Tag Archives: Skills

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?

Competency framework matters; personal attributes of effective governors

The Competency Framework lists personal attributes which governors should bring to the board in order to ensure effective governance. I have previously posted slides which detail the competencies needed by all governors, by chairs and by at least one person on the board. Below are slides dealing with the personal attributes of effective governors.

Five ways for heads to turn governors into a critical friend

This is an edited version of an article written by Jarlath O’Brien (headteacher of Carwarden House Community School in Surrey) published in the 9 October edition of TES. To read the full article, subscribe to TES. It is being posted here with their permission.

My first brush with school governors came fairly early in my teaching career. All new staff were asked to meet the governors in the library at the end of the day. As I trooped in with my colleagues, I was accosted by a diminutive, regal-looking lady.

“Ah, good evening. You must be the head boy,” she purred.

“No. I’m the [28-year-old] head of physics,” I replied.

That was it for me and governors for about six years.

I only really got to know the ins and outs of governance when I was a deputy headteacher at a large special school. Later, as a head, I began to grasp the delicate nuances of the relationship. Finally, after four years of headship, I realised the truth of the matter: you end up with the governing body you deserve.

What do I mean by this? Well, as a headteacher, you have the power to turn your governors into the strategic driving force they should be – or into an irritant to be avoided and reluctantly tolerated. Governors may start off in either camp (and anywhere in between), but where they end up during your headship is entirely down to you.

In the 9 October issue of TES, I detail seven ways to make sure you and your governors are at the positive end of the spectrum.

  1. Work on your relationship with the chair
    This trumps everything else. This relationship has equal importance, in my view, to the ones you have with your deputy and your school business manager. You’re not there to be best friends, but you do need to be professionally aligned. I tell my chair of governors everything and really value their perspective on things. When other heads say “I just tell my chair what to do” or “I ignore my chair”, I know a big opportunity has gone begging and a brake has been applied to progress.
  2. Respect your governors
    Get reports and papers to them on time so they can read them. It’s the least you can do. I used to complain about meetings on a Tuesday evening, preferring them later in the week. It never occurred to me that it might be the only night my governors were free – juggling, as they were, the rest of their busy lives.
  3. Help governors to feel less isolated
    The role of school governor can be a lonely one. They rarely have the luxury we have of visiting other schools regularly and building a professional network (although Twitter has been brilliant for governors). I’ve been able to help that along a little by organising meetings with other governing bodies to discuss key issues, although I hope to do more.
  4. Spread the love
    If yours is the only voice the governors hear at meetings, something needs to change. As a matter of course, I do not attend all committee meetings – our exceptional deputy head does a superb job in my place. Were I to attend alongside her, I’d find it hard to shut up; she would have less room to develop and the governors wouldn’t get to hear from other leaders. Make opportunities for other senior leaders and middle leaders to attend meetings, to discuss their areas of accountability and to be questioned by governors.
  5. Make your headteacher reports count
    These reports are for the governors’ use and the format and contents should be set by the board. The governors dictate what information they want to see – it’s your job to present this in as accessible a format as possible.


Staff interviews; strategic and operational matters

One of the most important jobs a governor could be asked upon to perform is to appoint the head and be involved in the appointment of the senior leadership team. These are key strategic decisions and therefore governors are, rightly, asked to be part of them. Where things get muddied is when governors get involved in appointments of staff who are not part of the leadership team. This can happen for a host of reasons. The governing board and/or school may think that appointments of all staff are part of our function. The board may have someone who has HR experience or qualifications and therefore it is thought that it would be good to involve them and use their expertise. The school may not have enough staff to form an interview panel and asks governors to make up numbers. The Head may get along really well with the Chair and other governors and values their opinion. None of these, in my opinion, are valid reasons for governors to stray into what is essentially an operational matter.

It is true that governing boards are now expected to recruit for skills. This, however, does not mean that boards are looking for free or cheap labour! If there is an HR expert on the board then that does not means that he/she should be involved in interviews as an HR expert. Schools should have procedures in place to take care of HR. Having skilled people on the board means you have people who have the skill to ask the right questions to determine if the right procedures are in place and being adhered to. They are not there to DO the work.

If the school does not have enough people to make up an interview panel then that may mean two things. The school leadership may not be doing enough to develop and train their middle and senior leaders. These interviews are an excellent opportunity for heads to develop their team. So, instead of offering to plug the gap, governors need to be looking at why these skills are not present in house. The other thing you need to consider is if it is time to admit that you are too small to be viable and look at federating or joining a MAT. This is something that is hard to hear and take on board, but if you need governors to form an interview panel then your school may be just too small to be viable.

Sometimes governors say that the head really values their opinion and therefore asks them along to the interviews. It is good to hear that the head values their views but, and this is a big but, the head should not ask governors to stray into operational matters and governors need to be clear about this. Heads, chairs and governors should share opinions and should have regard to each others’ views but this should only apply to strategic matters.

