Tag Archives: Board of directors

Effective relationships between boards and executive leaders matter

On 1st July 2021 I spoke at the TSWW Summer Conference. This year, due to COVID, the event was a live online event. Below are my slides and notes to accompany them.

Slide 1:

Boards are responsible for governing the organisation and school leaders are responsible for the operational day to day running of the organisation. For the organisation to be able to deliver a good education to its pupils, the relationship between the board and the school leaders must be based on trust, integrity and, very importantly, on understanding of each other’s roles. During this session I will be talking about how boards and schools leaders can work effectively together and what expectations they have of each other.

Slide 2:

So, let’s start with governors and their role. 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 3:

Before we talk about the role and functions of these 250, 000 volunteers, a word about school governance structures first. Maintained schools are governed by board of governors. Academies are governed by board of trustees. Multi-academy trusts have a trust board which is responsible for all the schools in the trust. Each individual school can also have a local governing body. The role and responsibilities of the local governing bodies is decided by the main trust board. The local governing bodies have no powers in themselves. Any responsibility they have is determined by the trust board. These delegated responsibilities are laid out in the scheme of delegation which is determined by the trust board.

Slide 4:

Coming to our role now: The purpose of governance is to provide confident strategic leadership. One of our core functions is to ensure the clarity of vision and ethos. Your vision tells people where you hope your school will be next year, in the next 3 years, in the next 5 years and so on and what sort of people will your students be when they leave you. The vision is set by the board with input from the executive leaders. The board also clarifies the ethos and the character of the school. The board should ensure there is a clear strategy or road map in place in order to achieve the vision. .

Slide 5:

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 6:

State 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 7:

So, irrespective of what type of school, we are governing, whether a maintained school or an academy, we have three core functions:

  • Ensuring there is clarity of vision, ethos and strategic direction
  • Holding the school leaders to account for the performance of the school, performance of the pupils and the performance management of staff
  • Ensuring the money is well spent

Slide 8:

It’s very important for both governors and school leaders to understand their respective roles. The governors’ role is one of scrutiny and can be described as eyes on, hands off. The school leaders, on the other hand, are responsible for the day to day running of the school so their role is very much a hands-on role.

Slide 9:

The board leadership is the accountable leadership of the organisation. The current educational system is one of high stakes accountability. The board leadership faces accountability pressures itself from central government, from local authorities, from parents, from communities etc.

Slide 10:

Effective boards ensure that they hold the executive leadership to account in a way which doesn’t lead to fear in the organisation but instead is a way of determining what isn’t working and putting it right. Talking about accountability; a word about Ofsted. Ofsted findings shouldn’t come as a surprise to governors. They should know how their school, pupils and staff are performing. If findings do come as a surprise then they haven’t been performing their role well. They should also be able to explain to Ofsted what the school is doing to support pupils if results aren’t what were expected. During an inspection the board and the school should be seen to working together and this will only happen if they have been doing so before the inspectors walked in through the door.

Slide 11:

The work of governors is one of supporting and challenging school leaders. Governance is most effective when there is balance between the challenge and support we offer the school leaders.

Slide 12:

Moving on to the relationship between heads and boards.

Slide 13:

It is the board which appoints the head and this is perhaps one of the most important things that governors will do during their governance career.

Slide 14:

Heads are not, to borrow a popular phrase, just for Christmas. Therefore, boards take great care while appointing heads. They appoint someone who they is right for the school, who shares the same vision and values and who will be able to make the board’s vision a reality.

Slide 15:

The interview process is a chance for the board to find the best candidate for their school and for the candidate to gauge if the school is one where they can see themselves working. It is also a chance for both the board and the candidates to determine whether they have the same vision for the school and education of pupils.

Slide 16:

A word about when someone isn’t successful at interview. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t have what’s needed to be a head, it’s just that the school and they aren’t a good match. I like to explain it using the example of gloves and hands. This hand is perfect as is the pair of gloves but they aren’t a good match for each other. Governors should ensure that they give comprehensive feedback to the unsuccessful candidates. We have a responsibility to all candidates and not just to the candidate we appoint. Good feedback to unsuccessful candidates helps them develop and that is good for the sector.

Slide 17:

Once the head is appointed, the board should ensure they have a smooth start and that support is available to them. This is especially important if this is their first headship. The chair should set up meeting so that they can talk through what the head needs. This will also give them a chance to talk through the schedule of board meetings and ensure that the dates are convenient for the new head. The board and the chair should ensure that the head has all the documents they need or at least knows where to find them. The head would probably only have met the appointing panel It is a good idea to arrange an informal meeting with the rest of the board. The chair should discuss the format of the head’s report and what information the board requires the head to provide. The chair and the board should also ask if the head would like to have a coach or a mentor and if they would then the board should facilitate this. All of these steps will help ensure a good and effective relationship between the new head and the board.

