Staff wellbeing matters. Part 1. With thanks to @kvnmcl

Today I read a blog by Kevin McLaughlin titled The depressed teacher. This blog is about a topic I think governors need to think about. With Kevin’s kind permission I’ve copied the blog below in order to raise awareness of this issue amongst governors. I will follow this blog with another one where I will pose some questions we should be asking ourselves about staff wellbeing.

For many years I have been recognised, in the main, as an ‘outstanding teacher’ by my peers, the LA and Ofsted. I learned from my errors, I listened to advice from those more experienced and I strove to improve my pedagogy through CPD and reading literature. In September 2012 I was recognised as an ‘outstanding’ teacher, one of only two in the school, by Ofsted yet only one month later I was deemed ‘requires improvement’ by the newly appointed headteacher. Why? What happened to my teaching? Where did I go wrong? How could I have let this happen? I questioned it yet found the reply insane- I didn’t meet the new observation checklist. A descent into ill health and depression followed with two emergency visits to A&E with suspected heart attacks.

It’s been a long time coming but I feel ready to tell this side of my teaching career so that others may recognise the signs and do something about it. My first visit to A&E happened during 2014. The atmosphere at school had taken a nose dive and staff, including myself, were teaching in fear; fear that we were not teaching well, fear that we wouldn’t meet our PM targets, fear that we had missed out the non-negotiables, fear that our displays wouldn’t meet the new standards. The warning signs were there. I woke up one night with what felt like a huge weight on my chest. I slid off the bed and crawled out to the bathroom but ended up sliding down the stairs calling for help. My partner rang the emergency services as I lay there on the stairs worrying about everyone I loved. Thankfully, after the various tests it was found I hadn’t had a heart attack and it was more than likely my condition was brought about by acute stress. I returned to work a few days later and everyone said I had to take it easy. That was it. Nothing else. No gradual easing back into teaching, not much support from management. The warning signs were there. I never read them. One term later I had another observation (part of my performance management) which resulted in requires improvement. I contested the outcome and got it changed to good. I knew I had to leave so started looking for a new job.

Job hunting was proving fruitless as nothing interested me. Another warning sign, I should have left no matter what but financial security tied me to this unhealthy post. The year ahead was spent meeting targets, doing what management expected to see rather than what I knew my class required. I was told to ‘keep my head down and just play the game’. But I couldn’t. I would not accept this. I should have read the signs. It was 2015 when I had another suspected heart attack, this time at school. I experienced the same symptoms again, a very heavy chest, pains in my side, rapid breathing. The office rang the ambulance and I was taken to hospital from school. A multitude of tests later and I was given the all clear. The relief brought me and my partner to tears. She demanded I leave the school. Once again it was stress related. I never sought my doctor’s advice, I never signed off sick, I never took time off. I felt ‘obliged’ to my job. Management expressed their feelings yet a couple of weeks later it was as if nothing had happened to me. I had gotten over it. I was back at work. I was expected to be outstanding all the time, nothing less.

I resigned from the school in 2016.

My health has improved considerably since then. Apart from a blip during my disastrous venture into Deputy Headship where I was shouted at by the headteacher (another story) I have been on the road to complete recovery and mental stability.

Now I point the finger of blame at myself. I should have recognised the warning signs. I should have acted sooner and shouted more loudly. I didn’t. The education system in England has become poisoned with data, ill conceived marking policies, fixations on passing tests at the expense of a wider and richer curriculum. Thankfully Ofsted have recognised this and have published their myth busting documents, changes to school inspections and recent speeches. But more needs to be done as the message is not sinking in. Too many schools are ignoring the advice and are continuing with a rule of fear. Too many schools are putting too much pressure on their staff. Too many schools are ignoring common sense.

Recognise the signs and act upon them. Your good health is more important than turning up for work as a quivering wreck. Your school needs to understand this. If your school doesn’t, resign. No school is worth ill health.



Reviewing 2017 and governance matters. With links.

Another busy year for governors. This was the year in which we saw, amongst other things, the publication of the Competency framework and the change in legislation which now allows governing bodies to remove elected governors.

The notable events of the year as they happened:


2017 started with some good news about governors receiving gongs in the New Year’s Honours list. As we are the largest volunteer force in the country it is good to see governance getting recognition.

January also saw the publication of the latest version of the Governance handbook and the Competency Framework.

Amanda Spielman took up her post as HMCI.

Ofsted inspectors starting leading short inspections.


Governors and trustees of 40 schools in West Sussex wrote to MPs to warn them that they would refuse to sign off budgets and carry out their supervisory work because of their concerns about funding.

Education Datalab warned that a minority of “pupils are being ‘managed out’ of mainstream schools… with the effect of boosting the league table performance of the school which the pupil leaves”.

The Teacher Development Trust analysed schools’ spending on CPD and found that, across the whole sector, on average this accounts for just 0.7% of their income. Schools rated ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted were spending less on average than others and over 20,000 teachers work in schools where there is no CPD budget.

NGA produced some questions that governing boards could use as a basis for discussing staff CPD: Questions for governing boards to ask: Staffing

Vicky Beer, RSC for Lancashire and West Yorkshire, who had announced that she would be stepping down in May to lead the newly formed Greater Manchester Learning Trust reversed her decision to resign and decided to stay on as RSC for the area.

NGA and the school leaders’ union NAHT published an open letter to the Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond, calling for more money to be allocated to the education budget.

The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Education Governance and Leadership discussed school funding. Contributions were made by MPs, governors, trustees, headteachers, teachers, school business managers and parents. The minutes of the meeting are available to download here.

The government announced that the “sugar tax” would raise a total of £415 million. For local authority (LA) schools, a proportion of the money will be paid directly to the LA. Larger MATs will also receive a direct allocation. Smaller Mats and single academy trusts will need to bid for the money through a “healthy pupil’s capital fund”. The funding will not become available until April 2018.

The Social Mobility Commission has published new researchnto “the barriers to progress that low income pupils face at secondary school”, emphasising that “decisions and actions taken by schools can have a profound impact on outcomes”


NGA published a new version of its skills audit tool

Justine Greening,announced her intention to put Relationships and Sex Education (SRE) on a statutory footing, “so every child has access to age appropriate provision”.

The Education Select Committee released a report detailing the findings of its inquiry into the performance of multi-academy trusts, outlining “significant concerns” about the performance, accountability and expansion of MATs and noted there was no evidence to support “large scale expansion”.

The Department for Education released reports and recommendations from a number of 16-19 education area reviews across England. Beginning in 2015, these reviews were designed to “ensure that colleges are financially stable into the longer-term” and “well-positioned to meet the present and future needs of individual students and the demands of employers”.

DfE published advice to help schools understand their obligations and duties in relation to asbestos management in schools.

Ofsted’s Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman announced “a major investigation into how well schools are using the curriculum to ensure children receive a broad education”.

Ofsted published a study of the reliability of Ofsted’s new short inspections. It found that In 22 of the 24 inspections (of primary schools), both inspectors agreed on the outcome of the short inspection.

The 9th School Inspection update had some useful clarifications around “short-inspections”, safeguarding, new GCSE’s, technical qualifications and how inspectors will liaise with executive leaders and the board of trustees in multi-academy trusts (MATs). The update also made it clear that in MATs the trust board and senior executive leader will be both informed about an inspection of one of their schools and invited to the feedback sessions and the lead inspector will also offer to meet with the MAT’s executive leader and the chair of the board.

John Edwards’ appointment as RSC for or East Midlands and the Humber was announced.

Schools Week published an article looking at CEO pay in MATs.

DfE started a consultation on its proposed revisions to the statutory guidance on the exclusion of pupils.

Health and Education committees started a joint inquiry into the role of education in the mental health of children and young people.

BBC published the results of a survey of 4,000 governors where the funding issue was one of the issues raised by governors.

Ofsted released official statistics about the outcomes of school inspections in autumn 2016/17:

  • 70% of schools inspected were judged “good” or “outstanding”
  • 61% of schools previously judged “requires improvement” improved to “good” or better
  • across England, 89% of schools are currently “good” or “outstanding” overall

Members of the National Union of Teacher (NUT) and the Association of Teachers and Lectures voted to amalgamate to form the National Education Union (NEU).

The National Governors’ Association officially became the National Governance Association to reflect changes in the way schools are governed.

DfE launched a public consultation on the future of the primary assessment system in England.

Inspiring Governance service published a new recruitment guide, ‘The right people around the table.’ This is designed to help school governors and trustees plan and carry out recruitment and induction.

The Education Secretary wrote to the Education Select Committee Chair confirming that a grade 4 in the newly reformed GSCE system (with grading set between 1-9, with 9 being the highest level of achievement) would now be considered a “standard pass” and a grade 5 a “strong pass”.

The Education Funding Agency (EFA) merged with the Skills Funding Agency to form the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA)

An independent review on behaviour management in schools entitled ‘Creating a culture: How schools can optimise behaviour’ by behaviour expert Tom Bennett was published.

DfE published statistics on pupil absence in primary and secondary schools for the 2015 to 2016 academic year.


School Governance (Constitution and Federations) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2017 published giving maintained school governing bodies the power (from 1st September 2017) to remove elected parent and staff governors by majority decision of the governing body. From 1 May 2017, any person who has held office as an elected parent or staff governor and removed from the governing body during their term of office, will be disqualified from serving or continuing to serve as a school governor for five years from the date of their removal.

Dr Tim Coulson, (RSC for the East of England and north-east London) announced that he will be stepping down and moving on to become the chief executive of the Samuel Ward Academy Trust.

DfE published a Competency Framework for clerks.


On the final day of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) annual conference members discussed a motion about governance which received considerable twitter reaction. The motion was “Conference calls on the National Executive, working with the National Governors’ Association and other relevant organisations, to campaign for a reduced emphasis on governance within the judgement for leadership in Ofsted and reduce the expectations, workload and ever-increasing accountability of the volunteers who put themselves forward as governors of our schools.” The retention of governors was also listed as a concern, with this being linked to headteachers’ careers which were “being put on the line by bewildered governors”. Emma Knights and Russell Hobby discussed this in the NGA’s blog.

The House of Commons Education and Health Committees published a joint report into the role of education in supporting the mental health of children and young people

The All Party Parliamentary Group for Education published its report on its inquiry on how well schools prepare children for their future.

Alison Critchley, Chief Executive of RSA Academies wrote a guest blog for NGA about the role of members in academy trusts.

BBC and Schools Week reported that over 20 school governing boards in West Sussex planned to hold a symbolic strike today (Friday 19 May) in response to fears over school funding and the projected £3bn in real-term budget cuts by 2020.


The general election resulted in a hung parliament. Justine Greening, Nick Gibb and Robert Halfon were re-elected. Edward Timpson, lost his seat in Crewe and Nantwich. Neil Carmichael, previously chair of the Education Select Committee and the All Party Parliamentary Group for Governance and Leadership, was defeated in Stroud. Former Conservative Education Secretaries Michael Gove and Nicky Morgan retained their seats, as did Labour Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner and her predecessor Lucy Powell. Sarah Olney, previously the Liberal Democrat education spokesperson, was not re-elected. Former teachers Emma Hardy (Hull West and Hessle) and Laura Smith (Crewe and Nantwich) were newly elected MPs.

DfE confirmed that Rebecca Clark, the RSC for the south west of England would be stepping down. Both the TES and Schools Week reported that she will be joining Ark as regional director for secondary schools in London and Portsmouth.

NGA wrote to Justine Greening asking for greater focus on stakeholder engagement, and highlight the fundamental change in school governance brought about by the growth of multi academy trusts.

Ofsted launched a consultation on proposed changes to the process for short inspections of ‘good’ schools. The consultation proposed extending the period in which a converted inspection will be completed from 48 hours to 15 working days and that schools “in complex circumstances” (identified through Ofsted’s standard risk assessment) will automatically receive a full inspection.

Ofsted amended its guidance about raising concerns and making a complaint about Ofsted.

The Queen’s Speech set out the government’s legislative programme for the next two years. There was no mention of removing the ban on new selective schools and ending universal infant free school meals. The government will continue to convert “failing” schools to academies.

The NGA, Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) and the Local Government Association (LGA) produced a new edition of What governing boards should expect from school leaders and what school leaders should expect from governing boards”.

Governors were recognised in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for services to education.

Secretary of state for education Justine Greening reaffirmed the government’s commitment that no school will lose funding under the national funding formula proposals.

DfE appointed Sue Baldwin as the new regional schools commissioner for the East of England and North East London, replacing Tim Coulson who resigned.


DfE announced ministerial portfolios.

  • Justine Greening Education Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities
  • Nick Gibb Minister of State for School Standards with an expanded brief that includes Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education (PSHE) and Sex and Relationship Education (SRE) and Minister for Equalities
  • Robert Goodwill Minister of State for Children and Families
  • Jo Johnson Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation
  • Anne Milton Minister of State for Apprenticeships and Skills and Minister for Women
  • Lord Nash Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the School System with responsibility for school governance.

Nick Gibb confirmed the government would drop plans for removing infant free school meals and that no school would see a cut in funding as a result of the move to the new national funding formula.

University of Coventry published a research report on What the Prevent Duty means for School and Colleges in England.

DfE published its response to the consultation on the Implementation of the English Baccalaureate. The consultation received a total of 2,755 responses, 69 of which were submitted by school governors or trustees.

The Secretary of State announced that the Department for Education’s Schools financial benchmarking site had been updated and improved.

DfE published updated guidance on school exclusion to clarify rules that apply to exclusions and process of review.

DfE published findings of a survey of academy trusts covering topics such as reasons for conversion and how they are using their academy status.

The Social Market Foundation published “Commission on Inequality in Education”, an independent, cross-party initiative which examined the causes and effects of inequality in education.

DfE launched an updated and improved version of Analyse School Performance (ASP), the replacement service to RAISEonline.


DfE) released the latest version of the STPCD, giving a 2% uplift to the statutory minima and maxima of the main pay range and a 1% uplift to the minima and maxima of all other pay ranges in the national framework (including headteacher groups) and all allowances across pay ranges.

Eileen Milner appointed as CEO of Education and Skills Funding Agency.


DfE released an updated version of the Statutory Guidancesetting out the arrangements for the constitution of governing bodies of all local-authority-maintained schools.

The new edition of Ofsted’s School Inspection Update provided details of how inspectors are instructed to approach school performance data.

The membership of the House of Commons Education Select Committee announced.

  • Robert Halfon (Chair)     Conservative
  • Lucy Allan        Conservative
  • Michelle Donelan    Conservative
  • Marion Fellows        Scottish National Party
  • James Frith        Labour
  • Emma Hardy        Labour
  • Trudy Harrison        Conservative
  • Ian Mearns        Labour
  • Lucy Powell        Labour
  • Thelma Walker        Labour
  • Mr William Wragg    Conservative

Lord Theodore Agnew was appointed Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the School System, taking over from Lord Nash

The scoping report ‘Who Governs Our Schools? Trends, Tensions and Opportunities’ by Dr. Tony Breslin FRSA published by the RSA launced at APPG on Education Governance and Leadership.

A new consultation on changes to short inspections announced.

DfE launched ‘Get Information About Schools (GIAS) – the new register for schools and colleges which replaced the previous Edubase system.


Justine Greening announced new measures at the Conservative Party conference

  • 12 million funding for a network of new English hubs starting in the North of England to improve literacy
  • Extra £6 million for Maths hubs
  • New focus for the £140 million Strategic School Improvement Fund (SSIF) to boost literacy and numeracy at Reception
  • £30 million in “tailored support” to get teachers into schools struggling with the recruitment and retention of teachers
  • Student loan “forgiveness” pilot in regions that struggle to recruit high quality teachers, initially targeted to attract 800 modern foreign language and 1700 science teachers
  • New style bursaries for trainee maths teachers with £20000 upfront and further increments in years 3 and 5 of teaching

Ofsted published its 5 year strategy of being “a force for improvement through intelligent, responsible and focused inspection and regulation”.

NGA published results of the NGA/TES survey of governors.

Chief inspector of Ofsted, Amanda Spielman, published a commentary on preliminary research findings into the primary and secondary curriculum.

NGA wroteto the Chancellor of the Exchequer outlining the difficulties with school budgets and seeking additional funding for schools.

Results of the headteacher board elections announced. 32 academy leaders were elected to the eight headteacher boards.

DfE introduced a new fund (open to existing trusts that plan to take on and improve at least two additional schools and to those planning on forming a new MAT which takes on and improves two schools or more).

DfE updated its guidance on strategies schools can employ to spend the year 7 literacy and numeracy catch-up premium effectively. This money is given to schools “to support year 7 pupils who did not achieve the expected standard in reading or maths at the end of key stage 2”.

Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman, and Chair of Ofsted, Julius Weinberg, gave evidence to the House of Commons Education Select Committee. She

  • Said she had “some level of discomfort” about Ofsted outstanding
  • Said she wanted Ofsted to have the power to inspect multi academy trusts (MATs) on a “whole level basis”
  • Raised some concerns around the quality of early years’ providers

The government released details of the allocation for the PE and sport premium as well as updated guidance for how schools can spend the funding.


House of Commons Education Select Committee held a scrutiny session with Secretary of State for Education, Justine Greening. She talked about DfE Opportunity areas, review of exclusions. She confirmed that the additional £1.3billion moved into the core schools budget protects per-pupil funding in real terms to the end of the spending review period. She also informed the committee that she had asked Sir Theodore Agnew, the new under-secretary of state for education, to look at how MAT boards can be improved.

Research produced by the Education Policy Institute for Ambition School Leadership looked into the characteristics and performance of MATs. It found

  • There is no clear relationship between pupil progress at Key Stage 2 or 4 and isolation
  • Trusts with more sponsored academies exhibit slightly better improvements over time
  • Trusts with more converter academies exhibit higher overall pupil premium attainment
  • There is mixed evidence about the connection between growth and performance
  • There is some evidence that trusts with a mix of phases are more likely to show improvements in performance at Key Stage 2 and 4

DfE updated its guidance on primary and secondary school accountability to include the ‘coasting’ schools definition for 2017. A school will be below floor standards if

  • Primary school : Less than “65% of pupils meet the expected standard in English reading, English writing and mathematics” or the school does not make the required amount of progress, which is “at least -5 in English reading, -5 in mathematics and -7 in English writing”
  • Secondary school: “it’s Progress 8 score is below -0.5, and the upper band of the 95% confidence interval is below zero”.

A school will be considered to be coasting if

  • Secondary school: In 2015, fewer than 60% of pupils achieved 5 A*-C at GCSE” and, in 2016 and 2017, if “the school’s progress 8 score was below -0.25”.
  • Primary school: “in 2015, fewer than 85% of pupils achieved level 4 in English reading, English writing and mathematics and below the national median percentage of pupils achieved expected progress in all of English reading, English writing and mathematics” and, in 2016 and 2017 “fewer than 85% of pupils achieved the expected standard at the end of primary schools and average progress made by pupils was less than -2.5 in English reading, -2.5 in mathematics or -3.5 in English writing”.

Education Policy Institute published a report on free schools. It found

  • Two thirds of areas in England are not within a reasonable distance of either a primary or secondary free school
  • Free schools are helping to meet the need for new school places
  • The programme has been ineffective in targeting areas of low school quality
  • Free schools are more likely to be located in areas of disadvantage, but disadvantaged pupils in these areas are less likely to be admitted than would be expected

Anne Longfield, the children’s commissioner, gave evidence to the Education Select Committee on a range of issues including mental health, behaviour policies and exclusions.

The autumn Budget included extra funding to boost maths and computer science but no extra core funding for mainstream, high needs and post-16 education budgets.

Professor David Berridge (University of Bristol), Kiran Gill (Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) and Founder of The Difference), and Philip Nye (Education Datalab) gave evidence before the Education Select Committee covering PRUs, AP academies and AP free schools as well as non-maintained alternative provision provided in Independent Schools, Unregistered Schools and Illegal Schools.

TES wrote a series of articles focusing attention on significant rises in the salaries of some school leaders and related-party transactions. These can be read here, here and here.


ASCL published a guidance paper on setting executive pay.

Peter Lauener, chief executive of the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) wrote his last letter to academy trust accounting officers before his retirement this term. He highlighted three key areas.

  • The need for accounting officers to be mindful of their responsibilities and ensure that the finances are managed in accordance with the Academies Financial Handbook
  • The need for those governing to be clear about their responsibilities, have the skills to undertake their role and avoid concentrations of power, the need to maintain vigilance over related party transactions
  • Reflections from the ESFA’s assurance work over the last year.

The think-tank LKMCo has published a new report entitled ‘Testing the Water: How assessment can underpin, not undermine great teaching’. One of the recommendations is to ensure governors have appropriate training in understanding the assessment process and the information it produces.

Ofsted announced that it will go ahead with reform of the short inspections system following a recent consultation.

Lord Agnew, Sir David Carter, Vicky Beer and John Edwards (Regional Schools Commissioners (RSCs) appeared in front of the Education Select Committee. The session focused on the effectiveness of oversight and intervention in the academy system. The collapse of the Wakefield City Academies Trust and the lessons learned from this and similar cases were discussed. Concerns were raised about transparency around the intervention taking place and how this is communicated to parents. Schools Week covered the session here

The Education and Skills Funding Agency published a letter written by new Chief Executive, Eileen Milner, addressing excessive executive salaries in trusts with only one academy.

DfE in partnership with NGA published a guide to help governors and trustees make effective decisions when recruiting and selecting headteachers and other school leaders.

Amanda Spielman presented her first Ofsted Annual Report. To read what the report says about governance click here

DfE released its plan to improve social mobility through education.

DfE launched a call for evidence to better understand what changes are required to the existing guidance on SRE to reflect changes in technology and society since it was last updated 17 years ago.

Schools Week asked me to review 2017 from a governance perspective. This can be read here.

Ofsted Annual Report 2016/17: Governance matters

Amanda Spielman presented her first annual report as Ofsted Chief Inspector today. The full report can be read here. Below, are the parts of the speech where governance was referred to (the numbering is that of the report itself).

Schools that require improvement

Inspection outcomes


37. A common factor in the schools that do not improve to good or outstanding is that they have a higher proportion of deprived pupils. Fifty-five per cent of the schools that currently require improvement have high proportions of pupils from deprived areas.

38. Although these schools can face major challenges, great improvements can be, and are, made. Last year, six schools that had previously required improvement were judged to be outstanding at their latest inspection. Four of these were in the most deprived quintile of schools. Having lots of children who are from deprived backgrounds may make improving a challenge, but it can be done.

For example:

  • Herbert Morrison Primary School in Vauxhall, London, was judged to require improvement in November 2014. Since then, senior leaders, staff and governors have worked relentlessly to ensure that achievement and teaching have improved rapidly. The highly innovative curriculum is varied and engages pupils’ interest. Teachers plan work that brings the curriculum to life and develops pupils’ interest and curiosity. Combined with this, the school uses pupil premium funding wisely. It accurately tracks and supports the progress of disadvantaged pupils. As a result, at the time of its next inspection, in November 2016, inspectors noted that the disadvantaged pupils were making excellent progress. The school was judged to be outstanding in this inspection.

41. We analysed the inspection reports of these secondary schools that have been stuck at requires improvement or inadequate for a long time. The reports highlighted the following common issues:

  • Governance.

    Weak governance was a common feature. The main weaknesses included:

    • not challenging effectively or holding leaders to account (for instance by being too accepting of what they were told)
    • not understanding school performance or quality well enough
    • not holding leaders to account for the use of additional funding (such as the pupil premium)
    • failing to act swiftly enough to challenge or support
    • not checking the quality and impact of external support.

Some governors lacked the confidence, skills and understanding to carry out their role effectively.

Multi-Academy trusts

  • Governance. In the weaker MATs, there were not clear and published schemes of delegation
    that outlined the roles and accountabilities of each level of governance. In particular, there was ambiguity between the board of trustees and local governing bodies. Weaker trust boards did not have an accurate picture of pupils’ progress in their schools. The weaker boards were overly dependent on school leaders and too few trustees to interpret data. Weaker MATs did not have clear strategies for the spending of additional funding, such as pupil premium funding, nor were there processes to evaluate the impact of the additional funding.

Independent schools

65. The DfE introduced new standards for independent schools in January 2015. In the year before the standards were introduced, 79% of schools inspected met all standards, compared with just 66% in 2016/17. The most common failings this year include ineffective safeguarding, poor leadership and poor effectiveness of leaders, governors or proprietors.

Schools capacity to improve

73. Some non-association independent schools fail to improve because of ineffective and confused governance arrangements. We reviewed 25 inspection reports for special schools graded inadequateor requires improvement. We also analysed the results of a questionnaire on governance submitted by lead inspectors for 50 independent schools inspected in summer  2017. These two sources highlighted the following issues.

74. The responsibility for effective governance in these schools rests firmly with the proprietor. However, the proprietor may be an individual, group of individuals, a trust, a charity or a company. Sometimes, the proprietor is the headteacher and fulfils both the role of school leader and governance. This may make an objective analysis of the school’s performance difficult, unless they have recruited a governing body to support them. In other examples, the proprietor is too remote from the school to oversee it effectively.

75. There are many instances of individuals, companies and joint proprietors fulfilling their governancerole with insight and integrity. These proprietors understand the strengths and  weaknesses of theschool and are actively involved in improvement planning. However, in schools that are less than
good, this is not the case. The proprietor’s oversight of the school’s effectiveness is poor. They do not hold school leaders to account effectively for pupils’ progress and well-being. They have little understanding of how pupils’ progress is assessed and whether progress is good enough. They may understand that there are regulations that the school must meet to fulfil the terms of its registration. However, they do not check sufficiently on how well the regulations are implemented and how pupils benefit from this. This means that, in these schools, pupils miss out. They do not have access to all the areas of learning and to the high-quality teaching that would enable them to progress and develop well. In some cases, pupils are also not kept safe enough.

Independent specialist colleges and high needs provision

Inspection outcomes

132. In the providers judged good or outstanding for their high needs provision this year, inspectors found that:

  • High-quality leadership and governance that provided a high level of support and challenge,
    alongside realistic and ambitious plans for the learners’ futures.

Sixth form colleges and 16 to 19 academies

Inspection outcomes

104. There were eight sixth form colleges inspected this year that declined to requires improvement or inadequate. Across these colleges, inspectors found that:

  • governors, senior leaders and managers had not identified a deterioration in students’ progress quickly enough; in all but one of the colleges, leaders had taken action to tackle the decline but this had not yet led to consistent improvement in students’ progress

105. There were two sixth form colleges that improved to outstanding. In these colleges, inspectors found that:

  • the principal, leadership team and governors had worked relentlessly to develop high aspirations and expectations for students and staff

Community learning and skills providers

Inspection outcomes

127. In the providers judged requires improvement or inadequate this year, inspectors found that:

  • governors and managers not having access to, or not using, timely and accurate data to analyse and improve performance

Asking about evidence matters. With thanks to @ruthkennedy and @DrGaryJones

I recently tweeted the link to Mark Enser’s article in the Guardian (How can schools use research to better infrom teaching practice?). Ruth Kennedy asked a very good follow on question. Her question and my reply are as below.

Dr Gary Jones then tweeted some questions which we, as governors, could ask of our school leaders.

These are extracts from a book he is writing called Evidence-based School Leadership which is due to be published by SAGE in the middle of next year. Going by these extracts, it’s going to be worth getting hold of when it comes out!

These are important questions for us to be thinking of and asking. As Ruth said

NGA London Regional Meeting matters

I attended the NGA London Regional meeting on 10th October 2017. I won’t write in detail about everything but will try and capture the important points made by governors. The first part of the meeting discussed Ofsted inspections and the consultation on proposals for changes to short inspections.

What do you think of the “Outstanding” grade?

  • Some governors wanted to retain it thinking that it may serve as an incentive to schools to stay outstanding
  • Some governors were not happy that outstanding schools are not routinely re-inspected. They said schools can slide and this slide may not be evident in the headline figures
  • Some governors thought that if an outstanding school does not help another school to improve then it should lose the outstanding grade
  • There were governors who would be happy if there was no outstanding grade
Should outstanding schools be exempt from re-inspection?
  • The feeling was that these schools should not be exempt. Governors would like the assurance that these schools were continuing to improve and there wasn’t a slow decline of standards

What do you think of the proposal to delay inspections with Ofsted issuing a letter to the school?

  • Some governors felt that the letter which would be sent out may be useful to the school and governors in moving the school forward. It feels less like a “blunt system”
  • Other governors said they struggled to see what the advantage would be over the present system? Was one day sufficient to be able to point out all that the school needed to do?
  • Others asked what the possible benefits would be in saying “you’re not RI but need to improve in these areas”?
  • Would this system be more open to legal challenges?
  • Is this a resource issue?
  • Some governors thought that we shouldn’t think of this is monetary terms but come to a conclusion whether we like it or not, irrespective of that
  • Some governors thought that if this proves to be a tool for improvement then that would be a good thing but this will only become clear once the system is up and running
  • If you are a MAT have you delegated exclusions properly?
  • Governors in secondary schools should be checking how many students were enrolled in Year 12 and how many of these stayed on for Year 13. Are there any “missing” ones? If yes, do you know why?
  • Do you know if there are 6th Form students who haven’t performed as expected? If yes, why not?
Staff wellbeing and things we should be thinking about
  • How do people feel in your schools?
  • How do you know the above?
  • What are you doing about staff welfare?
  • Monitoring staff attendance: How does this fit in with your sickness policy?
  • Does school hold exit interviews to understand why people move? Does this information come to the GB?
  • Who conducts exit interviews; head/SBM/governors? You may get different answers depending upon who is conducting the interview.
  • The GB is responsible for looking after the head’s welfare. If a head does not look after their own welfare then that filters through to the rest of the staff.
  • What do you know about your marking/feedback policies? Are they generating workload.
  • At least some governors should have access to ASP
Effective Practice
  • What do we do to find out what staff/parents/students want and think?
  • Do we have a code of practice in place?
  • When reviewing the code, do we have a discussion about Nolan Principles?
Chair’s Pilot
  • Simon Richards from Inspiring Governors told us about the Chair’s pilot being run by them. Inspiring Governors are working, mostly in opportunity areas, with people who are future chairs People are appointed to GBs with the understanding that they will take up the chair’s position once ready. They are assigned an NLG mentor and have a place on the leadership programme.

I am interested in your views on the above so please do comment.

@ICSA_News Conference: Academy governance matters

On 6th October I attended “Academy Governance: delivering continuous improvement” conference organised by ICSA. This was a well organised conference which gave the attendees a chance to listen to really good and varied presentations. I will write a bit about each of the presentations I attended but will concentrate on the questions which governors should be asking themselves and their schools to bring about school improvement.

The day started with Sir David Carter delivering the keynote address. Sir David’s presentation, as always, was very interesting and useful. He made the point that sustainable school improvement takes time, takes place in stages and needs high quality leadership. It takes around three to five years to turn around a special measures school so we need to stop focusing on quick fixes. Sir David then showed us the graph below.

School A is the real outstanding and H is the weakest school. Getting A to sponsor H cannot be the only answer to the school improvement challenge. D and E are the schools which worry Sir Carter. These schools are sliding but the Regional School Commissioners have no real lever to pick up the phone to them. We need to be able to pick them up and help them before they fall.

Question for governors to ask themselves:

Looking at the above graph, can you plot the position of your school?

Sir Carter then went on to talk about the four stages of improving a school and the key questions for governors in each of these phases.

The four stages of improving a school:

  • The Stabilise Phase
  • The Repair Phase
  • The Improve Phase
  • The Sustain Phase

Key questions for governors in the Stabilise Phase:

  • How close are we to understanding the precise nature of what needs to be done?
  • Are we effective at prioritising the strategies we need to implement?
  • Who should we commission to provide the external; support and challenge we need?
  • Do we have the right skills and experience on our board to critique the effectiveness of the strategies?
  • What data is going to help us provide the challenge that our leaders need?
  • How do you understand the short term progress that the school is making without having to wait for the next meeting?
  • How are [we] monitoring the cost of improving the school?
  • What should we ask the leaders to do less of create capacity in other areas?
  • Where are the pockets of stronger practice that we can develop and share?

Key questions for governors in the Repair Phase (these are in addition to the above ones which still apply):

  • Is the external support we have commissioned delivering what we need it to?
  • Have we got the balance right between supporting and challenging our leaders and staff?
  • Are the leaders in the school coping?
  • How reliable is the data that the school is sharing with us to demonstrate progress? How do we moderate it?
  • Now that the school is improving how are we working with parents and students to learn from their experience?
  • Should we commission some external reviews to reassure us that progress is as secure as we are being told it is?

Key questions for governors in the Improve Phase (some of the above will still apply, some won’t be needed):

  • Have we articulated the lessons learned so far and are we sharing them more widely?
  • Are we getting the balance right between quality assurance and operational improvement?
  • How do we make sure we are not institutionally blind to the challenges we still face?
  • What are the areas that still need repair?
  • As a board of governors do we need to refresh our professional expertise and capacity?
  • What is our strategic plan to train and develop our team of governors as we move towards becoming a very good school?

Key questions for governors in the Sustain Phase:

  • What are the risks to us reaching a performance plateau and how do we avoid that?
  • What capacity do we have to support another school?
  • Can we be confident that the areas of expertise we believe we have really are that good?
  • Are the strategies we have implemented scalable and replicable?
  • Have we allocated key areas for sustainable performance to members of the board (disadvantaged students, able students, collaborative practice)?

Sir Carter then went onto talk about ten things which the best MATs seem to get most of the time. Based on these ten things, below are some questions I think trustees of MATs can ask themselves.

  • Are we able to use our workforce as a resource that can be deployed across the MAT to benefit all children?
  • How many of the education delivery systems are standardised across the MAT?
  • Do we have a trust wide improvement plan which takes into account where each school is on the improvement journey?
  • Do we collaborate with other institutions?
  • How does the performance management of each school head contribute to the development of the MAT?
  • Are we satisfied that our growth strategy for the MAT is not compromising the standard of education children already in our MAT receive?

Sir Carter also pointed out another benefit of being in a MAT. MATs can arrange and deliver greater range of extra-curricular activities for their students. I would like to ask trustees if they are sure that, firstly, the MAT is doing this and secondly, the students are aware of the opportunities available to them and are they utilizing them and benefiting from them?

The next presentation was from Graeme Hornsby who talked about conflicts of interest. The questions which this presentation made me think about are

  • Are we aware of our obligations under Charity Law and company Law?
  • Are we clear about what constitute conflicts of interest?
  • Do we have processes in place for declaring, recording and managing conflicts of interests?
  • Do we understand conflict of interest with trustee benefit?
  • Do we ensure that if there is a conflict of interest with trustee benefit, then Charity Commission expectation that withdrawing includes withdrawing from initial and subsequent discussions and decisions of the matter is followed? 
  • Do we understand conflict of loyalty which can be a grey area?
  • Do we take advice when necessary (from our auditors, ESFA, HR)?
  • Do we plan ahead when people should withdraw (when preparing the agenda, for example) or do we deal with conflicts during the meeting?
  • Is our Register of Interests a live document or is it just updated once a year?
  • Do we have a standing item on our agendas when declaration of interests (additions, changes, relevant to that meeting) can be made?
  • How do we define senior staff?
  • Do we understand what “at cost means and do we have processes in place to deal with this? (Graeme advised us not to be afraid of doing at cost transactions if they will benefit our students but always be sure to do them correctly). 
  • Do the gatekeepers (trustees, accounting officer, CFO, clerk) understand and carry out their responsibilities?
  • Are budget holders and other key staff aware of their responsibilities?
  • Do you have induction programmes in place for new members?
  • How robust are your internal auditing systems?
  • Who keeps up to date with all the legal requirements?
  • Who updates policies, procedures and internal controls?
  • Is there consistency across the MAT?
  • Is there clarity and consistency in local governance systems?

Stephen Morales, Chief Executive NASBM spoke next and talked about school funding. The questions he posed were

  • Are you able to quote, on demand, your contact ratios and in particular those of your leadership team?
  • Do you know the cost of your leadership team as a % of your overall budget?
  • Do you know your back office costs as a % of your overall budget?
  • Is internal communication fully automated?
  • Have all your major contracts been reviewed and retendered in the last 3 years?
  • Do you have in place a 3-year sustainable budget plan?
  • Do you have firm strategic plans for your reserves?
  • What formal collaborations have you put in place to achieve economies of scale?
  • Journey to CEO is massive. It’s not a one week residential! Same true for trustees too. What training is available to them?
  • How well do you know your organisation? Stephen showed us this capacity audit tool which can be RAG rated to produce a heat map to identify weak/strong area

Next up was Dr Kate Chatwal who spoke about maximising the impact of the Board. She explained the journey her trust, STEP Academy Trust, has been on. Based on her presentation these are the questions we could be asking ourselves.

  • Which of the six features of impactful boards given below can we say we share?
    • Do we focus on the things that really matter?
    • Do we know what success looks like?
    • Do we have access to reliable data?
    • Do we triangulate?
    • Do we stay strategic but dig deep when needed?
    • Are we accountable for our own performance?
  • Are we sure that joining a MAT has resulted/will result in more than the sum of the parts?
  • Do you have the same assessment systems across the MAT as trustees will not be able to compare schools to work out where the need is the greatest?
  • Are your local governors acting as the board’s eyes and ears?
  • D your local governors know your trustees? Are there lines of communication between the two?
  • Do trustees understand that governance at the MAT trust board level is very different to governing a single school?
  • What are your governance KPIs?
  • Governance is about asking/answering key questions about resources, vision, strategy, data & feedback. How would you answer these questions?


Some questions which came to my mind listening to the panel (David Gracie, Director at KPMG; Brian Lightman, Gen. Sec. of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) from 2010-2016 Michelle Doyle Wildman) debate on stakeholder engagement which was the next session.

  • How do you ensure your communicate with your stakeholders in a timely manner?
  • How do you engage with students and staff to find out what’s happening on the ground?
  • Do you consider the impact your decisions will have on your stakeholders?
  • Is your culture one of proactive engagement?
  • Are you outward looking?
  • Are you aware that the school is a massive resource for the community?
  • Do you develop and invest in relationships with stakeholders so they can be your allies?

We were also treated to a presentation from Michael Sherridan, Ofsted’s Regional Director for London who started off with some myth busting (such as it’s not true that only the Chair meets with the inspectors, it’s also a myth that only governors who me t the inspectors are told about the judgement. All should be told (with the caveat that it is confidential until is it officially released). He told us that governance has changed a great deal since the days when he was a head and challenges are now quite different. Michael then listed some challenges which I have changed into questions you can ask your fellow governors.

  • Do you know HOW to hold your leaders to account?
  • Do you understand your strategic role?
  • Do you know how governors and teachers can work together?
  • Being a volunteer, how do you manage your workload?
  • Do you keep up to date with educational changes, legal responsibilities and inspection frameworks?
  • How do you ensure that your board has the right skills and knowledge?
  • How do you recruit governors with the required skills?
  • Do you know how and where to access good and support when you need it?

Other questions to ask yourself:

  • Do you have a good induction programme in place for new governors?
  • Do governors have access to regular refresher training?

A few words about clerking:

As we know a good clerk is essential for good governance. It was good to see clerking was highlighted during the day.

Sir David Carter said that Chair, Vice Chair and Clerk are the holy trinity as far as improving governance is concerned.

Graeme Hornsby said there is a great potential to develop clerking at the local level. The going rate for clerks is not very good. This needs to be a professional post with matching remuneration.

Mike Sheridan talked about how a good, professional clerk can support governors to

  • Be well organised and remain strategic
  • Review policies
  • Access accurate minutes and receive papers in time
  • Be aware of planned governance activities
  • Attend training
  • Report back to committees /full board

Mike said that governors should look after their clerk because a good, professional clerk is

  • Outward facing
  • Well-informed
  • Access training
  • Are members of professional organizations
  • Use information services
  • Is worth their weight in gold!

My governance duties meant that I missed the remaining sessions as I had to leave to attend a meeting. I am grateful to ICSA for putting on such a good conference. I look forward to attending similar ones in the future.

My Storify of the tweets from the conference can be read here.

Vision statement matters

One of the core functions of governors is to ensure clarity of vision. Myatt (2016: 79) has made the point that

The strongest governing bodies express hope for their school.

This statement is the basis of the core question governors should ask themselves when they start thinking of their vision for their school.

Tarnow (2001) suggests that an organisation’s vision statement can serve the same purpose as that of a team jersey; it can serve to unite people to work towards a shared goal. Every organisation, irrespective of its size or its purpose, needs to be able to define its vision; its hopes for the future. Smith (2016) has discussed why a clearly defined vision is important. Although he has focused on corporate companies, what he says is equally applicable to schools. According to him, amongst other things, vision helps companies create effective strategies. As governing bodies are responsible for setting the strategic direction of their schools, it follows that they should create, develop and monitor the vision for their school. Indeed, whilst ensuring the clarity of vision is one of the core responsibilities of governing body, effective leadership for school improvement itself requires clear goals (Goldenberg, 2004, 15). Governors can make schools better by shaping and guarding the values and vision of the school through its key roles of strategic planning and monitoring and evaluation (Brighouse and Woods, 2013:60).

A vision statement is a company’s or organisation’s high level road map, indicating both what the company wants to become and guiding transformational initiatives by setting a defined direction for the company’s future and development (Quigley, 1994). In essence, the vision statement is an aspirational, but realisable description of what an organisation would like to achieve or accomplish in the mid-term or long-term future. It is intended to serve as a clear guide for choosing current and future courses of action and thus determining short or near term operational goals.

The question, “Why are we working in schools?” can be broadly answered by saying, “To provide education to our pupils”. The follow up question, “Why are we working in our particular school?” is the reason why governing bodies invest time in developing the vision for their school. However, a vision statement is not solely for internal consumption. Governors, staff, pupils, parents and carers, and the community, all of whom are our stakeholders, need to understand where we want to be in the future. Indeed, a school should be readily identifiable from its vision statement.

According to a parent governor of a school in South Africa, provision of first rate education is facilitated when vision forms part of the school’s comprehensive strategic plan (Modiba, 2001). Buck (2016: 61) says that the heads of schools judged to be outstanding all talked about the importance of a clear vision of a school’s strategic plan and a shared purpose. Governors, therefore, need to ensure that the vision has clear goals for the future which the SLT can lead the school towards.

Jones (2007) argues that developing a vision is a critical part of school improvement. She also makes the point that developing the vision for a school is an evolutionary process. Once the vision has been developed and agreed by all the stakeholders, it then needs to be reflected in classroom practice. This is the operational side of managing schools and it is the responsibility of Headteachers and their teams to develop and implement the resultant School Development Plan. Governing bodies are then required to the hold the Leadership team to account for the delivery of the agreed vision. Gabriel and Farmer (2009:45) state that “Stopping to confirm common goals among the stakeholders will help the team meet its objectives”.

Below I explain how the governing body can go about developing a vision statement for their school.

The first step could be to organise a series of workshops in which the governors and the senior leadership team (SLT) can come together and contribute equally to the development of the vision. According to Gabriel and Farmer (2009:46), it is important for all staff members to have a “common, agreed-on destination” to avoid wasting energy in un-focused efforts. It is also important for the governing body to involve the staff so that the vision becomes a shared vision. Buck (2016: 62) asserts that for a school to be successful there needs to be a sense of a shared direction of travel. The vision will only be deliverable if everyone has a hand in creating it and takes ownership of it. According to Covey (1992: 142):

As important as the end product is-a piece of paper that captures the family mission-even more important is what happens in the process of creating it.

If you ask people to work in groups during the workshops then ensure that governors and staff are equally represented in each group. The SLT attending the workshops should have meetings with the rest of the staff before the workshops so that the view presented by them during the workshops reflects the views of the rest of the staff too. In a similar way they can gather the views of the students too which can be discussed in the workshops. Gurley et al. (2015) have reported that when they surveyed students, 62% of the respondents indicated that their school had a vision statement but only 20% were able to recall any part of it. By gathering student views, not only would you get an insight to what they want their school to be like; they would have ownership of the vision.

In a similar fashion, parents could be asked to express what type of school they envision for their children.

When drawing up a shared vision, people participating in the exercise should be able to “describe a desirable future” and identify the leadership which will deliver the vision (Harvard Business School, 2003: 26). The specific questions which can be discussed in these workshops are:

  • Challenges being faced by the school and various opportunities available to us
  • Think of a student who joined Year X in September. What is your ambition for that student when he/she leaves school?
  • What opportunities do you think the school is able to offer its students and staff?
  • What do you think the school will look like in 5 years from now?
  • What are the characteristics of effective leadership which would help make the vision a reality?
  • How do we unlock potential of every student?
  • How do we nurture each student?
  • How do we develop “the whole person?”
  • Who is our community and what can we offer to various members of this community?
  • What are the hallmarks of our school leaders?
  • What type of environment do we want to create in our school?
  • What will a student leaving our school “look like” at the end of their time with us?
  • What will our school be like in three to five years? How might people describe it?
  • What are the challenges facing our students?
  • What could the challenges be in the future?
  • How can the school prepare them for life after school?
  • What are the key aspects which should be developed in schools and in our school?

Notes should be taken during each session and distributed before the next session. Themes which emerge during one workshop can be explored further in subsequent workshops.

Once all the issues have been explored and key themes identified a working party can be tasked with drawing up the vision statement which is then shared with governors and SLT. Try and keep the statement short and to the point. It should be specific to your school. The agreed draft can then be passed onto students, rest of the staff and parents for comments. The final vision statement is then written after comments have been taken into consideration, and published.


Brighouse, T., and Woods, D., 2013. The A-Z of School Improvement. Bloomsbury

Buck, A., 2016. ‘Leadership Matters’ John Catt Educational Limited

Covey, S.R., 1994. Principle-centered leadership. Fireside Press

Gabriel, J.G. and Farmer, P.C., 2009. How to Help Your School Thrive Without Breaking the Bank. Virginia. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development

Goldenberg, C.N. ,2004 Successful School Change: Creating Settings to Improve Teaching and Learning New York, NY: Teachers College Press Pg 15

Gurley, D.K., Peters, G.B., Collins, L. and Fifolt, M., 2015. Mission, vision, values, and goals: An exploration of key organizational statements and daily practice in schools. J Educ Change 16:217–242

Harvard Business School, 2003. Managing Change And Transition. EBook Edition, Boston, Mass. Harvard Business Review Press. Available from: ProQuest ebrary. [Accessed 5 May 2017].

Jones, L., 2007. The Importance of Visions for Schools and School Improvement [Online]. Available from: [Accessed 3 October 2017]

Modiba, S. N., 2001. The importance of vision and mission statements in promoting school effectiveness in Northern Province schools. Thesis (PhD) Rand Afrikaans University

Myatt, M., 2016. Hopeful Schools. Mary Myatt Learning Limited

Quigley, J.V., 1994. Vision: How leaders develop it, share it, and sustain it Business Horizons. 37 (5), pp. 37-41

Smith, G., 2016. 7 Reasons Your Company Needs a Clear, Written Mission Statement [Online]. Available from: [Accessed 3 October 2017]

Tarnow, E., 2011. A Recipe for Mission and Vision Statements IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, Vol. 44, NO. 2, 138-141