Archive | Issue 76 – Summer 2020 RSS feed for this section

Are computers assets or liabilities to Learning?

13 Apr

I recall clerking several governing boards at the turn of the nougties (around 2010) when Interactive White Boards (IWBs) became the rage in many schools and academies.   The IWB craze was followed by one for laptops and Ipads.  Headteachers professed to their governors and swore by their holy books that this was the future of learning and persuaded them to release chunks of their institutions’ budgets to purchase all things technologically new on the market.  Many governors complied.  How could they do anything else, given that they were the lay people and their headteachers the professionals?

As we enter the third decade of this century, we are discovering that computers are not what so many thought them to be.  Rather, like fire, water, money and (yes) even food, computers can be used for good – and bad.  Under control, they can be a force for extensive learning.  Out of control – they can destroy young people’s lives.

More recently, researchers have discovered that computers do not necessarily enhance learning.   Readers who know me could well be justified in recognising a Luddite. They would be partly right in doing so.   I need my son and daughter to help navigate the intricacies of the digital age – the PC, laptop and mobile phone especially – and have the patience of Job so do so.

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Lockdown: Most Serious Educational Disruption in a Lifetime

13 Apr

I         The Good, Bad and Ugly

Times of crises bring out the best and worst of human nature.   We have seen amazing acts of kindness coming from all quarters.  Neighbours, for instance, have marshalled their resources offering to support the elderly, the sick and the housebound in a range of matters.

Daniel Kaufman, Senior Fellow, Global Economy and Development, wrote from Washington, D.C. that he ventured out briefly on 18 March 2020 “to the store a block away, estimating that the weekly truck may have come to partly replenish the empty shelves”.  He and his wife needed an item in short supply, a hand sanitizer bottle.  He asked at the counter whether the pharmacy had any.   The staff members replied that the last few bottles had been sold.   A young woman, who was paying at the next counter, turned to him, opened her bag, and quickly handed him a small bottle of hand sanitizer. He resisted at first, telling her that it was truly hers and that she also very much needed to use it. She insisted, saying that she had two more bottles, and emphasized that at a difficult time like this they needed to share.

He thanked her profusely, observing a social distance.  As they were leaving, a man in his eighties, using a cane, came towards Kaufman, “beaming at the sight of the just-gifted little bottle” in his hand.  He asked if many were still left on the shelf and if so, where he could find them.  Kaufman replied that there weren’t any and offered him the one sold to him by the kind, young woman.   She heard the exchange, went towards them, opened her bag again, took out the second bottle and told the elderly gentleman that he could have hers (and not Kaufman’s).  Each one of the three now had one bottle of hand-sanitizer.  Kaufman was touched.

Outside the store, he saw her. They introduced themselves to each other.  He said he was Chilean and enquired whether she was Canadian. She courteously replied that she was a U.S. citizen. She wondered aloud why Kaufman thought she was Canadian. He explained that there was a new term that had been coined in Canada: “It is solidarity and mutual help turned into concrete community action, which quickly spread through Canada.” She appreciated the exchange, and she asked whether Kaufman and his wife needed any help, and likewise he asked her. They parted.

Having emanated from Wuhan in China, Coronavirus has spread like wildfire blown by lusty winds right across the world.  After China, Italy and Spain were hit the hardest.  At the time of writing, citizens of both countries were quarantined.  Italy that invented opera.  In an amateur video, the Italian Air Force flew a single jet, representing the virus, meeting other fighter jets streaming the colours of the Italian flat.  And Pavarotti sang: “Nessun Dorma” from Puccini’s Turandot with the lyrics: “We shall overcome.”

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Coronavirus: what governors need to do now

13 Apr

We are going through testing times, worse than those experienced during the 2008 financial crash, and probably the worst since World War II.  At least, in the last world war, the enemy was visible.  Not so Covid 19, the virus that has ravished the planet.  Governing boards, like the schools and academies they oversee and serve, will have to adapt rapidly to a new way of working, understand what’s expected of the chair and how all governors can support their institutions, during this period of prolonged closure.

The Key, a governors’ organisation, has produced some excellent advice for the chair of the governing board during these testing times. What follows is a synopsis of that advice which has been put together for The Key by Lucinda Bell, a senior lawyer specialising in education law, Jacqueline Baker, an education consultant who specialises in senior leadership recruitment, and Gulshan Kayembe, an independent consultant who has been an inspector.