Slide 18:

Coming now to the Chair and Head Relationship.

This is a really important relationship. John Tomsett says, “No-one explained to me the importance of the head teacher’s relationship with the chair of governors. It is the most important relationship for a head teacher because, if for no other reason, your chair of governors is your boss!” This point is sometimes not understood by some heads as well as some chairs which leads to a confusion over their roles and who does what.

Side 19:

Headship is a lonely place. Chairs should be supporting the head. Heads should feel they can use their chairs as a sounding board. It is the board’s responsibility to look after the well-being of the head and chairs play a crucial role in this.

In order for the head and chair to work effectively together, they should be meeting regularly. These needn’t be very long meetings but it is good to have them in the diary for the coming term or even the year. The head should also be able to contact the chair when they feel they need to outside of these meetings.

Slide 20:

Heads should tell chair anything of importance so there are no surprises for the chair or the board. The relationship needs to be a professional one and not a cosy one.

Slide 21:

In order to work effectively, there are certain things boards expect from heads.

  • Heads should be sharing the SDP with the board so that the board can have an input into setting the strategic priorities as well as knowing about KPIs and the people responsible for delivering them. This also helps in schools visits as governors monitoring a certain area will know who to go and talk to.
  • Governors should be involved in the school’s self evaluation also.
  • The head should ensure that the information requested by the board is sent out in a timely manner. Heads should discuss with the chair and the board about what they need reported in the head’s report. Sometimes, schools give so much data to governors that they can’t see the wood for the trees. At other times there is paucity of data given to the board. Both of these are wrong and a barrier to effective governance. The correct info, in the right format and amount should be sent out on time. Governors are volunteers but many have day jobs too so they need to receive reports in time for them to be able to read and digest them before the meeting.
  • Heads and the school should facilitate school visits by governors as that provides them with valuable information to carry out their job

Slide 22:

  • When new governors join a board they should have an induction session which should include a tour of the school and a meeting with the head. This will ensure that they are clear about their role and that they start to understand their school and its context.
  • Schools should fund training and CPD for governors as that’s really important for them to be effective. Governors sometimes ask me if they can afford to spend money on their own CPD and my reply to them is can they afford not to?!
  • The school should pay for a professional clerk for the governing body and heads should be clear that the clerk works for the chair and board and not the head or the school. It is best practice not to employ a staff member as a clerk because the clerk should be able to tell the head what is expected of them and that is difficult to do if the head is your boss too.
  • The school budget should include governor expenses. Governors can’t be paid to govern schools but they are legally allowed to claim out of pocket expenses such as child care costs incurred when they attend meetings. The board should have a governor expense policy in place and the budget should have an allowance for this built in.

Slide 23:

Coming now to what heads should be getting from boards if the two are to work effectively together.

  • We talked about leaving operational matters to head earlier. For the executive and the non-executive to work effectively together, they should avoid stepping on each others’ toes. The day to day running of the school and other operational matters should be left to the head and their teams. Governors appoint heads. They spend a large portion of the budget on staff salaries. So, let the professionals you’ve appointed do the jobs you pay them to do.
  • Confidentiality is very important. Things will be discussed in the boardroom by the head which are confidential in nature. Similarly, things discussed by the head with the chair may be confidential too. Heads should be able to trust chair the board not to breach confidentiality.
  • Good heads relish and welcome challenge. They aren’t threatened by it. It in fact provides them with an opportunity to show what is working well in school or what plans have been put in place to remedy what isn’t working well.
  • At the same time, the head and staff should be able to rely on support from the board.
  • Boards asking for data, information, reports etc should always bear in mind the workload pressures heads and their teams work under. Don’t add to it
  • The well being of the head and staff as well as pupils should be something the board actively looks after and promotes. Heads and staff who feel supported and who feel their wellbeing is important will perform better. The board should ensure that well-being isn’t a tick box exercise or an empty gesture or something like a yoga session which may not be everyone’s cup of tea.
  • We talked about why it’s important for governors to visit schools. Governors also need to remember that schools are working environments and it may not always be convenient to have visitors. Governors should have a visit protocol they follow and they should always arrange these visits beforehand. Governors who do a monitoring visit should report back to the board. It is a good idea to send the draft report to the staff member they met during the visit so that the staff member can correct any factual mistakes in the report before the report is circulated to the full board.

