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SEND and governance matters

On 28th March 2022 I attended Strategic Send Conference organised by Anita Devi. I’m very grateful I was invited and was able to attend. The presentations were all very useful and gave me lots to think about. I’ve collated tweets from the day here which you can read to catch up on the proceedings of the day.

I was asked to do a roundtable discussion on how to create a professional board which can hold the school leadership to account for SEND provision. Below are my notes I used during the roundtable. I would like to thank Chris Rossiter and StarlightMcKenzie both of whom had allowed me to bounce ideas off them.

I had started by giving a short summary of the role of governors.

Before we get on to the tips for creating a professional board let’s look at the three core functions of governance.

The first core function is to ensure that there the vision, ethos and strategic direction of the school is clear to all. This includes board members too.

  • We need a vision or a clear idea where we see our school or trust being in next one, three, five, ten years in the future. What is our destination? This is set by the board in consultation with the head or the CEO.
  • Ethos is a Greek word meaning character. It is used to describe the guiding beliefs of a community. Everyone on the board must know about the guiding beliefs, the ethos of their organisation and ensure that everyone else is clear about this too. They should also ensure that everything that happens in the boardroom and in the school is in line with that ethos.
  • The board must also ensure that there is clarity around the strategic direction of the organisation. Everyone should be clear about what the strategic goals are and how they will help the organisation make the vision a reality.
  • Our second core role is to hold the school leaders to account for performance of pupils and the organisation and performance management of staff.
  • Our third core role is to do with finance. Schools are funded by public money and we are custodians of this public money. We have to look after the financial performance of the school and ensure that money is well spent.

Tips for creating a professional board which is able to hold the school leadership to account for SEND:

Tip One: Think SEND in everything you do

  • Pay as much importance to SEND as we do to pupil premium for example.
  • Boards and external agencies and media tend to hold schools to account for things which go wrong and rightly so but rarely do they focus on what effect that failing has specifically on children with SEND.
  • When looking at standards dig down into the data and see how pupils with SEND are performing. If standards have dipped, ask how these pupils have been affected.
  • How many boards ask questions about the curriculum from the SEND point of view?
  • Are your extra curricular activities/events/trips inclusive? I’ve heard of instances where parents were told their chils could not be taken along on a trip or that they had to accompany their child. These statements are discriminatory. As a board do ask questions to assure yourselves that this does not happen in your school.
  • If you are asking questions around finances, do ask questions about how SEND provision is resourced.
  • When you ask questions around safeguarding, do ask specific questions about safeguarding pupils with SEND.
  • Look at the language used in meetings and minutes. Things like “Child X has very complex needs but the parents are in denial” should not be used in meetings and should not be in your minutes.
  • Check your policies meet Public Sector Equality Duty.
  • Many boards do parental surveys. Ensure that there are questions around SEND too so parents and carers of pupils with SEND have a voice too.
  • You will notice that all that I have said is directly linked to the governors’ three core functions.
  • All of this isn’t just about our responsibilities. It is part of ensuring that the culture and values and ethos of the school is one which values each and every child including all those who have SEND.

Tip Two: Invest in training.

  • Unfortunately, powers that be have resisted calls to make governor training mandatory. But there is nothing stopping each board doing these themselves.
  • SEND is a complex area. The provisions, the interventions, even the funding is complex.
  • As governors we are responsible for all pupils in our schools including and I would say perhaps especially pupils with SEND.
  • When training or CPD for governors is mentioned, I sometimes hear governors say they can’t afford or that they don’t want to take money away from the school. My response is always to say they can’t afford not to.
  • We can’t perform our roles properly if we don’t know what we should we doing and in this case
    • What is SEND,
    • How can pupils with SEND be helped,
    • How can we be truly inclusive and not just in name.
    • By not investing in training and hence not knowing all this we will be letting down children.
    • Investment in training is a wise investment and pays huge dividends.
    • And training doesn’t have to cost thousands. There are very good resources out there as well as courses which aren’t to expensive.
    • Also, think about the talent you have in house. Think about asking your SENCO to put on a few training sessions for the board so that all board members have a good understanding of the issue.
    • Make it a requirement that when a governor attends a conference or a CPD session they feed back to the whole board. So, the school has paid for one person to attend but the feedback ensures that the whole board benefits.

