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Coping with the physical and mental damage of Covid-19

27 Aug

The summer term of 2020 will be memorable.  Who would have thought that when the new year broke, we would be on the cusp of experiencing the most gruelling time on this planet testing the leaders of schools and academies to the limit?  This is what precisely happened as we approached the end of the spring term.  Having originated in a market in Wuhan, China, at the tail-end of 2019, Covid-19, the virus, leapt from bats to humans.  Since then, this microscopic predator has wreaked havoc on humankind, laying low many people’s lives, devasting the world’s finances and disrupting civilization as we have known it.  The world’s scientists, at the time of writing, are frantically trying to find a cure to fight the enemy and a vaccine to stop it from entering humans and creating more mayhem.  At the earliest, they will not know if they are successful until the year ends and 2021 dawns.

Education – among most aspects of life – has been clobbered by Covid-19.

Schools and academies have been compelled to shut down during the summer term of 2020 and, at the time of writing, are directed to reopen in September 2020.  However, the government has a fight on its hands with the unions, especially as scientists have now discovered that youngsters from the age of 10 upwards can become infected with the virus and worse still, pass it on to adults – teachers, support staff and, of course, their parents.

School and academy leaders have on the one hand to do everything possible guard their communities – pupils and staff – from the virus and, on the other hand, act as “piggy-in-the-middle” between the government that is determined that institutions will open in September and the unions who justifiably fear for the lives of their members.   Their leadership will be severely tested trying to promote peace between two warring factions.

In the middle of it all are the children, who have suffered greatly, the poor and disadvantaged more than the rest.  In my mind’s eye, I see two bulls at war with each other – the government on the one hand and the unions on the other.  The ground on which they do battle are the schools and academies, and the lives that they imperil the most are the children.  I often wish that if they must fight, they take their feuds elsewhere.  However, they don’t, and they can’t.   The curious feature of this conflict is that both sides aver that they take the stance that they do in the best interests of the children.

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Managing critical incidents: tragedies, threats and disasters

12 Aug

(1)     Preparing for the unexpected

Schools/academies are centres of learning.  However, threats, disasters and tragedies sometimes disrupt the conditions for learning.   Governors, headteachers and staff must deal with mishaps and calamities expeditiously and effectively as and when they arise.  This is possible only if there are critical incident plans in place.   Better still, governors, headteachers and staff should be familiar with the contents of these plans and take swift and appropriate action in line with them as and when needs must.

What does one do if the school/academy is on fire? How will the authorities act if pupils on a school trip are involved in a car, plane, train or boat crash?  What if a pupil suffering from epilepsy has a fit but the school is not aware of her condition or does not know what to do in such an eventuality?   Preparation for these unusual events are crucial for the smooth running of the institution.

The Department for Education (DfE) has provided useful guidance for schools/academies on what to do to plan for such emergencies. A plan must be generic and provide for responding appropriate to the following incidents.

  • Serious injury to a pupil or member of staff as a consequence (for instance) of a transport accident
  • Serious injuries to pupils who are on a school trip on road, sea or air
  • Significant damage to school property (e.g. fire)
  • Criminal activity (e.g. bomb threat)
  • Severe weather resulting, for instance, in flooding
  • Public health incidents such as a flu pandemic
  • The effects of a disaster in the local community – such as the Grenfell Tower inferno that happened in the summer of 2019.

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Damian Hinds’s possible educational agenda for English schools

20 Apr

Damian Hinds was appointed Education Secretary on 7 January 2018, when Theresa May reshuffled her Cabinet.  He replaced Justine Greening, who turned down May’s offer to become the Secretary for Works and Pensions. Hinds rose from being a Whip to Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury then on to the Department for Works and Pensions as Employment Minister before taking on his current job.

Educated at the voluntary aided Roman Catholic Grammar School, St Ambrose College in Altrincham, Cheshire, he went on to read Philosophy, Politics and Economics in Oxford, securing a first-class degree. During his stay, he was elected President of the Oxford Union Society.

He was elected to Parliament in 2010 from East Hampshire, re-elected in 2015 and then in 2016 – increasing his majority from 56.8%, to 60.7% to 63.6% of the votes cast.

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Governors’ effectiveness: skills and knowledge not enough

18 Aug

The Department for Education (DfE) exhorts governing bodies to recruit governors in accordance with the skills.  This is best achieved if the governing board carries out a skills audit prior to the recruitment process to see what skills gaps exist.  The National Governors’ Association (NGA) has an excellent template for governors to engage in such a skills audit.  However, it is not possible to use the template unless the governors are members.

Tap into the Google search machine – Governors’ Skills Audit – and you will access 620 links.  Once the governing body knows what it wants, it begins the trawling process and, if savvy, seeks the help of the Schools Governors’ One-Stop Shop (SGOSS) and/or Inspiring Governors to help it get what it wants.  Both organisations carry out with great efficiency the task of finding governing bodies suitable persons – with legal expertise, financial nous, human resources know-how, curriculum proficiency and many other skills.

Over 300,000 school governors are required in England alone.   Our schools depend on their largesse to serve and contribute without the expectation of being remunerated or even given a stipend.   Several schools carry governor vacancies.  Inner city ones have several vacancies and are hard-pressed to find people willing to contribute their time and talent to their local schools.

At a time when the country’s economy is not exactly in good shape, many in society are scratching around for a living, providing for their families and making ends meet.   Altruism is in short supply and hard to come by.   The upshot is that a governing board is often keen to appoint anyone who breathes as a member.    However, it does so at its peril.

Skills are vital – more so than experience, albeit how many years someone has served as a governor could be advantageous.   The question is what is the quality of that experience.   Experience of engaging in bad practice is worse than having no experience of being a governor.  There is no fool like an old one.

So, what can be done to ensure that one’s governing board has members who are not just functional but also flourishing.  Having the right skills and experience are important but there are other requirements if governors are to be effective.

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