Talking up governance matters

The other day my daughter showed me her Year Book. Under “Where will you be in 10 years?” she had written “Chair of Governors of the school.” Obviously, that made me very happy but later it got me thinking.

I am a very committed governor and I really enjoy my work. I talk about it at home, telling my family about what’s involved in being a governor of a school. They see me prepare for and attend meetings, attend conferences and discuss governance on twitter and with friends. They know not to disturb me on Sunday nights between 8:45-9:15pm when I’m on twitter taking part in #ukgovchat. We’ve had discussions about what are operational matters and hence not my remit. They know that if I contact the school as a mother I start by saying I’m doing so as X’s mother and not as a governor and why that’s important.

I’d be very happy if she (or the others) did volunteer as governors when older and I’d feel that that was partly due to the fact that I talked with them about governance. How many of you do the same? Some more questions for you to ponder on.

  • Do you think most people are aware of the role governors play? If not, how can we change that?
  • Do you sit around the dinner table and discuss governance (obviously taking care to respect confidentiality etc) as you discuss your day jobs?
  • Do your wider family members know of the important work you do?
  • Do you talk to your work colleagues about the importance of volunteering as a governor?
  • If you meet people socially do you tell them what you do for your day job as well as your work as a governor?
  • Have you been able to encourage someone to find out more about governance?
  • Has someone joined a governing body after chatting with you?
  • Think of the people you meet frequently; do they all know you are a school governor?
  • Do your children tell their friends that you are a governor?
  • How do people react when you tell them you are a governor?
  • What is the most common question people ask you when you tell them you are a governor?
  • How many of your family/friends are governors?
  • Has anyone ever said to you that they don’t think they have the requisite skills to become a governor? If yes, what did you say in reply?

Governance is hugely important and plays a crucial role in school improvement. I think it’s important to let people know you are a governor and what is that you do and why. It’s not a case of blowing your own trumpet but ensuring that governance gets its due recognition. By doing this you may even help recruit people where there is a shortage of people volunteering to fulfil this hugely rewarding role.


Governance matters at #BrewEdLeicester Part 2

On 14th April 2018 I attended #BrewEdLeicester. If you are unaware of what BrewEd is, then this will give you some idea. The Leicester BrewEd was organised by the fantastic team of Mr_P_Hillips,Teacherglitter, Muggle Teacher and Matt Payne They put on a great show and everyone who came or followed on twitter had a wonderful time. In this blog I’ll write a bit about the presentations but mainly concentrate on what I, as a governor, took away from them.

The day started with Ed Finch telling us how BrewEd started. He told us that the whole point of BrewEd was to get people together to talk about education and in the process have a laugh and get to know each other. These events are organised by volunteers and are free from corporate sponsorships. The ticket prices are kept as low as possible. Those of you who read my blog or follow me on Twitter will know that I try to attend as many educational events as I can. I think it’s important for governors to go along to educational events. The events which are based around governance will obviously be directly useful to us but even those events where the emphasis isn’t governance will give us pause for thought. They are also a good way to engage with educators and find out what are the issues facing people teaching our children in schools we govern.

The first presentation was by JL Dutaut. He and Lucy Rycroft-Smith have edited a book called Flip the System UK.He told us that both Lucy and he had suffered burnout and asked the audience if they know people who had. A large majority of hands went up (about 95%). As governors we need to be aware of how our heads and staff are feeling. Do we look after the wellbeing of our heads and staff? JL made the point that there is a culture of blame in our education system. He quoted David Weston who has written a chapter in the book. David wants us to be data smart. He says that by the time the data has been aggregated and passed up to senior leaders, not only is there a time lag, the data has lost nuance and context. As governors we need to be very aware of this.

  • We should think carefully of the data we ask the head and their team to provide us.
  • Are we adding to workload?
  • Are we asking for/aware of the context and the narrative behind the data?
  • Is the reason we ask for data is to see if we are better than other schools or are we actually trying to see if our education for our students is getting better?