Tip Three: Work closely with your SENCO and to value them.

  • One way of working closely with the SENCO is to appoint a SEND Link Governor.
  • This governor’s role would be to have frequent meetings with the SENCO and to feed back to the board. This way the whole board will be kept up to date with what’s happening in the school.
  • Also think about appointing an Assistant SEND Link Governor. This will ensure that you have a succession plan in place for when the SEND Link Governor leaves the board or takes up another role. Appointing a Link as well as an Assistant Link SEND Governor will show that the board really values and thinks about SEND.
  • Ask questions around the role of SENCO. Is that just as highly valued as other roles in the school?
  • Is your SENCO part of the Senior Leadership Team?
  • Boards usually invite the School Business Managers and the Designated Safeguarding Leads to board meetings. Do you invite your SENCO? Does your SENCO play a strategic role or just a SEND specialist role?

Tip Four: Remember that all governors are governors of SEND.

  • Though you may have delegated the monitoring responsibility to your LINK governor, the board is collectively responsible and needs to understand the issues around SEND and, as a board, hold the school leaders to account for the provision as well as the SEND leadership.

Resources which the board can find useful in acting in a professional manner while holding the school leadership to account for SEND.

Effective meetings matter

A great deal of governance work is conducted in meetings. It is, therefore, essential that meetings are well run. I came across an article by Kathleen Garvin article on how to make meetings effective. This was produced in cooperation with Salesforce Canada. The original article can be accessed at 7 Ways to Make Meetings as Effective as Possible. The article is being reproduced below with permission. Where I felt a comment needed to be made with reference to governing body procedures and processes, I have done so in red text.

Meetings, for better or for worse, are a part of work life.

They often get a bad rap. Yes, sometimes there can be too many meetings, and some hosts don’t know how to manage their time — or agenda — well.

But like anything in business, you can make changes to your process when it comes to meetings and then examine the results. Depending on your goals, you can measure what is or isn’t working and take action. You could have a few different goals with your meetings.

  • Are you looking to get more team members to show up?
  • Do you want more engagement?
  • Do you want attendees to leave meetings with an action item or feeling?

At its core, your meeting needs to have a purpose and offer value. After all, for many people, especially those with tight schedules, it comes down to a simple question: Is this meeting necessary?

Thankfully, there are actions you can take to make your meetings more efficient for the entire team. Here are seven tips that can help ensure your next meeting runs as effectively as possible. These suggestions will leave your team feeling like the meeting was both productive and helpful.


7 Ways to Improve Your Next Meeting

Hosting a successful meeting goes beyond starting and ending on time (although you should definitely do that). Here are several ways you can improve your next meeting and make it a worthwhile use of everyone’s time.

1. Have an Agenda

Don’t fall victim to hosting “another meeting that could have been an email.” First thing’s first: Determine if you actually need to meet.

Once you pass that test, make an agenda for the call, video chat, or in-person gathering. Creating a meeting agenda up front informs participants what the meeting is about and how they can prepare for certain topics. Include an overview, talking points, a list of who is responsible for which updates, and any calls to action you want attendees to take.

An agenda shows focus and prevents scrambling at the last minute, helping everyone make better use of their time.

Governing body meetings should always have an agenda and the agenda and associated papers circulated at least seven days in advance. The agenda will be prepared by the governance professional in consultation with the cahir and the head. Some governing bodies like to have timed agendas so that they can ensure that important discussions are allocated enough time.

2. Make it Visual

You don’t need a 50-slide presentation for a routine meeting. But creating a couple of concise slides can help get your point across and keep attendees engaged with the numbers and bullet-pointed information you want to share.

This is especially helpful in meetings where you have a lot of information to distill, but you need attendees to remember a few key data points to do their jobs. Having this on a slide can help you avoid post-meeting back-and-forth communications and curb misinformation.

