Tag Archives: CPD

Governors and #rEDRugby matters

On 15th June 2019 I made my way to Rugby to for researched Rugby organized by Jude Hunton. It was an amazing day and I heard from some fabulous speakers. Here I am going to write about the day from a governor’s perspective.

The first session I attended was by Ben Newmark. Ben is a Vice Principal, teacher and blogger. Ben’s talk looked to answer the question, “why teach?” Ben answered this by posing some more questions.

  • Do teachers make society more equal?
  • Do teachers make society happier?
  • Do teachers make society better?
  • Do teachers make society more productive?

Ben went through these questions and concluded that it was none of the above. Teachers teach because all children are entitled to be taught the best that has been thought and said in the world (Ben would add danced and drew and cooked).

It is a good idea to ask ourselves why we volunteer as governors (and be truthful in our answers). Is it because we want every child who walks through our doors to leave having been taught all that they are entitled to know? Are we able to serve in the best interests of all children and not only our own child or only children of our own school? Do we collaborate with other schools/trusts so that the interests of all the children are served? Ben said to the audience that if they ever feel disheartened they should go outside and look at children walking to school. Think how much more they know now than they did before and how much more they will know by the time they leave school and know that this increase in knowledge is why teachers teach. I think this is a very good exercise for governors to do as well. Look at children walking to and from school and know that your effective governance has had a hand in making sure they leave school knowing much more than they did when they joined.

The next presentation I attended was by Sam Strickland who is a Principal in Northampton. Sam talked about school improvement. For him school improvement has two strands; curriculum and behaviour. Get these two right and you will start to see improvement. Sam went through some of the non-negotiables which he believes makes his school a safe place for everyone. Sam is a great believer in “You permit what you promote; you promote what you permit”. As a governor my take-away message from Sam’s presentation was the importance of consistency and clear messages. As a governor, I am not going to tell you what your behaviour policy should be like. What I will say is that you should make sure that the policy is not at odds with the ethos and culture you want to promote in your school, that the policy is consistently applied so pupils, staff and parents all know where the red lines are, that it leads to a supportive environment where everyone is respected.

Sam also talked about curriculum. I loved the fact that hyperlinks to knowledge organisers are sent to parents so they know what their children are expected to know. As governors, we should ask our leaders how they communicate with parents about curriculum. Sam’s school places huge emphasis on CPD for teachers. This is another thing governors should ask the head about.

Besides the presentations, there were also two debates held on the day. On the panel for the first one were Kat Howard, Tom Rogers, Andrew Old and Karen Wespieser. Topics under discussion were teacher voice, Ofsted, parental and teacher responsibility and work load and teacher well-being. The second debate had Sam Strickland, Katie Lockett and Joe Nutt discussing social mobility. As I was chairing these debates, I didn’t take make any notes. Relying on my memory may not be the best way to write about what people had to say in these debates as it may not be accurate. What I will do instead is write the questions I put to each panel and one or two contributions which I did manage to jot down.

  • Do we get to hear the classroom teacher voice in discussions on exclusions etc?
  • Where does the teacher’s job end and the parent’s job begin?
  • Would you agree that workload and well-being is a teacher’s responsibility?
  • If you were to start designing school accountability from scratch, what would you keep and what would you get rid of as far as Ofsted were concerned?
  • Where do you see governors adding the most value in our schools?
  • Thinking about social mobility: Is social mobility desirable and is social immobility a more accurate term?
  • Is the purpose of school to make kids cleverer or is it to bring about social mobility?
  • Social mobility or social justice, which one would you go for?
  • Does didactic teaching, extra-curricular activities have an effect on social mobility?
  • How can governors support you in helping kids achieve?

Karen suggested that training on exclusions should be mandatory for governors. Katie made the case for diverse boards. Joe encouraged teachers to join governing bodies. The debate got heated when Ofsted came up! Joe made the point that Ofsted is well respected internationally.

All in all, it was a fabulous day. I really enjoyed the various presentations and the chance to network. I must thank Jude for inviting me to be part of the day. If you were to ask me if governors should attend researched, my answer would be a definite yes! If you are interested in reading more about the day, then have a read of the following.

#rEDRugby debates

My day at #rEDRugby

#rEDRugby blogs

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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.

Governors and curriculum matters

On 11th June 2019 governors (Jo Penn, Jane Owens,  Fee Stagg and I) attended “Curriculum Thinking: Three Masterclasses which had presentations from Mary Myatt, Tom Sherrington and John Tomsett. I would like to thank Mary, Tom and John for inviting us. As we self-fund most of our CPD, this generous invitation was greatly appreciated. I am going to write about those parts of the day which I think will be of interest to governors.

