Monday, 29 December 2008

Current thoughts

So what's on my mind at the moment?

New Principal and as I am also the new Chair we have to figure our how to work nost effectively together.

10 day exclusion to handle.

Staff disciplinary in process...

New build throughout the city will significantly affect how we deliver our services - we are particularly affected by one school where we may get thrown out of our temporary accomodation during the rebuild and we have nowhere to go!

How to reinvigorate the governing body where I have just been elected Chair?

How can I reduce my involvement in my other school yet still make a valued and valuable contribution?

...and we do this because we enjoy it!? Yes, it is both a pleasure and an honour to be able to contribute in some way to helping those with poorer chances than most to achieve their potential.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

From a new Chair...

Last night I was elected as a new Community Governor and as the Chair of Governors at another Special School. The Principal and I thought that the staff might like a quick introduction...

In doing so I was tempted to talk about myself, but being a governor is not about me – to paraphrase Bill Clinton, “its’ about the children stupid”.

So, how can a Chair of Governors help our pupils get the best possible chances in life? Great learning for life requires great staff (we already have those), great kids (taken for granted), great parents (they all can be), great support (we can get it when we try) and great facilities (OK, we still have some work to do!). One key role of governors is to be both challenging and supportive in making sure that all of these ‘greats’ are in place. The question that needs to be constantly in our minds as we help create and meet the changes that are an inevitable part of modern life (and not least in education) is “How does this help give our pupils better chances in life?” You will already know about LILS and how it is still in its formative stages – no firm decisions yet. This will probably be the biggest change in the next few years and we need to be involved in setting the direction, offering up our thoughts and opinions, challenging where we cannot see the benefit and supporting where what we hear makes sense, thinking through how the various options might help give our pupils better chances – let’s get firmly in the driving seat (or at the least make sure we are on the bus!) because when change is around it is better to be doing it that be done to.

So I guess they are my two biggest challenges, working in partnership with you all to make sure that we offer great learning opportunities to help our pupils be the best they can and to guide us all through LILS (whatever it might ultimately look like and wherever it may lead us). My role is primarily to work with Michelle (or whoever we finally appoint as Principal!), the leaders in school, other governors, Education Leeds, parents and above all pupils to make sure that we continue to be great and get even greater at what we do. I am sure that I will get to meet many of you over the next few weeks – if I don’t and if you want to talk to me then just leave a message on xxxxxxxxxxxx or email me and I will get back to you.

My buzzwords then – Partnership, Change, Challenge, Support, “Pupils First”

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

We made a difference!

Thank you to everyone who voted for us last week. We were presented with the 'Big Cheque' last Tuesday afternoon, just two days before I finally got married (not that this is too relevant but it does explain the lack of posts for the last week or so!!) and everyone at school is abuzz with excitement.

Thank you - we won!!

Monday, 24 November 2008

Vote for Penny Field and make a difference

Today is the day that your vote can make a real difference to the lives of some of the most disabled and challenged children in Leeds. Our People's Millions bid will feature on Calendar at 6pm today and we need YOUR vote to help us win a much-neded £50,000.

You can vote up to ten times from any one number (BT landlines cost 10p per call, other providers may charge more) and the number you can ring - NOW - is:

08716 268171
Lines are open from 0900 - 2400, please help those who cannot help themselves

Monday, 10 November 2008


I am interested in who (if anyone - surely I am not doing it for nothing!) is reading this blog regularly, so I have added a Follower gadget at the top left. You can follow either anonymously or publicly - you choose and please do sign up.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Do we need Special Schools?

A recent article by Rahila Gupta in The Guardian referred to the strengthening of pupils' rights to an 'Inclusive Education'. Now here may not be the place for a discussion of the definition of 'inclusive', so let's just address her statement that more students are now entering Special Schools

On education, the convention seeks to "ensure an inclusive education system at all levels" for people with disabilities. In the UK, there is provision for both inclusive education and special schools. The campaign for inclusive education has been a long and bitter struggle. In 2001, the right of disabled children to opt for mainstream education was significantly strengthened. However, this right was not bolstered by enough support, training and other resources for mainstream schools to make inclusion a success. This has led paradoxically to an increase in the number of students entering special schools although more and more parents aspire to the inclusive ideal.

