Tag Archives: governing body

Relationships between Charity Boards and Executive Teams Matter

 

On 6th February 2019 I attended an event “Building a Strong Relationships between Charity Boards and Executive Teams” organised by the consultancy and advisory firm, Gallanach. I found out about this event through Mike Bath. Mike and I follow each other on twitter and often discuss school/academy finance and governance. As academies are charities, the discussions during the evening are directly related to academy trustees and school leaders but as the discussion focused on governance it is also applicable to maintained school governance. For this reason, in this post, I will be using “governors” rather than trustees when I talk about school governance.

The event had presentations from Ian Joseph, Managing Director Russam GBS and Trustee of Kidscape and Sarah MaGuire, CEO Partnership Support Group. The evening was facilitated by Norman Blissett (Director, Gallanach). There was discussion around lots of areas affecting governance, most of which I have tried to capture below. I have then tried to relate them to school governance.

Roles of the board and the executive:

Norman started the evening off by talking about the role of the board and the executive. According to Norman, it is essential that there is a mutual understanding of roles of the board and the executive. Norman outlined the role of the board which he said was to

  • Set the vision and values of the organisation
  • Set the strategy of the organisation
  • Delegate functions to the executive
  • Be accountable to stakeholders

Department for Education has defined three core roles of governors in the Governance handbook. These are

  • Ensuring clarity of vision, ethos and strategic direction;
  • Holding executive leaders to account for the educational performance of the organisation and its pupils, and the performance management of staff; and
  • Overseeing the financial performance of the organisation and making sure its money is well spent.

The National Governance Organisation, NGA, has been discussing adding a fourth duty to the above three, that of accountability to stakeholders. Emma Knights, their CEO, has written about this here. There has been some debate around this with some feeling that performing the three core functions well entails being accountable to stakeholders. Others feel that ensuring decisions taken by the board take into account the views of stakeholders (parents, pupils, staff, and community) should be explicit and that can be done by making it the fourth core function. This is an important discussion and one we must have.

Norman also emphasised the need for everyone to understand that there is a fine line between scrutiny and management and Sarah touched upon the operational and strategic roles. This is something that we, as school governors absolutely must understand. This is one of the reasons training/CPD, especially for those new to school governance, is so important. Sarah also talked about how if the CEO brings too much detail to the board the difference between the strategic and operational may get blurred. She also mentioned that trustees sometimes can focus too much attention on things they do in their day jobs. She has noticed this especially from trustees who come from finance or HR background. This can lead to discussion becoming more operational. Too much time spent discussion things which you do in your day job also means that the rest of the items on the agenda don’t get the time they deserve.

Ian talked about the absolute importance of having clarity around roles. He touched upon the roles of the chair of the board and the CEO, more on that later on.

Transparency:

Norman talked about the importance of having a “culture of candour”. Everyone in the boardroom should be prepared to challenge and be challenged. Problems should be tackled immediately but trustees need to be able to spot these. If there is an occasion where a question from a trustee is brushed aside then Norman says that should raise a red flag. This is something which the Chair may need to explore, perhaps outside of the meeting. Norman also said that trustees should have open access to the organisation.

Ian agreed that transparency is hugely important. He made the point that there should be no nasty surprises for trustees. The executive needs to be open and upfront with the board so problems can be looked at in a timely manner and solutions found.

This is something which we as governors and school leaders need to understand too. As governors, think about what happens when you ask for information. Are you getting so much information that you can’t see the wood for the trees and is that because something is being hidden from you in open sight? Or are you not getting enough information and is that perhaps because things are not going as well as they should? Transparency isn’t only for the boardroom. One of the Nolan Principles is Openness (Holders of public office should act and take decisions in an open and transparent manner. Information should not be withheld from the public unless there are clear and lawful reasons for so doing.) Are your minutes easily accessible? Do you publish your minutes on your school website? Do you take care in deciding which part of the discussion should be declared confidential? As far as open access is concerned, yes, governors need to be able to come into school to carry out their monitoring role but they should remember that the organisation is a after all a school and our monitoring should not disrupt education. Transparency also means that we should inform the head that we are coming in and why. Transparency from all sides fosters trust and is essential for good relationships.

