Tag Archives: Conference

Governance matters at Festival of Education Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will: Agree with Jo.

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

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

Questions from the floor:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Governance matters at Festival of Education Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Governance matters at #BrewEDLeicester Part 1 My Slides

On 14th April 2018, I attended and presented at #BrewEdLeicester. My slides and brief explanatory notes of the slides are as below.

Slide 2:

I started my governance life as a parent governor in a secondary school. The school then converted to become an academy and I became a trustee and director in the SAT. The school then joined a MAT so that meant that I became a member of the Local Governing Body. I am also a trustee in a MAT of primary schools. I am a blogger and blog on governance and other stuff. I tweet, a lot!  I’m the co-founder (along with @JaPenn56) of @UKGovChat which some of you know is a twitter forum for governors. Since my link to education now is through governance that is what I will be talking about today.

Slide 3:

So, first, let me tell you a bit about the people who govern our schools. Governors are the largest volunteer force in England. There are about 250-300, 000 governors in England.

Slide 4:

According to the 2017 NGA and TES survey 53% of respondents were 40-59 years old. We obviously need more young people to join governing bodies.

Slide 5:

The same survey also looked at the ethnicity of governors.  A greater proportion of older governors are white. If we look at the younger governors then we see more people from different ethnic backgrounds joining governing bodies which is a good thing but more needs to be done to increase diversity of governing bodies.

Slide 6:

As far as gender is concerned then the survey showed that there are more female governors than male ones in primary, secondary and special schools.

Slide 7:

So, what do these 250,000 people actually do (besides sit on the stage at school events)? 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 who will determine the vision, culture and the ethos of the school.

Slide 8:

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

Slide 9:

It’s our job to hold the school leaders to account for the performance of the pupils and the school and the performance management of staff. We ask questions, do monitoring visits and triangulate data to get a true picture of how the pupils and school is doing.

Slide 10:

We are custodians of public money so another of our core functions is to look after the financial performance of the school and ensure that money is well spent.

Slide 11:

Talking about what governors do leads very nicely to a very important point; the difference between operational and strategic. Imagine that your neighbour placed these colourful eggs by the fence and it wasn’t Easter. You can chat to them over the fence and ask them why they’ve got eggs by the fence but you wouldn’t jump over the fence and rearrange or remove the eggs, put them in a basket and store them in the shed. In the same way, as governors we ask the school leaders to explain to us what they’ve done and why but we don’t try and do it for them. We need to remain strategic and leave the operational day to day running of the school to them.

Slide 12:

Now that we know what role governors play in schools let’s talk about why people should join a governing body.

Slide 13:

There are various reasons why people join governing bodies.

  • Schools are an important part of the community and governance allows you to give something back to your community
  • You get to learn to work strategically and do long term planning
  • You learn about financial planning and management of organisations
  • If you are an academy governor you learn about charity and company law
  • You get to meet governors from other fields such as business, law etc and this helps you look at things from different perspectives.

Slide 14:

When governors were asked about what motivated them to become governors then these were the reasons given by them. As you can see improve/support school is right at the top.

Slide 15:

You may be asking yourself why am I talking to you about becoming a governor. You may be thinking that you work in a school and volunteering as a governor of a school is a bit like a busman’s holiday! Trust me! There’s a lot to be gained by you and by others.

Slide 16:

A big advantage of volunteering as a governor is that it’s very useful, free CPD.

Slide 17:

  • You get to work at a strategic level.
  • You get an opportunity to shape the strategic direction of the school.
  • You learn to see things from a different perspective.
  • You can even get some leadership experience by chairing a committee or a working party.
  • You learn about governance which for many is something of a mystery!
  • You see firsthand how heads and governors work together which is good training for you if you decide to go for headship one day.

Slide 18:

But there are challenges too if you decide to become a staff governor in your school.

Slide 19:

  • You are a representative staff member
  • You are not a staff representative, not a union rep. There a difference between being a representative staff member and a being staff representative which you and others will need to understand.
  • There may be an expectation from staff to report back after GB meetings. That’s not your job, unless specifically asked to do so by the GB.
  • Governance is about asking questions and this may mean you have to challenge your boss.
  • Conflicts of interest have to be managed. There will be times you can’t participate in governing body business, for example pay committee.

But despite these challenges, the rewards are great!

Slide 20:

As Mel, a teacher, says, it’s a very good way of finding out how the governing body works

Slide 21:

And as Philip, a trainee teacher,  says it’s a very good way of finding out how schools work, especially the behind the scenes work that goes on.

Slide 22:

One thing which I haven’t mentioned is that we don’t get paid; in fact many times we spend our own money on governance. We are volunteers working to make schools better and trying to ensure that all our children receive the best possible education. So love’s got everything to do with governance! All we ask for in return is some appreciation of what we do and an occasional slice of cake!

Slide 23 and 24:

Some examples to show the difference between strategic and operational.

Governance matters at #EducationFest 


Next week for two days (23rd, 24th) I’ll be at Wellington College attending the Telegraph Festival of Edcation. Not only will I have the chance to hear (and hopefully meet) educators who I admire greatly, I’m also lucky enough to be taking part in two panel discussions on governance.

The organisers need to be thanked for including a governance strand. If governance is your “thing” then these sessions will be of interest to you.

Thursday:

1. School Governors: Rising to The Challenge Jo Penn, Naureen Khalid, Clare Collins (11:50-12:40; MFL 2)

2.Building an education system on lasting collaboration, leadership and great governance Sir David Carter (13:30-14:20; Waterloo Hall)

3. The Everchanging Governance Landscape Naureen Khalid, Katie Paxton-Dogget, Jo Penn, Prof Chris James (14:30-15:20; MFL 2)

4. Education Education Renumeration: should governors be paid? Gerard Kelly and Emma Knights  (14:30-15:20; Concert Room)

Friday

5. Amo, Amas, A MAT; achieving a successful love match Donna Munday, Kien Lac (13:30-14:20; MFL 4)

6. Leadership makes the biggest difference Prof Toby Salt, Nicole McCartney (14:30-15:20; MFL 7)

7. Effective governance in multi academy trusts Andy Guest, Chris Tweedale (16:00-16:50; MFL 9)

The complete programme can be downloaded using this link