Governance matters at Festival of Education Part 2

Photo Credit: Cat Scutt
Left to right: Mark Lehain, Katie Paxton-Dogget, Naureen Khalid, Jo Penn, Will Malard

On Friday 22nd June 2018 I chaired a panel discussion at the Festival of Education at Wellington College. With an ever increasing number of schools joining Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs), there is a need to understand how these are governed. This was a well attended session. It was good to see so many people take an interest in governance. What was especially pleasing was that governors and trustees and even a Member of a trust were present.

The session looked at “The Brave New World of MAT Governance“. The experts who took part in the discussion were

  • Jo Penn: Jo has many years of experience as a school governor. She is currently Chair of a Local Authority Primary School Governing Body and on the Board of a Secondary Academy. She has also been a member of a Special School Interim Executive Board and Chair of a Foundation School/converter Academy for four years. Jo is an experienced National Leader of Governance
  • Katie Paxton-Doggett: Katie is the author of ‘How to Run an Academy School’ and ‘Maximise Your Income: A guide for academies and schools’. Dual-qualified as a Solicitor and Chartered Company Secretary, Katie has significant experience in providing specialist governance support to various academies and MATs
  • Will Millard: Will is a Senior Associate at LKMco where he undertakes research into education and youth policy, and works with a range of organisations to help them develop new projects, and assess and enhance their social impact
  • Mark Lehain: Mark has a wealth of educational experience, having founded one of the first free schools (Bedford Free School) in the country. Bedford Free School has thrived and they have created the Advantage Schools MAT. Mark is the Director of Parents and Teachers for Excellence. He was appointed Interim Director of New Schools Network in March 2018

The discussion started with the panel being asked to define effective MAT governance and to suggest ways by which we can judge how good or otherwise the trustees are. The panel was in agreement with Jo who said that effective governance is effective governance irrespective of the structure. For governance to be effective we need a clear strategic vision, transparency, accountability, ethical leadership and effective training at all levels. Katie agreed that training should be mandatory. She also made the point that there is no need to re-invent the wheel; we can learn from other sectors. Will referenced the research  published recently by LKMco. It is difficult to answer what is effective MAT governance because research has shown that MATs are different and they change as they expand which brings about changes in the way they are governed. As it’s difficult to define, it’s difficult to design a matrix to judge how effective it is. Mark said that if the outcomes for students are good and the right decisions are being made at the right time we may be able to say that the trustees are doing a good job.

Talking about MAT expansion led the discussion to whether governors are coping with moving from governing one school to governing groups of schools in MATs. Katie was of the opinion that governing MATs requires a massive change of mindset and people need to understand that they need to step away from representing just one school. Jo talked about her own experience. She has been a governor in almost all settings but the biggest challenge was the change from being a trustee in a single academy trust (SAT) to a member of the local governing body (LGB) when the SAT joined a MAT. She explained that when the SAT trustees were discussion joining a MAT, the most challenging discussion was around giving up some autonomy to gain other advantages. Jo also warned that we need to be cautious and careful as we now have a two tier system. We may leave those governors behind who are governing LA schools if we aren’t careful because we are so busy talking about the importance of MAT governance.

Talking about LGBs led us to discussing schemes of delegation (SOD). Mark agreed with Jo that when schools join a MAT they have to give up something to gain something. Mark warned that there is a danger that if we take too much away from the local governors and give it to the centre then people may not want to put themselves forward to serve on LGBs. When Bedford Free School was forming a MAT and was talking to other schools there was a great deal of discussion around the SOD. They put in a lot of thinking around the SOD and have kept it under review. Like everything else, there isn’t a one size fits all SOD, appoint made by Katie who said MATs should look at a SOD and then adapt it to their schools and context. Katie talked about the work she has done with community MATs. The back office services were centralised but the teaching and learning and how students were doing, the “proper governance” stuff happened at the local level. So the SOD is about delegation at the local level and the trustees having an oversight rather than doing it at the board level.

