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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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Green Paper: Schools that work for everyone

1 Jan

I        Preamble

On 12 September, the Government published the Green Paper, Schools that work for everyone, which the Department for Education (DfE) has taken off the websiteThe deadline for responses was 12 December 2016.   We now have to wait on the Secretary of State, Justine Greening, to give the nation a steer on where she wishes to go from here.

The Green Paper proposed a number of recommendations which, if implemented, will affect four discrete institutions:

  • Independent Schools
  • Universities
  • Selective Schools
  • Free Schools which are faith orientated

The proposals were issued against the background of increasing pressure on school places – especially good ones.  Primary numbers grew by 11% between 2010 and 2016. This will feed into the secondary sector for the rest of the life of this Parliament.   The most recent projections are that the primary school population is estimated to increase by a further 174,000 (3.9%) from the current year to 2020.  The secondary school population will rise by 284,000 (10.3%) over the same period.

While the Green Paper made it abundantly clear that the government would continue to support schools with the Pupil Premium Grant to promote the education of the most socially deprived children in our system – i.e. those entitled to free school meals (FSM) and in care – it expressed government concerns that those children whose families just fail to qualify – i.e. the just about managing (JAM) – were being short-changed.

Children entitled to FSM come from families in one of these classifications. Those in receipt of

  • Income Support
  • Income-Based Jobseekers Allowance
  • Income-Based Employment and Support Allowance
  • Child Tax Credit
  • Working Tax Credit
  • Universal Credit

This effectively means that if either parent/carer is earning more than £16,190 annually, the child does not qualify for FSM.  In January 2016, the national average for those entitled to FSM was 14.3%. The government is, however, worried about children in families on modest incomes who do not qualify for such benefits but are, nevertheless struggling financially.

Information on the educational achievements of such children is opaque as it melds with data on those who come from well-heeled backgrounds.  Accordingly, the first two questions that the Green Paper posed for us were as follows.

  • How can we identify such children?
  • How can we better understand the impact of policy on a wider cohort of pupils whose life chances are profoundly affected by school but who may not qualify or apply for free school meals?

So what plans does the government has for the four groups set out above?

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Ofsted Annual Report 2015/16

1 Jan

Preamble

Sir Michael Wilshaw, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools (HMCI), published his fifth and final Ofsted annual report on the education system in England on Thursday, 1 December 2016.  He retired 30 days later.  In presenting the report, Sir Michael said “a world class education system is within our grasp – but only if serious capacity challenges are urgently addressed”.

Sir Michael stressed that a north/south ‘geographical divide’ meant the ablest pupils in the North and Midlands were less likely to reach A/A* at GCSE. He said: “Standards can only truly be considered high if they are high in every part of the country and for all pupils regardless of background or ability.”

However, his report is, in the main, positive.    The country’s schools/academies, he avers, had made progress over the last five years. Educators could be justly proud.  “Young people are getting a better deal than ever before,” he said.  School/academy leaders responded well to the changes in the system.  The decision to replace the “satisfactory” judgement with “requires improvement” led to schools/academies upping their game, making a greater effort ensuring that pupils are offered the very best possible education.     Of the former 4,800 satisfactory primary schools/academies, 79% were now good or outstanding and, of the previous satisfactory secondary ones, 56% were good or better.

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Governors need to up their game in challenging school/academy leadership, says Ofsted

1 Jan

The schools’ inspectorate Ofsted published a new report in December 2016 on the state of school governance, called Improving governance: Governance arrangements in complex and challenging circumstances.

The report is based on 2,632 responses to Ofsted’s public call for evidence last autumn, 96 routine inspections or monitoring visits, and dedicated visits made by inspectors to 24 schools which had recently improved standards. The report outlines the barriers faced by governors in these schools and the actions taken to strengthen their professional skills to fulfil their roles.

Ofsted’s report stated that governors often lack the necessary skills and training to challenge school leaders effectively. At one institution, the governing body accepted a senior leader’s assurance that the school budget was in a healthy position. A week later, the governors discovered that the school had a deficit of more than £300,000.

Weak governance is associated with governors’ lack of knowledge about pupil progress and achievement or budget management at their schools/academies. Governors’ failure to challenge their headteachers follows from this lack of knowledge, according to the report.   “When inspectors judge the leadership and management of a school to be less than good, a common underlying weakness is the failure of governors to hold school leaders to account,” the report states.

More than 2,000 respondents also told Ofsted that recruitment and retention of governors was a challenge. This was especially so in the poorest areas of the country. “The challenge in finding governors with the necessary knowledge and skills was often greater for those schools that were in areas where unemployment was high and qualifications low.”

In one school, parent governors told inspectors that they knew that teaching and learning were improving only because their own children had told them so. “On all of these boards, governors did not have enough knowledge about their roles and responsibilities,” the report stated. “These weak governing boards rarely looked outwards and often failed to keep up to date with developments in education. They tended to pay little attention to pupils’ outcomes.”

Consequently, governors lacked the ability to raise important issues, or to ask probing questions. They became over-reliant on their headteachers’ version of events.

Weak governance often remained undetected until the school/academy was inspected by Ofsted. Two-thirds of the schools/academies surveyed had not identified any weaknesses in governance until Ofsted had judged the schools/academies to be less than good.

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Towards good governance: mind the pitfalls

28 Aug

I           Preamble

Ministers and civil servants of the Department for Education (DfE) exhort schools to populate our governing bodies with governors who are knowledgeable and have discrete skills in areas such as human resources, estate management, finance and the law, among other things.  Where governors have gaps in knowledge, they are encouraged to read and train to discharge their responsibilities well.   The National Governors’ Association (NGA) has produced an excellent skills audit for governing bodies to identify and plug the gaps in knowledge and skills.

However, like a football team comprising talented players, a governing body may well have members who are both, knowledgeable and skilled, in all the identified areas, yet fail to function like a well-oil machine.  Why?

When I was a teacher and planned residential trips for groups of pupils, I organised games for them at the end of an arduous day’s work.  One game I played was to ask children to walk from point A to point B blindfolded.   Between the two points, I would place obstacles and invited each child to remember where these were placed by taking a good look before putting on the blindfold.  The children took it in turns to do so.  The one that succeeded did not touch any obstacle.

Often, when the “chosen one” began the journey, her/his peers shouted out instructions about the direction in which the child should move and the obstacles s/he was to avoid.      It was a great challenge which the youngsters enjoyed enormously. Sometimes, before the blindfolded child began the journey, I would mischievously take away all the obstacles. It was great fun to hear peers shouting “Left!”, “Right!” and “Straight”, “Avoid this!” and “Beware of that!” when there were no obstacles on the way and to see the surprised face of the “chosen one” at the end of the journey when the blindfold was removed.

The lesson that I learnt (and hoped the children did too) was that when embarking on a journey it is as important to know what to do as what not to do, to get from point A to point B.   For governors to be classed as “Outstanding” by Ofsted and others, it is no different.

So, what can governors do and avoid doing to succeed by minding the pitfalls and gaps?   There are (in broad terms) two groups and one individual comprising the (governing) body, per se.   The first group comprises the patricians – i.e. the Chair and Headteacher; the second group is made up of the plebeians – the rest of the members; and finally, we have the clerk, the servant of the governing body.  Each category has issues which can act as hazards.   Continue reading