Category Archives: Uncategorized

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

On Wednesday, 24th June 2020, I attended BELMAS Governing and Governance Research Interest Group meeting.  Due to COVID-19 restrictions this RIG was held online via Zoom. The theme of this RIG was “The importance of governance in education during a time of crisis”. I talked about accountability during a time of crisis. Below are my slides and the notes that go with them.

Slide 3:
Effective governance relies on there being a balance between the challenge and support the board offers the head and school leaders.

Slide 4:
Because of COVID, heads and school leaders are experiencing a great deal of stress and uncertainty and people may feel that boards should be offering slightly more support and slightly less challenge nowadays.

Slide 5:
What we have to watch out for is that when we tilt the balance towards more support and less challenge, we don’t end up in a situation where there is no governance. So, we do need to continue to have governing board meetings and we do need to continue asking questions.

Slide 6:
What should we be holding the school leaders to account for during the present crisis? One of the most important things we need to ask questions about nowadays is safeguarding. With normal contact between children and schools, now greatly reduced, assuring ourselves that the school is doing all that it can to safeguard pupils is important.

Slide 7:

  • Schools would have put into place new policies or changed some of the current practices. We need to assure ourselves that these changes are not weakening our existing child protection or safeguarding policies.
  • Schools would have updated their child protection policies. Have you seen the updated policy? Are you satisfied that it addresses situations or concerns which may arise during the crisis?
  • Under normal circumstances, schools keep up to date records concerned with safeguarding, child protection etc. We need to assure ourselves that this is still happening, that concerns or issues are being recorded at that records are up to date.
  • With so much learning taking place online, we need to ask questions around online safety as well. How can the school assure us that staff and students are aware of online safety issues and that they know who to turn to if they have some concerns.
  • Under normal circumstances, schools work closely with external agencies, like CAMHS, social service, MASH etc. We should be asking questions around how is the school exchanging information with theses agencies.

Slide 8:
The next thing you should hold school leaders to account for are the schools’ risk assessments.

Slide 9:

  • Opening of schools to a wider group of people and how that is managed are operational decisions. But the board needs to be aware of these new arrangements are so ask questions around this.
  • The schools would have done various risk assessments. You should have had sight of these and you should have tested the robustness of these by asking questions.
    • Questions such as how will children and staff be kept safe?
    • Has the school sought advice from local H&S teams and were plans drawn uo in light of this advice?
    • Does the risk assessment cover remote learning?
    • Have the needs of vulnerable children and staff been considered? Some children and some staff may need individual risk assessments. Has the school done that?

Slide 10:
Children are obviously very important but it’s important to hold the school to account for how it deals with parents and staff of its pupils.

Slide 11:

  • These are hugely stressful times and therefore communications need to be timely, clear and appropriate. If communications are good then many of the problems either don’t arise or if they do arise, they can be handled more easily.
  • You also need to ask if the school is taking the views of parents and staff into consideration.

Slide 12:
Remote learning is another are we should be holding school leaders to account for.

Slide 13:

  • For example, do you know what has been out into place for pupils who are not in school? As governors it’s not up to us to tell the head what to teach and why but we should ask questions about how the school is looking after the education of pupils who are at home
  • Remote learning is all well and good but do we know if all our pupils able to benefit from it. Does each child have access to a computer? Even f they have access to a computer at home they may have to share it with other family members or there may be issues with data, bandwidth etc. Governors should be asking questions around this to ensure that pupils are not being disadvantaged.
  • Staff wellbeing is our responsibility to. Do we know if remote teaching is adding to teacher workload? I have heard examples of heads wanting teachers to compile data on how students are performing. I’ve even heard examples of line managers doing online lesson observations. If this data is presented to you then you have to ask some really serious questions.

Slide 14:
Discussion:

  • Will accountability will change post COVID?
  • Should it?

 

Joining a MAT? Stakeholder questions matter

When a school decides to join a multi-academy trust (MAT), the first thing the governors/trustees should do is carry out due diligence into practices, ethos and culture of the MAT they are thinking of joining. Keeping the stakeholders informed is of vital importance too. This can be done by holding information evenings/events where stakeholders are invited to hear about the proposal and ask questions. Information should also be readily available on the website. One additional thing that can be done is to have a document on the website with answers to questions which governors/trustees think stakeholders may ask. This document should be updated by adding additional questions which people will be sending in once they have digested all the information which has been provided to them. Below are some questions you may want to include in your document. Obviously, there will be many more questions which will be specific to your school/situation but these will give you an idea of the type of questions people are likely to want answered.