The panel then discussed whether centralisation of some services like finance and delegating monitoring of teaching and learning o the LGB would make serving on the LGB more or less attractive. Jo was the opinion that if the LGB feeds back to the board who then take decisions then the LGB may not feel empowered making it less attractive. Katie pointed out that there are models which empower the LGBs. Jo also made the point that the SOD is not written in stone and the board is legally allowed to change it if it wishes to do so.

The panel also discussed how performance of MATs could be judged. Mark was of the opinion that at the minute we have no one who has enough experience of running MATs to be able to judge performance of other MATs. There is also the fact that MATs are very different. For example Harris, ARK, Tauhedul, Inspiration, Reach2 are all very different from each other. Mark’s worry is that by trying to judge MATs we may end up trying to standardise the way they are run. Mark admitted that there have been failures in the way MATs are run but there have been examples of poor governance in the maintained sector too. What we should do is try and learn from these failures. Will said that the research had not shown a clear relationship between SOD and MAT performance and he reiterated Mark’s point that there is no clear one good way to judge MAT performance. According to Katie, the success/failure is not about structures but about the people, about what they are doing and how they are using the structures. With MATs we are at a stage where we can still shape things.

We talked a little about the executive function in MATs. Mark said that in theory there should be a difference between the executive leaders of single schools and those of MATs but in practice people are still finding their way. The role of a MAT CEO is very different to that of a head of a single school

I then asked the panel to give me a short answer to the following question before we took questions from the floor.

What is the one thing you would change to make MAT governance effective?

Jo: Mandatory training for everyone involved in governance. Accredited pre-appointment training same way as it’s done for magistrates. People join boards without a real understanding of the role. It takes a while to get to grips with the role.

Will: Agree with Jo.

Katie: Not sure the MAT structure actually works. Take a step back and see how schools fit together in the legal structure.

Mark: Training of company secretaries. The role of the clerk in a maintained school is an important role but a completely different one to that of a Company ecretary in a MAT. We sometimes use clerk and Company Secretary as interchangeable terms but they are different roles. How many clerks know their Articles of Association inside out and understand the law around that?

Questions from the floor:

Is there a tangible way for businesses to support governance in schools?

Jo: Businesses should encourage their staff to become governors and give them the time and space to do it.

Katie: Businesses should understand that their employees will be getting board level experience which they can bring back to their companies.

Are the challenges in recruiting to MAT boards different to recruiting to boards of single schools?

Naureen: People may find it more attractive to govern in their local school, in a school in their community as they feel connected to it than joining a MAT board which may sit in a different city. People may ask themselves if they have the skills or the time to govern 20 schools.

Katie: The more specific I have been about the skills I want, the more successful I have been in recruiting. This is true for parent governors too. Even in small schools if you are very specific about the skills you want then weirdly it brings more people forward. So rather than sending out a general letter, be very specific about the skills you are looking for and people reading the letter will go “Ooh that’s me”. It appeals to their sense of worth

Jo: Don’t think with MAT boards we’ve reached a point where the boards are massively recruiting.

Will: Don’t think the people in general realise how complex the system is. There is a PR challenge in actually setting out that this is what is and this is what you are stepping into.

Question form Katie to the Trust Member: How connected do you feel to your MAT and what do you think you are contributing to the organisation?

I have recently become a Member. I realise that the role is different to that of the trustees as Members have fewer duties than trustees. I see the role as one of holding the trustees to account. It is a brave new world. This is why it is good to come to groups like this and learn from each other.

Mark: We have a come a long way since 2010 when  people did not have a clear understanding about the difference between Members, trustees, directors and governors. People now understand that Members really need to appoint good trustees. We are in a much stronger position now. It may not be quite right but we are much closer to a really effective system now.

And on that positive note, the session came to an end. I’m very grateful to Jo, Katie, Mark and Will for their valuable contributions and to everyone else who attended the session. Like the gentleman said the value of these sessions is in the learning which takes place when we talk and discuss issues with each other. I’m already thinking ahead to the 2019 Festival of Education and hope to see many of you there.

