Tag Archives: CPD

Effective relationships between boards and executive leaders matter

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

Slide 1:

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

Slide 2:

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

Slide 3:

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

Slide 4:

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

Slide 5:

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

Slide 6:

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

Slide 7:

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

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

Slide 8:

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

Slide 9:

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

Slide 10:

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

Slide 11:

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

Slide 12:

Moving on to the relationship between heads and boards.

Slide 13:

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

Slide 14:

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

Slide 15:

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

Slide 16:

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

Slide 17:

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

Slide 18:

Coming now to the Chair and Head Relationship.

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

Side 19:

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

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

Slide 20:

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

Slide 21:

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

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

Slide 22:

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

Slide 23:

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

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

Slide 24:

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

Slide 25:

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

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

Slide 26:

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

Visible governance matters

Because of the lockdown, normal forms of CPD have been suspended. Many people have stepped up to offer online CPD sessions. One such organization is Chiltern Teaching School Alliance. They have put on an impressive series of free leadership training sessions. I was delighted when I was asked to do a session on governance. Governance sometimes isn’t as visible as it should be and anything we can do to change that is to be welcomed. Therefore, a huge thanks to Arv Kaushal, Claire Justin and Sufian Sadiq for giving me to talk about governance.

My session was on the role and impact of governance. The session was recorded and is on the Chiltern TSA video channel. It is being posted here with their permission.

Guest Post: Governance, partnership and school improvement matters

This is a guest post by a governor and Chair at a small rural school. She is due to leave the governing body and is reflecting on how things were during her time there.

My journey into governance was at a time where my youngest child had just started school. I was beginning to feel the eagerness of wanting to learn, challenge myself and adapt. I worked part time at arts charity and had experience of working with disadvantaged children. With a little more time on my side it felt possible to delve into something new.

As a parent Governor at my first meeting I somehow became Vice-Chair. The first six months past in a bit of a blur – during this time myself and the Chair of Governors (CoG) at that time undertook the NCTL Chairs Development Course. It was during this time and alongside Governor meetings that it became apparent all was not what it seemed. Our external reported data was dipping year on year. Internally our data was showing progress and we were ‘on track’ to improve. The Governing body began to spilt – one side questioning and challenging, the other much less so. I found myself in a position where, following election I was Co-Chair with another Governor. I sought the advice of our local LA Governor support on more than one occasion.

When our Headteacher (HT) went on Maternity leave we temporarily entered a soft federation with a neighbouring primary school. During the first few weeks this HT highlighted all was not well. The data internally wasn’t accurate. The school wasn’t on track and Governors needed to act quickly. The Co-Chair resigned. The Local Authority reacted quickly. Following a application they released intervention funding to support urgent staff CPD, external moderation and crucially for us – a review of Governance. For me, as a new CoG the review was super. I had a lot of support, to enable us to set-up systems for effective monitoring, skills analysis and CPD for the Governing Body. Around this time Ofsted came in and graded the school RI. This was accurate; we needed to rapidly improve things. Governors monitoring timetables were developed by Governors – not the HT. The Vice-Chair took the lead in developing a template which correlated with the SDP priorities. Every Governor had a area of focus. Every Governor asked randomly selected safeguarding questions. Monitoring was triangulated with data, children’s views, parents and staff. The LA have since used our template as a model of good practice. Monitoring visits take no more than an hour. Governors monitored process, procedures and data trends. The timetable was bespoke every long term (populated by Governor meetings, or Governors themselves).

As a small school, we have maximised external resources, our NLG has continued to support us to ensure we are challenging effectively during meetings, he helps us interrogate data and continues to support even now. As a Church of England school we worked closely with the Diocese to access training for staff and Governors to help us improve and develop. The Local Authority supported with Governor Networks and online resources. We used it all, and moreover if we needed more help we asked for it.

During the time between the first HMI visit and second the school was subject to standards meetings with the Local Authority. During these meetings it was possible to access resources and expertise, for example; HR and Finance. We considered business models to sustain our school and the LA supported us in critiquing these models.

For a CoG this period of time was relentless, add into this another soft federation, an interim Headteacher and now permanent Headteacher it was tricky. However, both of the Vice Chairs I have been lucky to work alongside have been brilliant – without both of their expertise, challenge and practical help I would have failed. The recruitment day for our new Headteacher was a magnificent display of our unity, strength and community spirit.

At our recent inspection under the new framework Governors knew their role, could talk about the impact in their area of monitoring. Our safeguarding continued to be effective and progress was being made across all areas of the school. The process was robust and fair – the inspector took her time and was understanding of the work involved in our journey. Our judgement was fair and our improvement continues.

As I leave the Governing Body in the capable hands of the new CoG (previously excellent VCoG) I am exceptionally proud of the journey and the improvement in the school. Our Governors have worked hard – and we have secured some new members.

If you are contemplating a role in Governance, do it. You will not regret it, and learn far more about yourself than you thought possible.

Vice Chairs matter

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

Role of the Vice Chair

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

Recruitment

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

How to be an effective Vice Chair?

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

How can Chairs help VCs prepare for their role?

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

Chair/Vice Chair relationship

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

Leadership matters; an audience with Julie Jackson

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Julie talked about CPD and developing teachers. She said

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Tom Rees’  blog about the event.

Governance matters in Festival of Education Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lord Agnew’s Keynote at Festival of Education 2019

Keynote by Amanda Spielman HMCI at Festival of Education 2019

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

Doug Lemov at Festival of Education 2019

Driver Youth Trust at Festival of Education 2019

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

 

Governance matters at Festival of Education. Part 1

Picture credit: Steve Penny

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The session also included questions from twitter and the floor.

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

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

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

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.