Tag Archives: Governor visits

Choosing the right board matters

I have previously written about what may make a person the “right” person to have on your board. I think it is equally important for people to consider if the board they are thinking of joining is the right one for them and conducting own due diligence. Below are some things you may want to consider when you are thinking of joining a board/governing body.

Values, ethos and culture

This is perhaps the most important. Make sure that the board and the school leadership share your values and ethos. It would be very difficult, if not impossible, to work as an effective member of the team if you have different values. Visit the school, talk to the chair, vice chair, other governors and the head and other staff and try and see if they share your hopes for the young people under their care. Think about what your goals for the children of that community are and how closely are they aligned with the goals the rest of the board has.

Skills and experience

Every board member brings their unique skills and experience to the board.

  • Ask the chair/vice chair how they see the board benefitting from your skills and experience. They should be clear that your skills and experience will be used by the board to carry out strategic functions and not operational ones. Some boards can make the mistake of thinking that appointing someone with particular skills means the school can get someone who can do pro bono work for the school/board.
  • Ask them if a skill audit has been done and are there other governors with skills similar to yours. A board should be made up of people with diverse skills and experiences. Having too many people with the same skills will not help the board.
  • Try and determine if and why the board needs your skill and perspective. You can then decide if you will make a valuable contribution or not.

Instrument of Governance

You should read this carefully. If you are thinking of joining the trust board of a single or multi-academy trust then you should read the Articles of Association. If it is a local governing body (LGB) you are thinking of joining then read the Scheme of Delegation.

Culture of the board

It would be very beneficial to meet the chair and talk about the culture of the board.

  • How does the chair approach their role?
  • What is the relationship between the board members and the board and the executive?
  • Do board members meet outside of the boardroom?
  • How do the board members communicate with each other, with the executive and with the parents and the community?
  • Do you get the feeling the board challenges as well as supports the executive?

The way the board operates

After having read the instrument of governance, try and form an idea of what should a board which has to carry out those functions look like.

  • Is the board too big/small to carry out all those functions?
  • If it is too small/big then how would that affect your work as a board member? Will it mean that you have too much/too little to do?
  • Try and get hold of minutes of few past meetings. They should give you an idea of the workings of the board and the challenges it faces.
  • Do the minutes tell you how good the board is at asking challenging questions and the executive at providing answers?
  • The role of the board is to govern and not to manage. Do the minutes give you the impression that the board is focused on strategic issues or does it have the tendency to stray into the operational?
  • Do the minutes read like the minutes of a governing body or a PTA?
  • Ask if the board has committees and if it does which one would you be expected to sit on.
  • Would you be expected to do monitoring visits? How are these planned and structured?
  • Does the board employ an independent clerk? A qualified, professional and independent clerk is very important and will support good governance.
  • Do also ask if there is a possibility of observing a meeting before you finally decide. This is beneficial for both you and the board.
  • How does the board help a new member settle in and get to grips with the work of the board? Is there a mentor scheme for new members?

Expectations of the board

You will need to find out how often the board meets and at what time. You should also ask

  • How long do meetings normally last?
  • What type of training are you expected to undertake?
  • Does the board help you source this training?

Chairing

Although all governors are equal, the chair does have additional responsibilities and can set the tone for how the board functions. The way the chair operates will give you an idea about how the board operates. Before deciding to join the board you should ask to meet the chair.

  • Do you get the feeling that the chair is knowledgeable, approachable and open to new ideas?
  • Do you think the chair is great at building a team and getting the best from the team members?
  • Does the chair think strategically and with an eye on the long term future of the school?

The head/CEO

Prospective new board members should be offered an opportunity to meet with the head/CEO. This meeting is for the benefit of the new member and gives them an opportunity of ask questions. The head/CEO should not view this as an opportunity for them to interview the prospective candidate. The appointment of new members is not their job.

Conflicts of interest

Try and determine if you will have any conflicts of interest. These do not necessarily rule you out but you and the board should be aware of these so they can be managed. If there is a chance of a related party transaction then serious consideration should be given to whether it is in everyone’s interest that you join the board.