I      Preamble

Since schools and academies closed for most pupils on 23 March, headteachers and staff members have had to get to grips with a whole new way of working.   Leaders ae running things quite differently and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.  The role of chair of the board of a school/academy board will evolve too.  Meanwhile, what can the chair do best to discharge her/his functions?

(a)     Support the headteacher

What a headteacher considers to be supportive and how much of that s/he needs from the chair will depend on the headteacher on the one hand and the capabilities of the chair on the other.

(b)     Take the lead from the headteacher

The most important thing for the chair is to let her/his headteacher know that s/he is available to the headteacher and ask her/him how frequently both should communicate with and contact each other.  There’s a fine line between support and getting in the way.

(c)      Be the link between the school/academy and the board

The chair should let governors know that all communication with the school/academy should be managed through the chair. Though well-meaning, a flurry of emails will simply burden school leaders.  It is critical to head this off at the outset.

The chair should let governors know that s/he will be communicating with them, possibly on a weekly or fortnightly basis by email.

(d)     Be a sounding board

The chair could be asked about operational decisions by the headteacher, who should be given the opportunity to run these past her/him.  The chair’s role here is to act as a sounding board, not to hijack the headteacher’s powers and responsibilities. If asked by the headteacher what s/he should do in a specific instance, the chair should offer thoughts and then be prepared to step back. The actual decision sits with the headteacher.

(e)      Show the headteacher and staff some love

The chair could write a letter of support from the whole board to the headteacher and staff to demonstrate appreciation.  This can go a long way to making the headteacher and staff feel supported and valued.

II     Meetings

(a)     Holding remote, ‘virtual’ meetings

The chair should avoid all non-essential contact, and this includes governing board meetings. The DfE is advising boards to use alternative arrangements, like video or teleconferencing, instead of face-to-face meetings. The Key has provided very good guidance about holding meetings “virtually”. This can be accessed here.

On a practical level, the chair must plan for what to do if s/he and the vice chair aren’t available for a meeting or to support the headteacher and maintain contact with the school/academy.

Review succession planning and make sure each governor knows when s/he is expected to step up.

Also plan for the possibility of the clerk being unavailable. One of the governors (but not the headteacher) is allowed to step in to clerk a meeting, if needed.

(b)     Be sensible about agenda items

Meetings should focus on urgenttime-bound decisions. Some examples of items on which to focus are as follows.

  • Approval of the Schools Financial Value Standards document to be submitted to the local authority (maintained schools), if not done so already.
  • Approving the budget
  • Approving pay recommendations
  • Recruiting a headteacher (if relevant)
  • Staff restructures (if relevant)

The governing board would be forgiven if it delayed consideration of the following.

(c)      When to use chair’s action

If something urgent arises and it’s not possible for the board to meet, the chair has the power to act during the emergency such as updating the vital child protection policy or handling an urgent press response.

III    Decide how to handle statutory procedures

There may be some time-bound matters that will have to be delayed, given the extraordinary circumstances.  Here is a sample.

(a)     Grievances and disciplinary appeals

The board can continue these remotely if all parties agree to do so and if it’s practicable (e.g. all witnesses can attend remotely, evidence can still be gathered, etc). If anyone demurs, governors will have to defer these until the school/academy re-opens.

(b)     Exclusions

The government closed schools and academies on 23 March 2020. However, they continue to remain open for a small number of pupils. This has caused some confusion about whether they’re closed for the purposes of statutory timelines for considering exclusions.

The DfE has confirmed to The Key previously that ‘school days’ for the purpose of statutory deadlines like this are the 190 teaching days of the regular school/academy year. Though the DfE hasn’t explicitly said that meetings to consider exclusions should be deferred during this time, it’s difficult to imagine how these would be considered working days. Accordingly, it is justifiable to defer considering exclusion cases until schools and academies re-open.

(c)      Complaints

If the school/academy receives a complaint during the closure, the chair should suggest to the headteacher that s/he could write an initial response to:

  • outline the school’s/academy’s position (e.g. if it’s about a child not getting a place because the school/academy decided the parent wasn’t a ‘critical worker’, the head must explain how the decision was made) and
  • explain that that the current situation means the school/academy can’t follow its usual complaints procedures until it’s re-opened.

