The 2021 Festival of Education took place online over two weeks. This year, like always, there was great diversity of topics and speakers. I’m very grateful to the organisers for featuring governance too. Katie Paxton and I had a “fireside” chat about “Governance during and after the pandemic”. You can watch our session using this link.
On Wednesday, 24th June 2020, I attended BELMAS Governing and Governance Research Interest Group meeting. Due to COVID-19 restrictions this RIG was held online via Zoom. The theme of this RIG was “The importance of governance in education during a time of crisis”. I talked about accountability during a time of crisis. Below are my slides and the notes that go with them.
Effective governance relies on there being a balance between the challenge and support the board offers the head and school leaders.
Because of COVID, heads and school leaders are experiencing a great deal of stress and uncertainty and people may feel that boards should be offering slightly more support and slightly less challenge nowadays.
What we have to watch out for is that when we tilt the balance towards more support and less challenge, we don’t end up in a situation where there is no governance. So, we do need to continue to have governing board meetings and we do need to continue asking questions.
What should we be holding the school leaders to account for during the present crisis? One of the most important things we need to ask questions about nowadays is safeguarding. With normal contact between children and schools, now greatly reduced, assuring ourselves that the school is doing all that it can to safeguard pupils is important.
- Schools would have put into place new policies or changed some of the current practices. We need to assure ourselves that these changes are not weakening our existing child protection or safeguarding policies.
- Schools would have updated their child protection policies. Have you seen the updated policy? Are you satisfied that it addresses situations or concerns which may arise during the crisis?
- Under normal circumstances, schools keep up to date records concerned with safeguarding, child protection etc. We need to assure ourselves that this is still happening, that concerns or issues are being recorded at that records are up to date.
- With so much learning taking place online, we need to ask questions around online safety as well. How can the school assure us that staff and students are aware of online safety issues and that they know who to turn to if they have some concerns.
- Under normal circumstances, schools work closely with external agencies, like CAMHS, social service, MASH etc. We should be asking questions around how is the school exchanging information with theses agencies.
The next thing you should hold school leaders to account for are the schools’ risk assessments.
- Opening of schools to a wider group of people and how that is managed are operational decisions. But the board needs to be aware of these new arrangements are so ask questions around this.
- The schools would have done various risk assessments. You should have had sight of these and you should have tested the robustness of these by asking questions.
- Questions such as how will children and staff be kept safe?
- Has the school sought advice from local H&S teams and were plans drawn uo in light of this advice?
- Does the risk assessment cover remote learning?
- Have the needs of vulnerable children and staff been considered? Some children and some staff may need individual risk assessments. Has the school done that?
Children are obviously very important but it’s important to hold the school to account for how it deals with parents and staff of its pupils.
- These are hugely stressful times and therefore communications need to be timely, clear and appropriate. If communications are good then many of the problems either don’t arise or if they do arise, they can be handled more easily.
- You also need to ask if the school is taking the views of parents and staff into consideration.
Remote learning is another are we should be holding school leaders to account for.
- For example, do you know what has been out into place for pupils who are not in school? As governors it’s not up to us to tell the head what to teach and why but we should ask questions about how the school is looking after the education of pupils who are at home
- Remote learning is all well and good but do we know if all our pupils able to benefit from it. Does each child have access to a computer? Even f they have access to a computer at home they may have to share it with other family members or there may be issues with data, bandwidth etc. Governors should be asking questions around this to ensure that pupils are not being disadvantaged.
- Staff wellbeing is our responsibility to. Do we know if remote teaching is adding to teacher workload? I have heard examples of heads wanting teachers to compile data on how students are performing. I’ve even heard examples of line managers doing online lesson observations. If this data is presented to you then you have to ask some really serious questions.
- Will accountability will change post COVID?
- Should it?
When a school decides to join a multi-academy trust (MAT), the first thing the governors/trustees should do is carry out due diligence into practices, ethos and culture of the MAT they are thinking of joining. Keeping the stakeholders informed is of vital importance too. This can be done by holding information evenings/events where stakeholders are invited to hear about the proposal and ask questions. Information should also be readily available on the website. One additional thing that can be done is to have a document on the website with answers to questions which governors/trustees think stakeholders may ask. This document should be updated by adding additional questions which people will be sending in once they have digested all the information which has been provided to them. Below are some questions you may want to include in your document. Obviously, there will be many more questions which will be specific to your school/situation but these will give you an idea of the type of questions people are likely to want answered.
- What is a MAT?
- Will joining the MAT change the ethos of our school?
- You have said protection of ethos is one reason for joining this MAT. Can you expand a bit more on this?
- Why do you think this MAT is a good fit for us?
- What is the formal channel for comments / suggestions to be passed to the school?
- How will the consultation comments be shared?
- Can you comment on the school funding shortfall?
- Will the MAT “get rid” of expensive staff?
- How will the Condition Improvement Fund applications work if we join the MAT?
- Will there be a pressure on us to hire more NQTs?
- What will happen to the wide range of subjects we offer and to the twilight courses?
- What will happen to the school’s governing body?
- Can we have sight of the scheme of delegation?
- What are the exit options for leaving the MAT?
- What happens to the funds collected by our parents for our school?
- What are the teachers’ opinions about this proposal?
- Will we be expected to use the MAT’s curriculum?
- How would pay change for staff?
- What is meant by top slice? How much is it and what will it pay for?
- Who will be responsible for appointing our headteacher and other staff?
- How will MAT trustees govern our school if they are not in the same city as us?
- Will our uniform change?
- Will the school name change?
- Will our school continue to be recognizable as X school or will it become indistinguishable from other schools in the MAT?
- Our school has always looked after pupils with SEN really well. Will that continue being the case?
I hope you will find these useful.Please do add any questions you think are missing in the comments.