Schools Week covered our session in the Festival of Education coverage (Note: The piece mentions Gillian Allcroft from NGA whereas it was Katie who was part of the panel).

I have previusly blogged about other sessions which I attended and which were aroud goverance.


Thinking ahead/planning for the new governance year matters

As this year draws to a close, governors may be starting to think ahead to 2019. You may be thinking of elections for chair and vice chair. You may be planning to hold parent/staff governor elections if the terms of the incumbents are coming to an end. You may be aware that terms of some appointed governors are also coming to an end and vacancies will need to be filled. Hopefully, you have agreed the procedure of election for the chair and vice chair and equally importantly have a succession plan in place. Hopefully, also, you have conducted a skills audit so you can

  • Let parents know which skills are lacking so anyone with the required skills may consider standing
  • Appoint governors to plug the gap in skills

Once you have new governors in place, what should you do to ensure they are productive members of the governing body (GB)? Below are some suggestions. Is there anything else you would add?

Have a fit for purpose induction programme in place

People, who join a GB, in the very vast majority of cases, do so because they want to support the school. If this is the first time they have become a governor then, in all probability, they will not have a sound knowledge of what is involved. Even if they have been a governor elsewhere, no two schools are alike and therefore an induction bespoke for that particular school and GB is needed. I have written about induction in detail before. In short, some of the things a good induction programme should cover are

  • The core responsibilities of governors
  • The difference between operational and strategic matters
  • To ensure that elected governors understand that their role is not to represent the constituency that elected them.
  • To understand what is meant by conflicts of interest and how these are managed
  • To understand that as governors you are not there to follow your personal agendas/look after your own child

Mentoring programme

It is a good idea to ask an experienced governor to mentor the newly appointed governor. A good induction and a good mentor can bring a new governor up to speed quite quickly.

Continued Professional Development (CPD)

A CPD programme is essential. Governors need to ensure that they continuously evaluate personal and GB’s training needs and put into place mechanisms for governors to access these. I have previously written about this. Governors should be encouraged to attend educational events too. If your GB is an NGA member then do try to attend their conferences. Twitter is a great way to keep up to date. Encourage governors to sign up and follow accounts such as @UKGovChat Ofsted, National Governance Association, Sean Harford Department for Education  

Facebook is another avenue to explore for CPD. There are groups which you can join which allow members to network and support each other such as School Governors UK, Jane-School Governor’s Group, SEN School Governors Forum (UK) and others.

Elected governors

People who join the GB after winning an election are governors, like other governors. They should understand that as governors they need to evaluate the information before them and come to a decision based on what they think is in the best interest of ALL children (for governors of single schools or member of local governing bodies (LGBs) this means ALL children of their school; for trustees this means ALL children of ALL the schools in the trust).

Have a code of conduct in place

It is very good practice for GBs to have a code of conduct which all governors read and sign upon joining and then annually. The code should cover the purpose of the GB and describe appropriate relationship between individual governors/trustees/LGBs, the whole GB and the executive leaders. It should also cover how breaches of the code would be handled.

Role descriptors

It is also a good idea to have agreed role descriptors. These should cover

  • All governors
  • Chair
  • Vice Chair
  • Committee chairs
  • Link roles
  • Safeguarding governor
  • SEN governor

Having a document which lists what people occupying any of the above roles should do/should not do will help with the smooth running of the GB.

A school visit/monitoring visit policy

It is good practice to have a monitoring/visit policy in place. This should be drawn up with input from governors as well as the head and staff. A policy agreed by all will help in ensuring that the visits are productive. I have written about this before too.

Good communication channels

Sometimes parents/staff bring concerns to parent/staff governors because they have no other way of communication with the GB/school. Parents/staff may feel that the role of the parent/staff governor is to represent them. In such cases the governor should advice the parent/staff member about what to do. This may involve sign posting the complaints policy to the parent. The GB should ensure that there are good communication channels which parents can use to voice their views. This may involve conducting parent/student/staff surveys. Policies such as the complaint policy, grievance policy, whistleblowing policy, freedom of information policy should be readily available (on the website and in hard copy for those who want it). The website should also list names and contact details of governors.