Chair and CEO relationship:

A good Chair/CEO relationship is a feature of an effective board. Norman said there needs to high challenge as well as high support. Relationships need time and effort put into them. Norman suggested that it’s a good idea for the Chair and CEO to spend time together, both formally and informally.

Ian agreed that this is an important relationship. He said it’s essential that both the Chair and the CEO understand their respective roles. The role of the Chair is to lead the board and the job of the CEO is to run the charity and deliver its objectives. The Chair and CEO relationship needs to be based on mutual respect. The Chair should be a professional of equal standing which promotes respect for each other.

As in any other form of governance, the relationship between the Chair and the head of school/trust is a very important one. Chairs and heads should make time to meet each other regularly. The head should also know that he/she can contact the chair at any time should they need to. Being the head of a school can be a lonely job and the head should know they can rely on their chair for support. It’s also important to remember that this relationship needs to be professional at all times. If there is a perception that the relationship between the head and chair is cosy that can lead to problems. NGA has published numerous guides which are useful for chairs of governing bodies. Professor Chris James, Bath University, has conducted research into various aspects of school governance. Here he talks about his study to examine the workings of private sector boards to see if there are any lessons or messages for school governing bodies as far as the head/chair relationship is concerned. If you are a chair and need some help/support/advice then National Leaders of Governance (NLGs) will be able to provide you with that.

All about beneficiaries:

Everyone who spoke at the event was clear that the charity, the board and the executive should be clear that everything they do has to be for the benefit of their beneficiaries. Norman talked about the importance of the board and the executive having a shared idea of the purpose of the organisation. Obviously, for schools the purpose is to provide a good education to children and this is something the board and the executive will agree on and share. What does need to be agreed and shared is the vision and ethos of the school which will drive how education is delivered to the children.

Ian was very clear about the need for both the board and executive to be clear that they are thee for the benefit of the beneficiaries of the charity.

Sarah talked about this too. She thought it was important that the trustees knew the issues faced by the beneficiaries so that they could tailor the work of the board accordingly.

Board composition:

Sarah made a point during her presentation that the board discussion can sometimes suffer if the trustees have the same or similar skills. For example, she has noticed that in boards where most of the members have a financial or HR background, then most of the discussion tends to focus around these areas and very little time is given to discussing things outside of their comfort zone. This is why boards need a wide variety of skills.

In response to a question from the floor about diversity, Ian said that diversity is important. What is also important is to think very carefully about this. A BAME, with a PhD from Oxford who listens to Radio 4 may not be bringing the diversity which you are looking for. I made the point that this must be more than a token gesture and that people still need to feel valued and not feel they are there to tick boxes.

Ian said that people should not join boards because it looks good on their CV but at the same time we should be encouraging more people to join by emphasising the skills they will pick up by being on a board. Another member of the audience said that his board has started appointing what they term “apprentice trustees” who participate fully in board discussions. It is hoped that this way they can see how the board works and perhaps then join as trustees.

The problem of finding people willing to serve as governors is one which may school governing bodies face too. Those schools which would benefit from strong governing bodies are the ones who find it harder to recruit people.

During the panel session, I asked if it’s appropriate for the CEO to choose trustees. The panel members and audience thought that the CEO should not appoint trustees and although it’s a good idea for a prospective trustee to meet with the CEO, this must be for the benefit of the trustee and not the CEO.

Meetings, planning, appraisal:

Sarah talked about the importance of well planned meetings. Good preparation for a meeting involves thinking carefully about the agenda and making sure what goes into the papers is well thought about. This is essential for school governors too. The Chair, head and the clerk should work closely on this. They should ensure that the papers go out at least seven days before the meeting with the expectation that everyone would have read them before the meeting.

