to do so. Educational bloggers, for example, are all holding down jobs but do manage to blog.
  • Lack of confidence may stop some people. Like anything else you may do, confidence comes with time. If you have someone who can read your drafts and give you feedback, that may be one way of building up confidence. Blogs are not books or academic theses and therefore are easier to write.
  • Thinking you have nothing to say, or nothing interesting to say may stop some people too. Everyone has something to say!
  • Governors, for example, may feel that governance issues are confidential issues and therefore they don’t feel they can blog about these. Of course, confidential issues must never be blogged about but that is not what I’m saying you should do. You can write about these in such a way that confidentiality isn’t breached. For example, if your board has an issue with the Chair becoming too “cosy” with the head, you can blog about qualities of a good chair and highlight that a good chair will maintain a professional relationship with the head. As long as you don’t indentify the people involved you will be ok. If you feel unable to talk about the issues even in general terms then there is still a great deal which needs to be discussed; Ofsted’s expectations of governance; are they real or not, for example.
  • Some people would like to start blogging but don’t know how. Read on, help is at hand!

A (short, simple) guide to blogging

  • Think about what you would like to write about. You can read blogs written by other governors here to get an idea of what other governors are writing about. Try to find something you feel passionate about which perhaps is not already being covered.
  • Choose a name for your blog and try to steer clear of common names.
  • While there are many blogging platforms, I prefer WordPress. There is a free option so you don’t have to pay to start a blog. Go to the WordPress site and set up your blog. You will need a valid email address before you can set this up. I won’t go through all the steps here but feel free to get in touch (or ask on Twitter) if you need any help.You can remain anonymous if that’s what you prefer to do.
  • If you are on Twitter and/or Facebook, then link your blog to these sites. This way whenever you publish a post it will be publicised on Twitter and Facebook.
  • Write as much as you can about yourself (unless you are blogging anonymously of course). People who will read your blogs would like to find out a bit more about you.
  • Blog posts should not be too long as people either don’t read them or give up half way. 1000-1500 words is about right.
  • Once you have published your post do tweet about it. If you are a member of a group on any other social media platform, then post a link to your post there too. Promoting your posts is a completely acceptable way of increasing traffic to your blog.
  • Ending the post with a question may encourage people to comment on your blog. If people comment on your blog then do engage with them. You can set your blog up so that comments will need to be approved by you before they are published.
  • If you decide to use an image then make sure you are not breaching  copyright rules. There are many sites which will allow you to download free images.

As you can see, blogging isn’t difficult and there are many benefits to be had. So, let’s get some more governors blogging!