When things go wrong and the role of the Chair

In the large majority of cases difficulties arise because people have not understood their position and role properly. A governor may go into school on a monitoring visit but do it in such a way that the head/staff feel uneasy. An elected governor may be under the impression that they are there to represent the people who elected them. A governor who has a child at the school may, unwittingly, be promoting the interest of the child rather than ALL the children. The induction programme and the code of conduct should cover all this but if there is still an issue then the role of the chair becomes crucial. In the vast majority of cases the Chair can help resolve the situation by having a quiet word with the governor. As I mentioned before, in the vast majority of situations difficulties arise when people aren’t clear about governance and the Chair can clarify this. This should be done in such a way that the governor does not feel they are being picked upon. This is why a quiet word is better than tackling it in a meeting. It may also transpire that the governor has legitimate concerns which the Chair can think about and take appropriate action. Another thing which chairs should watch out for is that it is not the head’s role to have a word with the governor. If the head has some concerns then they should speak to the chair who will then try and resolve the matter.

Self evaluation

It is good practice for governors to evaluate their own and the entire GB’s performance so that any changes which need to be made can be highlighted.


If you do not have an independent, professional clerk, then do think of appointing one for next year.

Hopefully, with these measures in place governance will be smooth.

One last thing; governor wellbeing matters. As governors you work very hard during the year. This is on top of your day jobs/other responsibilities. Do take the opportunity to relax and recharge over the summer.

Informing governors about Ofsted inspection matters

Education, like other fields, has its fair share of myths. One of the persistent myths concerns the role of governors during an Ofsted inspection. Shena Lewington had first raised the matter of governors meeting inspectors, being able to attend the feedback meeting and seeing the draft report. Sean Harford, Ofsted’s National Director, Education, to his credit, has tried to bust the myth that not all governors can meet inspectors, attend the feedback or see the draft report again and again. This myth, however, refuses to die! This is why I am very happy to see this addressed again in the July edition of the School Inspection Update (Issue 14). I am copying the relevant passage below.

Informing governors about an inspection

It has been brought to our attention that some schools have not informed all of their governors/trustees about the inspection of their school, nor invited them to meet inspectors during the inspection.

Inspectors should make clear to the headteacher, at the start of the inspection, that all governors/trustees must be informed of the inspection and that arrangements should be made for inspectors to meet the chair of governors/chair of the board of trustees and as many governors/trustees as possible during the inspection, and that as many governors/trustees as possible should also be invited to attend the final feedback meeting.

There you have it! Governors and trustees must be informed that their school is being inspected. The school should make arrangements so as many governors/trustees can meet inspectors/attend the feedback meeting as possible. Ofsted and Sean do all they can to publicise this. People sometimes say that not everyone is on twitter and so these clarifications are missed by those who aren’t. It is therefore appreciated that the school inspection update has clarified this yet again. It is up to us as school leaders/governors/trustees to keep ourselves informed by reading these updates. Please pass this on to your chair/head/governors/trustees and governor/trustee colleagues in other schools so that we can all help kill this myth once and for all!

Governance matters at Festival of Education Part 1

I attended the Festival of Education held at Wellington College on 21st and 22nd June 2018. The fact that there were sessions related to governance was greatly appreciated by everyone who has an interest in school governance. We even got a mention when Julian Thomas, Master of Wellington College addressed the speakers at the end of day one!

Below are the notes I made during the governance related sessions. In order to keep the blog to a reasonable length, the blog will be in two parts. I hope they will be of some use and you will think of putting in a proposal yourself next year or just come along to listen to the various speakers.

Handling public difficulties – essentials for school leaders and governors (Ben Verinder;
Managing Director of Chalkstream).