JL then asked us to read an extract from the book. This made me think whether governors read around the subject. When is the last time you read a book/article/blog about governance which wasn’t directly related to an issue faced by your board/school?

JL also told us that there are quarter of a million qualified teachers who are not currently teaching. As governors, teacher turnover is one something we should be monitoring in our schools.

  • Are you aware of the number of teachers who leave your school?
  • How does that number compare with other schools/national figures?
  • Does your school conduct exit interviews?
  • Do you get the results of these interviews and do you discuss any issues highlighted by these interviews?

During the question/answer session which followed JL’s session a point was made that autonomy and teacher agency can add to workload. For example while its very gratifying to design your own curriculum it will add to teacher workload. As governors, when your senior leaders bring a proposal to you do you ask about the effects that will have to teacher workload?

Next up was Jenny Holder who talked about developing an ethos for reading for pleasure. As governors are you aware of what the school’s approach/ethos is as far as reading for pleasure is concerned? When asking questions regarding this we will have to be careful that we don’t step over the strategic/operational divide.

The next presentation was by Dan Edwards who spoke about the need for closer relationships/collaboration/conversations between the primary and secondary phases. He feels that the collaboration isn’t as good as it can be because we don’t know enough about each other.

My questions for governor colleagues:

  • Do governors have a part to play in this?
  • Should we play a part in this?
  • Do we know what happens to our students when they leave our primary school and go to the secondary school?
  • Is the above something boards should be asking school leaders about?

Hannah Boydon talked about her school’s experience with making links with international schools. This is a good way to broaden your children’s experiences and expose them to different cultures. Again, this is something a board would not necessarily ask the head to do but if the head were to bring a proposal to the board then it’s worth considering. Hannah made the point that the eTwinning her school takes part in has helped with teacher retention in her school.

Then it was my turn to talk governance. I have published my slides on my blog if you want to see what I talked about. I’m aware that governance is a bit of a mystery for many people.

I hope I was able to demystify governance a bit. The most satisfying thing was the conversations which were sparked by the presentation.

  • We talked about the difference between working strategically and the operational work of running the school by the head and their teams
  • We discussed how to ensure that school monitoring visits did not result in putting teachers under stress.
  • We also discussed how the head and governors should work together to ensure that these monitoring visits yielded results which the governors could use but were not seen by staff as almost like an inspection visit.

At the start of my talk I had asked for a show of hands from people who were governors and was pleasantly surprised to see quite a few hands go up. At the end of my talk I asked if people who weren’t already governors would think of becoming one in the future and was again very happy to see many people saying they would.

During the panel discussion at the end Dan made the point that if governors were visible and known to the staff then the fear about what they do will reduce. The panel members were asked if they had a magic wand which could change on thing what that would be. It will come as no surprise that my answer was to make training, at the very least induction training, mandatory for governors.

The theme which emerged was collaboration; collaboration between teachers, between phases, between school leaders and governors. I’m really grateful to the organisers for inviting me to talk governance. If you get a chance to attend a BrewEd event or for that matter any educational event, do go. These events give us a chance to tell our teachers what we do. At the end of the day we all want the same thing; a good education for all our children and if we get to know and appreciate the work done by everyone involved in education that task becomes that much easier. And you may even inspire someone to become a governor!

If you want to read a bit more about the sessions then I have collated the tweets using Wakelet which will give you a flovour of the day.

Once again, thank you to the organisers for having me and for organising such a great event.

Governance matters at #BrewEDLeicester Part 1 My Slides

On 14th April 2018, I attended and presented at #BrewEdLeicester. My slides and brief explanatory notes of the slides are as below.

Slide 2:

I started my governance life as a parent governor in a secondary school. The school then converted to become an academy and I became a trustee and director in the SAT. The school then joined a MAT so that meant that I became a member of the Local Governing Body. I am also a trustee in a MAT of primary schools. I am a blogger and blog on governance and other stuff. I tweet, a lot!  I’m the co-founder (along with @JaPenn56) of @UKGovChat which some of you know is a twitter forum for governors. Since my link to education now is through governance that is what I will be talking about today.