Governors have been known to say that governance take up a lot of their time. This is one example of time spent by governors on doing something which is not part of their role.

I did a search on the web for examples of questions teachers and classroom assistants could be asked at interviews. Examples of these are copied below.

Interview questions

  • What are your particular strengths in the curriculum? (Primary Teachers)
  • If we were to walk in to your classroom what would we see?
  • Tell us about a recent lesson which was good and why you felt it was good/successful
  • Tell us about a recent lesson which was not so good and why you felt it was not as successful as you would have liked
  • How is your classroom management?
  • Name some methods/strategies you use to maintain discipline in your classes
  • How do you help weaker students in your classes?
  • How do you differentiate work?
  • How do you know if students are learning in your class?
  • How do you gauge this?
  • What forms of assessment do you use and how do you use this information? How does this impact on planning and future activities?
  • Do you use formative or summative assessment in your teaching?

Teaching Assistant

  • Why do you want to be a teaching assistant?
  • Why do you think you would be a good teaching assistant?
  • What do you think the role of a teaching assistant is?
  • What do you think will be the main activities you will do each day as a teaching assistant?
  • How would you deal with a child who was throwing paper around the classroom?
  • What’s your experience of working with children?
  • Why do you enjoy working with children?
  • What experience could you bring from previous posts to your work at this school?
  • What would you do if a child complained they were bored?
  • What would you do if a child didn’t understand what they were supposed to be doing?
  • How could you support pupils’ reading?
  • How can you tell whether children have learnt something during the task they’ve just completed?

After reading these questions I am even more convinced that taking part in interviews for positions other than those of the leadership team is not a strategic role. It leads to confusion about the different roles, interference in management, governors spending time on something which NGA and DfE agree is not part of governor’s remit and also means that opportunities for development of leaders are reduced or lost.





Skill matters

There is a national debate at the moment focusing on stakeholder versus skill based model for governing bodies. The skill based model is gaining favour with more and more people. The stakeholder model, however, still has its champions. So, what are my thoughts on this?

I started out as a stakeholder governor myself but I am rapidly going off this model of governance. Having stakeholders on the governing body for the sake of having stakeholders, to me, seems to be an inefficient way of governing. When we talk of stakeholders we usually mean parents and staff, but it does not follow that just because they have an interest in the school they will necessarily make good governors too. In fact, with both groups of governors there may be associated challenges specific to that group. Parent governors may be unable to take off the parent hat and put on the governor hat. They may know the school well, but that knowledge may be clouded by the experience their child has had. I get very worried when people say that parent governors know the school very well. They do, I admit, but how many of them know the WHOLE school rather than just the form/year their child is in? If you ask parent governors why they joined the governing body, one of the answers you get is “because I wanted to find out more about my child’s school”. Don’t you think the emphasis should be on “the school” rather than “my child’s” school? I have heard it said that the presence of parent governors sometimes turns the governing body into a PTA.

The next group of stakeholders are staff governors who face challenges of their own. They will have to watch out for conflicts of interest. They will have to be strong enough to go against the Head if that is what they felt was the right thing to do. They, too, will need to learn to leave the staff hat on the hat stand and pick up the governor hat. The fact that they know a lot about the school and education is a given, but do they know how to govern? I’ve heard people complain that staff governors do not attend induction training which many consider should be mandatory.

When we talk about stakeholders, we tend to forget about the biggest stakeholder, the students. I know that some governing bodies have students as associate governors while other invite student leaders to meetings. But not all! If you are an advocate of the stakeholder model then maybe you should make sure that your governing body has student representation. Some may argue that having parent governors is one way of giving voice to students but those of us who are parents will know that what parents think and want may be very different from what the children do!

Now, let’s turn to the skill based model. What do we mean by that? Do we want a governing body totally composed of lawyers, accountants, people from a business background? What we forget is that it may not be appropriate for the governing body to use the “day job” skills of these people. Are we looking for people to provide free legal advice or free financial advice? Absolutely not!

So, what IS it that we want and need? We actually need people who know when the governing body needs legal advice or when the governing body needs to seek financial advice. We need people with what Clare Collins has termed as soft skills. We need people to be able to read and understand basic data. We need people who are team players. We need people who have community awareness. We need people who are not afraid of asking questions. We need people who are not afraid of having challenging conversations. We need people who can link different types of information, make connections between these different types of information and then ask questions and draw conclusions. We need people who have the skill to see the trees for the forest. We need people who have good communications skills, including the skill to listen. We need people who know how to negotiate. We need people who know how to mediate. We need people who can mentor new governors and help them to realise their potential. A tall order, I hear you say as it will be well nigh impossible to get people who possess all these skills. The thing to remember is that the governing does need all these skills so when we appoint governors (be they stakeholders or not) we should do it in such a way that the governing body ends up as a body with all these skills.