Category Archives: Training

Governance matters in Festival of Education Part 2

This year’s Festival of Education had sessions which would have been of interest to governors. I have previously written about my session with National Schools Commissioner, Dominic Herrington. Below is a short account of some other sessions I was able to attend.

Ruth Agnew’s session was on “Effective Governor Challenge”. Ruth started by making the point that welcoming and enabling effective challenge is an aspiration and asked how if people welcome challenge. Good, professional relationships are important in schools. Too much trust and friendly relationship can hinder challenge. Ruth then talked about why and how schools start to decline. She said that problems start when processes to ensure accountability start to falter (lack of skills and training, too trusting a relationship, misplaced loyalty, too reliant on head for information, governors not acting strategically, etc). Ruth said that she had not found a better resource of what effective governors do than the “Learning from the Best” Ofsted report. Ruth said none of the things mentioned in the report are rocket science! Ruth mentioned that sometimes heads model the questions governors should be asking. She thought this isn’t necessarily a problem but it must not become the default. Ruth also encouraged us to think how we frame our questions. “How did we do in SATs this year” is better if it’s framed as “What do these results tell us about us meeting our objectives for this cohort”. Ruth said challenge isn’t lobbing questions like tennis balls at the school leaders. We shouldn’t be using checklists. Instead, we need to look at things with fresh eyes and then if we find an issue Ruth wants us to be like a dog with a bone!

Dr Kate Chhatwal spoke about accountability and peer reviews. According to Kate, the advantages of a peer review system are:

  • We don’t need permission to take part in peer reviews
  • It works with top performing schools as well as those needing support
  • It allows identification and sharing of excellence

Kate talked about how Challenge Partners conduct peer review. The important point is that this is “doing with and not doing to”. Challenge Partners are also doing MAT reviews but they don’t have a strict framework for this as MATs are still in their infancy. They start with a simple question, “What is the MAT doing to ensure the children it serves achieve better than they might otherwise, and is it working?”. This was a very interesting session and I think as time passes peer reviews may become more important. I completely agreed with Kate when she said that you are a system leader only if you care for the children beyond your own institution.

The session by Katie Paxton-Dogget and Tara Paxton-Dogget was titled “Matchmaking for academies”. Katie started by saying that more and more schools are joining or forming multi-academy trusts (MATs). As Labour hasn’t said they will return schools to local authority control, even if there is an election and we have new inhabitants in Sanctuary Building, finding a good MAT will be important for many schools. Katie explained the difference between academies and maintained schools. She said when people say autonomy is lost upon joining a MAT, they should be asked about the level of autonomy maintained schools have. Katie went on to the discussions governors should have when they are considering joining a MAT.

  • Revisit your vision and ethos. You should be looking at MATs which share your ethos
  • Consider what type of MAT you want to join
  • Think about geographical location of your school and other schools in the MAT

Tara made the point that as in human relationships, even if partners have differences as long as they share values the relationship can thrive. Tara’s school had recently become part of a MAT. She said that as far as students were concerned they hadn’t noticed any striking changes. There was more contact between students now which she thought was a good thing to have come out of being part of the MAT. It was good to hear from a student too, especially one as articulate as Tara.

The other session I attended was by Andy Guest on, “Is our model of school governance broken?” Andy started by asking posing the question, “If you started with a blank page, would you design what we currently have?” Andy also made the case for simplifying things by

  • Committing to either academisation or reverting to LA as having both isn’t working
  • Creating a simpler quality/compliance/value for money framework
  • Committing to a capability model across the system and be honest about the role of stakeholder engagement

Andy was of the opinion that governance has to change if we want an equitable and sustainable school system

There was a lot to think about in this session and I’m sure these conversations will continue.