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.
I have been reading a few posts on governance reviews. While I agree that an external review can be very useful, self reflection is also very important. While thinking about this I came up with few questions which I think trustees/governors should be able to answer. How many of these can you and you colleagues answer? Are there any you would add to the list?
Why should I be led by you?
- If I were to ask a child in your school, what is it like being a pupil in your school what would they say?
- Would the answer given to me by a pupil with special education needs, a pupil premium/EAL child be the same?
- If I asked your head about you what would they say?
- If I asked your clerk about you, what would their response be?
- If I asked staff about their working conditions/well-being what would I find out?
- Do you ask parents for their opinions? Do you know if they would give me the same answer they would give you?
- Do you know what are the strengths and weaknesses of your school?
- What does your website tell me about the board?
Your roles and responsibilities:
- Are you crystal clear about your role and function?
- Do you know what powers you hold and how best to use them?
Have you read your governance document?
- For those of you who govern a school in a multi-academy trust (MAT), do you know what has been delegated to you in the scheme of delegation (SoD)?
- Do you audit what you do, your agendas and meetings against the SoD?
- When was the last time the SoD was reviewed?
- If I were to ask you the object of your charity, what would you tell me?
What is your school’s vision statement?
- Does the work you do go some way in delivering your vision?
- Are all stakeholders aware of the vision and buy into it?
- Do you do a 360 review of the board?
- If I asked governors about your chair what would I hear? Will I get a consistent response or are governors working in groups/cliques?
Your working practices:
- Are you aware of all the laws that apply to you? (Ignorance is not a defence)
- How do you deal with conflicts of interest?
- What are the three major risks in your risk register and how do you plan to mitigate these?
- How do you ensure that finances and other resources are used effectively?
- Do you have someone on the board who can scrutinise and understand financial reports?
- Do you use any benchmarking data?
- How do you ensure your decisions are well informed and evidence based?
- If later events/new information shows that your decision was wrong, how do you go about rectifying your error?
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of your board?
- Would your minutes show me that you challenge the school leadership?
Do you have access to and understand pupil performance data?
- Do you triangulate information you get from the head and their teams? How do you do that?
- If the board has concerns, then how do governors address them?
- What drives your agendas?
- Are they aligned with your school development plan (SDP)?
- How do you monitor the SDP?
- Do all governors come well prepared to the meetings?
- Do your meetings generally run to time and do you use the time effectively?
- How do you ensure that the appraisal process is fair, transparent and feeds into school improvement?
- How may governors access training on a regular basis?
- How do governors keep up to date with legislative changes, new policies and initiatives?
- What are you doing to ensure your school is sustainable in the long run?
- Do you have a plan to deal with any vacancies on the board which any arise in the future?
- Is there a succession plan in place for the chair and vice chair of the board?
- Are you aware of any plans your head may have of moving on/retiring?
- Have you made any plans to deal with the above?
- Do you have plans to revisit your vision and see if it remains ft for purpose?
- When did you last do a skills audit?
- Do you regularly review of your governance/committee structure?
Do you have any plans to collaborate with other boards?
The article below first appeared in Teach Secondary. The original can be read using this link.
6 ways to raise the profile of your governing body
1. Invite staff members to meetings
Heads and senior members of the leadership team usually always attend governor meetings. It would be good if occasionally other staff members were invited too.
If a new initiative is being planned or rolled out, for example, then the staff member tasked with running it could be asked to do a presentation to the governing body.
Governors get to hear directly from the staff member, who in turn gets to know the governors. However, do think about workload implications before doing this.
2. Attend school events
It’s always good when governors are able to attend social events at their schools. It means they can see the pupils in a non-academic context, and it’s a good way for them to form an opinion about the school’s culture and ethos.
Staff members and pupils who are involved in arranging these will appreciate governors taking the time out to attend, and give positive feedback; helping them to realise that governance really isn’t all about improving exam results.
3. Attend parents evenings
There is usually a good turnout at parents’ evening. With a fair amount of waiting around between appointments, governors can use this time to chat with parents – they could even ask them to complete a short questionnaire, which might highlight common trends/concerns.
If this option is chosen, then feeding back to the community is important – a ‘you asked, we did’ section in the school newsletter can be a good way to do this.
4. Communicate with students
Raising the profile of governors amongst pupils is important, too. If your school has a student parliament or a forum for young leaders to meet and discuss issues, then ask if you could go along to one of these.
This will give you an opportunity to hear directly from learners, and feed back to the governing body. In addition, why not ask the head if you could speak at an assembly, allowing you to tell the student body more about governance, and what governors do?
5. Visit regularly
Governor visits are an important part of the role. They are essential for monitoring, and should have a focus and an agreed aim – and they should be arranged beforehand, so staff aren’t taken unawares.
Some governing bodies arrange a visit when all governors come in and see a particular subject/area/initiative and then join the staff for tea or coffee in the staff room. Bringing cake or biscuits along can help ensure everyone is in a collaborative mood!
6. Stay transparent
Given that approved, non-confidential minutes of governing body meetings have to made available to anyone who asks to see them, it would be a good idea to publish these on your website.
This shows transparency, helps engage people with your work, and demystifies governance.
It will be especially appreciated if the governing body is considering a major change, such as converting to an academy, joining a multi-academy trust, appointing a head teacher, etc.
… and one for luck
Governor details should be on your school website. Rather than just publishing the names of governors, consider adding a short biography and perhaps a picture too; displaying photographs on the school notice board is another good idea.
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;
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)
Ofsted’s new Education Inspection Framework (Sean Harford, Matthew Purves and Paul Joyce)
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
We have three core functions.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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
Obviously, positive feedback is good to have. Who doesn’t like to hear good things?
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.
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?
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
So, in summary,
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.