Slide 3:

So, first, let me tell you a bit about the people who govern our schools. Governors are the largest volunteer force in England. There are about 250-300, 000 governors in England.

Slide 4:

According to the 2017 NGA and TES survey 53% of respondents were 40-59 years old. We obviously need more young people to join governing bodies.

Slide 5:

The same survey also looked at the ethnicity of governors.  A greater proportion of older governors are white. If we look at the younger governors then we see more people from different ethnic backgrounds joining governing bodies which is a good thing but more needs to be done to increase diversity of governing bodies.

Slide 6:

As far as gender is concerned then the survey showed that there are more female governors than male ones in primary, secondary and special schools.

Slide 7:

So, what do these 250,000 people actually do (besides sit on the stage at school events)? One of our core functions is to ensure the clarity of vision and ethos. The GB appoints the head and this is perhaps the most important thing that governors will do. We appoint someone who we feel will help us deliver our vision. Yes, it is a partnership; it has to be for it to work well but ultimately it’s the governors who will determine the vision, culture and the ethos of the school.

Slide 8:

It’s the governing body which sets the strategic direction of the school and decides where it wants to school to be in 5, 10 years’ time.

Slide 9:

It’s our job to hold the school leaders to account for the performance of the pupils and the school and the performance management of staff. We ask questions, do monitoring visits and triangulate data to get a true picture of how the pupils and school is doing.

Slide 10:

We are custodians of public money so another of our core functions is to look after the financial performance of the school and ensure that money is well spent.

Slide 11:

Talking about what governors do leads very nicely to a very important point; the difference between operational and strategic. Imagine that your neighbour placed these colourful eggs by the fence and it wasn’t Easter. You can chat to them over the fence and ask them why they’ve got eggs by the fence but you wouldn’t jump over the fence and rearrange or remove the eggs, put them in a basket and store them in the shed. In the same way, as governors we ask the school leaders to explain to us what they’ve done and why but we don’t try and do it for them. We need to remain strategic and leave the operational day to day running of the school to them.

Slide 12:

Now that we know what role governors play in schools let’s talk about why people should join a governing body.

Slide 13:

There are various reasons why people join governing bodies.

  • Schools are an important part of the community and governance allows you to give something back to your community
  • You get to learn to work strategically and do long term planning
  • You learn about financial planning and management of organisations
  • If you are an academy governor you learn about charity and company law
  • You get to meet governors from other fields such as business, law etc and this helps you look at things from different perspectives.

Slide 14:

When governors were asked about what motivated them to become governors then these were the reasons given by them. As you can see improve/support school is right at the top.

Slide 15:

You may be asking yourself why am I talking to you about becoming a governor. You may be thinking that you work in a school and volunteering as a governor of a school is a bit like a busman’s holiday! Trust me! There’s a lot to be gained by you and by others.

Slide 16:

A big advantage of volunteering as a governor is that it’s very useful, free CPD.

Slide 17:

  • You get to work at a strategic level.
  • You get an opportunity to shape the strategic direction of the school.
  • You learn to see things from a different perspective.
  • You can even get some leadership experience by chairing a committee or a working party.
  • You learn about governance which for many is something of a mystery!
  • You see firsthand how heads and governors work together which is good training for you if you decide to go for headship one day.

Slide 18:

But there are challenges too if you decide to become a staff governor in your school.

Slide 19:

  • You are a representative staff member
  • You are not a staff representative, not a union rep. There a difference between being a representative staff member and a being staff representative which you and others will need to understand.
  • There may be an expectation from staff to report back after GB meetings. That’s not your job, unless specifically asked to do so by the GB.
  • Governance is about asking questions and this may mean you have to challenge your boss.
  • Conflicts of interest have to be managed. There will be times you can’t participate in governing body business, for example pay committee.

But despite these challenges, the rewards are great!

Slide 20:

As Mel, a teacher, says, it’s a very good way of finding out how the governing body works

Slide 21:

And as Philip, a trainee teacher,  says it’s a very good way of finding out how schools work, especially the behind the scenes work that goes on.