3. Consider Bringing in a Cohost

While the business world is now used to the ubiquity of online meetings, there are still hurdles from time to time. Tech glitches, poor Wi-Fi, and virtual-meeting software all require adaptation, and sometimes on the fly.

In these situations, it’s important to control as much as you can. For a large online meeting, consider recruiting a coworker to help you run it.

A cohost can help you moderate when questions arrive in the chat box or people raise their hands, or they can manage who’s promoted to presenter when you hand it off to other speakers. This can free you up to focus on the meeting itself and keep things running smoothly.

In my opinion, governing body discussions should not take place using the chat function. It will help if people other than the governance professional and the chair keep an aye out for raised hands.


4. Give Participants Permission to Leave

Don’t hold attendees hostage. If you have a long meeting on the books and certain portions will only relate to some people, give those participants the option to opt out when the discussion isn’t relevant.

For example, attendees could get the green light to leave a meeting if they are:

In large meetings — online especially — it’s easy to leave relatively undetected. Employees don’t need to appear on screen to announce their exit or write in a chat box. Making this clear up front can empower employees to use their time wisely.

In governing body meetings, governors should tey and stay for the duration of the meeting. There may be an instance where a governor may need to leave early. In that case, they should make this clear at the start of the meeting. Governors should remember that these meetings need to be quorate in order to make decisions. School staff who have been invited to the meeting should be allowed to leave once that agenda item is finished. It may be an idea to change the order of the agenda to allow them to take part and leave by bringing that item to the top of the agenda.

5. Avoid Scheduling Meetings Around Lunchtime

You don’t want to interrupt anyone’s break time or distract attendees by making a meeting at noon. Plus, “hangry” workers aren’t the most engaged workers, as you can imagine.

Create strict policies for lunchtime meetings, even company-sponsored ones, to respect workers and their lunch hours. When possible, in order to make up for the loss of that time, have the company pay for lunch. If it’s an online meeting, attendees can turn off their video, go on mute, and eat off camera, sure. But still: companies that are considerate of employees’ lunch breaks generally see higher morale.

Harvard Business Review conducted a global survey in February 2021. Of more than 1,500 respondents in 46 countries across sectors and roles, 89 per cent reported that their work life was getting worse — they were burned out. When people are overworked and exhausted, it has an effect on job performance.

Employers can do their part to help prevent burnout and job creep, which happens when employees work outside regular business hours. Schedule meetings when employees expect to work, not during their breaks or personal time.



6. Steer Clear of Meetings Outside of 9 to 5

For many people, job creep is a major issue, as the lines of work and personal life have been completely blurred. It gets tough for people to operate when there’s no clear distinction between being on and off the clock.

Limit the number of meetings you schedule late in the day and outside of traditional business hours. That means no heavy-duty meetings in the late afternoon on Fridays either, if they can be avoided. Meetings outside your regular business hours can slow down processes and affect deadlines if last-minute “pop-up” meetings become the norm.

Yes, things will come up, and conducting international business may require non-traditional hours. To remedy this, try to be as transparent as possible ahead of time so employees can plan ahead. You can also “give these hours back” to employees by letting them start later or end their working day earlier when they work outside of the normal workday.

The bottom line is to be mindful of infringing on employees’ personal time. Research also shows that happy employees result in better customer experiences and a healthier bottom line. Taking care when scheduling meetings helps your employees avoid burnout and have a better experience working for your company.

As I said above, meeting timings should be set after consultation with the head and governors. Obviously, try not to have them too late in the evening.

7. Determine Next Steps

This ties back to establishing a clear agenda: Once you outline expectations and conduct the meeting, make sure attendees know next steps on a macro and micro level.

Outline action items and how and when people should update the team on each task. If it was an online meeting that was recorded, let employees know how and where to access it in case they need to revisit specific talking points. This also helps cut down on time-zapping back-and-forth communication.

 Governors should be encouraged to note down any actions they have been assigned as well as timescales. Agendas should have Actions at the end which will serve as a reminder.

Facilitate Better Meetings

Whether you’re hosting your next meeting in the office or remotely, these tips will help you run it more effectively. When your team recognizes that your meetings are a good, productive use of time, they may even start looking forward to them.