Slide 24:

We’ve talked about heads and the board. But what about other staff? Boards should invite SLT to attend board meetings. It’s important that the SBM attends meetings too, especially those dealing with finance. School visits and attending school events will mean governors get to meet other staff too. The board should also know what staff think of various issues and staff surveys are a good tool to determine what staff think and feel. The board should also ensure that the culture in the school is one which makes all staff feel valued and that their voices are heard.

Slide 25:

A word about appraisal now. The second core role of governors includes holding the executive leaders to account for performance management of staff. Governors should not be apprising individual teachers. That’s for their line managers to do. What governors should do is ensure that the appraisal system

  • Is a fair and transparent one
  • That any targets which are set are ambitious but achievable and are linked to the school’s strategic priorities
  • The same is true for the appraisal of the head too. That should be a fair and transparent process too. The head’s targets should also be ambitious, achievable and linked to the school’s strategic priorities. Many boards like to include a personal target too. This can be something about the head’s career development or well-being etc. Boards benefit from having an external advisor present during the head’s appraisal. Vast majority of board use external advisors but this isn’t a requirement for academies.

Slide 26:

This was a quick run through of the things executive leaders and boards can do to develop an effective working relationship. If the board, head, SLT and all other staff members work effectively together then it’s the children who benefit. After all, ensuring our children are happy and are getting a good education in a safe environment is why we are in education in the first place.

Governance matters at Festival of Education

The 2021 Festival of Education took place online over two weeks. This year, like always, there was great diversity of topics and speakers. I’m very grateful to the organisers for featuring governance too. Katie Paxton and I had a “fireside” chat about “Governance during and after the pandemic”. You can watch our session using this link.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Slide 7:

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

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

Slide 9:

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

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

Slide 11:

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

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

Slide 13:

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

Slide 14:
Discussion:

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

 

Joining a MAT? Stakeholder questions matter

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

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

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

Self evaluation matters

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

Why should I be led by you?

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

Your roles and responsibilities:

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

Your working practices:

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

Future proofing:

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

Vice Chairs matter

Vice Chair (VC) of governing boards is an important role but in many cases it is not a well defined role. Investing in developing of this role offers great scope for developing leadership skills and distributed leadership. In this blog I would like to write about what a VC could do and how the role can be developed so that it adds value to the board.

Role of the Vice Chair

  • Deputising for the chair
  • Usually the only explicit function of a VC is to act as a deputy to the Chair. If a chair is unable to attend a meeting it falls to the VC to chair the meeting. If the chair needs to be away and is not contactable, the VC should deal with matters which may arise in the chair’s absence.
  • CPD co-ordinator
  • Some boards ask the VC to be responsible for the CPD of the board members. The VC, with the help of the clerk, maintains the training record and also signposts CPD opportunities. The VC may also help in maintaining the skills matrix.
  • Sounding board
  • The VC should act as a sounding board for the chair. Leading the board, like leading the school, is a lonely job. A good VC can act as a critical friend to the chair, giving support, advice and a fresh perspective.
  • Sharing the workload
  • We know that chairs are increasingly spending a great deal of time on governance. VC could share some of this workload. Chairs, too, need to learn to delegate so that the workload is shared equally amongst governors.
  • Appraisal
  • The VC can help and support the chair in the appraisal of the board members and the clerk. This is helped by the fact that a VC can have a good view of how the board is functioning. The VC can observe how meetings are run and how members contribute as they are unburdened by the responsibility of running the meeting (which is the job of the chair) or having to take minutes (the clerk’s role). The VC can also support the chair’s appraisal process.
  • Communication with committee chairs
  • The VC can support the chair by being the person responsible for communication with the committee chairs. This can be to plan committee meeting agendas, help ensure that the committees function well, within law and understand their delegated functions.
  • Providing alternative route for raising concerns
  • Every school must have a complaint policy. Staff, too, should also know how concerns can be raised. There can be occasions when people, for whatever reason, feel they cannot have an informal chat with the chair to resolve an issue. There can be occasions when the issue concerns the chair or there are tensions between the head and the chair or amongst members of the board. In these cases a good VC may be the person who is contacted and who can help resolve the issue. The VC must ensure that they do not undermine the chair or increase discontent in the board and form factions.
  • Succession planning
  • Perhaps the most important role of the VC is the implied responsibility to take on the chair’s role in due course.