Slide 22:

One thing which I haven’t mentioned is that we don’t get paid; in fact many times we spend our own money on governance. We are volunteers working to make schools better and trying to ensure that all our children receive the best possible education. So love’s got everything to do with governance! All we ask for in return is some appreciation of what we do and an occasional slice of cake!

Slide 23 and 24:

Some examples to show the difference between strategic and operational.

Fifth anniversary matters

On 28th March 2018 I will reach a milestone; this blog will be five years old! When I started blogging all those years ago, I wasn’t sure how long I would keep blogging. I certainly didn’t think people would read and follow my blog. I’m happy that the number of views has been gradually increasing; the number of views in 2017 was ten times more than the views when I started! The number of followers has also increased over the years and is now in triple figures. Thank you to all of you who read, comment and share my blog.

A look at the year that was:

The top ten most viewed posts:

10. Five governance principles that matter

9. New governor induction matters

8. Competency Framework matters; knowledge and skills needed by all (7th last year)

7. Elected governors and removal from office matters

6. Good practice matters for governing bodies (10th last year)

5. Staff wellbeing matters Part 2

4. Competency framework matters-The slides (5th last year)

3. Ofsted questions for governors (3rd last year)

2. Questions you may be asked and other inspection matters (top post last year)

And the most viewed post was

1. Ofsted grade descriptors, Sept 2105 Guest post by Shena Lewington (2nd last year).

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

1. Ofsted grade descriptors

2. Ofsted questions fro governors

3. Amazon (this surprised me!).

4. Ofsted categories

5. Governing matters

This year two of my blogs made it to the list of Top Blogs of the Week in Schools Week. Andrew Old  chose my post “Staff wellbeing Part 2” as one of his top blogs of the week. He had this to say about it.

This is an unusual post in that while the issues it discusses are absolutely critical in the lives of teachers, it is actually aimed at governors. It consists of a list of questions that governors can ask school leaders to address whether school culture is good for teacher wellbeing and whether workload and work-life balance are reasonable. Questions include “do you ask what is being dropped to accommodate new initiatives?” and “how do you/your school leaders deal with requests to go part time?”

The latest edition of Schools Week had Iesha Small’s top blogs. She chose one of my blogs and as it is the month my blog turns five, this was a lovely present! Iesha chose “MAT expansion and cultural matters” and wrote

“The governors of schools thinking of joining a MAT also need to understand the culture,” explains Naureen Khalid, a school governor. Governors are often forgotten in discussions about school leadership: a good governing team can be a huge asset and governors do play an important part in the selection of a senior leadership team. A poor board of governors can leave important questions unasked and unanswered that ultimately damage the long-term future of a school. Here, Khalid writes about a topic I’ve not often seen addressed: the considerations that a governing body needs to make when thinking of joining a MAT. She specifically focuses on culture. Standalone schools and academies can set a particular ethos and that is often what draws parents to them. This blog explores how governors can ensure that existing cultures are compatible with new academy partners.

People found my blog via search engines, Twitter and Facebook (showing that it helps to blog your blog to your Twitter/Facebook accounts), Schools Week, EchoChamber and via Robin MacPherson’s blog (Robin had also blogged about wellbeing and had referred to my blog in his post).

My blog, surprisingly, was viewed in 64 countries. Many obviously would have ended up here by mistake as I don’t know why anyone living in Taiwan for example, would be interested in school governance in England!

I enjoy blogging as it gives me a chance to put down my thoughts, tell people where I stand on various issues and enter into debate on governance related topics. I also use it as an archive for
various links, reports etc (for example see my end of the year review post. Thank you to everyone who reads and comments on my blogs. Hopefully, I’ll see you at the 6th anniversary party too!

MAT expansion and cultural matters

On 16th March 2018 Katie Paxton-Dogget and I spoke at the ICSA Academy Governance workshop. This was a very interesting and informative event, one which I thoroughly enjoyed. Katie and I spoke about the role played by culture during MAT expansion.