Okay, maybe it’s a little difficult to be excited about meetings. But at least employees won’t look for an excuse to bail and will come away from meetings feeling productive and more prepared for their own work. That’s a win.


Governors’ support for women leaders matters

I was delighted that my article (How Can Governors Support Women Leaders in Education) was accepted for publication in the WomenEd edition of Innovate Journal. You can read other articles in the journal using this link.

 

Good leaders encourage and develop others who aspire to leadership positions. Trustees and governors are strategic leaders of the organisations they govern (Department for Education, 2020). However, they still can, and should, play an important part in career development of staff. In this article I discuss how I, as a trustee/governor have done this.

Governing Boards of maintained schools and academy trusts are required to elect a Chair and a Vice Chair (Department for Education, 2017; The School Governance (Roles, Procedures and Allowances) (England) Regulations, 2013).

According to the latest National Governance Association’s governor survey (2020), 61% of female respondents (compared with 49% of males) said they would not become Chair; this is unfortunate as female chairs can serve as role models for other governors.

I have experience of chairing a trust board and Local Governing Boards. My chairing career started when I was encouraged to chair a committee by the then Chair of the board (a female). I now try and pass that baton on by encouraging others to consider chairing. The Vice Chair at one of my boards is considering stepping into my role and I am helping her prepare for that move.

One of the most important roles for boards is appointment of heads and senior leaders. Vivienne Porritt stated in an article (Tickle, 2018) that she believes there is evidence of “gendered” language in many of the recruitment advertisements which deters women from applying. While serving on appointment panels for heads and senior leaders, I can ensure that this is not the case as well as making sure that the interview process itself is fair and equitable (for example, candidates looking for flexible hours or job-shares are not disadvantaged).

Tockey and Ignatova (2019) found that women are less likely to apply for positions senior to those they currently hold. Mohr (2014) reports that 21.6% of women (compared to 12.7% of men) said one of the reasons for not applying was that they thought they would not be hired if they did not meet the qualifications and they did not want to put themselves out there if they were going to fail.

Women applying for their first headship may not know much about the process. This is especially true if they have not served as a governor themselves. I speak at events and also have one-to-one conversations with prospective candidates during which I tell them that it is still worth applying even if they do not have all the “desirable” qualifications. I explain that governors would be looking for evidence that the candidate’s vision is in line with those of the board’s. I also ensure that they realise that the questions they will be asked are designed to test how strong the candidates are in setting and delivering strategic goals.

For first time applicants, I offer to help them understand the different types of tasks they may be required to do during the interview process. As I have been in governance for some time now, my network includes many serving heads. If candidates would find it useful to talk with heads of similar schools, I help arrange meetings between them.

I offer to talk with candidates after their interview. If they have been successful, I offer to help them with any governance related issues or questions they may have in their new role. If they have not been successful, then it is important for me to assure them that not being successful means that that school was not a good fit and not that they lacked the ability to be a head or a senior leader. In these cases, I advise them to get detailed feedback which would help them in the future.

It is important to ensure that there is diversity in the school leadership that women who want to take up leadership positions are supported and recruitment and retention practises are equitable. Above are some examples of how governors can accomplish this.

 

“When you look at successful women, they have other women who have supported them, and they’ve gotten to where they are because of those women.

Sheryl Sandberg

 

References

Department for Education (2017) Model articles of association for academy trusts https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/academy-model-memorandum-and-articles-of-association [Accessed 18 Feb 2021]

Department of Education (2020) The Governance handbook https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/925104/Governance_Handbook_FINAL.pdf [Accessed 18 Feb 2021]

Mohr,T.S. (2014) Why Women Don’t Apply for Jobs Unless They’re 100% Qualified Harvard Business Review https://hbr.org/2014/08/why-women-dont-apply-for-jobs-unless-theyre-100-qualified [Accessed 18 Feb 2021]

National Governance Association (2020) School Governance Report 2020 https://www.nga.org.uk/getmedia/3b313a00-2e13-4ae5-8d9f-7445de07f395/School-Governance-Report-2020-WEB2-AW.pdf [Accessed 18 Feb 2021]