Expenses Policy

Do ask the chair if the board has a governor expenses policy. Good boards will have something in place or will be willing to put one in place. Although this is a voluntary role and you are not legally allowed to be paid you should be able to claim expenses incurred during the performance of your role. You should not have to decide that governance is not for you because of the reasonable expenses you may incur.

To join or not to join

At the end of your due diligence you will get an idea if the board and you are a good match or not, whether you have the right expertise and the time to make valuable contributions and if there is a good fit as far as the culture and ethos is concerned. If you decide that, for whatever reason, this is not the board for you but you still want to help the school then there are other avenues you can explore. If you feel your skills are perhaps not needed by this particular board then do keep looking for one where your skills will be useful. If time is an issue, then perhaps look for a board where the timings work for you or leave it for a while and try again later when you have more time to devote to governance. Deciding to walk away because it is not the right board/time is the right thing to do because joining a board where you have these reservations won’t help you or the board.

 

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SEND Governor matters

I was invited to the launch of the Driver Youth Trust report, Through the Looking Glass. There were interesting presentations followed by a panel discussion. During the panel discussion StarlightMcKinzie asked a very important question, “Shouldn’t all governors be governors of SEND?” The short answer is yes. All governors should be clear that their role is looking after the interests of ALL the children and hence they are all governors of SEND too. However, many governing bodies do have a designated SEND governor. The Department for Education’s SEND Code of Practice states

6.3 There should be a member of the governing body or a sub-committee with specific oversight of the school’s arrangements for SEN and disability. School leaders should regularly review how expertise and resources used to address SEN can be used to build the quality of whole-school provision as part of their approach to school improvement.

Legally there is no requirement for a particular governor to take on the role of SEND governor. What must happen is oversight, review and monitoring of the SEND provision. The governing body (GB) decides how best to do this. Many GBs decide to appoint a SEND governor who then reports back to the GB. This, in my view, is a good way to function. The advantages of having a named SEND governor are

  • One named person takes the lead and ownership and then reports back to the whole GB
  • There are many areas which the GB needs to monitor and for all of these areas school visits will form an integral part of the monitoring. Having named governors for these areas means that the
    • Work load is divided and few governors do not end up doing all the tasks. As governors are volunteers this is essential so that their time is utilised effectively
    • Having one governor “look after” SEND means that one governor is then “accountable” for monitoring. This ensures that SEND doesn’t get neglected because everyone assumed someone else would do it
  • The SEND governor would, as part of the monitoring visits, meet with the SENDCo. One named governor performing the role of SEND governor means that the SENDCo can develop a professional relationship with that person. This would be difficult if different governors came into school to have conversations with the SENDCo
  • Because these monitoring visits would be arranged between two people, the SEND governor and the SENDCo, it would be easier for them to schedule regular visits as only two diaries need to be consulted. Different people coming in to meet the SENDCo would be more difficult to arrange than just one governor visiting. Having more than one person coming in may also increase the workload of the SENDCo as different people may want to focus on different things and also lead to duplication
  • Governors should attend training which would help them to function effectively. Having one named governor taking on the role of SEND governor means that there are more chances of this governor attending relevant training/briefing.
  • Different governors bring different skills to the boardroom. The GB may be lucky enough to have someone with a good understanding of SEND issues or someone who is interested enough to attend training/briefings/read research so as to become well informed of SEND issues. Giving this governor the role of SEND governor means that the GB is utilising the skills available to it effectively

Though having one named governor is, in my opinion, a good way to monitor and evaluate the SEND provision, the GB must ensure that ALL governors are aware of the issues and take responsibility for the SEND children. This is done by ensuring there is regular reporting by the governor and SENDCo and that SEND is a regular item on the agenda. At the end of the day although having one named governor is an efficient way of performing the role, the GB is a corporate body and the responsibility is a corporate responsibility.