Recruitment

Your governance document will detail how the VC is appointed. It is almost always an elected position. During this year’s election, I asked people to stand for VC with the view of taking the chair in the future. I made it clear that if circumstances changed or if they changed their mind then that was ok. I didn’t want people not to stand fearing that they would have to take the chair. I also made it clear that this was not a requirement, rather a way to try and get some succession planning in place and give people time to think of chairing in the future. As it happens, someone who would like to chair in the future stood and were elected.

How to be an effective Vice Chair?

  • Work closely with the Chair so you develop a good, professional working relationship with them.
  • Attend training/CPD which will help you understand the role. Many of the courses advertised for chairs are suitable for VCs too. Consider doing the Chair Development course which is offered by National Governance Organisation and other providers.
  • Have a discussion with the chair and work out which responsibilities you would like undertake.
  • Consider chairing a committee. This will provide you valuable experience in making agendas and running meetings
  • Look upon the clerk as a valuable source of information and support.
  • Develop a good relationship with other members of the board so that the whole board functions as a team.
  • Ensure that you prepare well for meetings. You may have to chair a meeting at short notice so you need to be able to do that
  • Keep up to date by reading widely, attending conferences, interacting with other governors, etc.

How can Chairs help VCs prepare for their role?

  • The Board, with input from the Chair, should agree and publish a job description for the VC.
  • The Chair should try and involve the VC in everything that they can. There may be things which Chairs will have to keep to themselves but most of the day to day governance can be shared.
  • I have asked our clerk to copy the VC in her emails to me (those which are not confidential to the Chair). I will be asking the VC for feedback on agendas etc as a way of preparing them for their role.
  • The Chair should consider letting the VC chair a meeting once the VC feels they can do this. This will be a valuable learning opportunity for them. A good way to do this would be to start with leading on an agenda item before going on to chair a meeting.
  • If the board has committees the Chair should ask the VC to consider chairing one of the committees.
  • The Chair should consider asking the VC to attend meetings they have with the head.

Chair/Vice Chair relationship

The relationship between the Chair and VC should be a close working relationship. The Chair should be able to rely on the VC to act as a sounding board and give advice and support when needed. The Chair should put into place measures which will develop the VC’s practice. The Chair and VC should be able to work closely together, sharing responsibilities with each other. However, they must take care that their relationship does not appear to be a cosy one to the rest of the board. An experienced VC may be able to offer support to a new Chair during the early months of the Chair’s tenure.

Leadership matters; an audience with Julie Jackson

 

On 4th October 2019 I had the privilege of attending an audience with Julie Jackson, President of Uncommon Schools. Uncommon Schools is a non-profit organization that starts and manages urban schools for low-income students. At the time of writing there are 54 public K-12 charter schools (20,000 students) in Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York. The “schools are joyful and rigorous, full of love and learning, and fiercely dedicated to closing the achievement gap and changing history”. This was an event arranged by Ambition Institute.

Julie Jackson is the President of Uncommon Schools. She oversees all 54 schools as well as Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Julie has been in education for the last three decades and her strong leadership and commitment to improving public education have earned her several honours.

As much of what Julie said is applicable to governance too, I thought I would do a short blog about the things that really struck me in her address. She started by talking about her father (who was murdered when she was young) and the three principles he gave her.

  • Welcome challenge, learn from defeat
  • Never let your first defeat be your second
  • Always have a high bar of excellence. Don’t let anyone else set you bar

As governors there will be times when we would be faced with challenges and some of these would be quite tough ones which don’t pan out how we thought they would. In such cases, we need to work out why things happened the way they did and try and learn some lessons from the experience. Setting a high bar of excellence for ourselves is important too. This is true of individual governors and of the board. Have a high bar of excellence for the way you perform your governance task at an individual level. Make sure that the board as a whole have set a high bar of excellence for the whole board and for the school. Don’t let anyone say that children under your care can’t perform well because, for example, their background. As a board set a high, aspirational bar for every child and that bar is your excellence bar which you and not anyone else have set.

Julie talked about putting “kids always first”. This is not something that only executive leaders should be doing. The whole board should look at everything they do through this lens too. She also talked about the need for “humble leadership” and the importance of leaders being good at developing their team, resourcing good practice and dissecting it and applying it. Again, this is everything a good board should be doing. When most of us join boards we come with our specific skills, we do need to learn to apply these skills to governance and learn to govern. Good board leaders (chairs) will help their team members do just this. The board should be researching and studying good practice and bringing it back to their board.