The first presentation was by the wonderful Mary. She started by saying that wrong priorities and focusing on SATs had resulted in a narrow curriculum. I would urge governors to ask questions around the curriculum offer. Are you sure your school is offering broad and balanced curriculum? All children deserve to be taught a rich, broad and balanced curriculum and governors can ensure this by asking questions of our school leaders. As governors are you certain that the school has high expectations for all the students? How do you know this?

Mary went on to talk about high challenge and low threat. She said that we don’t mind being challenged or put under pressure as long as there are no threats and we aren’t made to look stupid. We are a challenge seeking species. She also stressed the need to separate the person from their work and making a judgement on the work and not on the person. This was in relation to students and their teachers but I think this relates to our work too. Our role as governors is to hold the school leaders to account. Do ask challenging questions but frame them in such a way that the senior leaders don’t feel threatened. If they do feel threatened then the chances are you may not get the information you want and need as they may be scared to give it to you. Don’t forget that we are supposed to challenge and support and act as critical friends where being a friend is very important too. Mary also talked about data collection and the uselessness of populating endless spreadsheets. As governors, we need to be very aware of this too. Are we asking for too much data and hence adding to teacher workload? Is the data we’ve asked for/are getting actually useful?

Mary was followed by Tom Sherrington. He started by saying that the curriculum defines your school. This is very important from governance point of view. Our first core function is to ensure clarity of vision and ethos. Do we know if our curriculum matches the vision we have of our school? Does our curriculum ties in with the ethos of our school? Some of the other questions Tom wants school leaders to ask while looking at the curriculum are the questions we should be asking in our governing body meetings too. Questions such as:

  • Do we understand the context of our school?
  • Is the curriculum a good fit for our context? Tom gave examples of teaching about Islam in Spain, Benjamin Zephaniah which would show that thought has been put into what to teach and why
  • What do we want our school to do that we can be proud of?
  • This is especially for primary school governors. How do our school leaders/we support our teachers who may not be subject specialists to get the support they need to design and develop the curriculum?
  • Does the curriculum allow excellence to develop?
  • What does a broad and balanced curriculum mean in practice?
  • Do you as governors understand why the number of options a student is allowed take is what it is? (More options mean there is greater breadth, fewer means there is greater depth)
  • Are the Ebaac and Progress 8 choices for the benefit of the school or the student?

The last speaker of the day was John Tomsett. He too made the point that our core purpose, our vision and our values should shape our curriculum. John quoted Christine Counsell.

As governors are we sure our curriculum helps our disadvantaged pupils to “gain the powers of the powerful”? Some more questions posed by John which governors can adapt.

John then showed us an extract from his school’s Ofsted report.

The curriculum reflects leaders’ integrity, because it is designed to match pupils’ needs and aspirations regardless of performance table measures

Do we as governors, have the confidence that this is true of our school also? This links back to what Tom had said about asking ourselves if the Ebaac/Progress 8 choices for the school or the pupils.

The day ended with a panel session with Mary, Tom and John taking questions from the audience. Someone wanted to know how to manage the curriculum in a school where there is a high degree of pupil movement. Mary mentioned MOD schools and that it may be an idea to have links with them. This is a question governors (who should know if their school falls into this category) can ask of their leaders. Jo asked who owns the curriculum and what is the role of governors in this? Tom said that it should belong to the stakeholders. John talked about the importance of governors hearing directly from subject leads and being prepared to ask critical questions. Governors absolutely have a role to play here. This is why I am grateful to Mary, Tom and John for inviting us. It was a great opportunity to hear from three people who have done so much work on curriculum design and development and hopefully this blog would have given you a flavor of the day and given you some questions to ponder on and to ask of your school leaders.

Tweets from the day have been collated here.

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.

Governance matters at #rEDBrum

Regular readers of this blog and my twitter followers know that I am a bit of a conference junkie! One of the conferences I enjoy attending are researchED ones. I was really happy to have been asked by Claire Stoneman to do a session at the researchED Birmingham conference and to be part of a panel. We (Steve Penny and I; Steve had kindly offered to drive us to Birmingham) reached Erdington Academy at around 8.30am. After registering we made our way to the canteen for tea and a pastry and then to the hall for the start of the proceedings. Below is a short account of the sessions I attended and what I think their relevance to governance is.