The School Governance (Roles, Procedures and Allowances) (England) Regulations 2013 UK Statutory (Instruments 2013 No. 1624 PART 3 Regulation 7) https://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2013/1624/contents/made [Accessed 18 Feb 2021]

Tickel, L. (2018) ‘Language in school job ads puts women off headteacher roles.’ The Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/education/2018/jun/19/language-school-headteacher-job-ads-puts-women-off [Accessed 18 Feb 2021]

Tockey, D. and Ignatova, M. (2019) Gender Insights Report How women find jobs differently. Available at https://business.linkedin.com/content/dam/me/business/en-us/talent-solutions-lodestone/body/pdf/Gender-Insights-Report.pdf [Accessed 18 Feb 2021].

Recruitment Matters, with thanks to Sam Freedman

Sam Freedman recently published an excellent thread on Twitter in which he discussed how organizations could improve their recruitment processes to make then fairer. Boards would benefit from reading Sam’s thoughts. They could evaluate their own school/MAT’s recruitment processes using this thread. It would also give them useful tips when they are on interview panels for heads. I am copying and pasting the points Sam has made. You can read the thread (and the resulting discussion) using this link.

  1. Short job descriptions that are absolutely clear what the job is and what the requirements are. In clear English. No “you will need to strategically integrate synergies across networks”. If you can’t do this you don’t know what the job is.
  2. If you know you are going to appoint an internal candidate, do not go external. It is deeply unfair on all the people who will spend time and effort on an application and possibly interview so you can show a Potemkin process.
  3. If you can do a blind recruitment process then do. Get an administrator to remove names, email addresses and photos from CVs/covering letters so as to avoid unconscious biases.
  4. When inviting people to interview give them the full information about the whole process. How many interviews? Dates? What will they have to prepare for each of them? Let them know the whole potential time cost upfront rather than stringing them along.
  5. If you can do your best to avoid formulaic interviews with standard questions with each one asked by a different person. A few competancy based Qs are fine but don’t make them your whole interview. They’re often not very revealing.
  6. As much as it’s true for the candidate that it’s a good idea to make it more of a conversation, it’s also a good idea for you. Have a structure but leave space for follow-ups; tangents etc… (you have to think more in this type of interview – that’s good).
  7. If you ask for a presentation or piece of work then be thoughtful about the amount of time you give for it. Remember that not everyone can drop everything over 24 hours and write something. It will disadvantage parents/carers etc…
  8. When the interviews are over and you’ve made a decision tell everyone as soon as possible. Making people wait days because you’re a bit busy is cruel. This is a huge deal for them. If there’s a delay tell them and tell them why / how long.
  9. When you’ve hired someone, send them stuff/talk to them before they start. Give them an induction timetable; tell them about initial projects. Much easier for people to start well when they can start to picture their first few weeks. THREAD ENDS

    CODA: lots of people saying – put the salary on the job advert – which I completely agree with. Not doing so increases pay inequality and just means you’ll get to the end of the process and some of your best options may not actually do it for what you can pay.

Effective relationships between boards and executive leaders matter

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

Slide 1:

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

Slide 2:

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

Slide 3:

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

Slide 4:

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

Slide 5:

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

Slide 6:

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

Slide 7:

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

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

Slide 8:

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

Slide 9:

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

Slide 10:

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

Slide 11:

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

Slide 12:

Moving on to the relationship between heads and boards.

Slide 13:

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

Slide 14:

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

Slide 15:

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

Slide 16:

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

Slide 17:

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

Slide 18:

Coming now to the Chair and Head Relationship.

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

Side 19:

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

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

Slide 20:

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

Slide 21:

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

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

Slide 22:

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

Slide 23:

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

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

Slide 24:

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

Slide 25:

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

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

Slide 26:

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

Governance matters at Festival of Education

The 2021 Festival of Education took place online over two weeks. This year, like always, there was great diversity of topics and speakers. I’m very grateful to the organisers for featuring governance too. Katie Paxton and I had a “fireside” chat about “Governance during and after the pandemic”. You can watch our session using this link.

