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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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Ofsted 2019: How will governance be inspected?

31 Dec

I        Preamble

In March 2019, The Key, the governors’ organisation, interviewed Matthew Purves, the Deputy Director for Schools Inspection. In response to a question, Mr Purves said that governance would now be part of the overall judgement on leadership and management.   There would not be a separate judgement or grade for the quality of the work that governors do.

He acknowledged, in broad terms, that pupils’ standards of achievement had risen over the last score of years.  However, he admitted that the inspectors had been too focused on data rather than the quality of education, which was at the heart of the new framework.  In future, there would be “a single conversation about teaching quality and outcomes”.  To ensure that this was appropriately covered, he explained, inspectors would be asking the following questions.

  • What is it that the school/academy wants children to learn?
  • How does that translate into classroom practice?
  • How is that curriculum passed on through teaching?
  • How do teaching, learning and the quality of education impact on the standards children achieve?’

Ofsted will examine how well those “responsible for governance” deal with the following matters.

  • Understanding their role and how well they carry it out.
  • The school’s/academy’s vision, ethos, and strategic direction.
  • The management of resources.
  • The oversight of finance and ensuring that money, including the Pupil Premium Grant (PPG), is well spent.
  • How well governors hold the executive leaders (the headteacher or CEO, for example) to account for educational performance, the performance management of staff and the quality of education and training.
  • How well governors fulfil their statutory duties (like the ones placed on school/academy by the Equality Act 2010, the Prevent Strategy and Keeping Children Safe in Education).
  • The way governors promote the welfare of learners and ensure that the education the school/academy provides positively impacts on all pupils.

A full description of the judgement is on pages 11 to 12 of the inspection framework and page 66 to 67 of the inspection handbook.

The structure of education in England is messy, because of which there are multiple accountabilities.  In schools and standalone academies, people in charge of governance are governors.  In Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs), the responsibility for governance could lie with the trustees or the governors of the academies for which the trust board is responsible – or both.  Ofsted is keen to ensure that inspectors hold the right people to account.

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Framework for ethical leadership in education

31 Dec

Working educationally without a moral compass is tantamount to spinning away into space bereft of a steering wheel and without a clue about the destination.   It is, consequently, welcome that the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) has developed a blueprint for the ethical leadership of schools, academies and colleges. ASCL took a year to do so.

Governors together with their headteachers are very much part of schools’ and academies’ leadership team.   Accordingly, there is merit in taking time out to read, digest and act on the framework, which sets out the characteristics of effective leaders.

I        The Framework

(1)     SELFLESSNESS

School, academy and college leaders should act solely in the interests of children and young people.

(2)     INTEGRITY

School, academy and college leaders must avoid placing themselves under any obligation to people or organisations that might try inappropriately to influence them in their work. Before acting and taking decisions, they declare and resolve openly any perceived conflict of interests and relationships.

(3)     OBJECTIVITY

School, academy and college leaders must act and take decisions impartially and fairly using the best evidence and without discrimination or bias. Leaders should be dispassionate exercising judgement and analysis for the children and young people.

(4)     ACCOUNTABILITY

School, academy and college leaders are accountable to the public for their decisions and actions and must submit themselves to the scrutiny necessary to ensure this.

(5)     HONESTY

School, academy and college leaders should be truthful.

(6)     LEADERSHIP

School, academy and college leaders should exhibit these principles in their own behaviour. They should actively promote and robustly support the principles and be willing to challenge poor behaviour whenever it occurs. Leaders include both, those who are paid to lead in schools, academies and colleges and those who volunteer to govern them.

II      Essential characteristics of good leaders

Schools, academies and colleges serve children and young people and help them grow into fulfilled and valued citizens. As role models for the young, how we behave as leaders is as important as what we do.

Leaders should show leadership through the following personal characteristics or values.

(a)     TRUST

Leaders are trustworthy and reliable. We hold trust on behalf of children and should be beyond reproach. We are honest about our motivations.

(b)     WISDOM

Leaders use experience, knowledge and insight. We demonstrate moderation and self-awareness. We act calmly and rationally. We serve our schools, academies and colleges with propriety and good sense.

(c)      KINDNESS

Leaders demonstrate respect, generosity of spirit, understanding and good temper. We give difficult messages humanely when conflict is unavoidable.

(d)     JUSTICE

Leaders are fair and work for the good of children. We seek to enable all young people to lead useful, happy and fulfilling lives.

(e)      SERVICE

Leaders are conscientious and dutiful. We demonstrate humility and self-control, supporting the structures, conventions and rules which safeguard quality. Our actions protect high-quality education.

(f)      COURAGE

Leaders work courageously in the best interests of children and young people. We protect their safety and their right to a broad, effective and creative education. We hold one another to account courageously.

(g)     OPTIMISM

Leaders are positive and encouraging. Despite difficulties and pressures, we are developing excellent education to change the world for the better.

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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Academy Trust Chiefs’ salaries continue to soar

17 Aug

I        Schools Week throws light on runaway salaries

It’s unsurprising that both, the producers and consumers, of educational policy and practice in the United Kingdom, especially in England are transfixed by the exorbitant salaries many Chief Education Officers of Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs) are drawing, given that the country’s schools and academies are going through financial straits.   In March 2018, Schools Week published an article based on an analysis that the magazine carried out of the MATs where each had at least 20 academies in them.  The results make compelling reading.

