Tag Archives: Board of directors

Understanding what is meant by critical friend matters

Critical friend is a term which you may often see being used to describe governors. If you are new to governance you may wonder what the term actually means. I’ve been asked questions about being a critical friend and have tried to explain this many times but I’m never sure if I’ve managed to get my point across and explain the term well. The other day I read a blog by Michael Salter which I thought was helpful. Michael is an Australian teacher whose blog Pocket Quintilian I absolutely adore! Michael’s interests are in the field of linguistics and classics and in many of his blogs he examines the etymology of words which makes his blog unique. In his latest post he looked at the etymology of “critic, critical and criticism”. Michael writes,

Critic, critical and criticism (as well as crisis) come from the Greek krínein, to judge. This in turn comes from a Proto-Indo-European root meaning sieve – an instrument for sifting, or separating, different things. This same archaic root was the origin of the Latin crimen, which gives us discriminate…a word which, sadly, is hardly ever used now in its positive sense. And this is not unconnected with what I have to say next.

Art, music and literary critics are tasked with making judgements based on their knowledge of the art form in question. And why are they entrusted with this task? Presumably, one would hope, because they possess a rich store of knowledge in their chosen turf.

When I read the above passage, I paused and thought that I should use what Micheal has written to explain the concept of being a critical friend. The “friend” bit of the phrase is easy but some people may misinterpret “critical” bit of the phrase and think that our role is to be one who is “inclined to find fault”. Our role is not to find fault; our role is to sieve information, separate different things which are provided to us and then make a judgement on how well the school is fulfilling its duty to our pupils. To do this well we need to arm ourselves with knowledge first. This is where CPD comes in. We need to equip ourselves with knowledge relating to the curriculum, assessment systems, progress data, finances, cohort characteristics, how various groups of pupils are performing etc. Once the board, as a whole, has this body of knowledge we can ask informed question and make judgements. In other words be the critical friend it is our job to be.

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Teacher recruitment and retention matters

On 8th June 2019 I attended #BrewEdEssex This event was organised by Vic Goddard, Jean Louis Dutaut, Dean Boddington and John Bryant. The theme as teacher recruitment and retention. I’m very grateful to the organisers for letting me speak at this event and talk about the role governors can play in this. My slides from my session are below. I’m also adding a few lines of explanation so the slides make sense to those who weren’t there in person.

Slide 2:

Before we go on to discuss the role governors can play in recruitment and retention, a bit of back ground about who we are and what we do. Exact data isn’t available but there are around 250,000 of us. As we are legally not allowed to be paid, this makes us one of the largest volunteer forces in England.

Slide3:

We have three core functions.

Slide 4:

One of our core roles is ensuring there is clarity of vision and ethos in our school/academy/MAT. This is really important as ethos and culture of our schools will impact on retention. Governors play an important part in defining the vision and ethos and then we make sure that all our practices and policies reflect this. We need to ensure that the ethos in the schools we govern is one of mutual respect, of professional respect, of collaboration and support. If we can build up such a culture we will go a long way in ensuring that firstly teachers want to come at work in our schools and secondly, the teachers that do work in our schools stay in teaching. I’ve deliberately said stay in teaching and not stay in our schools because what we want is a school where we grow and develop our teachers so that they are ready to take the next step in their career and that may involve moving schools. This is the most positive thing we can do. In many cases we are the employer so it’s important that we recognise the role we play and the duty we have as employers.

Slide 5:

One way in which a school or trust can start to address the recruitment and retention problem is by showing itself to be an employer of choice. For this to happen we need commitment from governors to treat this as a priority and to aspire to be an employer of choice. So, what does this mean in practical terms? I’ll talk about retention first as I think if you can retain your teachers then the recruitment problem becomes less of an issue.

Slide 6:

So, why it is important to retain teachers? David Weston has blogged about this where he’s looked at research which showed that teachers get better over time, initially more quickly and then, typically, a little more slowly from around three to five years, More experienced teachers improve academic outcomes and non-academic outcomes, very experienced teacher is particularly effective at reducing absence of the most vulnerable pupils and experienced teachers make their colleagues more effective. So retaining experienced teachers is of huge importance.

Slide 7:

The first step to becoming an employer of choice is for governors to judge ourselves using staff satisfaction as one of the criteria of how successfully we are as leaders. How do we do that?