Tom Bennett and the Claire Stoneman started us off, both explaining why researchED is so important. Tom talked about the importance of research informed practice if we were to progress as profession. He also appreciated the fact that people have given up their Saturday to be here and that the speakers are speaking for free. Claire said that organizing #rEDBrum was like throwing her ideal party. She told us about the context of her school and that she didn’t want her children’s future to be risked on a whim or fancy. We could not afford to waste time and children deserved the best education and teaching rooted in research. Not giving them this was akin to gambling with their future.

It was then time for the keynote address. This was given by Professor Daniel Mujis, Head of Research at Ofsted. My main takeaways from the keynote were

  • The importance of schools working as communities: A shared culture with a strong buy in from parents is important to improve behaviour and drawing on the culture of the community can help with this.
      • As governors, we need to ask ourselves if our school is actually a close knit community or not. Ask yourself if you know what the behaviour is like in your school.
  • Cultural capital isn’t equally shared and this is one reason for inequality. We should be teaching our kids a curriculum which adds to their knowledge and doesn’t replicate what they already know. Using pupil interest to drive the curriculum is a mistake.
      • When your head and senior leaders are discussing the curriculum with you, do you ask questions around cultural capital?
      • Do you know your students and their backgrounds well enough to know if they lack cultural capital which other children may have?
      • How does your curriculum help in reducing this gap as well as the inequality?
  • Healthy school environment where debate is encouraged is needed as democracy is built on it. For this to happen we need an environment where we different/opposing views can be aired and where we learn from each other.
      • Do governors know if this happens in their schools?
      • Do you have debate societies as well as an environment where people can learn from other cultures?
      • Is there an environment where different views are heard and understood?
  • Does your school have a broad curriculum for ALL students?
      • How do you ensure you are not giving them more of the same?
      • Do you expose your scientists to literature and arts and your humanists to science and maths?
      • Is there progression in what’s taught?

Prof Mujis ended his keynote by encouraging everyone to take part in the consultation into the new framework (consultation is open till 5th April).

The next session I attended was by Mark Lehain, provocatively titled, “Getting SLT to behave on behaviour”. He started off by asking the audience to think of an answer to the question, “Why educate?”. This is such a powerful question and the answer would determine why we do a lot of what we do. This might be a good exercise to do as a board. Mark went on to show us some stats. The number of teachers who told Teacher Tapp (a free app which asks three questions each day) that they dreaded going to work was a shock. A Delta poll found that 75% of the teachers polled thought that low level disruption occurs frequently or very frequently in their schools and 72% reported that a colleague had left the teaching profession due to bad behaviour. Mark asked the audience if the same was true of them and around half of the audience responded that they had left a school due to bad behaviour. As governors this should be of great concern to us for three reasons

  • Teachers leaving the profession due to bad behaviour in schools will fuel the retention problem
  • As governors we need to be mindful of the effect bad behaviour has on staff well being
  • As governors we also need to consider the effect bad behaviour has on the well being and education of other students

As governors

  • Are you aware what behaviour is like in your school?
  • Are you aware how bad behaviour is tackled in your school?
  • Do you conduct exit interviews?

Mark said that as a head his test was, “Is this good enough for Sophie (his daughter)?”. I think that is a good question for all of us to ask ourselves; is what we are doing good enough for our own children.

Session 1 was followed by a panel debate. On the panel were Stuart Lock, Heather Fern, Sonia Thompson and myself with Tom Bennett in the chair. Stuart, in reply to a question about culture, made a very important point. He said that we often talk about vision and culture rather than talking about things which actually affect what happens in schools. Stuart also made the case for prioritising professional learning and CPD for teachers. Heather posed some questions which I think are some governors could ask too. She asked us to consider

  • Which subject has the strongest curriculum?
  • How do you know?
  • What can other departments learn from this subject?

Sonia, speaking from a primary phase point of view, said that designing primary curriculum was scary. This needed greater subject specific knowledge and progression of cultural capital.

When asked about a governor’s role in curriculum designing I said this, again, is one area where we need to be mindful of not stepping into the operational. Instead, we should be asking questions such as

  • Do we have a broad and balanced curriculum?
  • What do we think a child leaving our school should know?
  • Does our curriculum follow a progression model?
  • Is our curriculum in line with our school values and how do we ensure that it is? This is important as what is taught becomes the public declaration of out ethos and values.
  • How do we ensure it is accessible to all?
  • What CPD is available for staff to help them develop their subject knowledge and help them in curriculum designing?

Stuart agreed that the role played by governors is an essential one. It was good to hear an executive principal say this about governors/trustees.