IV    Streamline monitoring

Monitoring should focus on essential areas during this period. They are the following.

  • Safeguarding
  • Health and safety
  • Headteacher and staff wellbeing
  • Continuing education

To a lesser extent, the board will also want to monitor how the school/academy is continuing to provide an education for pupils. In line with the government’s guidance on social distancing and self-isolation, board members should not monitor the school/academy in person, or arrange in-person meetings with staff, unless it is necessary.

(a)     Monitoring safeguarding

The chair, or the link governor for safeguarding, special educational needs or the Pupil Premium, should be responsible for this area.   Other governors can feed in as necessary.

The governor with responsibility for safeguarding could arrange a call with the headteacher, designated safeguarding lead (DSL) or special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCO) to talk about the following matters.

  • How the school/academy is making sure vulnerable pupils are kept safe (including those who are at home, rather than at the school/academy), and whether these plans are working well.
  • How the school/academy is working with the local authority (LA) to safeguard vulnerable pupils.
  • How the school/academy is checking on all pupils who are staying at home.
  • How pupils, especially vulnerable pupils who are still coming into the school/academy, are coping.
  • Whether staff have concerns about any pupils who aren’t technically categorised as ‘vulnerable’ by the DfE, and what the school/academy is doing for these pupils.
  • How the school/academy is supporting pupils who are eligible for free school meals, and whether pupils are accessing this provision.
  • If the school/academy is delivering remote lessons and what safeguarding arrangements are in place to keep pupils safe.
  • The arrangements that the LA may have made to create ‘hub’ schools/academies, and what impact they could have on safeguarding arrangements.
  • Any support that staff members need from the chair.

Vulnerable children means children who are supported by social care and those with safeguarding and welfare needs, including the following.

  • Pupils with child-in-need plans
  • Pupils on child protection plans
  • Looked-after children
  • Young carers
  • Disabled children
  • Pupils with education, health and care plans (EHCPs).

School leaders will work closely with social workers and parents to decide on arrangements for specific pupils.

School leaders must work with the LA to set reasonable safeguarding procedures (for instance, around ID checks for parents they don’t know) in the “hub” schools/academies.

(b)     Monitoring health and safety

The health and safety link governor (if there is one) should monitor health and safety.  In the absence of this person, the responsibility falls to the chair.

The responsible governor should arrange a call with the headteacher or school/academy business manager to talk about the following.

  • The arrangements the school/academy has in place to maintain social distancing for staff and pupils on site
  • Wider health and safety arrangements (such as having a first aider on site, an increased cleaning rota or locking down certain parts of the school/academy building)
  • The continued safety of the school/academy building, including any previously raised premises issues
  • Any support that staff need

(c)      Monitoring headteacher and staff well-being

Responsibility for monitoring the well-being of the headteacher and staff falls to the designated governor or in her/his absence, the chair.

The designated governor should raise the following matters with the headteacher.

  • Any support s/he and/or their staff need
  • How staff members are adapting to remote working, or working with a skeletal number of staff members
  • Whether all staff members have the resources they need to work from home
  • Any illness among staff

In these exceptional circumstances, the headteacher will be bombarded with considerable information and several demands (from the LA, the DfE, unions and anxious parents – to name a few). The most important thing is to be the headteacher’s ally.

Staff members who are working remotely, especially if they have their own children at home, are probably going to take some time to adjust. It’s important that the school/academy doesn’t overburden them heavy workloads to compensate for not being on site.

(d)     How to monitor continuing education

The chair should assume responsibility for continuing education.  Other designated governors for the different areas of the curriculum should cede to her/him to enable the headteacher to keep in contact with the minimum number of governors.  The chair should lean on link governors to feed into any conversations about remote learning.

The chair should talk to the headteacher about the following.

  • The school’s/academy’s approach to remote learning and addressing the following.
    • Is the school/academy sending resource packs home? Are teachers recording video lessons?
    • How much work does the headteacher and staff expect pupils to do?
  • Any guidance or support the school/academy has given to parents about helping their children’s learning at home.
  • The balance of learning activities for pupils who are still attending the school/academy.

School/academy leaders will need to navigate a lot of challenges around remote learning, including the following.