Slide 8:

Firstly, we must make sure staffing is discussed at every board meeting. We need to ask heads to report on staffing issues at every meeting. This will go a long way in making the head and SLT and staff realise that staff are important to us.

Slide 9:

We should also be surveying staff, at least annually. These surveys should give us an insight to how staff are feeling, what issues are causing a concern

Slide 10:

Obviously, positive feedback is good to have. Who doesn’t like to hear good things?

 Slide 11:

But perhaps more important is to be open to hear negative feedback and to act on it. If governors become defensive or don’t encourage heads and SLT to be open to hearing different views then it’s very difficult to bring about change. Staff should be made to feel valued and one way to do that is to seek their views and change things which are negatively impacting on them.

Slide 12:

And one of the most important issues we may get feedback on is workload issues. Though the day to day running of the school is something we should not get involved in but as governors we do need to understand workload issues. Ask questions relating to workload. We must ask our heads how are they ensuring teachers are not getting crushed under workload. Anytime a new policy or new initiative is brought to us we need to ask about workload implications of that initiative. If staff are being asked to do something new, we need to ask what are they not required to do. Again, culture and ethos has a part to play here. Do we know and do we facilitate collaboration so teachers have supportive networks and are not constantly re-inventing the wheel. We must also look hard at ourselves. Are we adding to workload by demanding data? Is all the data that we ask for actually useful? Are we putting pressure on our heads who then may be passing it down to teachers? How are we supporting our heads? Have we ensured that they have a team around them who they can rely on for finance, HR etc and leave them free to concentrate on teaching and learning?

Slide 13:

Workload issues bring me to another thing; flexible working. Are we as governors aware of what our staff needs are as far as flexible working is concerned?

Slide 14:

This again is something where the culture and ethos we are responsible for plays a part. Are we fostering a culture where staff feel able to talk to senior management and working together come up with a solution which means they can work reduced hours. This applies to heads too. As governors are we ready to have a conversation with our head when they indicate they would like a job share?

Slide 15:

Another way we can make staff feel valued so that they stay in the profession is by committing to their development. When the budget comes to us for approval do we look at the CPD budget? Do we ensure that the money being spent is being spent wisely? Do we put measures into place which allow our staff to develop and flourish? Are we making it easier of for staff to get further qualifications? When we appoint new heads, especially if it’s their first headship, do we offer them a mentoring scheme? Some people may be a bit wary of developing staff in case they left to go elsewhere. I think, firstly, we owe it to them. Secondly, prospective new staff will see that you’ve nurtured and developed staff and they can expect the same so they will be keener to join and this helps in making you an employer of choice.

Slide 16:

Flexible working, manageable workload and development opportunities all contribute to teacher well-being. There are other things we can do too. Governors should make sure behaviour policies are working and are being implemented consistently. When we go into schools we can see if behaviour is like we would want it to be. If teachers don’t have to fight at this front they can get on with doing their job which is teaching. We can have other initiatives as well such as each teacher is allowed to take off for family events like watching their own child in a play. Like I said this is all to do with the culture. As culture, good or bad, will trickle down from the top as governors we need to be aware that the culture is one where teachers are valued and know they are valued.

Slide 17:

As governors we need to ensure we have a good whistleblowing policy in place and that people have confidence that if they raise concerns through this they will be listened to, the issue will be thoroughly investigated and they won’t suffer any consequences. We should be looking at staff absence data and asking questions around that so we can pick up any problems that may be leading to a high absence rate. We must also ask how staff returning to work will be supported. If staff do leave, for whatever reason, we should be offering exit interviews. Again, the culture in the school should be one where people won’t mind speaking their minds at these interviews.

Slide 18:

A quick word about headteachers now. Headship is a lonely place. Once we have appointed a good head we need to make sure we support and nurture the head too. The GB/head relationship, especially the chair and head relationship is of crucial importance. Yes, we must challenge them but we must be ready to provide support too. Heads are juggling a lot of balls a lot of the time and it’s up to us to support them and let them know that you’re there for them. A good head is more likely to stay on if they have a good GB and chair than if they don’t.