Some other points to consider:

  • It may be better not to take on this role in the school your child attends if you are the parent of a SEND child
  • The SEND governor should have frequent meetings with the SENDCo (perhaps termly so that the GB has reports to consider at every meeting).
  • It would also help if the SEND governor could also meet with the pastoral team in order to get acquainted with the complete picture of the support available to SEND children

Are there any other points which should be added to the above?

Educational events matter; what I took away from #Michaela

I attended the launch of the book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Teachers-The Michaela Way” on Saturday. People have very strong views about Michaela, about Katharine and her staff, about their teaching methods and how they run their school. Many blogs have been written about this and tweets tweeted. I won’t go into any of that but rather comment, from a governance point of view, on what the speakers had to say. I go to as many educational events as I can and try to see what I, as a governor, can get from these.

Katharine started the day off. She’s a very passionate, larger than life personality. She had a vision of how she wanted children to be taught so she set up the school to deliver her vision. As governors the most important job we have to do is appoint a head. In order to do this governors need to be clear what the board’s vision for the school is and then look for a person who can help the board in achieving it. It may help to have a strategy/away day before you start the whole process and come together as a board and think where the school is and where you would like it to be. Invite your SLT too and see if you can feed in the views of students and parents too. Jill Berry has written a very good piece in which she advises prospective candidates how to approach questions related to vision at interviews.

Another point Katharine made was that she, and her staff, do what they think is best for their students and don’t worry about Ofsted. This is the message that Ofsted give too; you know your own setting and students. Do the best for them and not what you think Ofsted wants.

Next to speak was Mike Taylor who gave his impressions of Michaela as a new teacher. My governance ‘take-aways’ from his talk were:

  • Ensure that systems are in place to support staff
  • Ensure new staff are given an opportunity to get to know the school and the systems and are offered an effective induction (this is something the Board should do for new governors too)
  • What is the behaviour like at your school? Are teachers not able to give their best because the behaviour isn’t what it should be like?

Jo Facer spoke next and talked about CPD. As governors  there are various questions we can/should ask ourselves, such as

  • Is there is an effective staff development programme?
  • Are the CPD sessions effective?
  • Do all staff benefit from these?
  • Do all staff have the opportunity to access CPD?
  • What is the link between CPD and raising standards?

Olivia Dyer spoke about didactic teaching and drill. As governors we should be evaluating any new initiative. Some teachers had mentioned that they had initially used iPads but then switched to pen and paper. As governors we should be asking questions before we sign off on a new initiative. We must also help create an environment where staff are happy to try new things but happy to also say they didn’t work with fear.

Jessica Lund spoke about workload and how that is managed at Michaela. As governors staff wellbeing should be very high on our agenda. Do we know:

  • If our staff feel they aren’t appreciated?
  • Is the workload is having a detrimental effect on their lives?
  • Do we consider the work/life balance of our head? Are we asking for too many reports which will not really add anything to our knowledge?
  • How would we know if our staff felt they were in danger of suffering burnout?

Jonathan Porter  talked about their “no excuses” behaviour policy. Whatever your behaviour policy:

  • You do need to evaluate if your policy works
  • Find out if there is any low level disruption
  • Do you know if there is any bullying?
  • If bullying is a problem, then how is it handled?
  • How are staff supported if there are concerns about the behaviour?
  • How are parents kept informed?
  • What are your exclusion rates?

The next person to speak was Joe Kirby who talked about their boot camp which is a week-long induction programme for new students and staff:

  • As governors are you aware how new students settle into your school?
  • Does the school get enough information from the previous schools?
  • What does the school do to make transition easy for students and parents?
  • Is there an induction system for new staff and governors?

Katie Ashford spoke about reading:

  • Do you know which reading strategies are used?
  • How do your students perform in phonics tests?
  • Is there a difference between the reading proficiency of boys and girls?
  • How do different groups perform as far as reading is concerned?

The last speaker was Barry Smith. Amongst other things, he spoke about the culture and ethos of the school. He told us how Michaela students behave in and out of school. As governors do you “feel” the culture when you go into school? Does your school just teach academic subjects or does it educate students in the widest sense of the word?