  • Access to technology at home.
  • The fact that pupils may not be in a very effective learning environment (for instance, if they’re sharing small spaces with siblings, or have parents balancing childcare with working from home).
  • How capable parents are of supporting their children’s learning (many school/academy leaders are emphasising embedding existing learning, because teaching pupils new things remotely can be difficult).
  • How equipped the school/academy is to take on more tech-led types of remote teaching.

The Department for Education (DfE) doesn’t have any expectations about what remote teaching should look like.  All the DfE wants is for schools/academies to plan engaging activities that encourage children to log on.

(e)      Sharing information with fellow governors

Chairs, or whoever carries out the monitoring activities above, should report back to the full governing board regularly. You can do this via email.  This will ensure all governors are up-to-date or can step in to help monitor the school/academy or support the headteacher if the chair or another governor isn’t available.  Regular updates will also help the board start to think about the impact of the closure on issues related to governors’ link roles or committees.

For instance, if the school/academy can’t run after-school/after-academy clubs, this may impact the school’s/academy’s budget.

V      Keep details on GIAS up to date

Make sure you know who to get in touch with to keep contact information updated on Get information About Schools.  The government will use this to communicate with governors, and some of that information may require quick and decisive action.

Now, perhaps more than ever, it’s important to avoid mixed messages. Should parents approach the chair and/or other governors directly with questions or complaints about the school/academy, refer them:

  • directly to the headteacher, or
  • to the school’s/academy’s complaints procedures. However, dealing with formal complaints is likely to be deferred until schools/academies re-open.

HMCI’s Verdict in Annual Report 2018/19: Education quality on an upward trajectory

13 Apr

I       Headlines

The quality of education continues to improve in England, according to Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools, Amanda Spielman, as mentioned in her annual report for 2018/19, which was published on 21 January 2020.  The Coronavirus meltdown of the last few months has resulted in everything taking a backseat.  But it is worth chewing on the judgements and commentary of Amanda Spielman’s and her team about the quality of education over the last academic year – 2018/19.  Her cover report to the Secretary of State was wide-ranging.  The bones of that were as follows.   Overall,

  • 86% of schools and academies were judged to be good or outstanding;
  • 96% of early years foundation stage (EYFS) providers were judged good or outstanding; and
  • 81% of further education and skills (FES) providers were judged to be good or outstanding.

According to Spielman, this picture was reflected in the latest Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) study, which showed average scores for 15-year-olds in England significantly above international averages in mathematics, reading and science. In 2018, standards in mathematics rose during the last three years for youngsters of 15 years of age. There was also a small rise in reading standards albeit there was no improvement in science.

The quality of social care improved too. Altogether, 48% of local authorities (LAs) social care services were judged to be good or outstanding – a rise of 12% on the first round under the previous single inspection framework (SIF).

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Two-thirds of governors satisfied with new inspection arrangements

13 Apr

During the autumn term 2019, the National Governors’ Association (NGA) collected the views and experiences of governing boards on the Education Inspection Framework (EIF). It also analysed 844 published inspection reports of that period to examine how the EIF was working.

Governors happier with new inspections

Two-thirds (64.6%) of respondents were satisfied with the inspections overall. This matched the responses that Ofsted had.   Altogether, 71.9% of governors who responded felt that Ofsted’s ratings of their schools and academies were correct.  The majority also thought that the feedback meetings from the inspectors (following inspections) were beneficial and gave them a better understanding of why they had been rated as they were. Altogether, 75.7% were either very satisfied or satisfied with the feedback.  However, many felt that the inspections had become more rushed.  They thought that inspections were covering “a huge amount of work in a very short space of time”.

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Government plans to tighten safeguarding arrangements for children in care

13 Apr

I         Consultation on new regulations

On 12 February 2020, the government launched an eight-week consultation period to strengthen the regulations related to children in care to ensure that they are placed in suitable accommodation. Placing these children under the age of 16 in unregulated accommodation will become illegal. Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson, announced these measures to drive up the quality of children’s social care.  Also, minimum standards will be introduced for unregulated accommodation, which provides accommodation but not care for young people aged 16 and over.

As part of the consultation, the Government introduced national standards for unregulated accommodation to improve the quality and security of the placements. This will mean that where this is used appropriately for young people aged 16 and over, safety and quality are prioritised.

Ofsted, the inspectorate, will be given powers to crack down on illegal, unregistered providers – those providing care for children without being registered to do so. Councils and local police forces will be required to work together before placements in unregulated settings are made.  The interests of young people will be at the heart of decisions and of paramount importance.