  • What is a MAT?
  • Will joining the MAT change the ethos of our school?
  • You have said protection of ethos is one reason for joining this MAT. Can you expand a bit more on this?
  • Why do you think this MAT is a good fit for us?
  • What is the formal channel for comments / suggestions to be passed to the school?
  • How will the consultation comments be shared?
  • Can you comment on the school funding shortfall?
  • Will the MAT “get rid” of expensive staff?
  • How will the Condition Improvement Fund applications work if we join the MAT?
  • Will there be a pressure on us to hire more NQTs?
  • What will happen to the wide range of subjects we offer and to the twilight courses?
  • What will happen to the school’s governing body?
  • Can we have sight of the scheme of delegation?
  • What are the exit options for leaving the MAT?
  • What happens to the funds collected by our parents for our school?
  • What are the teachers’ opinions about this proposal?
  • Will we be expected to use the MAT’s curriculum?
  • How would pay change for staff?
  • What is meant by top slice? How much is it and what will it pay for?
  • Who will be responsible for appointing our headteacher and other staff?
  • How will MAT trustees govern our school if they are not in the same city as us?
  • Will our uniform change?
  • Will the school name change?
  • Will our school continue to be recognizable as X school or will it become indistinguishable from other schools in the MAT?
  • Our school has always looked after pupils with SEN really well. Will that continue being the case?

I hope you will find these useful.Please do add any questions you think are missing in the comments.

Visible governance matters

Because of the lockdown, normal forms of CPD have been suspended. Many people have stepped up to offer online CPD sessions. One such organization is Chiltern Teaching School Alliance. They have put on an impressive series of free leadership training sessions. I was delighted when I was asked to do a session on governance. Governance sometimes isn’t as visible as it should be and anything we can do to change that is to be welcomed. Therefore, a huge thanks to Arv Kaushal, Claire Justin and Sufian Sadiq for giving me to talk about governance.

My session was on the role and impact of governance. The session was recorded and is on the Chiltern TSA video channel. It is being posted here with their permission.

Seventh anniversary matters

We are going through some tough times at the minute. COVID 19 has affected every aspect of our lives. The past week has been a very strange one as the nation went into lockdown. Normal schooling was suspended with schools opening only for children of essential workers who could not make child care arrangements. Governing board meetings were either cancelled or held using different online platforms. This week is a special one as far as this blog is concerned as, today, 28th March, I celebrate seven, yes seven years of blogging! In the past I have celebrated my blog’s birthday by publishing a celebratory blog. I debated if I should do it this year. After thinking it over, I thought I should. Firstly it is an important milestone for me and secondly I think it helps to maintain routines during stressful times.

When I started blogging, I wasn’t sure how long I would keep going or if people would want to read my posts. Seven 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:

Ofsted Grade Descriptors, Sept 2015. Guest post by Shena Lewington

Vice Chair matter

Removal of the outstanding exemption: Consultation matters

Ofsted Inspection Handbook (Sept 2018) and governance matters

Self evaluation matters

School inspection update (Nov 2019) matters

Governors and curriculum matters

Ofsted’s Education Inspection Framework and governance matters

Good practice matters for governing bodies

And the post which had the most views was Ofsted questions for governors

Most of the people who read my blogs have been referred to my site via Facebook and Twitter. There were 4 views via Pinterest which I was not expecting! I don’t know about you but I like looking at countries where my blog has been viewed. This year the most views were in UK and USA. I wonder what brought people living in Mongolia and Brunei to my blog!

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

Governor ofsted questions

Local authority associated person

Ofsted governor questions

Blogs for governors five things secondary governors should know about data

New school staff wellbeing question

I have enjoyed blogging and sharing my thoughts with you during these seven years. Thank you to all who read/comment/share my blogs. Hopefully, I’ll see you at my 8th anniversary party! Till then, stay calm, stay well and keep governing.

Guest Post: Governance, partnership and school improvement matters

This is a guest post by a governor and Chair at a small rural school. She is due to leave the governing body and is reflecting on how things were during her time there.

My journey into governance was at a time where my youngest child had just started school. I was beginning to feel the eagerness of wanting to learn, challenge myself and adapt. I worked part time at arts charity and had experience of working with disadvantaged children. With a little more time on my side it felt possible to delve into something new.

As a parent Governor at my first meeting I somehow became Vice-Chair. The first six months past in a bit of a blur – during this time myself and the Chair of Governors (CoG) at that time undertook the NCTL Chairs Development Course. It was during this time and alongside Governor meetings that it became apparent all was not what it seemed. Our external reported data was dipping year on year. Internally our data was showing progress and we were ‘on track’ to improve. The Governing body began to spilt – one side questioning and challenging, the other much less so. I found myself in a position where, following election I was Co-Chair with another Governor. I sought the advice of our local LA Governor support on more than one occasion.

When our Headteacher (HT) went on Maternity leave we temporarily entered a soft federation with a neighbouring primary school. During the first few weeks this HT highlighted all was not well. The data internally wasn’t accurate. The school wasn’t on track and Governors needed to act quickly. The Co-Chair resigned. The Local Authority reacted quickly. Following a application they released intervention funding to support urgent staff CPD, external moderation and crucially for us – a review of Governance. For me, as a new CoG the review was super. I had a lot of support, to enable us to set-up systems for effective monitoring, skills analysis and CPD for the Governing Body. Around this time Ofsted came in and graded the school RI. This was accurate; we needed to rapidly improve things. Governors monitoring timetables were developed by Governors – not the HT. The Vice-Chair took the lead in developing a template which correlated with the SDP priorities. Every Governor had a area of focus. Every Governor asked randomly selected safeguarding questions. Monitoring was triangulated with data, children’s views, parents and staff. The LA have since used our template as a model of good practice. Monitoring visits take no more than an hour. Governors monitored process, procedures and data trends. The timetable was bespoke every long term (populated by Governor meetings, or Governors themselves).