Discussions during the meeting should be sharp and focused. Sarah asked trustees to think about the impact their discussions would have on the beneficiaries. If you can’t identify an impact then ask yourself why you are meeting. Again, this is something we as governors need to ask ourselves; will tonight’s meeting have an effect on the education of our children. It is important here to say something about the headteacher’s report too. Make sure your head knows what information you need and in which format. The head’s report is the vehicle by which the head can give governors the information they need. The content of the report should be driven by what the governors need.

The matter of away days came under discussion too. It was suggested that these days are a good way to discuss matters, re-visit and understand the purpose of the organisation and build relationships. There should be days when the executive and the board can meet away from the boardroom. There should also be opportunities for the board members to meet each other away from the boardroom. I know may governing bodies do do this and I think it is an effective way for discussion issues outside of meetings. These away days should still be focused so as to make best use of everyone’s time.

Sarah touched upon appraisal during her presentation. She said it would be a good idea for trustees to have a one to one conversation with the chair/CEO so that they can understand why the trustee joined the board. Sarah also thought that a light touch appraisal of trustees by the chair with input from the CEO was also a good idea.

Qualities of a good trustee:

Norman ended the event by asking Ian and Sarah what they thought were good qualities to have in a trustee. Sarah’s top five were

  • Willingness to listen
  • Willingness to be open
  • Willingness to push executive
  • Being very clear what the link is to the beneficiaries
  • Willingness to get involved

Ian added three more

  • Laser like focus on beneficiaries
  • Common sense
  • Being able to ask questions

All in all this was a really enjoyable event for me and I am sure for everyone else who attended. I found it very useful to listen and interact with people involved with governance who work in sectors other than schools.

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Schemes of Delegation matter

On Friday, 5th October 2018 I attended the ICSA Academy Governance Conference. The day was packed with really good, thought provoking presentations. In this blog I will write about what various presenters had to say about schemes of delegation (SoD).

A SoD is a key document which lays out which functions have been delegated to which body. The trust boards of multi-academy trusts (MATs) determine the extent of delegation to local governing bodies (LGBs). Once this has been decided the SoD must be published on websites.

Leora Cruddas (CEO Confederation of School Trusts) spoke about the importance of a good SoD. She said that trustees need to own their SoD and not get someone external to the organisation to draw it for them. Sam Henson, Head of Information National Governance Association, spoke in the afternoon. He said that NGA publishes model SoD but he agreed with Leora that trustees should look at these model documents and adapt them to their MAT. Different MATs use different SoD. Sam informed the delegates that NGA now uses the term “mixed delegation” rather than “earned autonomy”. Leora also said that the SoD should not be a long, complicated document but should be simple and easy to understand by anyone reading it.

As MATs grow they need to keep the governance structure under review. It is also a good idea to review your SoD and see if it is still fit for purpose. Is it making the LGB feel part of the MAT? Do they feel that they are an effective and valuable part of the whole organisation? As Leora said why have committees if you don’t give committees work to do? The MAT does, however, need to ensure that the LGB understands that it is the trust board which is the legally accountable body. At the same time the board needs to assure that the work is not being duplicated at any particular level. The role of the LGB is not to hold the board to account. This does not mean that there can or should be no challenge from the LGB. Good governance requires good, constructive challenge. The LGB should be acting as the eyes and ears of the trust board and feeding back local concerns as well as what is working well to the board.

Liz Dawson and Anna Machin (Ark Schools) spoke about how governance is structured in their organisation. They have decided to call their SoD Accountabilities Framework. They said that important points to remember when drawing up a SoD is that you are really clear about the role, purpose and function of each layer of your governance structure. As an organisation matures or grows it is helpful to review your SoD. It is also a good idea to get feedback when you are thinking of revising your SoD. This will help people feel part of the process and they will feel they own the document.

