Tag Archives: Chair of Governors

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.

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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.

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.

Supporting your governing body’s clerk matters

A good clerk is pivotal in ensuring that the governing body is as effective as it can be. It is true that good schools will have good governing bodies. It is, I think, equally true that good governing bodies have good clerks. For the purpose of this blog, I will assume that your governing body has an independent and professional clerk. What follows are some ideas on how you can support your clerk in order to help the clerk support you.

  • Write a good job description so that everyone is clear about the roles and responsibilities of your clerk. A clear job description also supports the clerk’s effectiveness.
  • Your clerk will be responsible for writing the agendas (in consultation with he Chair and Head) and circulating the agenda and papers. The Chair should make sure they make time to discuss the agenda with the clerk well before the meeting.
  • If you are responsible for a preparing a paper for the next meeting, do send it to the clerk in time for the clerk to include it in the meeting pack.
  • If you had some actions from the last meeting let the clerk know where you are with them. It will make the clerk’s job less stressful if they don’t have to chase you for papers or updates on actions.
  • As the Chair do ensure that when the clerk sends you the draft minutes you turn them around as quickly as possible. Consider using track changes which will help your clerk.
  • Support your clerk by ensuring they have access to good CPD.
  • Chairs should do a low stakes annual appraisal of clerks. This should be an opportunity for both to discuss how they think the governors and clerk worked together, what went well and what could be improved and how.
  • Ensure that your clerk feels like a valued member of the team. Ask for and listen to their advice when you are unsure.
  • Being introduced to and meeting the clerk should be part of your induction process for new governors.
  • There should also be an induction for a new clerk. They should be shown around the school, especially the room where you normally meet, introduced to the Head/SLT and any other member of the school staff they may need to contact and introduced to all the governors.
  • It may be helpful to agree a routine for regular communication between the Chair and the clerk which may contribute to effective use of both the chair’s and the clerk’s time.
  • It may be helpful to have a school email address for your clerk. This can be communicated to everyone via your website. This has various advantages
    • It will help parents and others know how to get in touch
    • It’s preferable than having the clerk’s personal email address in the public domain
    • If your clerk works for other governing bodies then this will help them in organising paperwork for the different governing bodies
  • Can your school provide a pigeon hole for your clerk? There may be instances where people will write to the clerk/GB/Chair. This correspondence should go to a dedicated pigeonhole which the clerk can access easily.
  • Encourage your clerk to keep up with the latest legislation/developments. If your governing body is a member of NGA (and I highly recommend that they are) then see that your clerk knows this and has signed up for the weekly newsletter.
  • Any governor can ask for an item to be put on the agenda. It would be helpful if the Chair would remind governors how to do this and how much notice is required. Clerks shouldn’t have to deal with last minute requests. (If there is a really urgent matter that can be dealt with under AOB and the governors should have an agreed process for this).
  • Make sure the clerk’s pay reflects what they do.
  • Lastly, and very importantly, in all your dealings with your clerk do consider their life/work balance. The chair should not hesitate to intercede if they feel that unfair demands are being made of the clerk.

Is there anything you would add to the above list?

Competency Framework matters; knowledge and skills needed by chairs

The Competency Framework was published last week alongside the revised Governance handbook.  DfE have identified six features of effective governance in the handbook. The framework lists 16 competencies for these six features. It has tried to “define more clearly the knowledge, skills and behaviours needed for governance to play its full part in this [enough good school places for every child] vision.” The framework has been organised so that it first details the knowledge and skills needed by everyone and then explains what’s needed by chairs and finally the skills and knowledge which at least someone on the board must have. The framework lists some of the ways boards can make use of it (how to carry out a skills audit (NGA are revising their skills audit in light of this framework), define training needs, self evaluation etc). Sir David Carter pointed out on Twitter that the framework should not be used a checklist but as a tool. Also remember that, depending upon your context, parts of this may not apply to you.

There have been some comments that the framework is over burdensome. I had a read and decided to split it into three sections; applicable to all, applicable to chairs and finally competencies which at least someone should have. When you split it this way and then read it, I don’t think anyone can argue that this is what we should be aiming for. In fact I would argue that all “good” boards are already doing this and it would help others on their  journey to becoming the type of board each and every school deserves. Again, this is not a checklist. Use it to inform your training needs, for example, or to drive your recruitment.

This blog lists the knowledge and skills which chairs should have or develop with training. The previous  blog dealt with knowledge and skills needed by everyone  and the third will deal with skills and knowledge needed by at least one  person on the board.