This was an informative session. As governors/trustees there may be times when we are facing a difficult situation and have to communicate with the press/public/parents/communities. Ben made the point that teachers and school leaders are trusted by the public so we are starting from an advantageous point. Other points made by Ben are as under

  • If at all possible speak while standing in a classroom
  • Never say “No comment”. There will be times when you can’t say much. In these situations rather than saying no comment say something along the lines of “I’m sorry I can’t say much at the moment because…” and give the reason. Just saying no comment makes people think you are hiding something.
  • It is a good idea to have key facts about your school on your website so journalists researching the story will be able to use that
  • If you have journalists coming to the school then it may be better to invite them in. He advantages of this are that
    • They won’t harass staff/students at the gate
    • You have some control
    • By asking them in you are being open and inviting and they may be less harsh in their write up
  • It is essential to have a risk management and the most important thing to have in place is a team which will come into action when needed. The team
    • Should evaluate the situation and judge how “scared” it needs to be
    • The team needs a leader and a spokesperson. These shouldn’t be the same person as the spokesperson will be handling the communications and can’t then be expected to lead too.
    • Make sure all communications are consistent. The messages sent to staff/parents/press should be the same. If the press are told one thing and the staff/parents another then there are chances that the communications sent to parents/staff will find their way to the press.
    • Chair of Governors/nominated governor could be on the team. They could help take care of the head and staff
  • The way you develop relationships is important. If you have invested in building a relationship with your local press then this will be useful when you are dealing with a crisis
  • You will be receiving lots of advice from different quarters. Evaluate it. Ben gave us the example of Thomas Cook (carbon monoxide poisoning at one of their properties) and Alton Towers (accident at one of the rides). Thomas Coo didn’t apologise whereas Alton Towers immediately did. The reputational damage was lass in the latter case
  • Remember everyone will want to comment on your school. Be prepared for that
  • If you have a bad Ofsted report
    • Say you are sad and at the same time indicate that you are not complacent and have a plan of action to tackle issues raised in the report.
    • Say what you will do to address the concerns raised in the report
    • Highlight the good things that the report has listed
    • Important the message to the staff and parents is consistent
  • Issues with school uniform
    • If you are changing the uniform then make sure this is communicated well and in plenty of time
    • Be very clear what is acceptable and what is not
    • In this case too, a relationship which has been developed over time with the local media will be useful. Pre-empt challenges
    • Before making changes/bringing in new rules do think if they are necessary or are they over the top.

Academies – asset stripping, profit-making and disempowering? Panel Discussion. Katie Paxton-Dogget, Panel Chair. Author How to Run An academy School; Emma Knights OBE, CEO NGA; John Banbrook, Finance Director Farringdon Academy of Schools, Jon Chaloner, CEO GLF Schools; Sarah Chambers, Academy Support Manager)

Katie started by asking if headlines of asset stripping, power stripping etc are true. Emma made the point that disasters happen in all sectors. It’s effective governance which can stop these from happening. We are bad at recognising bad practice. We have too many related part transactions. We need to get better at learning from instances when things have gone wrong. These are all reported publicly but what we need is independent review of these cases so lessons can be learnt. We need is to ensure that we have no crooks, cronies cowards!

Katie then asked the panel that if she was a governor of a single school would she/her school lose power if her school joined a MAT. Jon answered by asking a question himself, “What powers do you think you have?” He went on to say that it is important to remember that in MATs the responsibility rests with the MAT board. John made the point that there really wasn’t great autonomy under local authorities either. Outstanding schools had converted because they wanted to take control of the funding and school improvement. He and his school improvement team have a great deal of contact with the schools in his MAT.

The discussion then moved onto funding. Sarah made the point that legally the MAT board can top slice or do GAG pooling. Emma said MAT trustees need to understand the role of a MAT trustee. Some still think of in terms of “it’s my school” rather than the whole trust. Jon said that GAG pooling doesn’t sit well with him. His trust has schools no one wants. Funding is an issue which will keep commanding our interest for a long time to come. John said that when thinking about funding people have to consider the cost of teaching staff. Teachers working for his trust are happy and tend to stay, resulting in schools having staff with high salaries. Schools also find it difficult to appoint NQTs as it is an expensive area where NQTs tend not to apply.