The fact that the SoD can and should be under review is a very important one. When MATs are looking for schools to join their organisation they should make it clear to them that the SoD the MAT has at that moment in time may not be the same further down the line, that revisions are possible. Any governing body which is considering joining a MAT must realise that the SoD is something which the trust board is legally allowed to change. They should understand that powers delegated to them may be withdrawn or increased in the future. If and when this happens, it must not come as a shock. This is not to say that the board should not explain why that has happened. As noted above revisions which have considered feedback from everyone concerned will have more buy in from everyone. A very interesting point was made by an audience member that if anyone was going for a headship in a school which was part of a MAT, they should consider the SoD carefully. This brings me to another important point. Everybody who is involved with MAT governance should know their Articles, SoD and other governance documents inside out.

Functions which are delegated to LGBs may include monitoring how the school is operating within the agreed policies, managing its finances, meeting agreed targets, engaging with stakeholders, reporting to the board, etc. Liz and Anna had mentioned that although their heads of schools are not line managed y the LGBs, the chair of the LGBs are part of the heads’ appraisal team as they work closely with the heads and their input is valuable.

SoD also came up in the presentation by Hannah Catchpool (Partner, head of academies, RSM) and James Saunders (Audit Director, RSM). They said that questions from an auditors’ point of view concerning the SoD are

  • How up to date is your SoD?
  • Are all staff aware of it?
  • Are people following the SoD and only approving/signing off things they have delegated powers to do so?

In summary, the scheme of delegation is a very important document. It lays out the functions delegated by the board to the LGB. It should be easy to read and understand. It must be published on the website and everyone in the organisation must be aware of it and should know what they are delegated to do. The board is legally empowered to change the SoD. The SoD should be kept under review and this is especially important when the MAT grows or undergoes other changes.

If you are interested in reading the tweets from the conference, you can do so using this link.

Governance matters at Festival of Education Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will: Agree with Jo.

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

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

Questions from the floor:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Talking up governance matters

The other day my daughter showed me her Year Book. Under “Where will you be in 10 years?” she had written “Chair of Governors of the school.” Obviously, that made me very happy but later it got me thinking.

I am a very committed governor and I really enjoy my work. I talk about it at home, telling my family about what’s involved in being a governor of a school. They see me prepare for and attend meetings, attend conferences and discuss governance on twitter and with friends. They know not to disturb me on Sunday nights between 8:45-9:15pm when I’m on twitter taking part in #ukgovchat. We’ve had discussions about what are operational matters and hence not my remit. They know that if I contact the school as a mother I start by saying I’m doing so as X’s mother and not as a governor and why that’s important.

I’d be very happy if she (or the others) did volunteer as governors when older and I’d feel that that was partly due to the fact that I talked with them about governance. How many of you do the same? Some more questions for you to ponder on.

  • Do you think most people are aware of the role governors play? If not, how can we change that?
  • Do you sit around the dinner table and discuss governance (obviously taking care to respect confidentiality etc) as you discuss your day jobs?
  • Do your wider family members know of the important work you do?
  • Do you talk to your work colleagues about the importance of volunteering as a governor?
  • If you meet people socially do you tell them what you do for your day job as well as your work as a governor?
  • Have you been able to encourage someone to find out more about governance?
  • Has someone joined a governing body after chatting with you?
  • Think of the people you meet frequently; do they all know you are a school governor?
  • Do your children tell their friends that you are a governor?
  • How do people react when you tell them you are a governor?
  • What is the most common question people ask you when you tell them you are a governor?
  • How many of your family/friends are governors?
  • Has anyone ever said to you that they don’t think they have the requisite skills to become a governor? If yes, what did you say in reply?

Governance is hugely important and plays a crucial role in school improvement. I think it’s important to let people know you are a governor and what is that you do and why. It’s not a case of blowing your own trumpet but ensuring that governance gets its due recognition. By doing this you may even help recruit people where there is a shortage of people volunteering to fulfil this hugely rewarding role.

Vision statement matters

One of the core functions of governors is to ensure clarity of vision. Myatt (2016: 79) has made the point that

The strongest governing bodies express hope for their school.