Top blogs of the week: Schools Week (26 April 2021)

Schools Week published my top blogs of the week.

This week’s top blogs cover leadership lessons from the ‘death of football’ (@daisychristo), making the most of the final weeks of term (@missdcox ), safeguarding (@HelenStevenson4) and attitudes to disabilities (@bennewmark) .

Gary Lineker is not dead and neither is football – yet @daisychristo

If you follow Daisy Christodoulou on Twitter you’ll know that she is very knowledgeable about assessment. You may also be aware that she is a keen follower of both cricket and football; the latter being the subject of this blog, which contains plenty of lessons for school leaders.

Continued in Naureen Khalid’s blogs of the week, 26 April 2021

Proactive Pastoral Care and Governance Matters

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

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

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

Eight anniversary matters

Last year when I published a blog celebrating seven years of blogging, I did it as the nation went into lockdown. At that time I didn’t think that we would still be living with restrictions a year later. But we are and, like last year, I am going to celebrate eight years of blogging because it’s an important milestone for me and because I think maintaining routines are even more important during stressful times.

Because of the strange year we’ve lived through, I didn’t blog as much as I normally do. When I started blogging, I wasn’t sure how long I would keep going or if people would want to read my posts. Eight years later I have build up a following for which I am very grateful. A look at the past year.

The top ten most viewed posts were

10. Accountability matters during the COVID-19 crisis; BELMAS RIG presentation

9. Ofsted’s Education Inspection Framework and governance matters

8. Staff wellbeing surveys matter: Guest Post

7. Self evaluation matters

6. Vision statement matters

5. Online complaint panel matters

4. Igniting passion for governance matters

3. Virtual meetings matter: Lessons from the pandemic

2. Ofsted Questions for Governors

And the most viewed post was

Good practice matters for governing bodies

The top ten search term which brought people to my site were

  • ofsted questions for governors
  • questions ofsted ask governors
  • ofsted questions for governors
  • section 6 school governors handbook
  • avoiding influenced company status definition
  • are school governors meetings minutes public
  • local authority influenced cannot exceed 19.9%
  • avoiding influenced company status
  • ofsted handbook word version
  • governing matters

I’m glad people are thinking about influenced company status. It’s important that people who govern academies know and understand this. The blog in which I discuss this arose out of a twitter discussion which is one of the reasons why I am on twitter.

Blogging has given me the confidence to write some other pieces too. During the past year I have been fortunate enough to be asked to contribute an article for the digital journal published by the Confederation of School Trusts. I decided to focus on chairing a local governing body in a big multi-academy trust. I have also started doing blog reviews for Schools Week; the latest can be read here. If you blog on governance or know someone who does, please let me know. I would love to feature more voices from the governance world. If there are blogs which you think governors would be interested in even if they are not directly related to governance, then please send those my way too. Schools Week also published my Lockdown Diary: A week in the life of a school governor.

Visible governance is very important to me and I am happy to do my bit to raise the profile of governance and governors in any way I can. For this reason I was honoured to have been given an opportunity to speak by the Chiltern Teaching School Alliance, at IGNITE which was one of the events marking 50th anniversary of BELMAS and during the #GLTNationalInsetDay and the #BBReignite events.

I have enjoyed blogging and sharing my thoughts with you during these eight years. Thank you to all who read/comment/share my blogs. Hopefully, I’ll see you at my 9th anniversary party! Till then, stay well and keep governing.

Igniting passion for governance matters

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

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

Slide 2:

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

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

Side 3:

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

Slide 4:

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

Slide 5:

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

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

Slide 6:

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

Slide 7:

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

Slide 8:

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

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

Slide 9:

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

Slide 10:

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

Slide 11:

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

Slide 12:

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

Slide 13:

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

Slide 14:

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

Slide 15:

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

Slide 16:

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

Slide 17:

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

Slide 18:

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

Slide 19:

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

Slide 20:

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

Slide 21:

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

Slide 22:

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

Slide 23:

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

Slide 24:

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

Slide 25:

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

The video recording can be seen here