1 STRATEGIC LEADERSHIP

  • Setting the direction
    • Knows about national and regional educational priorities and the implications of these for the board and the organisation
    • Knows about leadership and management processes and tools that support organisational change
    • Thinks strategically
    • Leads the board and executive leaders in ensuring operational decisions contribute to strategic priorities
    • Adopts and strategically leads a systematic approach to change management
    • Provides effective leadership of organisational change even when this is difficult
  • Culture, values and ethos
    • Is able to recognise when the board or an individual member is not behaving as expected and take appropriate action to address this
    • Leads board meetings in a way which embodies the culture, values and ethos of the organisation
  • Decision-making
    • Ensures the board understands the scope of issues in question and is clear about decisions they need to make
    • Summarises the position in order to support the board to reach consensus where there are diverging views
    • Ensures that different perspectives, viewpoints and dissenting voices are properly taken into account and recorded
    • Facilitates decision-making even if difficult and manages the expectations of executive leaders when doing so
    • Recognises the limits of any discretionary chair’s powers and uses them under due guidance and consideration and with a view to limiting such use
    • Ensures the board seeks guidance from executive leaders or others in the senior leadership team and from the clerk/governance professional  before the board  commits to significant or controversial courses of action
  • Collaborative working with stakeholders and partners
    • Knows about the links that the organisation needs to make with the wider community
    • Knows about the impact and influence that a leader in the community has particularly on educational issues
    • Communicates clearly with colleagues, parents and carers, partners and other agencies and checks that their message has been heard and understood
    • Consider how to tailor their communications style in order to build rapport and confidence with stakeholders
    • Is proactive in seeking and maximising opportunities for partnership working where these are conducive to achieving the agreed strategic goals
    • Is proactive in sharing good practice and lessons learned where these can benefit others and the organisation
    • Demonstrates how stakeholder concerns and questions have shaped board discussions if not necessarily the final decision
    • When appropriate, seeks external professional advice, knowing where this advice is available from and how to go about requesting it
  • Risk management
    • Leads the board and challenges leaders appropriately in setting risk appetite and tolerance
    • Ensures that the board has sight of, and understands, organisational risks and undertakes scrutiny of risk management plans
    • Leads by example to avoid, declare and manage conflicts of interes
    • Knows when the board needs external expert advice on risk management

2. Accountability for educational standards and financial performance

  • Educational improvement
    • Works with the clerk, to ensure the right data is provided by executive leaders, which is accessible to board and open to scrutiny
    • Promotes the importance of data interrogation to hold executive leaders to account
  • Financial frameworks and accountability
    • Ensures the board holds executive leaders to account for financial and business management, as much as educational outcomes
    • Leads the board to identify when specialist skills and experience in audit, fraud or human resources is required either to undertake a specific task or more regularly to lead committees of the board
  • Financial management and monitoring
    • Knows about the process and documentation needed to make decisions related to leadership appraisal
    • Is confident and prepared in undertaking leadership appraisal
    • Is able to explain to the board their proposals on leadership pay awards for approval
  • External accountability
    • Is confident in providing strategic leadership to the board during periods of scrutiny
    • Ensures the board is aware of, and prepared for, formal external scrutiny

3. People

  • Building an effective team
    • Knows about the importance of succession planning to the ongoing effectiveness of both the board and the organisation
    • Ensure that everyone understands why they have been recruited and what role they play in the governance structure
    • Ensures new people are helped to understand their non-executive leadership role, the role of the board and the vision and strategy of the organisation enabling them to make a full contribution
    • Sets high expectations for conduct and behaviour for all those in governance and is an exemplary role model in demonstrating these
    • Creates an atmosphere of open, honest discussion where it is safe to challenge conventional wisdom
    • Creates a sense of inclusiveness where each member understands their individual contribution to the collective work of the board
    • Promotes and fosters a supportive working relationship between the: board, clerk/governance professional, executive leaders, staff of the organisation and external stakeholders
    • Identifies and cultivates leadership within the board
    • Recognises individual and group achievements, not just in relation to the board but in the wider organisation
    • Takes a strategic view of the skills that the board needs, identifies gaps and takes action to ensure these are filled
    • Develops the competence of the vice-chair to act as chair should the need arise.
    • Builds a close, open and supportive working relationship with the vice-chair which respects the differences in their roles
    • Values the importance of the clerk/governance professional and their assistance in the coordination of leadership and governance requirements of the organisation
    • Listens to the clerk/governance professional and takes direction from them on issues of compliance and other matters

4. Structures

  • Roles and responsibilities
    • Knows about the importance of their non-executive leadership role, not just in their current position but in terms of their contribution to local and, where appropriate, national educational improvement priorities
    • Leads discussions and decisions about what functions to delegate