This statement is the basis of the core question governors should ask themselves when they start thinking of their vision for their school.

Tarnow (2001) suggests that an organisation’s vision statement can serve the same purpose as that of a team jersey; it can serve to unite people to work towards a shared goal. Every organisation, irrespective of its size or its purpose, needs to be able to define its vision; its hopes for the future. Smith (2016) has discussed why a clearly defined vision is important. Although he has focused on corporate companies, what he says is equally applicable to schools. According to him, amongst other things, vision helps companies create effective strategies. As governing bodies are responsible for setting the strategic direction of their schools, it follows that they should create, develop and monitor the vision for their school. Indeed, whilst ensuring the clarity of vision is one of the core responsibilities of governing body, effective leadership for school improvement itself requires clear goals (Goldenberg, 2004, 15). Governors can make schools better by shaping and guarding the values and vision of the school through its key roles of strategic planning and monitoring and evaluation (Brighouse and Woods, 2013:60).

A vision statement is a company’s or organisation’s high level road map, indicating both what the company wants to become and guiding transformational initiatives by setting a defined direction for the company’s future and development (Quigley, 1994). In essence, the vision statement is an aspirational, but realisable description of what an organisation would like to achieve or accomplish in the mid-term or long-term future. It is intended to serve as a clear guide for choosing current and future courses of action and thus determining short or near term operational goals.

The question, “Why are we working in schools?” can be broadly answered by saying, “To provide education to our pupils”. The follow up question, “Why are we working in our particular school?” is the reason why governing bodies invest time in developing the vision for their school. However, a vision statement is not solely for internal consumption. Governors, staff, pupils, parents and carers, and the community, all of whom are our stakeholders, need to understand where we want to be in the future. Indeed, a school should be readily identifiable from its vision statement.

According to a parent governor of a school in South Africa, provision of first rate education is facilitated when vision forms part of the school’s comprehensive strategic plan (Modiba, 2001). Buck (2016: 61) says that the heads of schools judged to be outstanding all talked about the importance of a clear vision of a school’s strategic plan and a shared purpose. Governors, therefore, need to ensure that the vision has clear goals for the future which the SLT can lead the school towards.

Jones (2007) argues that developing a vision is a critical part of school improvement. She also makes the point that developing the vision for a school is an evolutionary process. Once the vision has been developed and agreed by all the stakeholders, it then needs to be reflected in classroom practice. This is the operational side of managing schools and it is the responsibility of Headteachers and their teams to develop and implement the resultant School Development Plan. Governing bodies are then required to the hold the Leadership team to account for the delivery of the agreed vision. Gabriel and Farmer (2009:45) state that “Stopping to confirm common goals among the stakeholders will help the team meet its objectives”.

Below I explain how the governing body can go about developing a vision statement for their school.

The first step could be to organise a series of workshops in which the governors and the senior leadership team (SLT) can come together and contribute equally to the development of the vision. According to Gabriel and Farmer (2009:46), it is important for all staff members to have a “common, agreed-on destination” to avoid wasting energy in un-focused efforts. It is also important for the governing body to involve the staff so that the vision becomes a shared vision. Buck (2016: 62) asserts that for a school to be successful there needs to be a sense of a shared direction of travel. The vision will only be deliverable if everyone has a hand in creating it and takes ownership of it. According to Covey (1992: 142):

As important as the end product is-a piece of paper that captures the family mission-even more important is what happens in the process of creating it.

If you ask people to work in groups during the workshops then ensure that governors and staff are equally represented in each group. The SLT attending the workshops should have meetings with the rest of the staff before the workshops so that the view presented by them during the workshops reflects the views of the rest of the staff too. In a similar way they can gather the views of the students too which can be discussed in the workshops. Gurley et al. (2015) have reported that when they surveyed students, 62% of the respondents indicated that their school had a vision statement but only 20% were able to recall any part of it. By gathering student views, not only would you get an insight to what they want their school to be like; they would have ownership of the vision.