As a small school, we have maximised external resources, our NLG has continued to support us to ensure we are challenging effectively during meetings, he helps us interrogate data and continues to support even now. As a Church of England school we worked closely with the Diocese to access training for staff and Governors to help us improve and develop. The Local Authority supported with Governor Networks and online resources. We used it all, and moreover if we needed more help we asked for it.

During the time between the first HMI visit and second the school was subject to standards meetings with the Local Authority. During these meetings it was possible to access resources and expertise, for example; HR and Finance. We considered business models to sustain our school and the LA supported us in critiquing these models.

For a CoG this period of time was relentless, add into this another soft federation, an interim Headteacher and now permanent Headteacher it was tricky. However, both of the Vice Chairs I have been lucky to work alongside have been brilliant – without both of their expertise, challenge and practical help I would have failed. The recruitment day for our new Headteacher was a magnificent display of our unity, strength and community spirit.

At our recent inspection under the new framework Governors knew their role, could talk about the impact in their area of monitoring. Our safeguarding continued to be effective and progress was being made across all areas of the school. The process was robust and fair – the inspector took her time and was understanding of the work involved in our journey. Our judgement was fair and our improvement continues.

As I leave the Governing Body in the capable hands of the new CoG (previously excellent VCoG) I am exceptionally proud of the journey and the improvement in the school. Our Governors have worked hard – and we have secured some new members.

If you are contemplating a role in Governance, do it. You will not regret it, and learn far more about yourself than you thought possible.

Self evaluation matters

I have been reading a few posts on governance reviews. While I agree that an external review can be very useful, self reflection is also very important. While thinking about this I came up with few questions which I think trustees/governors should be able to answer. How many of these can you and you colleagues answer? Are there any you would add to the list?

Why should I be led by you?

  • If I were to ask a child in your school, what is it like being a pupil in your school what would they say?
  • Would the answer given to me by a pupil with special education needs, a pupil premium/EAL child be the same?
  • If I asked your head about you what would they say?
  • If I asked your clerk about you, what would their response be?
  • If I asked staff about their working conditions/well-being what would I find out?
  • Do you ask parents for their opinions? Do you know if they would give me the same answer they would give you?
  • Do you know what are the strengths and weaknesses of your school?
  • What does your website tell me about the board?

Your roles and responsibilities:

  • Are you crystal clear about your role and function?
  • Do you know what powers you hold and how best to use them?
  • Have you read your governance document?
    • For those of you who govern a school in a multi-academy trust (MAT), do you know what has been delegated to you in the scheme of delegation (SoD)?
    • Do you audit what you do, your agendas and meetings against the SoD?
    • When was the last time the SoD was reviewed?
  • If I were to ask you the object of your charity, what would you tell me?
  • What is your school’s vision statement?
    • Does the work you do go some way in delivering your vision?
    • Are all stakeholders aware of the vision and buy into it?
  • Do you do a 360 review of the board?
  • If I asked governors about your chair what would I hear? Will I get a consistent response or are governors working in groups/cliques?

Your working practices:

  • Are you aware of all the laws that apply to you? (Ignorance is not a defence)
  • How do you deal with conflicts of interest?
  • What are the three major risks in your risk register and how do you plan to mitigate these?
  • How do you ensure that finances and other resources are used effectively?
  • Do you have someone on the board who can scrutinise and understand financial reports?
  • Do you use any benchmarking data?
  • How do you ensure your decisions are well informed and evidence based?
  • If later events/new information shows that your decision was wrong, how do you go about rectifying your error?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of your board?
  • Would your minutes show me that you challenge the school leadership?
  • Do you have access to and understand pupil performance data?
    • Do you triangulate information you get from the head and their teams? How do you do that?
  • If the board has concerns, then how do governors address them?
  • What drives your agendas?
  • Are they aligned with your school development plan (SDP)?
  • How do you monitor the SDP?
  • Do all governors come well prepared to the meetings?
  • Do your meetings generally run to time and do you use the time effectively?
  • How do you ensure that the appraisal process is fair, transparent and feeds into school improvement?
  • How may governors access training on a regular basis?
  • How do governors keep up to date with legislative changes, new policies and initiatives?

Future proofing:

  • What are you doing to ensure your school is sustainable in the long run?
  • Do you have a plan to deal with any vacancies on the board which any arise in the future?
  • Is there a succession plan in place for the chair and vice chair of the board?
  • Are you aware of any plans your head may have of moving on/retiring?
  • Have you made any plans to deal with the above?
  • Do you have plans to revisit your vision and see if it remains ft for purpose?
  • When did you last do a skills audit?
  • Do you regularly review of your governance/committee structure?
  • Do you have any plans to collaborate with other boards?

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…

View original post 1,385 more words

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.