Links to Wakelets (collated tweets) from some of the sessions I attended are given below;

What if we were accountable to each other? Unlocking the power of school and MAT peer review (Dr Kate Chhatwal)

How can we balance trust, autonomy and accountability in the system? Panel discussion at Festival of Education 2019 (Becky Allen, Ben Newmark, Carolyn Roberts, Sean Harford, Naureen Khalid)

Lord Agnew’s Keynote at Festival of Education 2019

Keynote by Amanda Spielman HMCI at Festival of Education 2019

Ofsted’s new Education Inspection Framework (Sean Harford, Matthew Purves and Paul Joyce)

Doug Lemov at Festival of Education 2019

Driver Youth Trust at Festival of Education 2019

I would recommend governors attend the Festival in 2020. I am sure the organisers will have sessions around governance again. Other sessions are useful too as they are on various other aspects of education which governors may want to know more about. Dates for 2020 have been announced (18th -10th June 2020). The organisers are offering a 40% launch discount and there is a special rate for governors (£45 for a day ticket, £59 for both days).

 

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Governance matters at Festival of Education. Part 1

Picture credit: Steve Penny

One of the most awaited educational events, The Festival of Education, took place on 20th and 21st June 2019. This year was the 10th anniversary of the Festival. We were treated to two days of inspirational speakers who presented on a whole range of topics. I’m delighted that governance was represented too, for which the organisers deserve our thanks.

I was very happy that my application to hold a governance session was successful. I’m also very grateful to Dominic Herrington, National Schools Commissioner (NSC), who accepted my invitation and joined me for a chat on the first day of the festival. Below is a short account of what we discussed in the 40 minutes available to us. Where I have added post-event comments, I have done so in pink.

Dominic started by thanking governors for their time and commitment to governance of our schools. He talked a bit about his role. As NSC, Dominic, working with Regional School Commissioners (RSC) and other educational leaders and

  • Helps develops multi-academy trust (MAT) improvement strategies
  • Supports MATs so that they are sustainable and strong, via constructive assistance and challenge
  • Encourages regional teams to share best practice and learn from one another to encourage closer

I started our discussion by asking Dominic what, in his opinion, is good governance and why is it important. Dominic replied that governance has vital role in our schools, particularly due to the degree of autonomy in English education system as compared to the rest of world. We need good governance because governance performance three important functions:

  • It act as a stimulus for improvement
  • It provides an ‘Insurance’ policy for school leaders
  • It is responsible for ensuring clarity of vision and strategic direction

We discussed features of effective governance. Dominic referred to the three core functions which, when performed well, lead to effective governance. These are:

  • Overseeing the financial performance of the school and making sure its money is well spent
  • Holding the headteacher to account for the educational performance of the school and its pupils
  • Ensuring clarity of vision, ethos and strategic direction

We went on to talk about the relationship between the executive leaders and governors. Dominic said that if there is strong executive leadership then we can usually assume that governance is strong too. There is a strong correlation between effective governance and strong executive leadership. This is why Ofsted consider governance under Leadership and Management (L&M). Ineffective governance invariably leads to ineffective leadership and this is not just education sector specific. [There is discussion in governance circles if governance should be considered under L&M. I personally think that it should. We are part of the Leadership and it’s only right that when Ofsted judge L&M, they comment on the effectiveness of governance.]

As we were discussing ineffective governance, I asked Dominic about the role played by NSC and RSC when ineffective governance is identified. Dominic started by emphasising that occurrences of inadequate governance are rare and that the vast majority of schools are not failing [This was good to hear]. We do, however, have to deal swiftly and proportionally where this has been identified. Inadequate governance doesn’t take long to be identified (via Education and Skills Funding agency, RSCs, LAs or parental complaints). Dominic said that prevention is always better than cure so it is important that we identify cases where governance isn’t as good as it could be and offer support before it becomes ineffective. He said he was interested in how we can best enable system leadership. The multi-academy trust model gives school leaders the flexibility to share resources across a number of schools. Dominic said we have seen best outcomes for children being delivered where there are school leaders working across several schools to support weaker schools. We have some excellent examples of where academy sponsorship has had a transformative impact on schools. We do need to ensure that schools are matched with a sponsor who fits the school and has the capacity to raise standards.

Dominic also stressed the importance of recruiting good people and mentioned Academy Ambassadors and Inspiring Governors who can help boards find suitable people. This led us to talk about governor CPD and I asked if training should be made mandatory. Dominic agreed that his was always a hot topic. Personally, he was not very keen on making it mandatory. He said he would be worried about the quality of CPD and would rather that we work from bottom up and offer support. He mentioned that there is training available, including Department for Education funded training. [My personal thoughts on this are that GBs/trusts should make it mandatory for their members to keep up to date and commit to CPD. They should also make induction training available to all new appointees and the expectation should be that this would be done within a reasonable time after appointment.]