Our slides: (I’ve written some notes to accompany the slides to make it easier to follow what we talked about. These notes are as below.)

MATs, as we know, are a group of schools which are governed by one trust board. Although the core purpose of individual schools is the same ie providing a good education to their pupils, schools are not clones. Each school has its own culture and in order to set up and then expand the MAT, the trustees need to have a good and thorough understanding of the culture of the schools they want to in their MAT. The governors of the schools thinking of joining the MAT also need to understand the culture of the MAT.

Slide 2:

What do we mean when we speak of the culture of an organisation, in this case schools and MATs? There are various attributes which describe culture in schools such as

  • Attitudes towards pupils, especially different groups of pupils such as SEN, those receiving pupil premium
  • Attitudes towards staff
  • Attitudes towards parents
  • School policies

Slide 3:

Culture can be shaped by the governance structure of the school. I specifically make reference to Church of England schools as these account for over 4,500 primary schools and 200 secondary schools but the principles also apply to Roman Catholic or other faith schools. They bring with them particular issues when it comes to any sort of merger.

Slide 4:

Other factors which describe the culture of a school are

  • The community where the school is located
  • Academic and behaviour expectations
  • How the school defines its “success”

When trustees start thinking of expanding the trust or joining a MAT, they will carry out due diligence. This usually involves looking at measurable things like finances. It is equally important to define what cultural attributes are important to the existing MAT as well as to the school joining the MAT. For this reason they need to give careful consideration to each of these factors if the expansion is to be successful and of benefit to all the pupils.

Slide 5:

It is natural for people to compare the culture of their school with the culture of the MAT and the culture of the other schools in the MAT. You may have the same culture as the MAT you are thinking of joining; you may be dancing to the same tune. The greater the similarities the easier it will be for the school to feel a part of the MAT.

Slide 6:

Differences in culture are one of the major reasons why schools may find it difficult to become an integral part of the MAT. The greater the difference, the greater the cultural shock. This is why comparing the culture of both organisations should be a fundamental part of due diligence.

Slide 7:

As culture is the shared values and beliefs of people which influence how they behave and their practices, a sudden change in practices will change the culture. If care isn’t taken to bring about a smooth transition then there is a danger that this may cause

  • Unease amongst staff
  • Morale drops
  • Increased stress, absenteeism
  • Failures/problems are attributed to the “other side”
  • Staff leave
  • Parents lose confidence and pupils leave
  • Results dip

Slide 8:

When a MAT expands then depending upon the circumstances there are three options as far as working together are concerned.

  • Two cultures remain separate – umbrella trusts!
  • One culture is dominant and replaces other – sponsorship/forced academisation
  • Take best practices from both – community MATs

Whichever option is decided upon the trustees need to ensure that the transition is smooth and for this they need to put few things into place.

Slide 9:

Trustees need to ensure that there is transparency around the whole process. This is

  • Vitally important in today’s digital age. Will stop mis-information from spreading
  • They need to explain the reasoning behind the expansion/joining. It must be noted that there may be some things may not be shared fully
  • They need to be clear about what will change and what will remain the same
  • They need to explain any organisational change
  • They need to be open about how the school will be governed once it joins the MAT

Slide 10:

With transparency comes honesty and honesty means that staff will be able to trust you.

Honesty also ensures that there are no surprises waiting to be uncovered later in the process!

Slide 11:

Communication is of vital importance in this process. Trustees and governors on FGB need to

  • Relay details of the process
  • Ensure that everyone understands the positive effects expanding the MAT or joining the MAT will have
  • The needs to make sure that the messages from everyone are consistent and clear. And clear isn’t the same as transparent!
  • They need to let everyone know when the expansion is to happen so no one feels left out of the loop
  • They need to ensure that communications continue after the initial announcement
  • And they need to make sure these are as frequent as possible

Slide 12:

As far as communications are concerned they need to be made to

  • Staff
    • They will be especially worried about jobs so there need to be HR meetings
  • Parents and communities
    • Consultation documents and events
  • Communications need to be both face to face and via other means

Slide 13:

The things which need to be communicated in a transparent manner are

  • Difference between the Trust contract and the school contract, staffing structure
  • Don’t make commitments you can’t keep
  • Re-branding. People may feel very strongly about
    • School name/logo
    • School colours
    • School uniform
    • It may be necessary to change these but again be transparent and communicate why it needs to be done
    • Curriculum offer may be modified which may affect staffing.