In a similar fashion, parents could be asked to express what type of school they envision for their children.

When drawing up a shared vision, people participating in the exercise should be able to “describe a desirable future” and identify the leadership which will deliver the vision (Harvard Business School, 2003: 26). The specific questions which can be discussed in these workshops are:

  • Challenges being faced by the school and various opportunities available to us
  • Think of a student who joined Year X in September. What is your ambition for that student when he/she leaves school?
  • What opportunities do you think the school is able to offer its students and staff?
  • What do you think the school will look like in 5 years from now?
  • What are the characteristics of effective leadership which would help make the vision a reality?
  • How do we unlock potential of every student?
  • How do we nurture each student?
  • How do we develop “the whole person?”
  • Who is our community and what can we offer to various members of this community?
  • What are the hallmarks of our school leaders?
  • What type of environment do we want to create in our school?
  • What will a student leaving our school “look like” at the end of their time with us?
  • What will our school be like in three to five years? How might people describe it?
  • What are the challenges facing our students?
  • What could the challenges be in the future?
  • How can the school prepare them for life after school?
  • What are the key aspects which should be developed in schools and in our school?

Notes should be taken during each session and distributed before the next session. Themes which emerge during one workshop can be explored further in subsequent workshops.

Once all the issues have been explored and key themes identified a working party can be tasked with drawing up the vision statement which is then shared with governors and SLT. Try and keep the statement short and to the point. It should be specific to your school. The agreed draft can then be passed onto students, rest of the staff and parents for comments. The final vision statement is then written after comments have been taken into consideration, and published.

References

Brighouse, T., and Woods, D., 2013. The A-Z of School Improvement. Bloomsbury

Buck, A., 2016. ‘Leadership Matters’ John Catt Educational Limited

Covey, S.R., 1994. Principle-centered leadership. Fireside Press

Gabriel, J.G. and Farmer, P.C., 2009. How to Help Your School Thrive Without Breaking the Bank. Virginia. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development

Goldenberg, C.N. ,2004 Successful School Change: Creating Settings to Improve Teaching and Learning New York, NY: Teachers College Press Pg 15

Gurley, D.K., Peters, G.B., Collins, L. and Fifolt, M., 2015. Mission, vision, values, and goals: An exploration of key organizational statements and daily practice in schools. J Educ Change 16:217–242

Harvard Business School, 2003. Managing Change And Transition. EBook Edition, Boston, Mass. Harvard Business Review Press. Available from: ProQuest ebrary. [Accessed 5 May 2017].

Jones, L., 2007. The Importance of Visions for Schools and School Improvement [Online]. Available from: http://cnx.org/contents/YQkJG7Yj@1/The-Importance-of-Visions-for- [Accessed 3 October 2017]

Modiba, S. N., 2001. The importance of vision and mission statements in promoting school effectiveness in Northern Province schools. Thesis (PhD) Rand Afrikaans University

Myatt, M., 2016. Hopeful Schools. Mary Myatt Learning Limited

Quigley, J.V., 1994. Vision: How leaders develop it, share it, and sustain it Business Horizons. 37 (5), pp. 37-41

Smith, G., 2016. 7 Reasons Your Company Needs a Clear, Written Mission Statement [Online]. Available from: http://www.glennsmithcoaching.com/7-reasons-your-company-needs-clear-written-mission-statement/ [Accessed 3 October 2017]

Tarnow, E., 2011. A Recipe for Mission and Vision Statements IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, Vol. 44, NO. 2, 138-141

Governance matters at the #EducationFest


One of the biggest events on the edu conference calendar is back. The Telegraph Festival of Education is being held on the 22nd and 23rd of June at Wellington College. This will be third year I will be attending the Festival and to say I’m very excited would be an understatement!