Are there any other questions you would ask or issues you would consider which fall into the above categories?

If you want to get a flavour of the day then have a look at my Storify where I’ve collated tweets by Oliver Caviglioli who’s visualisations of the speeches are just great!

Governor visits; getting it right matters.

Governors are supposed to hold the headteacher to account. They are supposed to monitor what happens in their school, what the teaching is like, are there any behavioural issues. In short, governors are expected to know about their school in some detail.

Part of this “knowing your school” comes from asking the school to provide the GB with data and scrutinising this data. Some of the data is available publicly. There is RAISEonline, the Ofsted data dashboard and the fft data dashboard. Governors are also expected to know what teaching is like and how quality of teaching relates to pay. NGA is producing a set of briefing notes which would be useful for governors to read to find out more about knowing your school.

Why should governors visit their school?
Governors can find out a lot about their school by visiting it.  The visit can be a “social visit” (for example when a governor attends a school event, such as a concert) or a “monitoring visit”. Some visits will have to be done as part of a named governor’s remit (for example SEN).

Visiting the school will also mean that governors can gather first hand knowledge about the strengths and weaknesses of their school. Ofsted is very keen that governors can demonstrate that they do not rely solely on information provided to them by the headteacher. Visits will help reassure governors that the information they receive from the school is accurate. (See my previous post where Ofsted talk about governor visits to schools).

Social visits allow governors to see the extra curricular aspects of the school.  The students, parents and staff can get to know governors and they can put faces to the names on the website.

The monitoring visits should be an integral part of the work of the GB. Governors are supposed to monitor and evaluate progress made by students. We should also have a thorough understanding of the school development plan (SDP). Governor visits will allow the GB to monitor the progress against the targets in the SDP. Some schools have governors linked to departments (for example Science, Maths etc) or specific areas, such as literacy. These governors should visit the school to monitor the areas they are responsible for.

What visits are not about
Governors must remember that they are not there to make a judgement on the quality of teaching. That is not the job of governors. Even if a governor is a teacher in another school and knows about judging quality of teaching, the visit is being undertaken as a governor and therefore a judgement on the quality of teaching must not be made.

Governors must remember that they are at school as a representative of a corporate body and not as an individual. They must not go into school with a personal agendas.

Governor Visit Protocol
Before governors go into schools the GB should draw up a protocol which would govern these visits. The protocol should be drawn up in consultation with the school staff. This would ensure that everyone involved knows why the visits are being conducted and how they would be conducted. The protocol should cover the following points.

  • The frequency of these visits
  • How will the visits be arranged (who will the governor contact in order to arrange the visit)
  • How will the governor report back (who sees the draft report, how is the final report distributed)
  • Approximate duration of the visit
  • Frequency of  visits

Do

  • Arrange the visit well in advance, giving as much notice as possible
  • Keep the Head informed. Agree the focus and purpose of the visit beforehand
  • Be punctual and try and stick to the agreed schedule as much as possible
  • Observe confidentiality
  • Try not to obstruct any classroom activities which may be taking place
  • Send your draft report to your link at the school and agree the draft before its distributed
  • Thank the students and staff at the end of the visit

Don’t

  • Go into the school without being invited
  • Walk in with a clipboard!
  • Look at books if you haven’t been invited to do so
  • Distract students or teachers in the classrooms
  • Make any judgements on the quality of teaching or marking
  • Use the phrase “lesson observation”. Instead use school/classroom visit
  • Identify individuals.

At the end of a cycle of visits the GB should consider if visits have had an impact and if they could be improved in any way. It might also be beneficial to get the staff view on this. Secondary school governors may find Wellcome Trust’s Questions for Governors to ask about science and maths useful. I know I and staff at my school have. They are a very good way of opening and facilitating discussions and also provide useful background information.

If visits are undertaken in a professional manner with the purpose clearly defined, they will help the GB discharge its monitoring duty.