For Session 2 I decided to attend Andrew Percival’s session who talked about his school’s development of a knowledge rich curriculum. If you have a curriculum in which you can change the order of things you are teaching then that is not a progression model. The five principles which Andrew’s school used to develop their curriculum are

  • Acquisition of knowledge is at the heart
  • Knowledge is specified in meticulous detail
  • Knowledge is acquired in long term memory
  • Knowledge is carefully sequenced over time
  • Focus on subject disciplines

As governors, are you aware how your school is going about building its curriculum so it follows a progression model and builds up content in the long term memory? Andrew made another point which we as governors should be mindful of. He said building up a curriculum is a big and hard job. Heather, earlier in the day, had said that Ofsted is aware of this and realise and appreciate this. As governors we should be careful that we don’t expect to see a complete overhaul of our curriculum in a very short period of time. Ofsted don’t expect this and we certainly shouldn’t.

I next went to hear Summer Turner talk about subject communities. Summer said a subject community is not a place where someone tells others what to do; everyone be they a head or a trainee teacher is equally important. A subject community is where teachers, academics and other subject specialists can come together and exchange ideas. Summer thinks that perhaps these are more needed by primary schools. A subject community can facilitate subject specific CPD, evolve wider networks and help form a professional library which is subject linked. Summer thinks subject communities are vital for school improvement because they can

  • Help with recruitment and retention
  • Help with curriculum development
  • Help with teacher development

I found this talk fascinating. I wonder what, if anything, governors can do (should we do?) to encourage our staff to join such communities. We can of course ask our leadership team if our staff have thought of subject communities as way of getting subject specific CPD. Governors, too, I think should be part of governor communities. One very good way of doing this is to follow @UKGovChat on Twitter and join governor groups on Facebook (School Governors UK, Jane-School Governor’s Group, Governing Matters are three such groups).

I then made my way to Stuart Lock’s session. Stuart talked about behaviour in his school. He said that he won’t say behaviour is impeccable because nothing can be perfect. However, it is good because when it’s bad school leaders deal with it. Stuart made the point that “sweating the small stuff keeps the standards high”. He also talked about culture and values and elaborated what he had said during the panel session. He thought culture is very hard to define and value statements can become “waffle”. Stuart said that they carry out anonymous staff surveys which keep them grounded. They also have open and frank discussions about pupil performance and these conversations do not form part of performance management so staff feel they are able to ask for help if they need it. It is also very important for them that the leadership is visible. Hearing Stuart speak made me think of some questions governors could ask themselves:

  • How good/bad the behaviour is in your school?
  • How do you know how good/bad the behaviour is?
  • Do you know if policies are applied consistently?
  • Do you know what staff, parents and pupils think about behaviour in the school?
  • Do you see results of staff surveys? Do you do survey staff yourself?
  • How do you ensure your school values aren’t just a statement of something nice to have? How does it distinguish you from other schools? If someone were to read your vision/values statement could they identify your school or is it so general that it could apply to any school in the country?

There were some brilliant speakers in the fifth and final session but as I was speaking myself I had to miss those. Slides from my session are here if you would like to have a look.

All in all, it was a wonderful day and I took away a lot from it. I’m very grateful to Claire for outing governance on the programme and for inviting me. Even if I had not been speaking I would have made every effort to go. I think it is important for governors to attend events other than pure governance events. As governors we need to be interested in education and this interest should go beyond governance in our own school. As governors we may, at times, feel slightly detached from what happens in classrooms, what do teachers think and the direction education and educational research is moving in. Attending events such as these gives governors a chance to meet and exchange ideas and views with teachers. It may help you to better understand what is happening in your school. These events are a great networking opportunity. Some of the contacts you make may be helpful to teachers in your school too. And best of all, researchED events are very reasonably priced which is an important consideration for us volunteers.

Further reading:

Blogs:

Curriculum, Community, Culture and Collaboration by Beth Greville-Giddings

#rEDBrum 2019 takeaway by Nick Wood

The Problem(s) with the Teachers’ Standards This is a summary of Matt Burnage’s session

Getting Better Teaching: Part 1 – Teacher Experience Getting Better Teaching: Part 2 – The Value Of Stability by David Weston

My Wakelet collections of tweets from various sessions:

Prof Daniel Muijs

Panel discussion

Mark Lehain

Andrew Percival

Summer Turner

Stuart Lock

Staff wellbeing surveys matter: Guest Post

Bruce Greig is an entrepreneur and school governor. He served as Chair of Governors through two Ofsted inspections and worked with four headteachers. He set up School Staff Surveys after discovering how enlightening an anonymous staff survey can be and decided to make it easy for every school to run them. Below is a guest post written by Bruce on the topic of staff surveys.