The two day programme is jam-packed with educational goodies. There’s something for everyone. For the first time this year there is a dedicated SEN strand curated by Jarlath O’Brien, Headteacher, Carwarden Community School. There will be a wonderful researchED all day event. Dr David James and Ian Warwick have curated a full day session on World Class: Tackling the ten most important challenges facing schools today” which promises to be amazing. WomenEd and BAMEed are also well represented. There will be a chance to hear from the likes of Sir Roger Scruton, Dr Becky Allen, Sean Harford, Prof Rob Coe, Christine Counsell, Tom Bennett, Martin Robinson, Katharine Birbalsingh, Sir David  Carter, Daisy Christodoulou, Tarjunder Gill, Vic Goddard, Stuart Lock, Tom Sherrington, Loic Menzies, Carl Hendrick and many, many more. However, the thing I’m most excited about is, obviously, the governance strand.

I’m grateful to the organisers that they have, again, given a platform to governors. I am very lucky that I will be taking part in one of these sessions. This is a panel discussion on “Governance in the 21st Century“. With more and more schools joining multi academy trusts governance looks very different than it did twenty or even ten years ago. Schools are expected to be outward facing and boards and schools are expected to collaborate. Boards are expected to be increasingly skilled based.  This session hopes to explore how governors continue to hold schools to account as well as provide support while facing these challenges themselves. To discuss these issues, I will be joined by the following people who bring a wealth of governance experience.

Pat Petch OBE has been a school governor for over 30 years – but not all that time was spent at the same school! Pat has extensive experience of school governance.  She has been a governor at a nursery school and an adult college and most descriptions of school in between. More recently Pat has chaired three Interim Executive Boards resulting in schools moving out of special measures and now flourishing. This experience proved to be both extremely challenging and very rewarding. Pat was a member of the steering group that set up the National Governors’ Council (now the NGA) and chaired it for four years. She was awarded an OBE in 1999 for services to education. She is now an independent education consultant and delivers support for schools and governor training courses in various London Boroughs.

Jo Penn has many years of experience as a school governor. She is currently Chair of a Local Authority Primary School Governing Body and on the Board of a Secondary Academy. She has also been a member of a Special School Interim Executive Board and Chair of a Foundation School/converter Academy for four years. Jo is an experienced National Leader of Governance offering support to other chairs and governing bodies. In 2013 Jo co-founded @UkGovchat on Twitter, bringing governors from around the country together in weekly chat sessions for mutual challenge, support and development. She is an occasional blogger at Challenge, Support and All That Jazz

Steve Penny has been a governor for some six years, and Chair for the last two, at a single convertor academy girls’ school, that admits boys into the Sixth Form.  Steve is an Engineering Ambassador and a STEM UCAS tutor for the Social Mobility Foundation having completed a further degree with the OU which included experience of teaching in secondary schools

Su Turner is an experienced parent and LA governor in both primary and secondary schools, and is currently chair of a secondary academy.  Su’s recent national work has allowed her to work with the National Schools Commissioner and other senior education leaders to debate topical issues such as local accountability for education, and the changing role of councils. Su is Founder and Director of Insight to Impact Consulting Ltd – a governance improvement consultancy. So, do come and join us and take part in the discussion.

The other governance sessions are:

Does size matter? The growth of multi academy trusts”. This panel discussion will look at the need for good governance in MATs of all sizes and different ways that this can be achieved. It will also consider how governance structures and processes need to be adapted depending on the size and needs of the MAT. The panel consists of Jon Coles, Chief Executive of United Learning, Emma Knights, CEO of NGA, Roger Inman, Head of Education Department at Stone King, and Liz Holmes, Vice Chair of the Board of Faringdon Academy of Schools (a community MAT in Oxfordshire). The panel will be chaired by Katie Paxton-Dogget who is a governance specialist and author of “How to run an Academy School”. 

Challanges of school governance in 2017 pesented by Emma Knights, CEO of National Governance Association. 

The programme for both the days can be viewed here. If this has whet your appetite then tickets are still available and can be booked using this link (there’s even a special rate for governors!).

What governors think of the NAHT motion matters

Today scrolling through Twitter I came across the following tweet.