Slide 14:

So, for a smooth transition you need to be transparent, honest and tell everyone why you are doing what you are doing.

Slide 15:

If you manage the whole process well then the smooth transition means you will get

  • Buy in from everyone
  • Everyone will feel part of the new organisation and the new culture.

MAT expansion matters @ICSA_News #AcademyWorkshop

MAT expansion is a topic which gets lots of airtime nowadays. There are good stories about how MATs have expanded while keeping education at the heart of their plans as well as some which can only be described as horror stories. There have been concerns that some MATs have become too big too quickly. It is therefore timely that ICSA have put on a workshop (on 16th March 2018) which looks at MAT expansion.

The workshop will focus on various aspects of MAT expansion. The first session by Andrew Guest, Academy Specialist, Cambridge Education, Founding Chief Executive, Diocese of Salisbury Academy Trust and Group Strategic Development Manager, Mott MacDonald will look at due diligence. Schools thinking of joining a MAT, academies thinking of setting up a MAT or MATs looking to expand need to carry out a robust due diligence process. This would ensure the governors/trustees that the plans for expansion have considered all issues and will help them make an informed decision about what to do.

In order to deliver the best outcomes for children of the schools in the MAT, the governance needs to be highly effective. Governing a MAT is different to being a governor of a maintained school or a standalone academy. As the MAT grows, trustees need to keep the governance structure under review. The session by Terry Parkin, CEO, King’s Group Academies will be discussion various governance structures which trustees can adapt for their MAT.

Katie Paxton-Doggett, Company Secretary, Ridgeway Education Trust and Vice Chair, National Governance Association and I will be discussing the importance of culture and transparency when trustees start to think about expansion.

Anna Machin, Governance & Compliance Manager, Ark and Emma Perkin, Lead Consultant, The Constant Group will be looking at the importance of good communication so that the stakeholders are kept informed and good relations are maintained during the expansion process.

Richard Lane, Partner, Farrer & Co will be focusing on learning lessons from the corporate sector which has seen many successful as well as failures when it comes to expansion.

This workshop promises to be interesting and very useful. If you would like to attend then you can book a place using this link.

Further reading:

Expanding you academy trust: resources for multi-academy trusts

Multi-academy trusts; report of the Commons Education Select Committee and the government’s response

Growth of Multi-Academy Trusts: do we need to put the brakes on?

Headteachers’ Roundtable Summit matters

On Friday 23rd Feb 2018 I attended the Headteachers’ Roundtable Summit. The Headteachers’ Roundtable was set up on 12th October 2012 during a meeting at the Guardian Offices. The group started on social media and now has 30, 000 twitter followers and an active blog. The group is a think tank and works to develop educational policies. The notable publications so far have been the Five Policy Papers for the General Election 2015, Alternative Green Paper 2016 and the Doorstop Manifesto 2017. The two striking things about the group in my view are that they think its right and proper that politicians should be involved in education and that they crowd source and develop their policy ideas.

It is because of the fact that they seek views when developing their policy statements that I think people involved in education, including governors, should try and attend their events. As governors are responsible for setting strategic direction their input into policy discussions is of vital importance. It was appreciated by all the governors who were able to attend that the organisers, recognising the voluntary nature of governance, were able to offer a discounted ticket price. The other advantage to governors of attending events such as these is that we get to meet people outside of our schools/LAs/MATs. Education isn’t only what happens in our schools. As they say there is whole world out there and it helps if we know what’s happening outside of our schools.

Every session I attended was informative and interesting. In this post I’ll write about points from the various presentations I attended which I think governors should be aware of.