5. Compliance

  • Statutory and contractual requirements
    • Sets sufficiently high expectations of the clerk governance professional, as applicable, ensuring the board is compliant with the regulatory framework for governance and, where appropriate, Charity and Company La
    • Ensures the board receives appropriate training or development where required on issues of compliance

6. Evaluation

  • Managing self-review and development
    • Actively invites feedback on their own performance as chair
    • Puts the needs of the board and organisation ahead of their own personal ambition and is willing to step down or move on at the appropriate time
  • Managing and developing the board’s effectiveness
    • Different leadership styles and applies these appropriately to enhance their personal effectiveness
    • Sets challenging development goals and works effectively with the board to meet them
    • Leads performance review of the board and its committees
    • Undertakes open and honest conversations with board members about their performance and development needs, and if appropriate, commitment or tenure
    • Recognises and develops talent in board members and ensures they are provided with opportunities to realise their potential
    • Creates a culture in which board members are encouraged to take ownership of their own development
    • Promotes and facilitates coaching, development, mentoring and support for all members of the board
    • Is open to providing peer support to other chairs and takes opportunities to share good practice and learning

Schools White Paper 2016; governance matters

Schools White Paper 2016 (Educational Excellence Everywhere) was published on 17th March 2016. The governance related parts (Chapter 3) are as below. (text in bold is my emphasis).

Strategic leadership and oversight by skilled governing boards

3.27. As we move to a more autonomous school-led system, it is increasingly vital that schools operate under effective governing boards. As the key decision maker and accountable body for their school(s), governing boards have a vital strategic role, which they should deliver in a dynamic and professional manner: focusing strongly on their core functions of setting the vision and ethos for their school(s), holding school leaders to account and making sure money is well spent.

3.28. The growth of MATs will improve the quality of governance – meaning that the best governing boards will take responsibility for more schools. As fewer, more highly skilled boards take more strategic oversight of the trust’s schools, MAT boards will increasingly use professionals to hold individual school-level heads to account for educational standards and the professional management of the school, allowing school-level governing boards to focus on understanding and championing the needs of pupils, parents and the wider local community. This does not mean less accountability – MATs must publish a clear scheme of delegation to set out how their governance is organised, including any functions they choose to delegate to regional or school level.

3.29. In recent years we have given governing boards more freedom to appoint the best possible people with the skills the board needs to be effective.

3.30. We will expect all governing boards to focus on seeking people with the right skills for governance, and so we will no longer require academy trusts to reserve places for elected parents on governing boards. We will offer this freedom to all open and new academies, and as we move towards a system where every school is an academy, fully skills-based governance will become the norm across the education system.

3.31. Parents often have these skills and many parents already play a valuable role in governance – and will always be encouraged to serve on governing boards. We will also expect every academy to put in place arrangements for meaningful engagement with all parents, to listen to their views and feedback.

3.32. To encourage everyone involved in governance to develop their skills, we will work with schools and MATs to develop a competency framework defining the core skills and knowledge needed for governance in different contexts. We will also set a new, stronger requirement on all governing boards to ensure that individuals are properly inducted, and receive the training or development they need to develop the skills set out in the competency framework. We have extended licensed delivery of NCTL training programmes for chairs and clerks until September 2017, and will review our approach to governance training programmes in light of the new competency framework.

3.33. Clear, high quality information about performance is essential for good governance, and so we will make it easier for members of governing boards to access high quality, objective data about their school’s educational and financial performance.

3.34. In March 2016 we launched a new, clearer website displaying school performance tables, making it easier for governing boards, parents and others to find key information and compare the results of schools (see more in chapter 7). We will continue to develop this in response to feedback to make it easier than ever to understand a school’s performance. Where data suggests that there may be an issue within a school or MAT, we will pilot a proactive approach to alert governing boards so that they can investigate and, if necessary, take action.

3.35. We have a long and rich tradition of voluntary trusteeship and we expect the vast majority of those involved in governance will continue to be unpaid, volunteering to serve their community and give their school(s) the benefit of their expertise and commitment. As the scale of the challenge in governing large and growing MATs increases, we may see more of them seeking Charity Commission authorisation to offer payment to attract the very best people into key positions such as the chair of the board.

We will establish a database of everyone involved in governance. We intend to legislate so we can bar unsuitable individuals from being governors of maintained schools (as we can already in academies and independent schools).

The crucial role of governance makes it more important than ever to ensure that only the right individuals are involved. So we will extend Edubase to establish a database of everyone involved in governance, requiring schools and MATs to start providing information from September 2016, and we intend to legislate so that we have the power to bar unsuitable individuals from being governors of maintained schools, to mirror the existing barring power for academies and independent schools.