I was interested in getting Dominic’s opinion on whether MAT governance was complex. Dominic’s view was that it is not; rather it can be an opportunity as Local Governing Bodies and Trust Boards give us the option of different forms of governance. Dominic emphasised that most MATs are local MATs formed of six or less schools. He did stress the importance of Schemes of Delegation (SoD). Dominic said that SoD need to be clear and these must be explained to everyone. The lines of accountability need to be clearly defined too. We need to ensure that people understand their respective roles. [This is an important point. Good, clearly defined SoD, which are understood by all, are crucial. National Governance Association (NGA) has done some work on this which should help trustees who are reviewing their SoD.]

I was also interested in hearing Dominic’s opinions on how to increase governance literacy across the sector. Dominic started by saying that being a governor is a noble contribution to our communities. He said that governance has a higher profile now than it did five years ago when it was hardly talked about. We need to continue raising the profile of governance and encourage teachers, headteachers, retired teachers, and people from other sectors to join governing bodies. We should talk up governance which is why he was happy to come to the Festival and discuss governance with us. [I think that it is important that we talk up governance and do what we can to raise awareness of what governance is and its importance. Attending and presenting governance sessions at various events in one of the ways we can raise awareness. Taking part in twitter chats and blogging is another. Julia Skinner has been trying to get more of us blogging. If you are a blogger and write about governance, please do let Julia know and she may review your blog for Schools Week.]

Dominic is a governor too and my next question was related to this. I asked him if he was a governor on a governing body (GB) where governance wasn’t as effective as it could be, then what options were open to him. In other words, how could individual governors challenge an ineffective GB? Dominic said that the best course would be to try and find an ally in the GB, perhaps the chair and discuss concerns with them. If that doesn’t work then get in touch with the LA, RSC, etc. Dominic hoped that if ever a governor was faced with this situation, they wouldn’t give up and leave but try and change the GB practice so it does become effective.

The session also included questions from twitter and the floor.

  • In reply to a question about parent governors, Dominic said he was very keen on GBs having parent governors. He is one! At the same time he also emphasised the need to have a diverse board.
  • Asked why the Headteachers Boards are called that and why are there no places for governors on it, Dominic replied that the system allowed for co-option of someone with governance experience and he had co-opted members in the South East. The system is evolving and may change in the future.
  • The next question was about the options open to an academy committee (local governance) if they are unhappy with the MAT. Dominic said that he hoped that it could be solved at the local level but if the situation can’t be resolved then they should contact their RSC. He also made the point that this is not very usual and he had had dealt with only a few cases in his time as RSC.
  • The CEO of a MAT referenced research from NGA and asked if the time being put into governance by chairs was sustainable. Dominic said that some people put in a lot of time because they enjoy the role. The system is still young and developing and further down the line chairs may not need to put in as much time as they do now (MATs are growing slowly now. MATs are joining other MATs which is less demanding than setting up a new MAT).
  • A governor made the point that she worries that she can’t get into school and spend as much time there as she would like. Dominic replied that spending time in school isn’t the only way a governor adds value to their GB. Dominic said he cannot spend time in his school either. He adds value via other contributions. [This is an important point. A good board works as a team. Not everyone has to do everything and every contribution is valuable irrespective of the nature of the contribution.]
  • There was a question about mixed MATs/church schools. Dominic said that Church of England has been running schools for years and have a significant place in the educational landscape. Dominic reported that he had not come across any real issues with mixed MATs as yet.
  • In response to another question Dominic said that there are no plans at the present time to inspect MAT boards.

I am grateful to Dominic for taking time out of his busy schedule to come and talk to governors. I’m also grateful to everyone who attended the session. Dates for the 2020 Festival of Education have been announced (18th -10th June 2020). The organisers are offering a 40% launch discount and there is a special rate for governors (£45 for a day ticket, £59 for both days). I will be attending the Festival and hopefully will see many of you there.