The Opening remarks were delivered by the Stephen Tierney. Stephen talked about accountability systems which are affecting how we work/operate. He also mentioned off rolling of students. This is something governors should be looking into. Ask for number of students on roll in each year at the beginning of the year and at the end. Ask for explanations if there is a difference in these. How confident are you that students are not being off rolled for the sake of league tables etc? Stephen also talked about the accountability system affecting recruitment of teachers. While, as governors, we can’t do much about the accountability system, we can try and make our schools an employer of choice. We can also try and ensure that we retain staff by making sure that it is not what is happening in school which is driving staff away. As governors do you know if your school conducts exit interviews and do you get to see the results of these? If your head/SLT come to you with a new initiative do you ask about the implications introducing that new system will have on your workforce? Are they being told to do extra work or is the new system a better one and is replacing an old one?

In the morning session there were two keynote sessions. In the first one Laura McInerney in conversation with Robert Halfon MP, Chair of the Commons Education Select Committee. It was good to see the Chair of the Committee engaging with heads, teachers and governors. He said that although he was in favour of academies and autonomy, he felt there wasn’t enough transparency in the system. If you are a trustee in a MAT, then I’d like to ask you how transparent are your decisions? Would you be able to explain the reasoning behind them (obviously there may be some things which you may need to keep confidential to the board but these will be few. Confidentiality shouldn’t be used as means of avoiding transparency.

The second keynote was delivered by David Benson, Head Kensington Aldridge Academy. It was an honour to listen to David talk about the way he, his staff, staff of neighbouring schools and most importantly his students coped during the days and weeks after the Grenfell Tower fire. David Benson gave a shout out to his governors which was wonderful to hear. He talked to us about the days after the fire and how the students and staff coped. This was made possible by the ethos and culture of the school which is supportive and collaborative. As governors do we know, really KNOW, what our school culture and ethos is? How would your head/staff and governors have responded if it had been you in their place? How do you make sure that the new staff are totally committed to the ethos of your school? David Benson placed great emphasis on the teaching and learning framework and the strong CPD programme. As governors do you know how strong your staff CPD programme is? Is it effective? Does it help staff to develop and cater to their needs and the need of the whole school?

The next session I attended was by Sir David Carter. Other sessions taking place at the same time were Fixing the Middle Tier: The Hoodinerney Model (this aims to streamline roles/responsibilities of everyone from Secretary of State to heads; Laura McInerney and Matthew Hood), Radical changes to tea her workload through intelligent assessment practice (exploring impact of marking and assessment on workload relative to their impact on learning; Tom Sherrington) and Our Biggest Blindspot in Education (looking at Initial Teacher Training and retention; Prof Samantha Twiselton). Sir David Carter’s session was entitled “The Standards You Pass By Are The Standards You Accept”. David believes that this quotation (of a remark made by an Australian general) applies to all leaders. He then posed some questions which I think we, as governors, should be asking ourselves. These questions were:

  • How do you embody your values?
    • How do you enact your values?
    • How do you ensure those who you lead can “see” your values?
    • If you ask them can they say what your values are?
    • Are your values “visible” and explicit when you
      • Appoint staff
      • Promote staff
      • Performance manage staff
      • Praise and sanction students
      • Respond to upset/challenging visitors to your school
      • Create strategic plans (this is very important from a governance point of view. Governors set the strategic direction of their schools and their values should be a thread running through these plans)
      • Set targets
  • How do you help others to model ethical leadership?
    • Is the behaviour you want to model for others the behaviour they see when they look at you?
  • How does your leadership raise expectations in your community?
  • What standards would you never walk past?
    • When thinking of behaviour of?
      • Adults and children
      • Adults and other adults
      • Parents and school
    • When considering inclusion?
    • What considering equality for all for
      • Entitlement to quality teaching (for all children in the community and not just within your school)
      • Professional development
      • Wellbeing of staff (staff are not robotic practitioners) [I have written previously about wellbeing and our responsibilities]

Sir David also talked about coaching and mentoring and said coaching/mentoring new CEOs is a part of his job that he really enjoys. The following questions are the ones he asks the most when coaching/mentoring.

