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How will inspectors assess governors as leaders?

12 Aug

From September 2019, Ofsted’s new inspection model takes effect.   There will not be a separate judgement for governors. Rather, inspectors will include a section on governance in their report subsuming governance practice into leadership and giving leadership a grade.   What does this mean?

I           The areas that will come under the microscope

Gulshan Kayembe, one of The Key’s associate experts who has experience of inspecting schools and academies, has described what the inspectors will be scrutinising when judging governance. Set out below are the key questions they will ask themselves prior to making judgements. For instance, do governors

  • understand their role and carry it out effectively;
  • ensure the school/academy has a clear vision, ethos, and strategic direction;
  • ensure resources are well managed;
  • hold executive leaders – the headteacher or the Chief Education Officer (CEO), for example – to account for educational performance and the performance management of staff;
  • oversee the financial performance of the school/academy, and ensure money is well spent (including the pupil premium);
  • hold leaders to account for the quality of education and staff training;
  • ensure the provider fulfils its statutory duties (complying with provisions of the Equality Act 2010, implementing the Prevent Strategyand abiding by the advice contained in Keeping Children Safe in Education);
  • promote the welfare of learners; and
  • ensure that the education the school/academy provided has a positive impact on all its pupils?

The full judgement on leadership covers a wide range of matters for which the school/academy leaders are responsible.

You can read a full description of the judgements vis-à-vis governance on pages 66 to 67 (paragraphs 233 to 241) of the inspection handbook.

In maintained schools, those responsible for governance are governors. In a single academy trust, it’s the trustees. In Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs), it may be local governors or trustees depending on the scheme of delegation.

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An effective clerk’s responsibilities to the governing board

4 Jan

I           The governing board’s tripod

The effectiveness of a governing board is dependent on a range of factors.  It is difficult to put these factors in a pecking order of importance.   However, every person on the governing board should operate with conscientious and probity by

(i)         discharging her/his responsibilities responsibly and

(ii)        acting in concert with the other governors to make the whole greater than that of the sum of the parts.

Three important people stand out with their noses just ahead of the rest of the members of the governing board. They are the chair, the headteacher and the clerk. The legislation prescribes that every school/academy must have a headteacher and chair on and a clerk serving the governing board. However, the headteacher may opt not to be a governor, though her/his attendance at the meetings is imperative.

  • The chair holds the reins of operations. S/he invests more time and effort than the rank and file of governors and is the port of call in emergencies.
  • The headteacher acts as the point of contact between the governing board and the school’s community, i.e. the pupils, staff and parents. S/he operates as a conduit for communication or (to mix my metaphors) a gatekeeper – ensuring that governors keep their noses out of issues of management.  However, the headteacher in the latter role – the management supremo – could also be obstructive – a definite no-no – and block governors from discharging their responsibilities.
  • Last, but by no means the least, every governing board has a clerk. In the halcyon days, the clerk operated as a glorified cleric (in a non-religious way).   Not so any more.

Much has been written about the role of the chair and the headteacher, vis-à-vis governors’ efficiency and effectiveness; much less about the role of the clerk.  The National Governors’ Association has spearheaded training for clerks so that they can understand governance, develop knowledge, secure the skills necessary to service the needs of governors and governing boards and act as the governing board’s trusted adviser.  It is a vital role for governors to discharge their responsibilities responsibly if the governing board is to act efficiently and effectively, adding value to the school/academy.

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Clerking Governing Bodies Professionally

18 Aug

I        The Clerk Competency Framework and how it can be used

Not so long ago, the National Governors’ Association proposed that the clerk to the governing board should be renamed the “director of governance”.   This is unsurprising, as the responsibilities of the clerk have grown in proportion to those of the governors she/he serves.

In April 2017, the Department for Education (DfE) published a competency framework for clerking.  It provides non-statutory guidance on what it takes to make clerks effective in maintained schools, academies and multi-academy trusts.

How can the framework be used?

Governing boards can use the framework in several ways.

(i)         The first is to understand the role of professional clerking and how it can improve governance.

(ii)        They can treat the competencies as a template for a person specification when recruiting clerks.

(iii)       The framework may be used to set clerks their objectives and for performance appraisals.

(iv)       Finally, the document may be used to identify where improvements may be required in the service they receive from their clerk.

In turn, professional clerks can use the framework to assess their own practice and identify their training needs.

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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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Planning for the financial year: timetable of activities

18 Apr

Governors’ responsibilities have grown (with their powers) like Topsy.  That 350,000 citizens in this country chose to become governors is amazing, given that they are required to discharge these responsibilities for the love of their schools and the children in them in their spare time.   It is, therefore, critical to plan work annually to ensure that governors do not collapse under the pressures stemming from the responsibilities they must bear.  Set out below (with some help of The Key, a governors’ organisation) are the tasks that governors are required to undertake and suggestions about when precisely they should be tackled.

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The challenge of governance

18 Apr

In the report of the inspectorate, Ofsted, Improving governance: Governance arrangements in complex and challenging circumstances, published in December 2016, a key recommendation was that governors secure clarity of roles, responsibilities and lines of accountability.  This is a bit of a tall order, given that the boundaries between governance and management are blurred.

There are a few things, however, that are clear.

First, no governor – apart from the Chair who can act in an emergency – has powers s/he can exercise and certainly not in school on a normal working day.  These powers are reposed in the Headteacher.  The powers of governors lie with the corporate governing body, which some governors find irksome given individuals’ penchant for control over others.    However, most governors welcome acting in concert and, certainly, no governor would want to be held personally liable if anything goes pear-shaped – especially in finance.

Second, governors are responsible for developing the strategy of a school, i.e. setting out the overarching objectives in the School Development Plan (SDP), determining the overall expenditure for the year in the light of the budget received but giving the Headteacher space to meet the objectives and spend the budget in line with the levels of expenditure agreed with the governors for the different areas of school life.

Thirdly, governors hold the headteacher and her/his senior management team to account – checking out how well the objectives are met and ensuring that the expenditure is in line with the plans made and that senior school staff members operate in an ethical manner.

The third area – the accountability – is daunting because of the requirement for governors to offer “challenge”.  This word has become hackneyed.  As clerk to several governing bodies, I am constantly pressed by governors to ensure that in the minutes I include the word, “challenge” repeatedly to please Ofsted inspectors, whenever they do pay a visit.  At such times, I wince.  Often, the casualty of “challenge” is “support”, i.e. working in collaboration with the headteacher and her/his senior colleagues.   Challenge and support are not exclusive but rather complementary – two sides of the same coin marked “school improvement”.

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What’s in it for me?

1 Jan

As we stand on the cusp of another US Presidential inaugural address and, with bated breath, wait to hear what the newly elected President-designate, Trump, has to say on 20 January 2017, I cannot help recalling John Kennedy’s speech 56 years ago, in particular, his stirring conclusion: “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country……..Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask for you…..”

We have just come out of the festive Christmas season.   In many households, the occasion brought a glut of excess – over-eating, over-sleeping, over-drinking and everything else that could smack of degeneracy.   However, it was also a season of giving. In particular, I am thinking of the thousands, if not millions, of those who gave up their own celebrations to be of comfort and bring happiness, joy and companionship to those that were much less fortunate than themselves.  In particular, I pay tribute to Crisis at Christmas, which established centres all of the country, providing succour to thousands of homeless people – with warmth, food, drink, medical attention and counselling.   This would not have been possible without an army of volunteers.

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