This was a really interesting session and could have done with more time but we could not overrun as Emma was chairing one after this one.

A Vision for State Schools in England: Where Do We Want To Be – And How Are We Going To Get There? Panel Discussion. Emma Knights OBE, CEO NGA, Panel Chair; Alison Critchley, Chief Executive RSA Academies; Andrew Warren, Executive Director/Chair Manor Teaching School/ Teaching Schools Council; Ros McMullen, Executive Principal Midland Academies Trust.


This was another very interesting discussion. Ross made the point that that we are where we are and asking to go back to the old LA controlled system won’t be beneficial. She also said that school leaders who work in special measure schools and help them to get to good are the people who actually know how to improve schools. This high quality leadership is the magic bullet if there is one. She also wanted a change in the system so that school leakers did not spend time writing bids which they usually never manage to get. The Headteachers Round Table would like an end to this system. She said that workload has reduced to some extent for staff but not for heads. She would like the Secretary of State to stop visioning and let school leaders get on with their jobs. She would like schools/MATs to work together and help each other so that collaboration isn’t force upon us from the centre.

Andrew’s worry was that a large number of schools are not in MATs and they don’t have LA support now. This is especially worrying for schools in rural areas. We have a responsibility to help these schools which aren’t in the MAT “club”.

Alison was of the opinion that there are various ways schools can collaborate and cooperate with each other. They should be allowed to do so and the structures can follow after the ways of collaborating have been worked out.

This session ended with Ros saying that leaders need to be given time and space. It’s about our mindsets too. We tend to beat ourselves a lot. We need to talk up schools, the large majority of which are good, happy places.

Governance matters at #EducationFest

One of the most awaited educational events, The Festival of Education, takes place on 21st and 22nd June 2018. As in the past, the organisers have included sessions which governors would find of interest. The details of these sessions and speakers are as below.

Thursday 21st June 2018

MAT leadership, strategy and operations: what do they look like? (11:00-11:40; Kate Bowen-Viner, James Toop, Libby Nicholas)

Whether by choice or necessity, MATs are growing fast, but until recently, there was little research available on how they could operate and what their strategies were. Ambition School Leadership and LKMco will therefore be publishing a ground-breaking report in Spring 2018 which explores the different strategies that MATs are pursuing and what the implications of these are in terms of operational decisions and delegation. The report also explores the process of growth and what needs to change when. This workshop will share findings from the study and set out what the implications are for MATs and their leaders.

Handling public difficulties – essentials for school leaders and governors (11:00-11:40; Ben Verinder)

Even the most professionally managed school can find that communicating effectively when faced with a public difficulty is extremely challenging. Leaders are required to impose calmness, authority and confidence while working in an environment that is uncertain and possibly chaotic. This session will help school leaders and governors understand: – the fundamentals of communication and reputation management during times of difficulty – how to prepare a school to communicate during a crisis – what makes an effective response team, from spokespeople to social media managers.

Ben Verinder: Ben is managing director of Chalkstream, an agency specialising in supporting UK education clients with reputation and market research and public relations consultancy and training. Ben is a CIPR Founding Chartered Practitioner and chartered status assessor, a judge on several education awards and a regular speaker on communication, reputation and market research in education. Ben is also a contributor to a range of public relations books, a published poet and author of the biography of adventurer Mary Burkett. His specialism is psychology in public relations practice and, more broadly, change management in education.

Academies – asset stripping, profit-making and disempowering? (14:30-15:10; Katie Paxton-Dogget)

Academies hit the news when something has gone wrong sometimes amid accusations against the sponsor or multi-academy trust (MAT) involved. But what is really happening inside these organisations? This session will consider how MATs are structured to accommodate different schools and the use of partnership/holding company arrangements. There will be a particular focus on the delegation of powers to individual schools and the level of decision-making retained at board level. The session will also explore how MATs arrange their finances, whether delegated to schools and then top-sliced for central services or controlled centrally.