Julie talked about what makes excellent leadership. Excellent leaders will be working to make their curriculum “joyful” and excellent. Writing the curriculum, deciding what to study and when is a job for the executive leaders. Excellent board leadership happens when the board holds the executive to account for the curriculum. This holding to account, this challenge, if done correctly will lead to an excellent curriculum. Julie wanted school leaders to ask themselves, “Do parents like to send their children to our school?” This is a hugely important question for governors to be asking too. Ask this question and follow it up with

  • How do we know this?
  • If the answer is yes then how do we ensure this continues to be the case in the future and we don’t become complacent?
  • If the answer is no then what are we doing to change it to a yes?

Julie talked about CPD and developing teachers. She said

  • Organisations should value their trainees
  • Training should be ongoing
  • Observations are not a “I got you” observations but a developmental process
  • If a gap is present throughout the region then that is not a teaching gap but a curriculum gap and that is then addressed

Julie also explained how they decide on what their non-negotiables are. As everyone is involved in developing these, there is buy in from everyone.

As governors we should be asking questions around staff CPD as well as the observation culture. Well supported staff who have access to good CPD feel valued. Ongoing training is another thing we should be aware of. We should ensure that this happens for our staff and we should also ensure that the governors are also accessing courses on a regular basis.

When Julie talked about the need for the culture not to be one of “I got you” that made me think of the board/head relationship. The role of the board is to challenge the executive leaders and hold them to account. The board must be careful that they don’t come across as trying to catch the head out. The reason we ask challenging questions must always be to ensure a good education for the children. This can happen best in a culture of mutual respect between the board and the executive.

Julie also talked about the three things which happen at Uncommon Schools which make them the successful schools that they are. These are

  • Putting children first
  • Humble leadership
  • Good professional development for all

I think these are three things which any school and any trust can and should adopt. This has nothing to do with no excuses policies (Julie had made the point that it’s actually no excuses for adults not to do the best for the children under their care), traditional or progressive philosophies, pedagogical methods or governance structures.

Tom Rees (Executive Director – School Leadership, Ambition Institute) asked Julie what drives system generosity. Julie said that she believes that Uncomon Schools are successful because they understand that their job is to increase their impact, that good teaching is good teaching and that what they do is for “kids, and kids are kids everywhere”. Again, these are simple rules and are applicable everywhere there are schools.

Julie also took part in a panel discussion. Joining her on the panel were Dame Rachel de Souza (CEO, Inspiration Trust), Leora Cruddas (CEO, Confederation of School Trusts), and Sir Kevan Collins (Chief Executive, Education Endowment Foundation). The panel was chaired by Tom. Rather than try and capture the entire panel discussion, I will write about the one or two things which each panel member said which I thought were very interesting/important.

Rachel made the point that Inspiration Trust has a brilliant CPD programme across the trust with mentoring and support available all the way through. Rachel said the trust works as a family and as people feel valued they tend not to move. This is why there are very few vacancies across the trust. She would like teachers to be leading research. Rachel mentioned development needs for trustees and governors (that made me very happy).

Leora said that we need to develop civic leadership. School leaders must not make decisions which will harm other schools in their locality. She also said that she prefers the term agency to autonomy.

Sir Collins said that though there are great things happening in the sector we need to be able to scale excellence and “we need to become the best in the word at getting better”.

I really enjoyed listening to Julie’s speech and hearing the others on the panel. I’m really grateful to Ambition Institute for giving me the chance to hear Julie speak. It was a privilege. I’ll end by quoting something she said.

“Keep doing the work. We have an obligation to teach kids.”

Governors, keep doing the work. We have an obligation too.

Read Tom Rees’  blog about the event.

Raising governor profile matters

The article below first appeared in Teach Secondary. The original can be read using this link.

6 ways to raise the profile of your governing body

1. Invite staff members to meetings

Heads and senior members of the leadership team usually always attend governor meetings. It would be good if occasionally other staff members were invited too.

If a new initiative is being planned or rolled out, for example, then the staff member tasked with running it could be asked to do a presentation to the governing body.

Governors get to hear directly from the staff member, who in turn gets to know the governors. However, do think about workload implications before doing this.

2. Attend school events

It’s always good when governors are able to attend social events at their schools. It means they can see the pupils in a non-academic context, and it’s a good way for them to form an opinion about the school’s culture and ethos.

Staff members and pupils who are involved in arranging these will appreciate governors taking the time out to attend, and give positive feedback; helping them to realise that governance really isn’t all about improving exam results.

3. Attend parents evenings

There is usually a good turnout at parents’ evening. With a fair amount of waiting around between appointments, governors can use this time to chat with parents – they could even ask them to complete a short questionnaire, which might highlight common trends/concerns.

If this option is chosen, then feeding back to the community is important – a ‘you asked, we did’ section in the school newsletter can be a good way to do this.