Slide 19:

Slide 20:

Governors are directly involved in appointing heads and members of the SLT team. For headteacher appointments in MATs they may have the CEO or regional director etc as part of the panel. Some panels will also have advice from an independent person. Governors will be looking for a person who shares their ethos and will be able to deliver the vision they have of the school moving forward. There are a lot of myths around like governors only appoint someone in their image etc. The vast, vast majority of governors just want the best candidate for their school. It’s my view and one shared by the NGA that The other appointments for classroom teachers, HoD, support staff etc should be left to the head to manage but there are things we should be monitoring.

Slide 21:

So, what do governors need to consider when they are looking at how recruitment works in their school? All the things I’ve just talked about are things which will attract people to apply but only if you tell them you have all this in place. This is where marketing comes into play. We need to make sure people who are thinking of applying now what great stuff is going on in our schools. We need to ensure that we communicate our vision clearly. We want to appoint someone who has the same vision as us. This becomes especially important when appointing head and SLT as they are then ones who will be delivering the vision so they need to be in tune with the governing body. Does our ad make it clear we are an equal opportunity employer? It’s not simply the matter of adding alone at the bottom of the ad saying that you are. Does the ad reflect this? Have we looked at out short listing process? Have we considered blind short listing?  Are we sure our interview brings out the best in the candidates? Do we give feedback after interviews? Good feedback to unsuccessful candidates is important for their development.

Slide 22:

This tweet caught my eye the other day. I have Dean’s permission to share this today. Apart from the fact that in my opinion governors should not be involved in interviewing for positions other than SLT and head, I see no value in asking these questions of an NQT. Just think back to when you were an NQT and were asked this.

Slide 23:

So, in summary,

Slide 24:

Now you must be thinking that this was all about what governors could do and should do so why is Naureen telling us all this? Three reasons really:

  • You work in schools which are governed by trustees or governors should you should know what they should be doing as retention and recruitment for that matter affects you all
  • Some of you may be governors yourself and therefore you can go back and see how are things being done in your governing body
  • Lastly, if you are not a governor then I would urge you to think of becoming one. Think of joining a governing body of another school. For you that will be great CPD and for that governing body they’ll have someone who understands education and the pressures that go with the job.

Ofsted’s Education Inspection Framework and governance matters

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

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

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

Below are the extracts mentioning governors/governance.

Outstanding/exempt schools

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

concerns are raised about standards of leadership or governance

Section 8 inspections of good and non-exempt outstanding schools

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

concerns are raised about standards of leadership or governance

Schools requesting an inspection

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

Before the inspection

Clarification for schools

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

44. Ofsted will:

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

Notification and introduction

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

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

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

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

Inspection planning discussion

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

63. The lead inspector will therefore:

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

No-notice inspections

We may carry out inspections without notice.44

Meeting those responsible for governance

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

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

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

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

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

Providing feedback

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

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

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

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

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

Special measures

128. A school requires special measures if:

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

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

Serious weaknesses

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

After the inspection

Arrangements for publishing the report

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

Sources of evidence specific to behaviour and attitudes

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

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

Grade descriptors for personal development

Inadequate (4)

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

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

Leadership and management

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

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

Governance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Use of the pupil premium

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

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

Sources of evidence specific to leadership and management

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

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

Grade descriptors for leadership and management

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

Good (2)

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

Inadequate (4)

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

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

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

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

 

NOTES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Support for governing boards and trustees: workshop

Handout: Summary sheet to accompany workshop

Workshop discussion template

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

Demystifying school governance matters

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

Slide 2:

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

Slide 3: 

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

Slide 5: 

One of our core functions is to ensure the clarity of vision and ethos. The GB appoints the head and this is perhaps the most important thing that governors will do. We appoint someone who we feel will help us deliver our vision. Yes, it is a partnership; it has to be for it to work well but ultimately it’s the governors must ensure there is clarity around the vision, culture and the ethos of the school.

Slide 6:

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

Slide 7:

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

Slide 8:

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

Slide 9:

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

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

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

Slide 10:

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

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

Slide 11:

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

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

Slide 12:

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

Slide 13:

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

Slide 14:

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

Slide 15:

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

Slide 16:

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

Slide 17:

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

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

Slide 18:

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

Relationships between Charity Boards and Executive Teams Matter

 

On 6th February 2019 I attended an event “Building a Strong Relationships between Charity Boards and Executive Teams” organised by the consultancy and advisory firm, Gallanach. I found out about this event through Mike Bath. Mike and I follow each other on twitter and often discuss school/academy finance and governance. As academies are charities, the discussions during the evening are directly related to academy trustees and school leaders but as the discussion focused on governance it is also applicable to maintained school governance. For this reason, in this post, I will be using “governors” rather than trustees when I talk about school governance.