Katie Paxton-Doggett: Katie is the author of ‘How to Run an Academy School’ (2nd Edition published September 2016) and ‘Maximise Your Income: A guide for academies and schools’ (published November 2015). Dual-qualified as a Solicitor and Chartered Company Secretary, Katie has significant experience in providing specialist governance support to various academies and Multi-Academies. She advises on a range of issues relating to corporate governance and the role of the Board of Directors as well as providing specific company secretarial guidance. Katie is Company Secretary of Ridgeway Education Trust in Didcot.

Panel Discussion: A Vision for State Schools in England: Where Do We Want To Be – And How Are We Going To Get There? (15:20-16:00)

In the past 18 months, we have had a DfE white paper and then a green paper, most of which has not seen the light of day. Instead certain themes – such as social mobility, financial efficiencies, phonics and maths mastery, multi academy trusts – are repeated by ministers, but these do not add up to a coherent vision for state schools. There is also little clarity about where the capacity for school improvement is in the system, with new vehicles invented to fill gaps, such as the Sub-regional improvement boards. Given this deficit as to the purpose of our state schools and how that is to be fulfilled, we want with this debate to begin to take the initiative.

Emma Knights OBE: Emma
is Chief Executive of the National Governance Association (NGA) – the leading charity for guidance, research, advice and training for school governors and trustees. She is co-author of the Chair’s Handbook and was a governor at a secondary school in Warwickshire for seven years.

Stephen Tierney: Stephen was Headteacher of an 11-18 school for thirteen years before becoming the Executive Headteacher of the school and of a one form entry primary school. He now leads the multi-academy trust including the 11-18 secondary school and two one for entry primary schools. Working in Blackpool he’s rooted in the practicalities of leaders’ daily lives. Prior to this he was a Deputy Headteacher with responsibility for curriculum, teaching and learning and previously a Head of Science. He has extensive experience within the 11-18 age range and is increasingly knowledgeable about a range of issues affecting primary schools and their leaders. The issue of enhanced transition across phases is a key area of work for him.
Working nationally as Chair of the Headteachers, RoundTable Group; he has spoken at a number of conferences and events. Joining the Teacher Development Trust from their launch he is working to develop a culture in which staff, children and young people can flourish; at the heart of this is work on the professional development of teachers. St. Mary’s has recently been designated a Research School in the Blackpool Opportunity Area. As a prolific blogger ( he writes on a range of topical educational issues. The core school business of teaching & learning and leadership are the main themes on his blog.

Alison Critchley: Alison is the Chief Executive RSA Academies.

Andrew Warren: Andrew is Executive Director/Chair Manor Teaching School/ Teaching Schools Council.

Should schools be accountable to parents rather than to government? (15:20-16:00; Ralph Lucas in conversation with Professor Becky Allen)

Parents, in the main, care about the schools they send their children to. They are committed to them, involved with them, inclined to listen to them. They like the teachers, and have a direct interest in their wellbeing. They would make much better masters than the government. From decades of talking to parents, and helping them understand schools, we think that there is a better way (for pupils, teachers, schools and government) of running accountability than the current Ofsted regime and data-based targets.

Ralph Lucas: Ralph is Editor-in-Chief; Good Schools Guide. Ralph joined The Good Schools Guide in 1995 and became editor-in-chief in 2000. He has run The Guide since then and, although he still visits a few schools every year to keep his hand in, his main activities are drawing The Good Schools Guide together, education politics (he is an active backbencher in the House of Lords) and data analysis – as a former physicist, and an inveterate programmer, he has undertaken most of the work that underlies the online Guide’s extensive distillations of schools’ information.

Professor Becky Allen: Becky leads the Centre for Education Improvement Science at UCL Institute of Education. Her research explores how schools and teachers respond to government policy reforms. She is an expert in the analysis of large scale administrative and survey datasets. From 2014-2017 she set up and led Education Datalab.

Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman (16:30-17:15; Afternoon headline speaker)


Governors – celebrating Humans and Heroes (11:00-11:40; Louise Cooper)

Governors for Schools has years of experience recruiting skilled and committed people to be governors. Who are they? With 56% under 45, 31% from BAME backgrounds, 49% female, these are not your usual suspects. We are launching a campaign to tell their human stories, celebrating their impact on schools and communities.

Louise Cooper: Louise became CEO of Governors for Schools in April 2017. She brings a rich and diverse set of skills and experiences from more than 20 years in the private, public and not-for-profit sectors. Most recently, she was Business Development Director at the social enterprise London Early Years Foundation, where she grew their nursery portfolio from 24 to 38 nurseries. Her private sector experience was with LEK Consulting, a strategy consulting firm, and the global retailer Tesco. Louise is currently a Governor of a primary school in north London. She holds an MBA from Harvard Business School and an MChem from Oxford University.

Panel Discussion on: Brave New World of MAT Governance (14:30-15:10; Naureen Khalid, Jo Penn, Katie Paxton-Dogget, Will Millard, Mark Lehain)

With an ever increasing number of schools joining Multi-Academy Trusts, there is a need to understand how these are governed. This panel session hopes to explore how MAT governance differs from governing single schools. The session hopes to discuss hallmarks of good MAT governance, identification of qualities which make a person a good trustee, importance of company secretaries and clerks, the role played by local governing bodies and schemes of delegation, the relationship between the Trust Board and the Executive and the importance of continued professional development at different levels of governance.

I will be chairing the panel and am hugely excited to have Jo Penn, Katie Paxton-Dogget, Mark Lehain and Will Millard join me.

Jo Penn: Jo has many years of experience as a school governor. She is currently Chair of a Local Authority Primary School Governing Body and on the Board of a Secondary Academy. She has also been a member of a Special School Interim Executive Board and Chair of a Foundation School/converter Academy for four years. Jo is an experienced National Leader of Governance offering support to other chairs and governing bodies. In 2013 Jo co-founded @UkGovchat on Twitter, bringing governors from around the country together in weekly chat sessions for mutual challenge, support and development. She is an occasional blogger at Challenge, Support and All That Jazz. Jo combines her governance activities with her osteopathic practice and position as a Senior Clinical Educator and examiner.

Katie Paxton-Doggett: Katie is the author of ‘How to Run an Academy School’ (2nd Edition published September 2016) and ‘Maximise Your Income: A guide for academies and schools’ (published November 2015). Dual-qualified as a Solicitor and Chartered Company Secretary, Katie has significant experience in providing specialist governance support to various academies and Multi-Academies. She advises on a range of issues relating to corporate governance and the role of the Board of Directors as well as providing specific company secretarial guidance. Katie is Company Secretary of Ridgeway Education Trust in Didcot.

Will Millard: Will is a Senior Associate at LKMco where he undertakes research into education and youth policy, and works with a range of organisations to help them develop new projects, and assess and enhance their social impact. He began his career as an English teacher at Wembley High Technology College, a large secondary school in North West London, before then working as Lead Researcher and External Relations Manager at a national support service for school leaders and governors.

Mark Lehain: Mark has a wealth of educational experience, having founded one of the first free schools in the country in September 2012. Bedford Free School has thrived under his tutelage, and they have created the Advantage Schools multi-academy trust with Elstow School, as well as receiving permission to open another free school in September 2018. Mark is the Director of Parents and Teachers for Excellence, an organisation which works to improve state education by encouraging schools to adopt high-expectations behaviour cultures, a knowledge-rich curriculum, rigorous examinations and lots of enrichment opportunities for their students. He was appointed Interim Director of New Schools Network in March 2018.

There are many other sessions which may be of interest to you. The draft schedule for day oneand day two has details of all the sessions. If this has whet your appetite then there is still time to buy tickets.

Talking up governance matters

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

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

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

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

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

Governance matters at #BrewEdLeicester Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My questions for governor colleagues:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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