Archive | December, 2021

Is it to be “virtual” or “real” or “virtual reality”?

20 Dec

It is confession time.   Until recently, I have been terrified of technology. Now I am just tech non-savvy. 

Members of my immediate family, my partner and our son and daughter look upon me with considerable pity. My grandson, Sami (who is eight years old), knows more about accessing various platforms, especially during the lockdowns (because his school lessons are now on-line) than I will ever know.  When he talks about platforms, I think of train stations.  Say the word, virtual, and I think of nearly and almost.

In the not-so-distant past, when the governors with whom I interacted talked about having meetings virtually, I was stumped – virtually.   Did they mean nearly or almost having the meetings?   In short, family and friends described me as a thoroughbred Luddite, displaying technophobic leanings.

Servicing the meetings of two governing boards since March 2020 has been a sharp learning curve for me.  However, thanks to the sympathetic and painstaking teachings of the headteachers of the two schools I serve – Enid Lewis of Park Lane Primary School in Wembley, and David Syed of Northview Primary School in Neasden, Northwest London – I have (at last) become “comfortable” in using Microsoft Teams and Zoom to interact and support the governors with whom I am contracted to interact and support.   And about time! At any rate, the headteachers and governors have breathed a sigh of relief to learn that the clerk is (at last) up to speed on limited technology.

Heaven knows when it will be safe for governors to meet in person.  But, whenever that time does arrive, what with the advances the scientists are making vis-à-vis the myriad vaccines currently being tried and rolled out around the world, would members of governing boards wish to meet in person? 

By then, governors may well be disinclined to do so for a host of reasons.   First, there is the business of travelling to and from the school/academy.   Attending and participating in meetings take time, organisation and energy.   If governors are parents, they have to arrange childcare.   Where governors live fair distances away from their schools/academies travel could be a problem, especially during winter when (as recently) we have been “holed in” with snow and ice.   Where governors hold demanding jobs, arrangements have to be made to leave work early, instead of at 7.00 p.m. when they are generally at their desks. 

Consequently, holding meetings “virtually” is definitely a huge advantage and, when the lockdown is over, the positives may be lost at a cost.    

However, there is a downside to governors not convening in the same room to discharge their functions.   To start with, many older governors, apart from viewing their images on-line with negativity, have yet to come to terms with the speed with which technology has moved forward.  Just ask Jackie Weaver, who hosted a meeting of Handforth parish council on 10 December 2020. She became an internet sensation of political drama.  Weaver starred in her role as the “clerk” to a meeting attempting to keep a handful of superannuated male councillors in order.  She simply muted those who were “misbehaving”.  However, despite her best efforts, it made for a chaotic virtual meeting, which was recorded and went viral. 

Many governors who are generally vocal in person, tend to go silent on Zoom/Microsoft Teams and those who would hesitate to demur in person, become quite stroppy on the internet.  

There is also something about body language when governors meet at their schools and academies.   While it is possible to signal that one wants to speak on a platform, the fact of the matter is that governors (meeting virtually) lose track of what they should “click” to signal this intention.  Sometimes, the chair loses her/his way too, in picking up such signals.  It so much easier to do so in person.  

Further, something is lost in translation by governors not convening in person.  To start with, many governing boards look forward to refreshing themselves with tea, cakes, sandwiches and sympathy before launching into the meetings.   They engage in the informal chat and gossip before meetings and frequently linger after them to do so.   This is conspicuous by its absence when convening on Zoom or Microsoft Teams.  

While it appears that we have a long, long way to go before governors may be able to convene in person, it is well worth thinking about whether there will be merit it doing so.   May be, governors can compromise and do a mix-and-match – with some meetings held “bodily” and others “virtually”.  However, I would suggest that they don’t waste time having a huge debate about whether they should do so. They would be in danger of emulating the behaviour of the councillor in Handforth, Cheshire and need a meeting or two to decide on how to meet.