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

Understanding what is meant by critical friend matters

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

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

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

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

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?

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?

Governance matters at Festival of Education Part 2

Photo Credit: Cat Scutt
Left to right: Mark Lehain, Katie Paxton-Dogget, Naureen Khalid, Jo Penn, Will Malard

On Friday 22nd June 2018 I chaired a panel discussion at the Festival of Education at Wellington College. With an ever increasing number of schools joining Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs), there is a need to understand how these are governed. This was a well attended session. It was good to see so many people take an interest in governance. What was especially pleasing was that governors and trustees and even a Member of a trust were present.

The session looked at “The Brave New World of MAT Governance“. The experts who took part in the discussion were

  • Jo Penn: Jo has many years of experience as a school governor. She is currently Chair of a Local Authority Primary School Governing Body and on the Board of a Secondary Academy. She has also been a member of a Special School Interim Executive Board and Chair of a Foundation School/converter Academy for four years. Jo is an experienced National Leader of Governance
  • Katie Paxton-Doggett: Katie is the author of ‘How to Run an Academy School’ and ‘Maximise Your Income: A guide for academies and schools’. Dual-qualified as a Solicitor and Chartered Company Secretary, Katie has significant experience in providing specialist governance support to various academies and MATs
  • Will Millard: Will is a Senior Associate at LKMco where he undertakes research into education and youth policy, and works with a range of organisations to help them develop new projects, and assess and enhance their social impact
  • Mark Lehain: Mark has a wealth of educational experience, having founded one of the first free schools (Bedford Free School) in the country. Bedford Free School has thrived and they have created the Advantage Schools MAT. Mark is the Director of Parents and Teachers for Excellence. He was appointed Interim Director of New Schools Network in March 2018

The discussion started with the panel being asked to define effective MAT governance and to suggest ways by which we can judge how good or otherwise the trustees are. The panel was in agreement with Jo who said that effective governance is effective governance irrespective of the structure. For governance to be effective we need a clear strategic vision, transparency, accountability, ethical leadership and effective training at all levels. Katie agreed that training should be mandatory. She also made the point that there is no need to re-invent the wheel; we can learn from other sectors. Will referenced the research  published recently by LKMco. It is difficult to answer what is effective MAT governance because research has shown that MATs are different and they change as they expand which brings about changes in the way they are governed. As it’s difficult to define, it’s difficult to design a matrix to judge how effective it is. Mark said that if the outcomes for students are good and the right decisions are being made at the right time we may be able to say that the trustees are doing a good job.

Talking about MAT expansion led the discussion to whether governors are coping with moving from governing one school to governing groups of schools in MATs. Katie was of the opinion that governing MATs requires a massive change of mindset and people need to understand that they need to step away from representing just one school. Jo talked about her own experience. She has been a governor in almost all settings but the biggest challenge was the change from being a trustee in a single academy trust (SAT) to a member of the local governing body (LGB) when the SAT joined a MAT. She explained that when the SAT trustees were discussion joining a MAT, the most challenging discussion was around giving up some autonomy to gain other advantages. Jo also warned that we need to be cautious and careful as we now have a two tier system. We may leave those governors behind who are governing LA schools if we aren’t careful because we are so busy talking about the importance of MAT governance.

Talking about LGBs led us to discussing schemes of delegation (SOD). Mark agreed with Jo that when schools join a MAT they have to give up something to gain something. Mark warned that there is a danger that if we take too much away from the local governors and give it to the centre then people may not want to put themselves forward to serve on LGBs. When Bedford Free School was forming a MAT and was talking to other schools there was a great deal of discussion around the SOD. They put in a lot of thinking around the SOD and have kept it under review. Like everything else, there isn’t a one size fits all SOD, appoint made by Katie who said MATs should look at a SOD and then adapt it to their schools and context. Katie talked about the work she has done with community MATs. The back office services were centralised but the teaching and learning and how students were doing, the “proper governance” stuff happened at the local level. So the SOD is about delegation at the local level and the trustees having an oversight rather than doing it at the board level.