The event had presentations from Ian Joseph, Managing Director Russam GBS and Trustee of Kidscape and Sarah MaGuire, CEO Partnership Support Group. The evening was facilitated by Norman Blissett (Director, Gallanach). There was discussion around lots of areas affecting governance, most of which I have tried to capture below. I have then tried to relate them to school governance.

Roles of the board and the executive:

Norman started the evening off by talking about the role of the board and the executive. According to Norman, it is essential that there is a mutual understanding of roles of the board and the executive. Norman outlined the role of the board which he said was to

  • Set the vision and values of the organisation
  • Set the strategy of the organisation
  • Delegate functions to the executive
  • Be accountable to stakeholders

Department for Education has defined three core roles of governors in the Governance handbook. These are

  • Ensuring clarity of vision, ethos and strategic direction;
  • Holding executive leaders to account for the educational performance of the organisation and its pupils, and the performance management of staff; and
  • Overseeing the financial performance of the organisation and making sure its money is well spent.

The National Governance Organisation, NGA, has been discussing adding a fourth duty to the above three, that of accountability to stakeholders. Emma Knights, their CEO, has written about this here. There has been some debate around this with some feeling that performing the three core functions well entails being accountable to stakeholders. Others feel that ensuring decisions taken by the board take into account the views of stakeholders (parents, pupils, staff, and community) should be explicit and that can be done by making it the fourth core function. This is an important discussion and one we must have.

Norman also emphasised the need for everyone to understand that there is a fine line between scrutiny and management and Sarah touched upon the operational and strategic roles. This is something that we, as school governors absolutely must understand. This is one of the reasons training/CPD, especially for those new to school governance, is so important. Sarah also talked about how if the CEO brings too much detail to the board the difference between the strategic and operational may get blurred. She also mentioned that trustees sometimes can focus too much attention on things they do in their day jobs. She has noticed this especially from trustees who come from finance or HR background. This can lead to discussion becoming more operational. Too much time spent discussion things which you do in your day job also means that the rest of the items on the agenda don’t get the time they deserve.

Ian talked about the absolute importance of having clarity around roles. He touched upon the roles of the chair of the board and the CEO, more on that later on.

Transparency:

Norman talked about the importance of having a “culture of candour”. Everyone in the boardroom should be prepared to challenge and be challenged. Problems should be tackled immediately but trustees need to be able to spot these. If there is an occasion where a question from a trustee is brushed aside then Norman says that should raise a red flag. This is something which the Chair may need to explore, perhaps outside of the meeting. Norman also said that trustees should have open access to the organisation.

Ian agreed that transparency is hugely important. He made the point that there should be no nasty surprises for trustees. The executive needs to be open and upfront with the board so problems can be looked at in a timely manner and solutions found.

This is something which we as governors and school leaders need to understand too. As governors, think about what happens when you ask for information. Are you getting so much information that you can’t see the wood for the trees and is that because something is being hidden from you in open sight? Or are you not getting enough information and is that perhaps because things are not going as well as they should? Transparency isn’t only for the boardroom. One of the Nolan Principles is Openness (Holders of public office should act and take decisions in an open and transparent manner. Information should not be withheld from the public unless there are clear and lawful reasons for so doing.) Are your minutes easily accessible? Do you publish your minutes on your school website? Do you take care in deciding which part of the discussion should be declared confidential? As far as open access is concerned, yes, governors need to be able to come into school to carry out their monitoring role but they should remember that the organisation is a after all a school and our monitoring should not disrupt education. Transparency also means that we should inform the head that we are coming in and why. Transparency from all sides fosters trust and is essential for good relationships.

Chair and CEO relationship:

A good Chair/CEO relationship is a feature of an effective board. Norman said there needs to high challenge as well as high support. Relationships need time and effort put into them. Norman suggested that it’s a good idea for the Chair and CEO to spend time together, both formally and informally.

Ian agreed that this is an important relationship. He said it’s essential that both the Chair and the CEO understand their respective roles. The role of the Chair is to lead the board and the job of the CEO is to run the charity and deliver its objectives. The Chair and CEO relationship needs to be based on mutual respect. The Chair should be a professional of equal standing which promotes respect for each other.