This was the NAHT debating a motion asking Ofsted to REDUCE emphasis on inspecting governance as part of Leadership and Management. I asked for comments from other governors. Almost all were surprised at this. We couldn’t understand the reasoning behind the motion. There were some light hearted comments such as “Isn’t it lovely that they are concerned about extra pressure on us. They are only looking out for us.” Another comment, in similar vein, was from me. I said that reading this gave me the impression that somewhere a conversation like the one below had taken place which led to the motion.

GB to Head, “Could you include x,y,z in your report, please?”

Head to GB,”Don’t worry about that. I’ve got it under control.”

GB to Head, “No, we really do need it. For one thing it’s our job. For another, we are due an Ofsted and we want to ensure we know our stuff.”

Head to GB, “Ah, Ofsted! Don’t worry about that. We’ll get them not to hold you to account. We’ll tell them you’ve got too much work to do.”

Other governors had also read the Schools Week tweet which led to more discussions. Numerous serious points were made in response to my question and question/comments by others. I’ve summarised discussions from different threads on Twitter and Facebook below.

  • This may indicate that heads don’t really understand governance
  • The role and responsibility has changed since I’ve been a governor. The workload means it’s like a job now
  • There are some heads who get frustrated by their governors and we must acknowledge this. On the other hand there are also heads who try and run the school as their personal fiefdom and try and exclude the GB. We have a duty to be as professional as we can and heads need to understand and respect what governance is and what we do
  • Not a straight forward debate. Looking at the framework, it is a part time job
  • Collaboration is key
  • Power grab?
  • We are volunteers which means that if the workload gets too much we can leave. “But I’m a volunteer” should not be used as an excuse
  • Unfortunate that those who may have had a poor experience of governance assume it’s typical in every institution
  • Are they are considering our health and wellbeing?
  • We have gone from “cup of tea, sticky bun and agree with the head” to a very different model. Some governors and heads have kept up and some haven’t
  • Getting paid may be a better route than downplaying the role in Ofsted inspections. But if you pay peanuts, you’ll get monkeys!
  • Some governing bodies create an unnecessary workload for themselves and do not distribute workload effectively.
  • Training of governors is an issue
  • Motion was proposed and passed at the conference. The reason for it needs to be heard
  • If governance goes wrong then everything will
  • Schools need good governance and governance needs to be accountable
  • Really disappointed to see this motion
  • Governance is essential in any organisation
  • My role as chair is far more stressful than my job (I’m saying this tongue-in-cheek)
  • If this happened, where is the incentive to fix bad governance? One role of god governance is to hold heads to account. How would that happen?
  • Perhaps they don’t want to be held to account
  • I feel passionately that strong governance remains
  • Personally I would prefer separate judgement for governance
  • I don’t agree the governance should be a separate judgement. We are part of leadership and management and this emphasises that
  • GBs are accountable in law. Reduce work load by discouraging unneeded hoop jumping? Yes. Make GBs less accountable? Absolutely not!
  • Train governors to understand role. That will help in reducing workload
  • I can see two sides to this. The possible impact of poor governance on a head and the inability of a head to control good governance
  • Ofsted don’t have the expertise to measure governance accurately
  • Inspectors shouldn’t be judging without full understanding
  • Can have good school leaders let down by poor governance. Opposite also happens
  • In some schools senior leaders have little or no contact with governors. Not great for headship preparation
  • Many heads do not do governance training and do not understand the role
  • In one GB meeting the head brought so many staff that they outnumbered the governors
  • Part of the issue is the paucity of governance subject content in many NPQH courses. Starting with a low knowledge base does not help

The debate wasn’t live streamed and the only other tweet I saw was one saying that the motion had been carried. So, we don’t know the context to the motion or how the debate went. Governors would like to know more about what was behind the motion but want to make it clear that we do not wish for reduced accountability or reduced emphasis on governance within the leadership and management judgement. If the motion had called for induction for new governors and CPD we too would have been behind the motion.