The Education Secretary confirmed that an independent review would look widely across children’s social care with the aim of better supporting, protecting and improving the outcomes of these children and young people making sure that it reflected the experiences of those who needed social workers or been in care.

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Measures to protect children at risk of abuse to be strengthened

13 Apr

How good a society is can be judged by how it treats its most vulnerable.  In schools and academies, the vulnerable categories are children

  • who are disabled;
  • from broken homes; and
  • who have been physically, emotionally and sexually abused, neglected or are at risk of being abused in one of these four ways.

Each school/academy is required to have a designated safeguarding lead to ensure that children at risk of being abused “achieve and attend”.

I       The Consultation

Consultation (Keeping Children Safe in Education – KCSIE) on the proposed changes to safeguarding so the leads have a “greater focus” on improving the academic achievement of children on the edge of care was launched on 25 February 2020. The deadline to responses was set at 21 April 2020.

The Department for Education said the plans would specifically help children that experience challenges outside of their schools and academies. The proposals include sharing information about how children’s circumstances impact on their education and suggestions about how to support staff to find “effective ways of teaching … and maintaining a culture of high aspiration”.

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Pinball children – putting together the broken fragments of the education system

13 Apr

I       Introduction

The number of children being excluded from schools and academies continues to increase.   Children out of education spiral downwards and are picked up by unsavoury elements who use them as “mules” to transport drugs.  Others join gangs and are sucked into knife crime, sometimes becoming victims.

Tom Sherrington, an educational consultant, author of the website and the book, The Learning Rainforest, warned school and academy leaders and governors to ensure that children are not permanently excluded for frivolous reasons and certainly not because their parents are behaving badly. “You can’t permanently exclude a child because of his/her parents.  They are pinball kids struggling with life,” he said. Yet, the number of youngsters (problematic, no doubt), who are vulnerable – broken fragments of our society – continue to be turfed out of institutions for a variety of reasons and not just because they present behavioural difficulties.

The Royal Society of Arts (RSA) and the Betty Messenger Charitable Foundation have been running a project on the Pinball Kids (since the autumn of 2018) to understand better what is driving up the number of exclusions and searching for a panacea to cure this social and educational pandemic.   If you are interested you can contact the RSA at

From 2013 to 2018, the number of exclusions rose by 60% in England’s schools and academies.  In the academic year 2017/18, 42 pupils per school/academy were excluded.   Laura Partridge of the RSA in her blog pointed out that “the school system disproportionately excludes pupils with special educational needs, who have grown up in poverty, who have a social worker and from certain ethnic minority groups”. She added: “Children who the system should hold on to are being let go and let down. Being excluded from school has negative consequences for the rest of a child’s life.”

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New report on the state of Children’s Mental Health Services

13 Apr

On 30 January 2020, Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, released a report on ‘The state of children’s mental health services’. She mentioned that the National Health Service (NHS) improved provision for children’s mental health services.  However, it is still very much the Cinderella of the NHS – meeting the needs of only 12.8% of children in England, who have mental health problems.  While Longfield welcomed the progress that the Children and Young people’s Mental Health Services (CYPMHS), she warned of the chasm between children’s needs and the availability of services.

With the extra £60 million invested in special mental health services, an additional 53,000 children began treatment.  There was an improvement in tackling eating disorders, where the number of youngsters accessing services increased by nearly 50% since 2016/17.  However, much more needed to be done.  Only 3% of children were referred to the services – which was one in four with a diagnosable mental health condition.

The headline data in Anne Longfield’s report were as follows.

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Government give the Pupil Premium Grant an uplift

13 Apr

From 1 April 2020, the Department for Education increased the size of the Pupil Premium Grant (PPG), a grant for the most financially disadvantaged children, i.e. those who have in the last six years been entitled to free school meals (FSM) and/or continue to be entitled.

The PPG rate increased by £25 for every entitled primary pupil – from £1,320 to £1,345 – and £20 for each secondary pupil – from £935 to £955.

The Pupil Premium Plus, which is allocated for every pupil who has left local authority care through adoption, a special guardianship order or child arrangements order (i.e. in care) will also rise by £45 – from £2,300 to £2,345.   For a child who has one or both parents serving in the army, navy or air force, the “Service Premium” will rise from £300 to £310 annually.

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