4. Communicate with students

Raising the profile of governors amongst pupils is important, too. If your school has a student parliament or a forum for young leaders to meet and discuss issues, then ask if you could go along to one of these.

This will give you an opportunity to hear directly from learners, and feed back to the governing body. In addition, why not ask the head if you could speak at an assembly, allowing you to tell the student body more about governance, and what governors do?

5. Visit regularly

Governor visits are an important part of the role. They are essential for monitoring, and should have a focus and an agreed aim – and they should be arranged beforehand, so staff aren’t taken unawares.

Some governing bodies arrange a visit when all governors come in and see a particular subject/area/initiative and then join the staff for tea or coffee in the staff room. Bringing cake or biscuits along can help ensure everyone is in a collaborative mood!

6. Stay transparent

Given that approved, non-confidential minutes of governing body meetings have to made available to anyone who asks to see them, it would be a good idea to publish these on your website.

This shows transparency, helps engage people with your work, and demystifies governance.

It will be especially appreciated if the governing body is considering a major change, such as converting to an academy, joining a multi-academy trust, appointing a head teacher, etc.

… and one for luck

Governor details should be on your school website. Rather than just publishing the names of governors, consider adding a short biography and perhaps a picture too; displaying photographs on the school notice board is another good idea.

Governance matters in Festival of Education Part 2

This year’s Festival of Education had sessions which would have been of interest to governors. I have previously written about my session with National Schools Commissioner, Dominic Herrington. Below is a short account of some other sessions I was able to attend.

Ruth Agnew’s session was on “Effective Governor Challenge”. Ruth started by making the point that welcoming and enabling effective challenge is an aspiration and asked how if people welcome challenge. Good, professional relationships are important in schools. Too much trust and friendly relationship can hinder challenge. Ruth then talked about why and how schools start to decline. She said that problems start when processes to ensure accountability start to falter (lack of skills and training, too trusting a relationship, misplaced loyalty, too reliant on head for information, governors not acting strategically, etc). Ruth said that she had not found a better resource of what effective governors do than the “Learning from the Best” Ofsted report. Ruth said none of the things mentioned in the report are rocket science! Ruth mentioned that sometimes heads model the questions governors should be asking. She thought this isn’t necessarily a problem but it must not become the default. Ruth also encouraged us to think how we frame our questions. “How did we do in SATs this year” is better if it’s framed as “What do these results tell us about us meeting our objectives for this cohort”. Ruth said challenge isn’t lobbing questions like tennis balls at the school leaders. We shouldn’t be using checklists. Instead, we need to look at things with fresh eyes and then if we find an issue Ruth wants us to be like a dog with a bone!

Dr Kate Chhatwal spoke about accountability and peer reviews. According to Kate, the advantages of a peer review system are:

  • We don’t need permission to take part in peer reviews
  • It works with top performing schools as well as those needing support
  • It allows identification and sharing of excellence

Kate talked about how Challenge Partners conduct peer review. The important point is that this is “doing with and not doing to”. Challenge Partners are also doing MAT reviews but they don’t have a strict framework for this as MATs are still in their infancy. They start with a simple question, “What is the MAT doing to ensure the children it serves achieve better than they might otherwise, and is it working?”. This was a very interesting session and I think as time passes peer reviews may become more important. I completely agreed with Kate when she said that you are a system leader only if you care for the children beyond your own institution.

The session by Katie Paxton-Dogget and Tara Paxton-Dogget was titled “Matchmaking for academies”. Katie started by saying that more and more schools are joining or forming multi-academy trusts (MATs). As Labour hasn’t said they will return schools to local authority control, even if there is an election and we have new inhabitants in Sanctuary Building, finding a good MAT will be important for many schools. Katie explained the difference between academies and maintained schools. She said when people say autonomy is lost upon joining a MAT, they should be asked about the level of autonomy maintained schools have. Katie went on to the discussions governors should have when they are considering joining a MAT.

  • Revisit your vision and ethos. You should be looking at MATs which share your ethos
  • Consider what type of MAT you want to join
  • Think about geographical location of your school and other schools in the MAT

Tara made the point that as in human relationships, even if partners have differences as long as they share values the relationship can thrive. Tara’s school had recently become part of a MAT. She said that as far as students were concerned they hadn’t noticed any striking changes. There was more contact between students now which she thought was a good thing to have come out of being part of the MAT. It was good to hear from a student too, especially one as articulate as Tara.