My experience suggests that the majority of parents who press for Special Schools are doing it because placing their child in a mainstream has failed them. As the article states:
"However, this right (to integration) was not bolstered by enough support, training and other resources for mainstream schools to make inclusion a success."
'Inclusion' is surely about socialisation as well as education and full socialisation is unlikely in a Special School setting. Yes, there is an argument that the most needy/disabled/difficult (choose your own adjective in such a way as to avoid the PC Police) pupils may always need a specialist setting. However who is to say that such a setting cannot be at least co-located with a mainstream? We do not segregate races any more, why would we want to segregate pupils will less ability than the norm? The challenge for mainstreams is not to get SEN pupils "out of their way" but to hold them to account for the success of all pupils in their care, not least those for whom they get additional funding.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

You can help us raise £50k to help kids with (very) special needs in Leeds

Penny Field Specialist Inclusive Learning Centre, a Special School catering for pupils with some of the most extreme/difficult/challenging (choose your adjective) needs in Leeds, will compete in ITV’s Big Lottery Fund, People’s Millions 2008 on Monday 24th November. 
To win £50,000 of Big Lottery money, they need your vote...  

The Penny Field Centre provides education for children and young people aged 2 to 19 with a range of special needs. A multi-sensory environment is the ultimate teaching tool to support and reach children, young people and adults with profound and multiple learning difficulties, emotional and behavioural difficulties, communication difficulties and physical and sensory impairment. Penny Field has made it through to the final eight groups in the Yorkshire & Humber region to compete for the fund and are the only Leeds based finalists. They will go head to head with one of the other finalists to compete for one of four £50,000 funds – so they have a 50% chance of winning. If they win, they will use the money to install a new state of the art multi-sensory studio at the centre. 

This new equipment will be used by children and young people who regularly visit the centre, as well as groups from the wider community and will massively improve the children's and young people’s quality of life".  

On Monday 24th November, ITV will publish the telephone number you need to vote for Penny Field - it will also be posted here. Penny Field will feature on Calendar Evening News at 6.00pm that evening, but you can vote from 9.00am and any telephone can be used up to 10 times to vote.  

Please make sure you help to make this difference by voting on Monday 24th November it costs you little and will make such a huge difference for others.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Change in the public sector

Change is endemic throughout life - and especially in the public sector at the moment.

Coming from a large corporate that has undergone very significant change over the 26 years I worked there - and went from pariah to paragon of excellence - I believe that the predominant public sector change model is fundamentally flawed and inevitably leads to dissatisfaction and mediocrity. 

As a change leadership professional I am often appalled at the slow pace of change in the public sector. Some of it is understandable in that the stakeholder model inevitably requires more consultation etc. However, too many consultees do not seem to understand the difference between consultation and democracy - "I can and will consult you, your views may or may not influence the decision" is very different to "Vote for A or B, I will accept the result of the ballot". Moreover, I often see a lack of understanding of the need for real involvement, that goes beyond simply holding consultation workshops; it is by really involving people that the deep issues are exposed and addressed and long-term committment to the solution achieved.

Then the decision processes are far too drawn out and I often wonder if the purpose of the processes, typically involving layers of committees, is to avoid being able to hold anyone to account.

What business has to contribute is the urgency and recognition that change can and should happen faster - if I had a philosophy in this arena (and this is a deliberate caricature) it is "make the change and sort any mess out later" (there will always be mess!), whereas the public sector seems to be "try everything we can to avoid any mess" - a forlorn hope. How much more effective could we be if we applied the Pareto Principle rather than trying to get everything 110% right before moving. By the time the public sector has consulted, considered, decided, planned, consulted about the implementation plan, etc, the goalposts have changed!

As Governors we can force the pace - don't let 'the system' slow you down. Set challenging timescales and hold people to them; the first death-knell of rapid change sounds as an unmet deadline goes rushing by. Don't let it happen to you!

Friday, 31 October 2008


Well I just discovered a cute little toy for finding out and displaying the content of some text in graphical format (bigger words occur more frequently).

So I had a play and chose a chapter of the Governors' Guide to the Law to experiment with - Ch11 relating to the relationship between governors and the school.

Here are the results.

Interesting that the most frequent words are Evaluation, Improvement, Performance, Inspection. This seems to be what GttL expects us to be doing - do you?