I’ve been a school governor since 2011. A long while ago we asked our headteacher to run a staff wellbeing survey. We had heard mutterings of discontent from some staff, but others seemed very happy. Sometimes governors’ work is like the blind men appraising an elephant: you only see little glimpses of what’s really going on.

That survey we ran turned out to be transformational. It started a gradual, but dramatic, improvement in our the school staff culture.

Culture is very hard for governors to assess. Staff are often on their “best behaviour” during a learning walk or other governor visit. You don’t necessarily get a sense of how staff interact, and how they feel, when governors are not around.

We now do the same survey every year, and I think that every school should do this. In fact, I became so taken with the idea I set up a little side business just doing staff wellbeing surveys for schools: School Staff Surveys.

Here are some of my favourite questions (there are 69 questions in all, adapted from the world-renowed UK Civil Service People Survey).

Simple questions, but telling. And you can’t really ask a staff member this face-to-face (or, if you did, you can’t be sure of getting an honest answer). Of course, this survey question won’t tell you for sure whether or not your head is doing a good job, but it will help inform you. Staff might answer “Agree” because they just love the fact that the head lets them hide away in their classroom untroubled by observation or feedback. Or they might “Disagree” because they dislike a head who is actually doing a great job.

So the survey digs a little deeper into this, with questions like:

You can see that these more probing questions would help governors understand in more detail how the school is being led and managed.

Developing staff

As governors, we are well aware that recruiting staff is difficult: distracting, time-consuming and hard work. So it is much better if schools can do everything they can to develop and grow their existing staff. How’s that going? This question gives you an steer:

Staff might agree to this because they think to themselves “yes, I could go on those courses if I got round to asking”. Does your school actually have the processes in place to ensure that that development actually happens, and is it worthwhile? This more specific question gets to the crux of that:

And if you are able to develop and grow your staff, you should then get a resounding Strongly Agree to this question:

Feedback and appraisal

Since the introduction of performance related pay for teachers in 2014, it has been absolutely crucial that schools get their appraisal process right. Back in 2013, the last TALIS survey showed that around half of all teachers in England felt that feedback and appraisal was just a box-ticking exercise. If that shows up in the next TALIS survey, a lot of schools will be sitting on a tinderbox of potential grievances.

You are unlikely to hear from a teacher face-to-face that they think their appraisal is a waste of time. But if they do quietly think that, you could have a big problem on your hands – if their pay has been determined each year by a process they think is inadequate.

A regular wellbeing survey can look at this issue with questions like:

It isn’t just about how teachers view their own appraisal. It is just as important that staff feel others are managed well too, especially if they think other staff are not doing a good job. A question like this addresses that:

Teamwork

There are few things more toxic for a school staff culture than a staff member who doesn’t muck in. Won’t share resources, makes no effort to help out colleagues. I have heard of a school where a teacher appeared super professional and dedicated in her interactions with governors, but completely wrecked the school’s team culture in her interactions with staff. Literally leaving other teachers in tears. Had it not been for other staff speaking up, governors would have had no idea of the effect this teacher was having on the rest of the small team.

Being fair and respectful

Now we are getting into more sensitive territory. You’d hope that, if staff were not being treated fairly, or were suffering harassment, they would speak up. But I’ve learned that teachers are very reluctant to speak out about anything which might rock the boat (compared to my experience of other modern workplaces). If they keep their heads down, they have a very secure job. If they rock the boat, they fear that they might attract the dreaded career-ending “capability procedure”.

Your survey should include a couple of basic questions on this, like:

But also explicitly ask about discrimination:

And harassment:

Now then if you get a “yes” to either of these questions, the school can’t necessarily take any action. The survey is anonymous. The respondent might wish to remain anonymous. But your head, or CoG, could at least say to staff that the survey has shown that someone feels they have not been treated right and make sure everyone knows how to address their grievance safely if they want to.

There are another 40 questions in the survey that I run. There are plenty of ways that schools can run a survey like this. The UK Civil Service People Survey questions are in the public domain – you can put them into a Google Form or into Survey Monkey for free. One step up from that is a simple paid-for version like mine (School Staff Surveys), which takes the time and effort out of doing it all yourself. Or there are other providers like the Education Support Partnership who will administer a survey for you and follow it up with consulting and advice to help you address the issues it raises.

 

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.