The other session I attended was by Andy Guest on, “Is our model of school governance broken?” Andy started by asking posing the question, “If you started with a blank page, would you design what we currently have?” Andy also made the case for simplifying things by

  • Committing to either academisation or reverting to LA as having both isn’t working
  • Creating a simpler quality/compliance/value for money framework
  • Committing to a capability model across the system and be honest about the role of stakeholder engagement

Andy was of the opinion that governance has to change if we want an equitable and sustainable school system

There was a lot to think about in this session and I’m sure these conversations will continue.

Links to Wakelets (collated tweets) from some of the sessions I attended are given below;

What if we were accountable to each other? Unlocking the power of school and MAT peer review (Dr Kate Chhatwal)

How can we balance trust, autonomy and accountability in the system? Panel discussion at Festival of Education 2019 (Becky Allen, Ben Newmark, Carolyn Roberts, Sean Harford, Naureen Khalid)

Lord Agnew’s Keynote at Festival of Education 2019

Keynote by Amanda Spielman HMCI at Festival of Education 2019

Ofsted’s new Education Inspection Framework (Sean Harford, Matthew Purves and Paul Joyce)

Doug Lemov at Festival of Education 2019

Driver Youth Trust at Festival of Education 2019

I would recommend governors attend the Festival in 2020. I am sure the organisers will have sessions around governance again. Other sessions are useful too as they are on various other aspects of education which governors may want to know more about. Dates for 2020 have been announced (18th -10th June 2020). The organisers are offering a 40% launch discount and there is a special rate for governors (£45 for a day ticket, £59 for both days).

 

Governance matters at Festival of Education. Part 1

Picture credit: Steve Penny

One of the most awaited educational events, The Festival of Education, took place on 20th and 21st June 2019. This year was the 10th anniversary of the Festival. We were treated to two days of inspirational speakers who presented on a whole range of topics. I’m delighted that governance was represented too, for which the organisers deserve our thanks.

I was very happy that my application to hold a governance session was successful. I’m also very grateful to Dominic Herrington, National Schools Commissioner (NSC), who accepted my invitation and joined me for a chat on the first day of the festival. Below is a short account of what we discussed in the 40 minutes available to us. Where I have added post-event comments, I have done so in pink.

Dominic started by thanking governors for their time and commitment to governance of our schools. He talked a bit about his role. As NSC, Dominic, working with Regional School Commissioners (RSC) and other educational leaders and

  • Helps develops multi-academy trust (MAT) improvement strategies
  • Supports MATs so that they are sustainable and strong, via constructive assistance and challenge
  • Encourages regional teams to share best practice and learn from one another to encourage closer

I started our discussion by asking Dominic what, in his opinion, is good governance and why is it important. Dominic replied that governance has vital role in our schools, particularly due to the degree of autonomy in English education system as compared to the rest of world. We need good governance because governance performance three important functions:

  • It act as a stimulus for improvement
  • It provides an ‘Insurance’ policy for school leaders
  • It is responsible for ensuring clarity of vision and strategic direction

We discussed features of effective governance. Dominic referred to the three core functions which, when performed well, lead to effective governance. These are:

  • Overseeing the financial performance of the school and making sure its money is well spent
  • Holding the headteacher to account for the educational performance of the school and its pupils
  • Ensuring clarity of vision, ethos and strategic direction

We went on to talk about the relationship between the executive leaders and governors. Dominic said that if there is strong executive leadership then we can usually assume that governance is strong too. There is a strong correlation between effective governance and strong executive leadership. This is why Ofsted consider governance under Leadership and Management (L&M). Ineffective governance invariably leads to ineffective leadership and this is not just education sector specific. [There is discussion in governance circles if governance should be considered under L&M. I personally think that it should. We are part of the Leadership and it’s only right that when Ofsted judge L&M, they comment on the effectiveness of governance.]

As we were discussing ineffective governance, I asked Dominic about the role played by NSC and RSC when ineffective governance is identified. Dominic started by emphasising that occurrences of inadequate governance are rare and that the vast majority of schools are not failing [This was good to hear]. We do, however, have to deal swiftly and proportionally where this has been identified. Inadequate governance doesn’t take long to be identified (via Education and Skills Funding agency, RSCs, LAs or parental complaints). Dominic said that prevention is always better than cure so it is important that we identify cases where governance isn’t as good as it could be and offer support before it becomes ineffective. He said he was interested in how we can best enable system leadership. The multi-academy trust model gives school leaders the flexibility to share resources across a number of schools. Dominic said we have seen best outcomes for children being delivered where there are school leaders working across several schools to support weaker schools. We have some excellent examples of where academy sponsorship has had a transformative impact on schools. We do need to ensure that schools are matched with a sponsor who fits the school and has the capacity to raise standards.