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Governance or Management again!

I find myself once again being the butt of criticism (both overt and covert) by a couple of other governors for what I am doing for the school and this is annoying and frustrating me to the point that  it is distracting my attention.

From my viewpoint, the issue is that I have a bunch of professional skills that are very helpful to the HT and senior members of staff - as such I both volunteer and get asked to use these skills (for example in developing strategy and facilitating meetings and focus groups). My co-governors do not have these skills but seem to have plenty of skill in raising money for the school.

So, I get criticised when I volunteer my skills for the benefit of the school but it is OK for them to use their different skills - the difference seeming to be that I get involved with school managers quite a lot (although I am always very careful to avoid actually managing - the critics cannot seem to understand the difference between facilitation and management) and they don't.

The boundary between Governance and Management is a simple one in theory (not!) and a much more complex one in practice!


Tuesday, 2 September 2008

A new year starts...

Well, here we go again with another year to look forward to, wondering what challenges and delights it will bring.

Do you sometimes find yourself lost in the challenges and overlooking the delights? That's an easy situation to get into, especially as a governor where we so often find ourselves on the receiving end of complaints from staff, students, parents, councillors etc..

One thing we started last year and I will be emphasising this year is to focus much more purposefully on the good news - and there will be plenty. Let's go overboard in recognising the achievements of everyone associated with our school, it's rare that someone blows a trumpet for us so we will make sure we blow our own. This might seem a bit 'unBritish' or even arrogant at first but what's wrong with celebrating achievement?

So., here's my first success. Yesterday we ran a session for all staff at one of our sites during which one exercise was for everyone to list their skills/strengths/positives/etc and then talk to others in the room about how great they really are; 1 minute then move on and tell someone else; then again; then again; and so on... It was great, once people got over the initial embarrassment of talking so positively about themselves the enregy level really kicked up and peole had a great time. It struck me as a great energiser the day before term starts. Let's hope (expect?) that the same energy levels can keep with everyone through the term - I will be doing what I can to help.

Friday, 15 August 2008

Providing for SEN - whose responsibility?

I am a governor in a Special School with pupils with a HUGE range of needs, many of which are overtly represented in the children's Statements (I don't want to go into 'many' 'most' or 'all' in this post - that's for elsewhere another time). Now a question that I have been raising is where the ultimate responsibility lies for provision of what you might call 'non-educational' needs. Let me explain what I mean - and I am deliberately caricaturing a position here to stimulate dialogue.

The caricature is that teachers are there to impart knowledge/skills and that everything else is either to facilitate the pupils' learning or to more generally help thier lives and development. The Statement will list the required provision - let's say Speech Therapy, Hydrotherapy, Physiotherapy, help with personal hygeine (toiletting), Psychological Support - the question is who must take ultimate responsibility for providing all this support?

One position, which I suspect may be the default, is that the school has (or at least accepts, explicitly or implicitly) responsibility. Another is that the various 'other agencies' outside the education service (and I mean that in the administrative sense) must accept their own responsibilities. For instance, Physio is often provided (or not - that is the point of this post!) by the Health Service - but what happens when they are understaffed or just incompetent and unable or unwilling to deliver the requirements of the statement? The school fills the gap, resulting in the efforts of our 'teaching professionals' being diverted from ther primary duties. Or how about hydrotherapy? Teachers are trained to teach, and SEN teachers have a special set of skills that do not necessarily include (nor, I would argue, do they need to include) supervising hydrotherapy sessions. But again, who else will do it?

One big challenge here is parental expectation, where often they do not understand the nature of the system and school staff become seen as being totally responsible for delivering a child's needs (we once even had a parent expecting us to arrange an optician appointment and get glasses for their child!).

I think that it is time that all support professions accepted their specific responsibilities and stood up to be counted when things are not delivered.

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Holidays time - what to do...?

Well, school has finally closed for the next few weeks - what's a governor to do?

Go on holiday - yes!

Read up on all the stuff we missed over the last year? What's important I wonder - there is so much that sometimes it becomes hard to distinguish the Important/Urgent from the Unimportant/Not Urgent/Waste of my Time stuff. So I think not.

Start to think about HT's PM objectives for next year - definitely. Not least because he is being seconded away for 2 days a week to help implement our emerging Inclusive Learning Strategy across the whole city. This raises the interesting challenge of who will PM him on this aspect of his time and whether or not working 3 days a week for the school is likely to generate "sustained exceptional performance" and hence a pay rise - clearly some discussion will be needed with his other part-time manager on this one.

Get clearer about where the priorities lie for the next 12-24 months? Well that's a full governing body issue so I woudl not want to get too locked into my own thoughts.

So - rest then?

Monday, 21 July 2008

On governor involvement...

Had an interesting discussion with our Business Manager a couple of days ago about the extent to which it was appropriate for governors to get involved in the running of the school. Now some of you will say 'never, governance is a strategic role", some will want to be involved in the detail of whether or not to spend £500 painting the toilets and some will be in between. It got me thinking about where the line is drawn between strategic governance and operational management and how many governors do stuff that is hugely supportive but not governance.

Let's take this latter idea. We have governors who help out with swimming sessions, read to the kids, occasionally help out in the playground, etc. To me, this is not governance even though it is governors doing the tasks; it is straightforward volunteering. OK, it does give the volunteers a particular insight that may help them in their role as governors but can we really argue that helping little Johhny get dried and back into his clothes after a swim is governance?

On the other hand there are governors who turn up for their termly meeting, say little and then disappear for a term. That's not governance either - they are so remote for the school that they can hardly have a local context within which to make their strategic decisions.

So where is the middle way? I recently facilitated the development of an HR Strategy for our school - I actually commented that I would have done this for any school that had asked me; it is using my professional capacity in a socially responsible (in the CSR sense) way. So was doing this for the school where I am a governor getting too involved or not? Especially as one reason I was in the group was to represent a key stakeholder, the governing body. What if I next get involved in taking the targets we are about to develop and converting them into projects - for me that crosses the boundary from the strategic 'what' into the operational 'how'.

In another role as a non-exec director, this distinction between what and how is much clearer than it can be in schools. Now the model does not exactly cross over but it seems to be a decent starting point. We need to know enough to be able to ask useful questions (the 'critical') and to be able to support the school publicly and the (senior?) staff privately if necessary (the 'friend') but neither of these roles demands that I know Juliet's latest SAT results or that Billy has been bullied by Susan.

So - any thoughts/examples of the boundary between governance and operations?

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

What great meeting!

Last night I chaired the last meeting of our GB this academic year. The major item was to agree (or otherwise) on a secondment for our Principal. Fantastic discussion that was a pleasure to chair - everyone had their say, great points made about the benefits and challenges of the secondment and a very clear decision at the end (only 1 dissenter out of the whole GB) to let him go.

Several people commented afterwards about how mature the discussion had been and that's so encouraging when a couple of years ago it might have descended into argument and other unproductive hecticness. This level of maturity does not come easily, it takes time and preparation - although it does disappoint me to find 'experienced' governors coming along without having read the papers, when I'm King we will just assume they have been read - as well as pre-positioning. How often do members your GB discuss issues that are upcoming outside/ahead of the meeting to give the chance to recognise and work on the issues that are likely to come up; good decisions tend to some from good preparation.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Thoughts on seconding staff

Opportunities arise for staff to go away on secondment, what do we do?

On the one hand we lose, albeit temporarily, a valuable member of staff who has built up relationships with pupils and other staff members; on the other we risk getting in the way of CPD of that staff member, we miss the opportunity to influence more than might otherwise be the case the topic for which they are to be seconded, we miss out on the opportunity for other staff to step in/up and get their own CPD, we miss out on whatever the person may bring back from their secondment...we stand to have someone else 'owe us a favour'...

Nobody should be irreplaceable and a secondment creates an opportunity to explore ways of coping without that person. What would you do if they won the lottery, walked out and went to Barbados for ever?

Monday, 14 July 2008

The future of governance

On Friday I went to a hugely stimulating workshop on the future of governance in the context of Extended Services, Children's Services and the whole concept of local delivery of family services.

The overall impression that I brought it away is that there is a clear recognition of the need to change the overall governance of service delivery as the concept of what a cluster is becomes embedded into the city. The basic philosophy behind this is that wherever possible all family services (including schools) will be delivered locally through one of 40-odd clusters. Interestingly these clusters are generally defined by groups of local schools. Whether or not the cluster is 'responsible' for children living in the cluster or educated in schools within the cluster is an interesting issue that remains unclear. The relevance for us, as a Special School, is that we take puipils from right across the city not just our local cluster (indeed we are not even included in a clsuter at present) and so the model needs tweaking for us - just like the Extended Services model is slightly different because of the geographic reach of our school.