There were huge variations between the salaries of men and the per pupil funding of each MAT.   The headline information was as follows.

  • The highest paid CEO was Sir Dan Moynihan of the Harris Academy Trust at £440,000 annually – £10,000 per academy.
  • The CEO who secured the highest pay rise was John Murphy of the Oasis Community Learning Trust who went from £180,000 to £205,000 – £4,183 per academy – a 14% rise.
  • The lowest paid was John Mannix at Plymouth Cast Trust at £55,000 annually at £1,527 per academy.
  • The lowest paid per academy was John Coles of United Learning at £160,000 annually and £3,018 per academy.

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Valuing Values in Education

18 Aug

We live on three plains – the physical, intellectual and spiritual – ‘spiritual’ in a non-religious sense.

On the physical plain, we engage in a zero-sum game. What one person gains another loses and vice versa.  For instance, if you and I have a pound, we each have a pound and together we have two pounds.  If you give me your pound, I have two and you have nothing.  The reverse is true too.  If we exchange other the pounds with each other, we will still have a pound each and together we will have two.

The next level to which we can rise is the intellectual one.   If you have an idea and I have an idea, each of us has one idea and together we have two.   If I gave you my idea, you will have two but I will still have one.  I do not lose the idea that I have because I give it to you.   The same will apply to you.  If we gave our ideas to each other, each will have two ideas, but in total we will still have two.

We live on a spiritual plain too where values flourish.  Nolan set them out clearly and they are the seven principles of public life, i.e.

  1. Selflessness
  2. Integrity
  3. Objectivity
  4. Accountability
  5. Openness
  6. Honesty
  7. Leadership

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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

Boost staff morale to control expenditure in schools/academies

28 Aug

I        Staff: Human Resources v Resourceful Humans

With the financial noose tightening around the necks of schools/academies, governing bodies have to keep a close check on expenditure and find innovative ways of raising funds.   Staff costs consume the lion’s share of a school budget – anything from 80% to 85%, though one school, with which I worked a few years ago, bucked the trend by spending 102% of its budget share on staff salaries.  The governors leaned heavily on parents – through voluntary contributions – and charities to make up the shortfall in the overspend.

Spending 80% of the budget on staff is unsurprising given that staff members are the most valuable resources of a school.   For governors to keep a firm rein on this area of spending, they don’t have to operate curmudgeonly.  However, they should ensure that the ambience at the school invigorates and motivates staff.   There are sufficient pressures on teachers, in particular, to make this exercise challenging.  They are subject to myriad demands coming from disparate sources.  The mix is toxic: government wishes, parental expectations, Ofsted inspections, changes to the curriculum and assessment, league tables – to name just a few.   The over-emphasis on data has led some taking their eyes of the ball – i.e. the children, for whom the overwhelming number of teachers became teachers in the first place.

The pressures have taken the stuffing out of many, so that, come the holidays, they collapse in a heap.  However, in term time, teachers who are the victims of the hot house environments of their schools, fall ill over varying periods of time, causing their governing bodies concern as they have to find extra monies to cover for their absences.

Education data consultants, SchoolDash, analysed teacher absences for the academic year 2014/15 using the workforce census data published by the Department for Education (DfE).  They discovered that in primary schools/academies rated “Inadequate” by Ofsted, teacher absences averaged 9.97 days compared to 6.26 days for those working in “Outstanding” schools/academies.   In secondary schools/academies rated “Inadequate” the average teacher absences was 8.94 days compared to 5.72 days for the outstanding ones.

The good news is that for teachers taking sick leave, the average number of days lost was 7.6 – down from 7.9 the previous year.

Primary teachers were more likely to go off sick in the West Midlands (55%) and least likely in the north-east (48%).  At secondary level, almost two-third of teachers in the south-west (65%) took time off last year, compared to 56% in the north-east.  However, teachers in the north-east were more likely to be absent because of sickness for longer periods of time.  The lowest average number of days off by region was achieved by London’s primary teachers, i.e. 6.03 days and the capital’s secondary teachers – 5.97%.

The schools suffer in other ways, even if they have the financial wherewithal to hire supply teachers, in that the stand-ins are not that good, consequently, not welcomed by the pupils whom they have to teach.

If schools/academies are to flourish, they need to promote staff happiness. This does not mean that the atmosphere should be one described by Tennyson in his poem on the Lotos-Eaters where “slumber is more sweet than toil” and brother mariners are exhorted to rest and wander no more.

Even if our schools/academies are not haemorrhaging teachers out of the profession, ignoring their welfare is detrimental to the quality of education we are keen to promote.   Several of our school leaders, who themselves are under considerable pressures, pass these pressures onto their staff contributing to the low morale and driving them to sick beds and doctors’ surgeries.  Headteachers want the best for their schools.  However, the methods deployed are sometimes counterproductive and the outcome is plummeting staff morale leading to absences which puts pressure on school budgets.  Continue reading