The panel then discussed whether centralisation of some services like finance and delegating monitoring of teaching and learning o the LGB would make serving on the LGB more or less attractive. Jo was the opinion that if the LGB feeds back to the board who then take decisions then the LGB may not feel empowered making it less attractive. Katie pointed out that there are models which empower the LGBs. Jo also made the point that the SOD is not written in stone and the board is legally allowed to change it if it wishes to do so.

The panel also discussed how performance of MATs could be judged. Mark was of the opinion that at the minute we have no one who has enough experience of running MATs to be able to judge performance of other MATs. There is also the fact that MATs are very different. For example Harris, ARK, Tauhedul, Inspiration, Reach2 are all very different from each other. Mark’s worry is that by trying to judge MATs we may end up trying to standardise the way they are run. Mark admitted that there have been failures in the way MATs are run but there have been examples of poor governance in the maintained sector too. What we should do is try and learn from these failures. Will said that the research had not shown a clear relationship between SOD and MAT performance and he reiterated Mark’s point that there is no clear one good way to judge MAT performance. According to Katie, the success/failure is not about structures but about the people, about what they are doing and how they are using the structures. With MATs we are at a stage where we can still shape things.

We talked a little about the executive function in MATs. Mark said that in theory there should be a difference between the executive leaders of single schools and those of MATs but in practice people are still finding their way. The role of a MAT CEO is very different to that of a head of a single school

I then asked the panel to give me a short answer to the following question before we took questions from the floor.

What is the one thing you would change to make MAT governance effective?

Jo: Mandatory training for everyone involved in governance. Accredited pre-appointment training same way as it’s done for magistrates. People join boards without a real understanding of the role. It takes a while to get to grips with the role.

Will: Agree with Jo.

Katie: Not sure the MAT structure actually works. Take a step back and see how schools fit together in the legal structure.

Mark: Training of company secretaries. The role of the clerk in a maintained school is an important role but a completely different one to that of a Company ecretary in a MAT. We sometimes use clerk and Company Secretary as interchangeable terms but they are different roles. How many clerks know their Articles of Association inside out and understand the law around that?

Questions from the floor:

Is there a tangible way for businesses to support governance in schools?

Jo: Businesses should encourage their staff to become governors and give them the time and space to do it.

Katie: Businesses should understand that their employees will be getting board level experience which they can bring back to their companies.

Are the challenges in recruiting to MAT boards different to recruiting to boards of single schools?

Naureen: People may find it more attractive to govern in their local school, in a school in their community as they feel connected to it than joining a MAT board which may sit in a different city. People may ask themselves if they have the skills or the time to govern 20 schools.

Katie: The more specific I have been about the skills I want, the more successful I have been in recruiting. This is true for parent governors too. Even in small schools if you are very specific about the skills you want then weirdly it brings more people forward. So rather than sending out a general letter, be very specific about the skills you are looking for and people reading the letter will go “Ooh that’s me”. It appeals to their sense of worth

Jo: Don’t think with MAT boards we’ve reached a point where the boards are massively recruiting.

Will: Don’t think the people in general realise how complex the system is. There is a PR challenge in actually setting out that this is what is and this is what you are stepping into.

Question form Katie to the Trust Member: How connected do you feel to your MAT and what do you think you are contributing to the organisation?

I have recently become a Member. I realise that the role is different to that of the trustees as Members have fewer duties than trustees. I see the role as one of holding the trustees to account. It is a brave new world. This is why it is good to come to groups like this and learn from each other.

Mark: We have a come a long way since 2010 when  people did not have a clear understanding about the difference between Members, trustees, directors and governors. People now understand that Members really need to appoint good trustees. We are in a much stronger position now. It may not be quite right but we are much closer to a really effective system now.

And on that positive note, the session came to an end. I’m very grateful to Jo, Katie, Mark and Will for their valuable contributions and to everyone else who attended the session. Like the gentleman said the value of these sessions is in the learning which takes place when we talk and discuss issues with each other. I’m already thinking ahead to the 2019 Festival of Education and hope to see many of you there.

Schools Week covered our session in the Festival of Education coverage (Note: The piece mentions Gillian Allcroft from NGA whereas it was Katie who was part of the panel).

I have previusly blogged about other sessions which I attended and which were aroud goverance.