  1. What are your current developmental goals and how far have you come in the last 12 months?
  2. How challenging of your own performance do you want to be?
  3. How close is the alignment between your personal leadership competencies and the behaviours you show most frequently?
  4. Do you embody your own motivations and values?
  5. What habits and insecurities hold you back?
  6. Do you behave differently when you are being observed in public as opposed to a more private setting?

Chairs and governors often mentor new governors. If you are one who mentors new people on your board you may like to modify the above questions to suit your governance setting and use them.

Sir Carter emphasised the need to model good, ethical leadership. This is important for governors to do too. He also emphasised that ethical leadership will look after ALL children. He asked us to pick up the phone and offer support to the school down the road who we know is facing difficulties. Chairs of Governors should remember that NLGs are there to offer support. So if you need some help then contact your nearest NLG who will happily support you. He also pointed out that there are no quick fixes to bring about school improvement. Having said that, there is no time to waste; if improvement will take five years then year one is as important as year five. We also need to recognise that a school which doesn’t have good results yet but is doing all the right things to get there is different from a school which has a meaningless strategy.

Sir Carter said that schools belong to communities. Our role as ethical leaders is to create a legacy so that the school is in a better place than when we started leading it. Sir Carter also gave us four questions the answers to which would indicate how ethical our leadership is. These are:

  1. The Sleeping Test: If I do this can I sleep at night?
  2. The Newspaper Test: Would I still do this if it was published in a newspaper?
  3. The Mirror Test: If I do this can I look at myself in the mirror?
  4. The Teenager Test: Would I mind my child knowing I did this?

Sir Carter ended his presentation by asking us the following:

What are the standards that you would never walk past if accepting them meant children remained dis-advantaged?

As governors I think it’s very important that we reflect on the above five questions individually and as a board.

One of the afternoon keynotes was by Laura McInerney. She walked us through the history of education policy, various education secretaries and challenges facing us. The three issues we should watch out for are:

  • No moiré funding
  • More selection, possibly at post 16
  • Sex education

Laura also told us about Teacher Tapp, which she and Prof Becky Allen have been developing and which is starting to yield some interesting data. The one remark that really stuck with me was when Laura said,

People give us their taxes and their children

As governors we must ensure that we spend people’s taxes wisely and educate their children well.

The last keynote was delivered by Geoff Barton. He talked about five things we should be looking to change.

  • Accountability: The high stakes accountability is making us fearful and timid. Geoff said we need to stop thinking and talking about Ofsted and banish the Ofsted banners.
  • I think this is an area where as governors we can lend support to our heads and SLT. If your head wants to have a mocksted, then challenge them. Ask them what would a mocksted show which they don’t know already. Ask them to justify spending money (of there is precious little anyway) on consultants offering mocksteds. Ask them if that spend is value for money. Ask them if the same support can’t be accessed from elsewhere. Perhaps, see if your head would like an experienced head to as a mentor. This would be more supportive and helpful and contribute more to your head’s professional development than getting someone in to do a mocksted. And it would be less stressful too, I imagine.
  • Think about flexible working. Trust your teachers
  • Tell your school’s story
  • Look after your young people. Help them to navigate social media. Bring a human dimension to how you deal with them.
  • This, again, is something governors can and should be asking our school leaders.
  • Be ethical.
  • Irrespective of our leadership role, ethical leadership is something we all should practice. Governors have a hugely important role to play in setting the tone and the expectations. If the Governing Body behaves in an ethical manner then so will the rest of the institution. Geoff, like Sir David Carter, mentioned the mirror test. An ethical governor, head, member of the SLT, teaching and support staff should be able to look themselves in the mirror when they make any decision or take any step.

In the coming weeks and months members of the Headteachers’ Roundtable will be reflecting on the discussions which took place on the day and formulating policy documents. So keep an eye out for them. In the meantime:

Further reading: