Ofsted’s Education Inspection Framework and governance matters

As you know Ofsted published its new education inspection framework (EIF) on 14th May 2019 which will come into effect from September 2019. I have extracted those parts of the handbook which mention governors/governance. I’m especially pleased with

They may be shared with school staff and all those responsible for the governance of the school, irrespective of whether they attended the meeting, so long as they are clearly marked as provisional and subject to quality assurance. (My emphasis).

The phrase in bold was missing from the draft and in my response to the consultation I had asked if it could be put back in. I’m really glad to see that it has. We know that this has been a problem in the past when governors not present at the meeting were not allowed to attend the feedback. My fear was that taking this phrase out may mean that this continues to be a problem and governors won’t be able to challenge it.

Below are the extracts mentioning governors/governance.

Outstanding/exempt schools

22. In addition, exempt schools may be inspected between risk assessments if:

concerns are raised about standards of leadership or governance

Section 8 inspections of good and non-exempt outstanding schools

26. As is the case for all schools, a good school may still receive a ‘no formal designation’ inspection carried out under section 8 at any time in certain circumstances. For example, we may decide that we should inspect a school earlier than its next scheduled inspection if:

concerns are raised about standards of leadership or governance

Schools requesting an inspection

31. Schools are able, via the appropriate authority (normally the school’s governing body), 25 to request an inspection. We treat these inspections as an inspection under section 5. If we carry one out, HMCI may charge the appropriate authority for its cost.

Before the inspection

Clarification for schools

43. The information below confirms our requirements. This is to dispel myths about inspection that can result in unnecessary workload in schools. It is intended to highlight specific practices that we do not require.

44. Ofsted will:

  • allow the school to invite as many governors or trustees as possible to meet inspectors during an inspection
  • in academies, meet those directly responsible for management and governance, including the chief executive officer (CEO) or their delegate (or equivalent), the chair of the board of trustees and other trustees
  • talk to the chair of governors/board of trustees by telephone if they are unable to attend a face-to-face meeting with the inspector in the school

Notification and introduction

51. During the initial notification phone call, the inspection support administrator will check the number of pupils on roll at the school, the governance arrangements for the school and whether the school has any SEND, nursery provision for two- and three-year-olds or additional resource provision.

Information that schools must provide by 8am on the day of inspection

53. The inspection support administrator will also send the school a note requesting that the following information is available to inspectors by 8am the next day, at the formal start of the inspection:

  • documented evidence of the work of those responsible for governance and their priorities, including any written scheme of delegation for an academy in a MAT

Inspection planning discussion

62. It is important that inspectors speak to those responsible leadership and governance during inspection. Since schools, and especially MATs, operate a wide variety of leadership and governance models, it is essential that inspectors establish who is responsible for leadership and governance.

63. The lead inspector will therefore:

  • establish what the governance structure of the school or academy is,34 with reference to the range of functions delegated to local governing bodies or other committees
  • confirm arrangements for meetings with the school and, if appropriate, MAT executive leaders, as well as representatives of those responsible for the governance of the school and anyone else they think relevant. The lead inspector should be guided by the school here as to who they need to meet in the structure of a MAT
  • make arrangements for a meeting with the chair of the governing body or, if appropriate, the chair of the board of trustees and as many governors/trustees as possible. Inspectors will also ask the school to invite as many governors/trustees as possible to attend the final feedback meeting

No-notice inspections

We may carry out inspections without notice.44

Meeting those responsible for governance

107. Inspectors will always seek to meet those responsible for governance during the inspection.

108. In a maintained school or standalone academy, this will usually include maintained school governors or academy trustees and sponsors (including sponsor representatives, where they exist).

109. In a school that is part of a MAT, the board of trustees is the governance body. Often, local governing bodies can appear responsible for governance, when in reality it is trustees who are accountable for the academy trust. Local governing bodies are committees to which trustees have often chosen to delegate some specific responsibilities, but in some cases they may act purely as advisory bodies and engage with the community. Their responsibilities will normally be set out in the trust’s scheme of delegation. Sometimes, their powers are delegated from the managers of the MAT; in this case, they are part of the school’s management, not its governance. Inspectors will therefore need to be careful to establish who has overall responsibility for governance. Inspectors will also ensure that meetings are with those who are directly responsible for exercising governance of the school and for overseeing its performance.

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

111. As with the meetings between inspectors and pupils, parents and staff, meetings or telephone discussions with those responsible for governance should take place without the headteacher or other senior staff being present.

Providing feedback

118. The on-site inspection ends with a final feedback meeting with the school. Those connected with the school who may attend include:

  • for maintained schools, the chair of the school’s governing body and as many governors as possible
  • for academies, including academies that are part of a MAT, the chair of the board of trustees and as many trustees as possible

Due to the diverse nature of school governance, in some schools a single individual may have more than one of the above roles.

119. During this meeting, the lead inspector will ensure that the headteacher, those responsible for governance and all attendees are clear:

  • about the provisional grades awarded for each key judgement. The lead inspector must give sufficient detail to enable all attendees to understand how judgements have been reached and for those responsible for the governance of the school to play a part in beginning to plan how to tackle any areas for improvement
  • that the grades are provisional and so may be subject to change as a result of quality assurance procedures or moderation and must, therefore, be treated as restricted and confidential to the relevant senior personnel (as determined by the school). They may be shared with school staff and all those responsible for the governance of the school, irrespective of whether they attended the meeting, so long as they are clearly marked as provisional and subject to quality assurance. Information about the inspection outcomes should be shared more widely only when the school receives a copy of the final inspection report
  • that, on receipt of the draft report, they must ensure that the report is not shared with any third party outside those with specific responsibility for the governance of the school, or published under any circumstances

Special measures

128. A school requires special measures if:

  • the persons responsible for leading, managing or governing are not demonstrating the capacity to secure the necessary improvement in the school 59

129. If inspectors consider that the evidence shows that the overall effectiveness of the school is inadequate, they must conclude that the school is failing to give an acceptable standard of education. Inspectors must then consider whether leaders, managers and governors are failing to demonstrate the capacity to improve the school. If so, then the school requires special measures.

Serious weaknesses

130. If inspectors consider that the evidence shows that the overall effectiveness of the school is inadequate, but consider that leaders, managers and governors demonstrate the capacity to improve the school, they will instead judge the school to have serious weaknesses. A school with serious weaknesses will have one or more of the key judgements graded inadequate (grade 4) and/or have important weaknesses in the provision for pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development.

After the inspection

Arrangements for publishing the report

143. Inspection reports will be quality assured before we send a draft copy to the school. The draft report is restricted and confidential to the relevant personnel (as determined by the school), including those responsible for governance, and should not be shared more widely or published.

Sources of evidence specific to behaviour and attitudes

210. Over the course of inspection, inspectors will carry out evidence-gathering activities. In some cases, inspectors will be able to gather this evidence as part of other activities they are carrying out. The activities are:

  • gathering the views of parents, staff, those with responsibility for governance and other stakeholders

Grade descriptors for personal development

Inadequate (4)

Personal development is likely to be inadequate if any one of the following applies.

  • A significant minority of pupils do not receive a wide, rich set of experiences.
  • Leaders and those responsible for governance, through their words, actions or influence, directly and/or indirectly, undermine or fail to promote equality of opportunity in the school.
  • Leaders and those responsible for governance are not protecting pupils from radicalisation and extremist views. Policy and practice are poor, which means that pupils are at risk.
  • Leaders and those responsible for governance are actively undermining fundamental British values and are not protecting pupils from radicalisation and extremist views.

Leadership and management

225. The leadership and management judgement is about how leaders, managers and those responsible for governance ensure that the education that the school provides has a positive impact on all its pupils. It focuses on the areas where inspection and research indicate that leaders and managers can have the strongest effect on the quality of the education provided by the school. Important factors include:

  • whether leaders and those responsible for governance all understand their respective roles and perform these in a way that enhances the effectiveness of the school

Governance

232. Inspectors will seek evidence of the impact of those responsible for governance.

233. In a maintained school, those responsible for governance are the school governors. In a stand-alone academy, it is the trustees.

234. In a MAT, the trustees are responsible for governance. Inspectors will ask to speak to one or more of the trustees. It may be that, on occasion, the trustees have chosen to delegate some of their powers to the members of the ‘academy committee’ or ‘local governing board’ at school level.90 If inspectors are informed that a local governing body has delegated responsibilities, they should establish clearly which powers are with the trustees, which are with the leaders of the MAT and which are with the local governing board. They should then ensure that both their inspection activities and the inspection report reflect this.

235. Inspectors will need to bear in mind, when inspecting academies that are part of a MAT, that governance functions can be quite different from those in a maintained school. Some functions that a governing body in a maintained school would carry out may be done by management or executive staff in a trust. If this is the case, it will still be important for inspectors to ascertain the trust board’s role in that process and how it ensures that these functions are carried out properly.

236. The governance handbook 91 sets out the purpose of governance, which is to provide confident, strategic leadership, and to create robust accountability, oversight and assurance for educational and financial performance.

237. The governance handbook also sets out the statutory functions of all boards, no matter what type of school or how many schools they govern. There are three core functions:

  • ensuring clarity of vision, ethos and strategic direction
  • holding executive leaders to account for the educational performance of the school and its pupils, and the performance management of staff
  • overseeing the financial performance of the school and making sure that its money is well spent, including the pupil premium.

238. Inspectors will explore how governors carry out each of these functions. For example, the clarity of the school’s vision, ethos and strategic direction will have a significant impact on the decisions that leaders make about the curriculum. Inspectors will consider whether the work of governors in this respect is supporting the school to provide a high-quality education for its pupils.

239. In addition, those with governance/oversight are responsible for ensuring that the school fulfils its statutory duties, for example under the Equality Act 2010, and other duties, for example in relation to the ‘Prevent’ duty and safeguarding. Please note that, when inspectors consider whether governors are fulfilling this responsibility, they are not expected to construct or review a list of duties.

240. Inspectors will report clearly on governance in the inspection report.

Use of the pupil premium

241. Inspectors will gather evidence about the use of the pupil premium, particularly regarding:

  • how leaders and governors have spent the pupil premium, their rationale for this spending and its intended impact

Sources of evidence specific to leadership and management

272. Evidence used to evaluate the impact of leaders’ work, both currently and over time, includes, but is not limited to:

  • meetings with those responsible for governance, as appropriate, to evaluate how well they fulfil their statutory duties, including their duties under the Equality Act and in relation to safeguarding

Grade descriptors for leadership and management

275. In order to judge whether a school is good or requires improvement, inspectors will use a ‘best fit’ approach, relying on the professional judgement of the inspection team.

Good (2)

  • Those responsible for governance understand their role and carry this out effectively. Governors/trustees ensure that the school has a clear vision and strategy, that resources are managed well and that leaders are held to account for the quality of education.
  • Those with responsibility for governance ensure that the school fulfils its statutory duties, for example under the Equality Act 2010, and other duties, for example in relation to the ‘Prevent’ duty and safeguarding.

Inadequate (4)

  • The improvements that leaders and those responsible for governance have made are unsustainable or have been implemented too slowly.
  • There is a clear breach of one or more of the legal responsibilities of those responsible for governance, and that breach is serious because of the extent of its actual or potential negative impact on pupils. The proprietor/governing body either is unaware of the breach, or has taken insufficient action to correct it and/or to remedy the negative or potential negative impact on pupils and/or to ensure that a suitable system is in place to prevent a similar breach in the future.

Applying the EIF in pupil referral units and alternative provision in free schools and academies

313. All parts of the EIF apply to PRUs and other alternative provision in free schools and academies. However, in the same way that all school contexts are different, so are PRU and other alternative providers. Inspectors will gather and evaluate evidence about:

  • whether leaders are ambitious for all pupils, and the extent to which those responsible for governance understand the particular context of the provision

 

NOTES

25 The term ‘governing body’ is used to define the accountable authority for the school. In the case of an academy, including schools within a MAT, this will be the board of trustees.

34 This must be checked with the headteacher as part of the call. If MATs have delegated responsibility to local governing bodies, this should be set out in a scheme of delegation. Academies should also set out their governance structure in their annual financial statements, which can generally be found through the DfE performance tables site. Inspectors should clarify where responsibility lies and who they should talk to during the inspection, especially where a school is part of a MAT

44 We will consider inspection without notice when there are serious concerns about one or more of the following: the breadth and balance of the curriculum; rapidly declining standards; safeguarding; a decline in standards of pupils’ behaviour and the ability of staff to maintain discipline; and standards of leadership or governance.

59 As set out under section 44 of the Education Act 2005.

90 All MATs should have, and publish, a scheme of delegation clearly setting out everything that has been delegated by the board of trustees to the local governing board or any other person or body. Advice on how this this should work can be found in the DfE guidance; http://www.gov.uk/government/publications/multi-academy-trusts-establishing-and-developing-your-trust.

91 Governance handbook, Department for Education and National College for Teaching and Leadership, 2015; www.gov.uk/government/publications/governance-handbook.

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Governance in the spring and summer terms; reflecting and looking ahead matters

This has been a long and tiring term. As Easter approaches and governance slows down (it never stops completely!) I find myself sitting down with a cup of tea and looking back and reflecting on the term that was and also looking ahead to the last term of the year.

A major event in the Spring term was an inspection. One of the schools, Crofton Junior, belonging to Connect Schools Academy Trust where I’m a trustee, was inspected just before half term. This was a Good school and had had a short inspection last April. The inspection felt very thorough but fair. Governors and trustees met with the Inspector and had a chance to talk through what we knew of the school’s strengths and where we could do even more. The Inspector had read our minutes and understood MAT governance. The feedback was constructive. On a professional level, the inspector we met was knowledgeable and we could tell he had done his homework. On a personal level he was very accommodating. I had had to leave by a certain time and the inspector had no problem with that and quickly put me at ease. I didn’t have to reference Sean Harford’s myth busters as any trustee/governor who could attend the feedback was invited to do so. Ofsted come in for a lot of criticism (and some of that is justified) but I think when they get things right then we should talk about those too. This inspection was one such example. Although we don’t things for Ofsted, it was reassuring to find that they thought the same as us, that we were providing an education which our children are entitled to. Looking back, the one thing which stands out about the two days is how the whole community pulled together and were happy to do so. Our children are amazing. The staff and parents too. I think that’s what makes it an outstanding school. Yes, results are amazing, behaviour impeccable but it’s the “this is my school, I’m proud of it and I’ll do my best for the children” attitude which makes me really happy. Looking to the next term, we will continue doing what we’ve always done; our best for every child under our care.

The second thing which has been keeping me busy is governor recruitment. We have been looking to fill our community governor vacancies. We appointed two governors last term; one who is a deputy head in a local secondary school and the other has extensive experience of stakeholder engagement and project management. I’m not sure whether it’s because we are in a leafy, London suburb or just lucky but to get such great governors to add to the skill set we already have bodes very well for us. These candidates came to us via Inspiring Governance and Governors for Schools.

Reflecting on the process, I’m quite happy with the way we did it. We gave the candidates all the necessary information, sent them links to the Governance handbook and made clear the responsibilities that we as governors have. We had an interview process where we probed how their skills could complement those already present. We also worked through some scenarios. Although both candidates were not current governors they were able to work through these scenarios and gave us answers which indicated that they were aware of issues such as conflicts of interest, confidentiality etc. I think we will continue to use this process when we have further vacancies. It gives the candidates an idea of what’s involved and it gave us a chance to see how they could fit in with the team. I’m also a firm believer that although we are volunteers we need to approach governance in a professional manner and going through an interview process makes that clear. I am, however, aware that there are areas where there aren’t many people who put themselves forward to become governors and so interviewing someone who does may be a luxury people can’t afford. If that is you, I would still encourage you to meet with prospective candidates so that they have a chance to find out what being a governor is all about.

We have also thought about how to ensure that these governors understand their role. The trust is putting together a training programme and the first one they’ve been invited to is an induction session. I am also in the process of putting together an induction pack which will be ready by the time we go back. Once they have had a chance to work through it, I would like to ask them their thoughts about the whole induction process. I’d like to know what worked best, what didn’t and what could be made better. They have been assigned a mentor each and maybe this is something they could discuss with their mentors.

While I was writing this blog, I was made aware of this tweet.

This is something GBs should think about. If you have a vacancy then it may help to advertise the fact on your website. You never know, someone may come across it and decide to get in touch with you.

I have also been reflecting upon the Leadership Conference I attended as Chair of an LGB. My school is part of United Learning. Once a year they hold a two day Leadership Conference where all heads of schools and chairs of LGBs are invited. The members of the board, the CEO, Jon Coles, the Regional Directors and the Company Secretary attend too. This is a really good way to get to know other heads and chairs, to hear from the board and the CEO and to feedback to them. Communication in a MAT is very important and needs to be two way; from the board to the LGBs and from the LGBs to the board. The Leadership Conference is one way United Learning accomplishes this (there are other events too where the board and LGBs get together). Education with character is what United Learning is all about. This was evident at the conference from the keynote speech from Andrew Triggs Hodge OBE (retired British rower and a triple Olympic Gold Medallist and quadruple World Champion) to the stunning musical performance by students from Manchester Academy, a United Learning sponsored academy.

If MATs decide to have LGBs then these LGBs should add value and to do this LGBs should know what’s happening at the board level and should be able to communicate what’s happening at the local level. The vision and values that drive the work of the trust should be explicit and should drive the work of the LGBs. My other trust is a much smaller (and newer) than United Learning. Trust wide communication is something we are very keen to get right. We are exploring how we can best achieve this.

Looking ahead to the summer term we will continue looking at the curriculum, something we had started doing before the inspection. Communication, as I mentioned above, is another thing we will be working on. The board has started reviewing our vision and values. This is important as the trust is growing. On a personal level, I’m looking forward to attending educational events and presenting at some of these. I have the following events in my diary. It would be lovely to see you at some of these events.

There will also be the summer term board and LGB meetings. Looks like the next term will be a busy one too but that’s just how I like it to be.

Holidays between terms are a good time to sit back and reflect and also to look ahead. What was your last term like and what are you looking forward to in the summer term?

Sixth anniversary matters

My blog is six years old today (28th March 2019)! When I started blogging I wasn’t sure how long I would keep going or if people would even want to read what I write. Six years later, here I am, still blogging and the number of people reading (and subscribing) steadily increasing. Thank you to all of you who read, comment on and share my blog.

A look at the past year:

The top ten most viewed posts were:

10. Schemes of delegation matter

9. Informing governors about inspection matters

8. SEND governor matters

7. Maximising governance time matters; a checklist. With thanks to Aidan Severs

6. Ofsted inspection handbook (Sept 2018) and governance matters

5.Elected governors and removal from office matters

4. Questions you may be asked and other Ofsted inspection matters

3.Good practice matters for governing bodies

2. Ofsted grade descriptors;Sept 2015; Guest post by Shena Lewington

The most read blog this year was

1. Ofsted questions for governors

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

1. Ofsted grade descriptors
2. Ofsted questions for governors
3. Ofsted questions for governors 2018
4. Ofsted questions and answers
5. What are the procedures to remove a parent governor

This year two of my blogs made it to the Julia Skinner’s list of Top Blogs of the Week in Schools Week. The first was Why Blogging Matters and  the other one was Relationships between Charity Boards and Executive Teams Matter. 

This blog has been viewed in 104 countries (a big jump from 64 last year)! I’m sure most of them must have ended up here by mistake as I can’t imagine why anyone in Kyrgyzstan, for example, would be interested school governance in England. Most of the views, as expected, were from the UK, followed by the US.

I can honestly say that even after six years I still enjoy putting my thoughts down on here. It gives me a chance to tell people where I stand on various issues and enter into debate on governance related topics.

I also use my blog to review what has happened during the year and that blog serves not only as a review but also as a repository of important links.A shorter version was published by Schools Week too.

One of the things I enjoy blogging about is my account of the conferences I attend. I try and look at the presentations from a governor’s point of view. An example of this is my recent blog on researchED Birmingham (researchED is a grassroots movement trying to make teaching more evidence based). In this blog I’ve written about questions governors should be thinking about and asking about the topics covered in the presentations.

Lastly, I was really happy to see this tweet.

It’s wonderful that Brian sent this during March. Best birthday present ever! Thank you, Brian.

Reducing teacher workload matters: Department for Education Guidance for trustees and boards by

Department for Education has today published materials to help boards and trustees help support workload reduction in their school(s) and for themselves. The links to various materials are as below.

Support for governing boards and trustees: workshop

Handout: Summary sheet to accompany workshop

Workshop discussion template

Practical tools: Ongar Primary School Governing Board reflections on reducing workload across a school

Governance matters at #rEDBrum

Regular readers of this blog and my twitter followers know that I am a bit of a conference junkie! One of the conferences I enjoy attending are researchED ones. I was really happy to have been asked by Claire Stoneman to do a session at the researchED Birmingham conference and to be part of a panel. We (Steve Penny and I; Steve had kindly offered to drive us to Birmingham) reached Erdington Academy at around 8.30am. After registering we made our way to the canteen for tea and a pastry and then to the hall for the start of the proceedings. Below is a short account of the sessions I attended and what I think their relevance to governance is.

Tom Bennett and the Claire Stoneman started us off, both explaining why researchED is so important. Tom talked about the importance of research informed practice if we were to progress as profession. He also appreciated the fact that people have given up their Saturday to be here and that the speakers are speaking for free. Claire said that organizing #rEDBrum was like throwing her ideal party. She told us about the context of her school and that she didn’t want her children’s future to be risked on a whim or fancy. We could not afford to waste time and children deserved the best education and teaching rooted in research. Not giving them this was akin to gambling with their future.

It was then time for the keynote address. This was given by Professor Daniel Mujis, Head of Research at Ofsted. My main takeaways from the keynote were

  • The importance of schools working as communities: A shared culture with a strong buy in from parents is important to improve behaviour and drawing on the culture of the community can help with this.
      • As governors, we need to ask ourselves if our school is actually a close knit community or not. Ask yourself if you know what the behaviour is like in your school.
  • Cultural capital isn’t equally shared and this is one reason for inequality. We should be teaching our kids a curriculum which adds to their knowledge and doesn’t replicate what they already know. Using pupil interest to drive the curriculum is a mistake.
      • When your head and senior leaders are discussing the curriculum with you, do you ask questions around cultural capital?
      • Do you know your students and their backgrounds well enough to know if they lack cultural capital which other children may have?
      • How does your curriculum help in reducing this gap as well as the inequality?
  • Healthy school environment where debate is encouraged is needed as democracy is built on it. For this to happen we need an environment where we different/opposing views can be aired and where we learn from each other.
      • Do governors know if this happens in their schools?
      • Do you have debate societies as well as an environment where people can learn from other cultures?
      • Is there an environment where different views are heard and understood?
  • Does your school have a broad curriculum for ALL students?
      • How do you ensure you are not giving them more of the same?
      • Do you expose your scientists to literature and arts and your humanists to science and maths?
      • Is there progression in what’s taught?

Prof Mujis ended his keynote by encouraging everyone to take part in the consultation into the new framework (consultation is open till 5th April).

The next session I attended was by Mark Lehain, provocatively titled, “Getting SLT to behave on behaviour”. He started off by asking the audience to think of an answer to the question, “Why educate?”. This is such a powerful question and the answer would determine why we do a lot of what we do. This might be a good exercise to do as a board. Mark went on to show us some stats. The number of teachers who told Teacher Tapp (a free app which asks three questions each day) that they dreaded going to work was a shock. A Delta poll found that 75% of the teachers polled thought that low level disruption occurs frequently or very frequently in their schools and 72% reported that a colleague had left the teaching profession due to bad behaviour. Mark asked the audience if the same was true of them and around half of the audience responded that they had left a school due to bad behaviour. As governors this should be of great concern to us for three reasons

  • Teachers leaving the profession due to bad behaviour in schools will fuel the retention problem
  • As governors we need to be mindful of the effect bad behaviour has on staff well being
  • As governors we also need to consider the effect bad behaviour has on the well being and education of other students

As governors

  • Are you aware what behaviour is like in your school?
  • Are you aware how bad behaviour is tackled in your school?
  • Do you conduct exit interviews?

Mark said that as a head his test was, “Is this good enough for Sophie (his daughter)?”. I think that is a good question for all of us to ask ourselves; is what we are doing good enough for our own children.

Session 1 was followed by a panel debate. On the panel were Stuart Lock, Heather Fern, Sonia Thompson and myself with Tom Bennett in the chair. Stuart, in reply to a question about culture, made a very important point. He said that we often talk about vision and culture rather than talking about things which actually affect what happens in schools. Stuart also made the case for prioritising professional learning and CPD for teachers. Heather posed some questions which I think are some governors could ask too. She asked us to consider

  • Which subject has the strongest curriculum?
  • How do you know?
  • What can other departments learn from this subject?

Sonia, speaking from a primary phase point of view, said that designing primary curriculum was scary. This needed greater subject specific knowledge and progression of cultural capital.

When asked about a governor’s role in curriculum designing I said this, again, is one area where we need to be mindful of not stepping into the operational. Instead, we should be asking questions such as

  • Do we have a broad and balanced curriculum?
  • What do we think a child leaving our school should know?
  • Does our curriculum follow a progression model?
  • Is our curriculum in line with our school values and how do we ensure that it is? This is important as what is taught becomes the public declaration of out ethos and values.
  • How do we ensure it is accessible to all?
  • What CPD is available for staff to help them develop their subject knowledge and help them in curriculum designing?

Stuart agreed that the role played by governors is an essential one. It was good to hear an executive principal say this about governors/trustees.

For Session 2 I decided to attend Andrew Percival’s session who talked about his school’s development of a knowledge rich curriculum. If you have a curriculum in which you can change the order of things you are teaching then that is not a progression model. The five principles which Andrew’s school used to develop their curriculum are

  • Acquisition of knowledge is at the heart
  • Knowledge is specified in meticulous detail
  • Knowledge is acquired in long term memory
  • Knowledge is carefully sequenced over time
  • Focus on subject disciplines

As governors, are you aware how your school is going about building its curriculum so it follows a progression model and builds up content in the long term memory? Andrew made another point which we as governors should be mindful of. He said building up a curriculum is a big and hard job. Heather, earlier in the day, had said that Ofsted is aware of this and realise and appreciate this. As governors we should be careful that we don’t expect to see a complete overhaul of our curriculum in a very short period of time. Ofsted don’t expect this and we certainly shouldn’t.

I next went to hear Summer Turner talk about subject communities. Summer said a subject community is not a place where someone tells others what to do; everyone be they a head or a trainee teacher is equally important. A subject community is where teachers, academics and other subject specialists can come together and exchange ideas. Summer thinks that perhaps these are more needed by primary schools. A subject community can facilitate subject specific CPD, evolve wider networks and help form a professional library which is subject linked. Summer thinks subject communities are vital for school improvement because they can

  • Help with recruitment and retention
  • Help with curriculum development
  • Help with teacher development

I found this talk fascinating. I wonder what, if anything, governors can do (should we do?) to encourage our staff to join such communities. We can of course ask our leadership team if our staff have thought of subject communities as way of getting subject specific CPD. Governors, too, I think should be part of governor communities. One very good way of doing this is to follow @UKGovChat on Twitter and join governor groups on Facebook (School Governors UK, Jane-School Governor’s Group, Governing Matters are three such groups).

I then made my way to Stuart Lock’s session. Stuart talked about behaviour in his school. He said that he won’t say behaviour is impeccable because nothing can be perfect. However, it is good because when it’s bad school leaders deal with it. Stuart made the point that “sweating the small stuff keeps the standards high”. He also talked about culture and values and elaborated what he had said during the panel session. He thought culture is very hard to define and value statements can become “waffle”. Stuart said that they carry out anonymous staff surveys which keep them grounded. They also have open and frank discussions about pupil performance and these conversations do not form part of performance management so staff feel they are able to ask for help if they need it. It is also very important for them that the leadership is visible. Hearing Stuart speak made me think of some questions governors could ask themselves:

  • How good/bad the behaviour is in your school?
  • How do you know how good/bad the behaviour is?
  • Do you know if policies are applied consistently?
  • Do you know what staff, parents and pupils think about behaviour in the school?
  • Do you see results of staff surveys? Do you do survey staff yourself?
  • How do you ensure your school values aren’t just a statement of something nice to have? How does it distinguish you from other schools? If someone were to read your vision/values statement could they identify your school or is it so general that it could apply to any school in the country?

There were some brilliant speakers in the fifth and final session but as I was speaking myself I had to miss those. Slides from my session are here if you would like to have a look.

All in all, it was a wonderful day and I took away a lot from it. I’m very grateful to Claire for outing governance on the programme and for inviting me. Even if I had not been speaking I would have made every effort to go. I think it is important for governors to attend events other than pure governance events. As governors we need to be interested in education and this interest should go beyond governance in our own school. As governors we may, at times, feel slightly detached from what happens in classrooms, what do teachers think and the direction education and educational research is moving in. Attending events such as these gives governors a chance to meet and exchange ideas and views with teachers. It may help you to better understand what is happening in your school. These events are a great networking opportunity. Some of the contacts you make may be helpful to teachers in your school too. And best of all, researchED events are very reasonably priced which is an important consideration for us volunteers.

Further reading:

Blogs:

Curriculum, Community, Culture and Collaboration by Beth Greville-Giddings

#rEDBrum 2019 takeaway by Nick Wood

The Problem(s) with the Teachers’ Standards This is a summary of Matt Burnage’s session

Getting Better Teaching: Part 1 – Teacher Experience Getting Better Teaching: Part 2 – The Value Of Stability by David Weston

My Wakelet collections of tweets from various sessions:

Prof Daniel Muijs

Panel discussion

Mark Lehain

Andrew Percival

Summer Turner

Stuart Lock

Demystifying school governance matters

On 2nd March 2019 I did a session on governance at researchED Birmingham. I’m very thankful to Claire Stoneman and Tom Bennett for  giving me the chance to talk about governance to teachers. My slides from the session are below. I’m also adding a few lines of explanation so the slides make sense to those who weren’t there in person.

Slide 2:

For teachers who haven’t worked as or with governors, governance may appear to be something mysterious that happens behind closed doors in the evening when all the teachers have gone home. You may hear your head say governors want data on X or governors are coming in to monitor Y. And that’s about it. So today I’m going to try and lift the veil on who we are and what we do and hopefully by the end of the session you will know a bit more about what we do and what research tells us about who governors are.

Slide 3: 

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

Slide 5: 

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 must ensure there is clarity around the vision, culture and the ethos of the school.

Slide 6:

It’s the governing body which sets the strategic direction of the school and decides where the school will be in 3,5,10 years’ time.

Slide 7:

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

Slide 8:

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

Slide 9:

So, irrespective of what type of school we are governing (maintained or academy) we have three core functions:

  • Ensuring clarity of vision, ethos and strategic direction
  • Holding the school leaders to account
  • Ensuring the money is well spent

Effective governance is of huge importance because governance is responsible for these core functions and also because effective governance can enable and provide a degree of protection to school leaders to try something different. Then there is the fact that although individual governors will come and go, the governing body stays and it’s the governing body which ensures that the vision and ethos of the school carry on long after individuals have departed. Ofsted also recognise the role of governance and it comes under Leadership and Management and will continue to do so under the new framework too.

Slide 10:

We’ve talked about the core functions of governing bodies and why effective governance is important. A question which is frequently asked is how governors bring about school improvement. Tony Breslin has written a report for RSA. He says there are 4 ways governors do this.

  • As they are custodians of the vision and the finances they can allocate resources where needed
  • They have to be aware of various targets. They are aware of floor targets and other national and internal data and use this to ask questions to drive improvements
  • They generally have individuals or committees whose brief is to look at various areas. For example the governing body may have individual governors linked to areas such as safeguarding, literacy, wellbeing, SEN. Or the governing body may have committees, for example a committee looking at teaching and learning and another one monitoring resources and finances. By assigning individuals or committees to these areas and monitoring these areas the GB helps to drive school improvement.
  • Finally, a good supportive GB and a good supportive chair will be able to retain good heads. Headship is a lonely place. If a head feels supported by the governing body and the chair in particular they are in a better position to do their job and stay on post to do the job, hence driving up school improvement.

Slide 11:

Now that we know about what governors do, it would be good to see what research tells us about the people who perform these roles.

There are no official statistics available which look at the demographics of those who govern our schools. National Governance Association, the NGA, is a membership organisation which represents governors.  Since 2012 NGA, in partnership with TES, has been surveying governors since 2012 and these surveys are the best source of data on this topic and I will be referring the results of the last two surveys today.

Slide 12:

If we first look at the age of the people who responded to the survey, then we find that in 2017 53% of the respondents were aged 40-59.

Slide 13:

This reduced slightly to 51% in 2018. The2018 survey compared the age of the respondents and the age of the general public. If you compare the figures nationally then 34% of the population falls into this age bracket. This shown we have some work to do to attract younger people to governance.

Slide 14:

Looking at ethnicity now. The 2018 survey showed that 93% of the respondents were white as compared to 86% of the population and 74% of primary and secondary students. This may r may not be a very bleak situation.

Slide 15:

The 2017 survey had looked at the age as well as ethnicity. This showed that in the younger age groups there were more governors who identified as BAME. Obviously, we mustn’t be complacent but if this trend continues and we are able to attract more governors in the younger age brackets then there is hope for the future.

Slide 16:

2018 was the first year NGA included a question on disability. 5% of the respondents said that they considered themselves to have a disability which is far lower than the 22% of people that reported a disability in the government’s Family Resources Survey 2016/17. This could be because responses were based on respondents’ own definitions of disability, which may not be aligned with that of the government. It may, however, also indicate that people with a disability experience more barriers to volunteering as school governors and trustees. Ensuring that school governance roles are accessible to people with disabilities is an area for future work.

Slide 17:

Now a look at the gender and some characteristics of chairs.

  • 59% of primary school chairs were female (62% governors were female) compared to 48% of secondary school chairs (53% governors were female). NGA 2018
  • I was also interested in looking at the age of the people who chair governing bodies. Prof Chris James of Bath University has researched governance extensively. He found that they were almost all over 40 years of age (94%). If we break this down further then we see 31% of chairs are between 40 and 49 years of age and 28% between 50 and 59. About a third were over 60 (34%). Chris James

Slide 18:

On average, they spend approximately five hours a week on governing matters and over one in 10 chairs spend more than 10 hours a week. Looking at the time   chairs reported spending on governance and the age at which they volunteer to chair governing bodies may indicate that as a fair degree of work is involved older people who may have more time to spare take up the chair’s position. Another thing to consider is whether the time is being spent on strategic stuff and how good are the chairs at delegation.

Choosing the right board matters

I have previously written about what may make a person the “right” person to have on your board. I think it is equally important for people to consider if the board they are thinking of joining is the right one for them and conducting own due diligence. Below are some things you may want to consider when you are thinking of joining a board/governing body.

Values, ethos and culture

This is perhaps the most important. Make sure that the board and the school leadership share your values and ethos. It would be very difficult, if not impossible, to work as an effective member of the team if you have different values. Visit the school, talk to the chair, vice chair, other governors and the head and other staff and try and see if they share your hopes for the young people under their care. Think about what your goals for the children of that community are and how closely are they aligned with the goals the rest of the board has.

Skills and experience

Every board member brings their unique skills and experience to the board.

  • Ask the chair/vice chair how they see the board benefitting from your skills and experience. They should be clear that your skills and experience will be used by the board to carry out strategic functions and not operational ones. Some boards can make the mistake of thinking that appointing someone with particular skills means the school can get someone who can do pro bono work for the school/board.
  • Ask them if a skill audit has been done and are there other governors with skills similar to yours. A board should be made up of people with diverse skills and experiences. Having too many people with the same skills will not help the board.
  • Try and determine if and why the board needs your skill and perspective. You can then decide if you will make a valuable contribution or not.

Instrument of Governance

You should read this carefully. If you are thinking of joining the trust board of a single or multi-academy trust then you should read the Articles of Association. If it is a local governing body (LGB) you are thinking of joining then read the Scheme of Delegation.

Culture of the board

It would be very beneficial to meet the chair and talk about the culture of the board.

  • How does the chair approach their role?
  • What is the relationship between the board members and the board and the executive?
  • Do board members meet outside of the boardroom?
  • How do the board members communicate with each other, with the executive and with the parents and the community?
  • Do you get the feeling the board challenges as well as supports the executive?

The way the board operates

After having read the instrument of governance, try and form an idea of what should a board which has to carry out those functions look like.

  • Is the board too big/small to carry out all those functions?
  • If it is too small/big then how would that affect your work as a board member? Will it mean that you have too much/too little to do?
  • Try and get hold of minutes of few past meetings. They should give you an idea of the workings of the board and the challenges it faces.
  • Do the minutes tell you how good the board is at asking challenging questions and the executive at providing answers?
  • The role of the board is to govern and not to manage. Do the minutes give you the impression that the board is focused on strategic issues or does it have the tendency to stray into the operational?
  • Do the minutes read like the minutes of a governing body or a PTA?
  • Ask if the board has committees and if it does which one would you be expected to sit on.
  • Would you be expected to do monitoring visits? How are these planned and structured?
  • Does the board employ an independent clerk? A qualified, professional and independent clerk is very important and will support good governance.
  • Do also ask if there is a possibility of observing a meeting before you finally decide. This is beneficial for both you and the board.
  • How does the board help a new member settle in and get to grips with the work of the board? Is there a mentor scheme for new members?

Expectations of the board

You will need to find out how often the board meets and at what time. You should also ask

  • How long do meetings normally last?
  • What type of training are you expected to undertake?
  • Does the board help you source this training?

Chairing

Although all governors are equal, the chair does have additional responsibilities and can set the tone for how the board functions. The way the chair operates will give you an idea about how the board operates. Before deciding to join the board you should ask to meet the chair.

  • Do you get the feeling that the chair is knowledgeable, approachable and open to new ideas?
  • Do you think the chair is great at building a team and getting the best from the team members?
  • Does the chair think strategically and with an eye on the long term future of the school?

The head/CEO

Prospective new board members should be offered an opportunity to meet with the head/CEO. This meeting is for the benefit of the new member and gives them an opportunity of ask questions. The head/CEO should not view this as an opportunity for them to interview the prospective candidate. The appointment of new members is not their job.

Conflicts of interest

Try and determine if you will have any conflicts of interest. These do not necessarily rule you out but you and the board should be aware of these so they can be managed. If there is a chance of a related party transaction then serious consideration should be given to whether it is in everyone’s interest that you join the board.

Expenses Policy

Do ask the chair if the board has a governor expenses policy. Good boards will have something in place or will be willing to put one in place. Although this is a voluntary role and you are not legally allowed to be paid you should be able to claim expenses incurred during the performance of your role. You should not have to decide that governance is not for you because of the reasonable expenses you may incur.

To join or not to join

At the end of your due diligence you will get an idea if the board and you are a good match or not, whether you have the right expertise and the time to make valuable contributions and if there is a good fit as far as the culture and ethos is concerned. If you decide that, for whatever reason, this is not the board for you but you still want to help the school then there are other avenues you can explore. If you feel your skills are perhaps not needed by this particular board then do keep looking for one where your skills will be useful. If time is an issue, then perhaps look for a board where the timings work for you or leave it for a while and try again later when you have more time to devote to governance. Deciding to walk away because it is not the right board/time is the right thing to do because joining a board where you have these reservations won’t help you or the board.