As in any other form of governance, the relationship between the Chair and the head of school/trust is a very important one. Chairs and heads should make time to meet each other regularly. The head should also know that he/she can contact the chair at any time should they need to. Being the head of a school can be a lonely job and the head should know they can rely on their chair for support. It’s also important to remember that this relationship needs to be professional at all times. If there is a perception that the relationship between the head and chair is cosy that can lead to problems. NGA has published numerous guides which are useful for chairs of governing bodies. Professor Chris James, Bath University, has conducted research into various aspects of school governance. Here he talks about his study to examine the workings of private sector boards to see if there are any lessons or messages for school governing bodies as far as the head/chair relationship is concerned. If you are a chair and need some help/support/advice then National Leaders of Governance (NLGs) will be able to provide you with that.

All about beneficiaries:

Everyone who spoke at the event was clear that the charity, the board and the executive should be clear that everything they do has to be for the benefit of their beneficiaries. Norman talked about the importance of the board and the executive having a shared idea of the purpose of the organisation. Obviously, for schools the purpose is to provide a good education to children and this is something the board and the executive will agree on and share. What does need to be agreed and shared is the vision and ethos of the school which will drive how education is delivered to the children.

Ian was very clear about the need for both the board and executive to be clear that they are thee for the benefit of the beneficiaries of the charity.

Sarah talked about this too. She thought it was important that the trustees knew the issues faced by the beneficiaries so that they could tailor the work of the board accordingly.

Board composition:

Sarah made a point during her presentation that the board discussion can sometimes suffer if the trustees have the same or similar skills. For example, she has noticed that in boards where most of the members have a financial or HR background, then most of the discussion tends to focus around these areas and very little time is given to discussing things outside of their comfort zone. This is why boards need a wide variety of skills.

In response to a question from the floor about diversity, Ian said that diversity is important. What is also important is to think very carefully about this. A BAME, with a PhD from Oxford who listens to Radio 4 may not be bringing the diversity which you are looking for. I made the point that this must be more than a token gesture and that people still need to feel valued and not feel they are there to tick boxes.

Ian said that people should not join boards because it looks good on their CV but at the same time we should be encouraging more people to join by emphasising the skills they will pick up by being on a board. Another member of the audience said that his board has started appointing what they term “apprentice trustees” who participate fully in board discussions. It is hoped that this way they can see how the board works and perhaps then join as trustees.

The problem of finding people willing to serve as governors is one which may school governing bodies face too. Those schools which would benefit from strong governing bodies are the ones who find it harder to recruit people.

During the panel session, I asked if it’s appropriate for the CEO to choose trustees. The panel members and audience thought that the CEO should not appoint trustees and although it’s a good idea for a prospective trustee to meet with the CEO, this must be for the benefit of the trustee and not the CEO.

Meetings, planning, appraisal:

Sarah talked about the importance of well planned meetings. Good preparation for a meeting involves thinking carefully about the agenda and making sure what goes into the papers is well thought about. This is essential for school governors too. The Chair, head and the clerk should work closely on this. They should ensure that the papers go out at least seven days before the meeting with the expectation that everyone would have read them before the meeting.

Discussions during the meeting should be sharp and focused. Sarah asked trustees to think about the impact their discussions would have on the beneficiaries. If you can’t identify an impact then ask yourself why you are meeting. Again, this is something we as governors need to ask ourselves; will tonight’s meeting have an effect on the education of our children. It is important here to say something about the headteacher’s report too. Make sure your head knows what information you need and in which format. The head’s report is the vehicle by which the head can give governors the information they need. The content of the report should be driven by what the governors need.

The matter of away days came under discussion too. It was suggested that these days are a good way to discuss matters, re-visit and understand the purpose of the organisation and build relationships. There should be days when the executive and the board can meet away from the boardroom. There should also be opportunities for the board members to meet each other away from the boardroom. I know may governing bodies do do this and I think it is an effective way for discussion issues outside of meetings. These away days should still be focused so as to make best use of everyone’s time.

Sarah touched upon appraisal during her presentation. She said it would be a good idea for trustees to have a one to one conversation with the chair/CEO so that they can understand why the trustee joined the board. Sarah also thought that a light touch appraisal of trustees by the chair with input from the CEO was also a good idea.