Dominic also stressed the importance of recruiting good people and mentioned Academy Ambassadors and Inspiring Governors who can help boards find suitable people. This led us to talk about governor CPD and I asked if training should be made mandatory. Dominic agreed that his was always a hot topic. Personally, he was not very keen on making it mandatory. He said he would be worried about the quality of CPD and would rather that we work from bottom up and offer support. He mentioned that there is training available, including Department for Education funded training. [My personal thoughts on this are that GBs/trusts should make it mandatory for their members to keep up to date and commit to CPD. They should also make induction training available to all new appointees and the expectation should be that this would be done within a reasonable time after appointment.]

I was interested in getting Dominic’s opinion on whether MAT governance was complex. Dominic’s view was that it is not; rather it can be an opportunity as Local Governing Bodies and Trust Boards give us the option of different forms of governance. Dominic emphasised that most MATs are local MATs formed of six or less schools. He did stress the importance of Schemes of Delegation (SoD). Dominic said that SoD need to be clear and these must be explained to everyone. The lines of accountability need to be clearly defined too. We need to ensure that people understand their respective roles. [This is an important point. Good, clearly defined SoD, which are understood by all, are crucial. National Governance Association (NGA) has done some work on this which should help trustees who are reviewing their SoD.]

I was also interested in hearing Dominic’s opinions on how to increase governance literacy across the sector. Dominic started by saying that being a governor is a noble contribution to our communities. He said that governance has a higher profile now than it did five years ago when it was hardly talked about. We need to continue raising the profile of governance and encourage teachers, headteachers, retired teachers, and people from other sectors to join governing bodies. We should talk up governance which is why he was happy to come to the Festival and discuss governance with us. [I think that it is important that we talk up governance and do what we can to raise awareness of what governance is and its importance. Attending and presenting governance sessions at various events in one of the ways we can raise awareness. Taking part in twitter chats and blogging is another. Julia Skinner has been trying to get more of us blogging. If you are a blogger and write about governance, please do let Julia know and she may review your blog for Schools Week.]

Dominic is a governor too and my next question was related to this. I asked him if he was a governor on a governing body (GB) where governance wasn’t as effective as it could be, then what options were open to him. In other words, how could individual governors challenge an ineffective GB? Dominic said that the best course would be to try and find an ally in the GB, perhaps the chair and discuss concerns with them. If that doesn’t work then get in touch with the LA, RSC, etc. Dominic hoped that if ever a governor was faced with this situation, they wouldn’t give up and leave but try and change the GB practice so it does become effective.

The session also included questions from twitter and the floor.

  • In reply to a question about parent governors, Dominic said he was very keen on GBs having parent governors. He is one! At the same time he also emphasised the need to have a diverse board.
  • Asked why the Headteachers Boards are called that and why are there no places for governors on it, Dominic replied that the system allowed for co-option of someone with governance experience and he had co-opted members in the South East. The system is evolving and may change in the future.
  • The next question was about the options open to an academy committee (local governance) if they are unhappy with the MAT. Dominic said that he hoped that it could be solved at the local level but if the situation can’t be resolved then they should contact their RSC. He also made the point that this is not very usual and he had had dealt with only a few cases in his time as RSC.
  • The CEO of a MAT referenced research from NGA and asked if the time being put into governance by chairs was sustainable. Dominic said that some people put in a lot of time because they enjoy the role. The system is still young and developing and further down the line chairs may not need to put in as much time as they do now (MATs are growing slowly now. MATs are joining other MATs which is less demanding than setting up a new MAT).
  • A governor made the point that she worries that she can’t get into school and spend as much time there as she would like. Dominic replied that spending time in school isn’t the only way a governor adds value to their GB. Dominic said he cannot spend time in his school either. He adds value via other contributions. [This is an important point. A good board works as a team. Not everyone has to do everything and every contribution is valuable irrespective of the nature of the contribution.]
  • There was a question about mixed MATs/church schools. Dominic said that Church of England has been running schools for years and have a significant place in the educational landscape. Dominic reported that he had not come across any real issues with mixed MATs as yet.
  • In response to another question Dominic said that there are no plans at the present time to inspect MAT boards.

I am grateful to Dominic for taking time out of his busy schedule to come and talk to governors. I’m also grateful to everyone who attended the session. Dates for the 2020 Festival of Education have been announced (18th -10th June 2020). The organisers are offering a 40% launch discount and there is a special rate for governors (£45 for a day ticket, £59 for both days). I will be attending the Festival and hopefully will see many of you there.