Category Archives: Uncategorized

How Accountability helps us to unleash talent and creativity to make a great education system

This is a brilliant blog which gives due importance to governance. Thank you, David.

leadingtogether

It will not have escaped attention that the debate about accountability and the intended and unintended consequences of the impact it has on our education system has been lively and challenging over the past month or so.

At the outset I want to state that I have no doubt that any system funded by the taxpayer has to be scrutinised by a regulatory body. Working in a country like England, where leaders enjoy more autonomy than many of their peers around the world, an accountability system has to be in place to ensure that autonomous decisions are made in the best interests of children and the communities that schools serve.

Earlier today, I read the blog by Steve Munby on returning to first principles to deepen this debate and it reminded me of a session I ran with school leaders earlier this year. In the session, I made the point…

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Governor voice matters

I’m very grateful to Caroline Doherty who invited me to record an episode for The Key’s podcast. I love talking about governance and Caroline made it an even more enjoyable experience. If you would like to have a listen then please follow the link in the embedded tweet.

Removal of the outstanding exemption: Consultation matters

As you know outstanding schools are exempt from routine inspections. There has been a great deal of debate on whether this exemption should be removed. Today (10th Jan 2020) Department for Education (DfE) launched a consultation into the removal of  this exemption. DfE is seeking views from

  • Head teachers, teachers and governing boards in maintained nursery schools,
    maintained schools and academy trusts, including nursery schools, infant
    schools or first schools, middle schools, junior schools, special schools, Pupil
    Referral Units (PRUs), studio schools, UTCs, City Technology Colleges, City
    Colleges for the Technology of the Arts and free schools.
  • Principals/ CEOs, their staff and those responsible for governance in General FE
    colleges, Sixth Form colleges, designated institutions, 16 – 19 academies,
    independent learning providers (including employer providers), not for profit
    providers, independent specialist colleges, Higher Education Institutions (HEIs)
    delivering FE or apprenticeships and local authority providers.
  • Local authoritie
  • Dioceses and other religious authorities
  • Parents
  • Students
  • Employers
  • Any other interested individuals or organisations

The consultation will close at 5:00 pm on 24th Feb 2020. You can read about the consultation here . You can respond online using this link. If, for exceptional reasons, you cannot respond online then you can do so by post or by email (details in the pdf linked above). The response will be published in spring.

This is your chance to make your views known about this so please do respond to the consultation and encourage others to do so too.

School inspection update (Nov 2019) matters

A school inspection update was issued in November. This is the first update since the new inspection framework was rolled out in September 2019. This update includes minor corrections. Below are the sections which will be of particular interest to governors with the changes highlighted in yellow..

Summary of changes made to the section 5 handbook

Paragraph 110

Said:

‘The role that governors and trustees play in the school’s performance is evaluated as part of the judgement on the effectiveness of leadership and management, and each report will contain a separate paragraph that addresses the governance of the school.’

Now says:

‘The role that governors and trustees play in the school’s performance is evaluated as part of the judgement on the effectiveness of leadership and management, and each report will contain, if appropriate, a separate paragraph that addresses the governance of the school.’

Paragraph 118

Said:

  • for maintained schools, the chair of the school’s governing body and as many governors as possible

Now says:

  • for maintained schools, the chair of the school’s governing body and as many governors as possible; the clerk of governors, or their delegate, may also attend to take
    notes

Summary of changes made to the section 8 handbook

Paragraph 24

Said:

‘Normally, the final feedback meeting will be attended by:

  • for maintained schools, the chair of the school’s governing body and as many governors as possible

Now says:

  • for maintained schools, the chair of the school’s governing body and as many governors as possible; the clerk of governors, or their delegate, may also attend to
    take notes

I had assumed that clerks can also attend the feedback meeting if the school being inspected is an academy or part of a multi-academy trust. I asked Ofsted to clarify and they’ve said that this indeed is the case.

 

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.

Ofsted – a new framework!

This is a very useful and informative blog by Jamie Barry whose school was inspected recently under the new framework.

JamieGBarry

After reading lots about the new Ofsted framework, I had my first experience of it in the past week. During some transition visits to my new school, we got ‘The Call’ and had Ofsted descend. It was a peculiar experience to by there as headteacher designate as a pose to a substantive head. However, it was great to see how the inspection was conducted and to be able to support my new school. This blog won’t go through every moment of the visit – just key areas/bits of information. I am always happy to answer any follow up questions.

Context:

My new school was last inspected in January 2019. It was judged as inadequate by the team at the time. I won’t go into the circumstances around that as I was not head at the time. However, the school have been keen and awaiting a visit since then. The school…

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Leadership matters; an audience with Julie Jackson

 

On 4th October 2019 I had the privilege of attending an audience with Julie Jackson, President of Uncommon Schools. Uncommon Schools is a non-profit organization that starts and manages urban schools for low-income students. At the time of writing there are 54 public K-12 charter schools (20,000 students) in Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York. The “schools are joyful and rigorous, full of love and learning, and fiercely dedicated to closing the achievement gap and changing history”. This was an event arranged by Ambition Institute.