Qualities of a good trustee:

Norman ended the event by asking Ian and Sarah what they thought were good qualities to have in a trustee. Sarah’s top five were

  • Willingness to listen
  • Willingness to be open
  • Willingness to push executive
  • Being very clear what the link is to the beneficiaries
  • Willingness to get involved

Ian added three more

  • Laser like focus on beneficiaries
  • Common sense
  • Being able to ask questions

All in all this was a really enjoyable event for me and I am sure for everyone else who attended. I found it very useful to listen and interact with people involved with governance who work in sectors other than schools.

Teacher workload matters; what does the Report say about the role of governors

The Report of the Teacher Workload Advisory Group, chaired by Professor Becky Allen has been published recently. This is a hugely important piece of work. Below, I have extracted those parts of the report which apply to governors. I would encourage you to read the whole report too.

Overarching recommendations (Page 6)

  • School and trust leaders and governors should review their data processes according to these principles. (Page 6)

Reporting on different groups of pupils and spending

Supporting disadvantaged pupils to succeed at school is quite rightly a focus, and schools should be expected to make good use of public money – governing boards have a role in agreeing this spending and monitoring its impact. However, the current DfE requirements to report on the effectiveness of pupil premium spend to Ofsted at the point of inspection, and via reports on the school website, can create unnecessary burdens for teachers, school and trust leaders and governors. There is insufficient evidence to show that the current approach to reporting has a positive impact that justifies the burden. (Page 16)

Reporting to governing boards (Page 19)

Governing boards are responsible for setting strategic direction for their schools, holding senior leaders to account for performance and overseeing financial performance. They need access to high quality data in order to carry out these functions effectively. However, they need to be clear that theirs is a strategic oversight role rather than an operational management role, and the data they need should be commensurate with this role.

Governors should normally be prepared to receive information in whatever form it is currently being used in the school. They should agree with school and trust leaders what high-quality data they need, and when, in order to fulfil their role effectively and to avoid making unreasonable, ad hoc data requests during the course of the school year. This includes consideration of any in-year data they receive, how meaningful this is and whether this can be reduced.

Governors should also consider whether data is proportionate, how school and trust leaders are collecting it, and the frequency and time costs of data collection. For example, they should not routinely see data on individual pupils, ‘flight paths’ or other teacher judgement tracking data. They should understand the limitations of attainment, progress and target setting data, and be able to access training on the effective use of data on pupil performance.

Recommendations

  • The DfE should revise the governance handbook, competency framework and other guidance to reflect the principles of this report, and speak to governors to test what guidance and training they need.
  • The DfE should incorporate myth busting for governors into the teacher workload toolkit or other guidance, to address misconceptions of what is required by the DfE or Ofsted and where policy has changed.
  • The DfE should also continue to improve the content and usability of Analyse School Performance based on feedback from schools and governors, and place emphasis on supporting governor needs. The DfE should ensure schools are able to access comparative performance information as soon as possible.

ANNEX A: Summary of recommendations

Recommendations to the Department for Education:

 Revise the governance handbook, competency framework and other guidance to reflect the principles of this report, and speak to governors to test what guidance and training they need.

  • Incorporate myth busting for governors into the workload reduction toolkit or other guidance, to address misconceptions of what is required by the DfE or Ofsted and where policy has changed.
  • Continue to improve the content and usability of Analyse School Performance based on feedback from schools and governors, and place emphasis on supporting governor needs. The DfE should ensure schools are able to access comparative performance information as soon as possible. (Page 23)

Recommendations to Ofsted and other organisations:

  • School and trust leaders, and governors should review their data processes according to these principles.
  • Local authorities and multi-academy trusts should not request data on targets and predictions to hold schools to account. Where this is required to enable, for example, providing additional support to schools, this should not be in a different format to the format the school uses, and should not add to the number of data collections. (Page 24)

ANNEX B: Summary of advice to schools

 Governors should:

  •  normally be prepared to receive information in whatever form it is currently being used in the school. They should agree with school and trust leaders what data they need and when. This includes consideration of any in-year data they receive, how meaningful this is and whether this can be reduced. (Page 25)

Further reading:

Government Response

Important points of the report: Twitter thread by David Weston 

Some important quotes from the report: Twitter thread by Benjamin D White