Julie Jackson is the President of Uncommon Schools. She oversees all 54 schools as well as Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Julie has been in education for the last three decades and her strong leadership and commitment to improving public education have earned her several honours.

As much of what Julie said is applicable to governance too, I thought I would do a short blog about the things that really struck me in her address. She started by talking about her father (who was murdered when she was young) and the three principles he gave her.

  • Welcome challenge, learn from defeat
  • Never let your first defeat be your second
  • Always have a high bar of excellence. Don’t let anyone else set you bar

As governors there will be times when we would be faced with challenges and some of these would be quite tough ones which don’t pan out how we thought they would. In such cases, we need to work out why things happened the way they did and try and learn some lessons from the experience. Setting a high bar of excellence for ourselves is important too. This is true of individual governors and of the board. Have a high bar of excellence for the way you perform your governance task at an individual level. Make sure that the board as a whole have set a high bar of excellence for the whole board and for the school. Don’t let anyone say that children under your care can’t perform well because, for example, their background. As a board set a high, aspirational bar for every child and that bar is your excellence bar which you and not anyone else have set.

Julie talked about putting “kids always first”. This is not something that only executive leaders should be doing. The whole board should look at everything they do through this lens too. She also talked about the need for “humble leadership” and the importance of leaders being good at developing their team, resourcing good practice and dissecting it and applying it. Again, this is everything a good board should be doing. When most of us join boards we come with our specific skills, we do need to learn to apply these skills to governance and learn to govern. Good board leaders (chairs) will help their team members do just this. The board should be researching and studying good practice and bringing it back to their board.

Julie talked about what makes excellent leadership. Excellent leaders will be working to make their curriculum “joyful” and excellent. Writing the curriculum, deciding what to study and when is a job for the executive leaders. Excellent board leadership happens when the board holds the executive to account for the curriculum. This holding to account, this challenge, if done correctly will lead to an excellent curriculum. Julie wanted school leaders to ask themselves, “Do parents like to send their children to our school?” This is a hugely important question for governors to be asking too. Ask this question and follow it up with

  • How do we know this?
  • If the answer is yes then how do we ensure this continues to be the case in the future and we don’t become complacent?
  • If the answer is no then what are we doing to change it to a yes?

Julie talked about CPD and developing teachers. She said

  • Organisations should value their trainees
  • Training should be ongoing
  • Observations are not a “I got you” observations but a developmental process
  • If a gap is present throughout the region then that is not a teaching gap but a curriculum gap and that is then addressed

Julie also explained how they decide on what their non-negotiables are. As everyone is involved in developing these, there is buy in from everyone.

As governors we should be asking questions around staff CPD as well as the observation culture. Well supported staff who have access to good CPD feel valued. Ongoing training is another thing we should be aware of. We should ensure that this happens for our staff and we should also ensure that the governors are also accessing courses on a regular basis.

When Julie talked about the need for the culture not to be one of “I got you” that made me think of the board/head relationship. The role of the board is to challenge the executive leaders and hold them to account. The board must be careful that they don’t come across as trying to catch the head out. The reason we ask challenging questions must always be to ensure a good education for the children. This can happen best in a culture of mutual respect between the board and the executive.

Julie also talked about the three things which happen at Uncommon Schools which make them the successful schools that they are. These are

  • Putting children first
  • Humble leadership
  • Good professional development for all

I think these are three things which any school and any trust can and should adopt. This has nothing to do with no excuses policies (Julie had made the point that it’s actually no excuses for adults not to do the best for the children under their care), traditional or progressive philosophies, pedagogical methods or governance structures.

Tom Rees (Executive Director – School Leadership, Ambition Institute) asked Julie what drives system generosity. Julie said that she believes that Uncomon Schools are successful because they understand that their job is to increase their impact, that good teaching is good teaching and that what they do is for “kids, and kids are kids everywhere”. Again, these are simple rules and are applicable everywhere there are schools.

Julie also took part in a panel discussion. Joining her on the panel were Dame Rachel de Souza (CEO, Inspiration Trust), Leora Cruddas (CEO, Confederation of School Trusts), and Sir Kevan Collins (Chief Executive, Education Endowment Foundation). The panel was chaired by Tom. Rather than try and capture the entire panel discussion, I will write about the one or two things which each panel member said which I thought were very interesting/important.

Rachel made the point that Inspiration Trust has a brilliant CPD programme across the trust with mentoring and support available all the way through. Rachel said the trust works as a family and as people feel valued they tend not to move. This is why there are very few vacancies across the trust. She would like teachers to be leading research. Rachel mentioned development needs for trustees and governors (that made me very happy).

Leora said that we need to develop civic leadership. School leaders must not make decisions which will harm other schools in their locality. She also said that she prefers the term agency to autonomy.

Sir Collins said that though there are great things happening in the sector we need to be able to scale excellence and “we need to become the best in the word at getting better”.

I really enjoyed listening to Julie’s speech and hearing the others on the panel. I’m really grateful to Ambition Institute for giving me the chance to hear Julie speak. It was a privilege. I’ll end by quoting something she said.

“Keep doing the work. We have an obligation to teach kids.”

Governors, keep doing the work. We have an obligation too.

Read Tom Rees’  blog about the event.