It is important to note that we were not just talking about school governance, but overall governance of all the services offered to families in a cluster. The default model seems to have been that, because they are generally the only existing legal entity in a cluster, school governing bodies have become the focus for extended governance. I sensed an undercurrent of opinion that this was not viable into the future, not least because school governing bodies have a defined statutory role this does not include overall governance of the wide range of services likely to be delivered through the cluster arrangements. Other models, including Trusts and Charity Companies are being explored elsewhere in the city.

Watch this space, not least as I will use it to develop my own thinking on the topic...

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

The future of governance

Fiona Millar's article about governance in the Grauniad makes interesting reading.

Now this is an issue that deeply interests me so here is my twopenn'orth. I see a possibility to both increase stakeholder involvement and reduce the size of GBs. Why reduce the size? No compelling reason beyond a recognition that in many (most?) GBs there are a number of 'sitting members' - they are members and they sit in meetings and that's all - who contribute remarkably little. Now you could argue that there is a recruitment and training issue there and I would agree, however the pragmatist in me also recognises that those issues will not be fixed quickly.

What I suggest is a two-tier system with:
  1. a smaller (no more than 9?) 'Executive GB' which has the statutory responsibility and whose members are required to undergo induction and ongoing training (CPD if you like); this EGB might, only might, have a paid Chair and this may be especially important in larger schools with substantial budgets etc
  2. a statutorily required series of larger stakeholder forums, each chaired by a GB member, whose role is to sense and explore the views/needs of the broader stakeholder group.

So the governors of the future will need competence in consultation/engagement processes in addition to everything they already need to know. At risk of repeating myself - we are dealing with the future of our society here, let's make sure that it is in the hands of competent committed governors.

Saturday, 5 July 2008

Faith schools - ethos or faith making the difference?

Now I am no fan of mixing state-funded education with promoting (I would use 'indoctrinating' when applied to uncritical infant minds) a particular religion, yet I have to accept that on many counts faith schools do a better job of educating or kids than non-faith ones. What is behind this differential?
I have just started a thread about the ethos of faith schools in my favourite governors' forum:

"An article by Zoe Williams challenges us to explore the real reasons for the (relative) success of faith schools c.f. secular ones.

Let us just, for the moment, put aside the 'religion' bit and suggest that there may be something about the ethos of those schools that generates/stimulates more effective learning behaviours by their pupils. (Admittedly the parents are part of this as well and interestingly en passant Zoe highlights an observation about a possibly anomalous belief that there is less social deprivation in faith schools - and we all know that social deprivation links to poor achievement.)

I don't know what that ethos is, but I'll take a guess that it has something to do with discipline, application and respect. And where that ethos comes from is an interesting chicken/egg question - does religious belief stimulate certain values/behaviours or do people with certain values/behaviours find themselves attracted to religion? Surely it is possible to have an equivalent set of values/behaviours as a Christina/Jew/Hindu?... without subscribing to those beliefs and, if that is the case then what do our non-faith schools need to do about it?

How interesting might it be to explore the similarities between the ethos of successful non-faith schools with that of faith schools?"

Late SAT results

I read that the SAT results are going to be late.

Now I totally understand some people's desire to 'get the results', however I really do wonder what part of a pupil's world will change forever if the results are never published. Did a potential employer ever ask to see SAT results? Did a potential college ever...? etc?

What really bugs me is the incompetence of the marking company. So an interesting question arises - should the company be sacked for gross incompetence or given the opportunity to learn from their mistakes?

Friday, 4 July 2008

Equal Pay and its' implications

The sorting out of the long-standing Equal Pay issue for council manual workers has had the odd interesting/challenging by-product, not least the removal of the SEN Allowance payable to staff working with Special Needs pupils.

Remember that the position is complex as although the staff work in our school and tend to see the GB (or even Head) as their employer, they are technically employed by the LEA, who deal with them through their Education Joint Venture Company and eventually us. We have no locus in the Collective Agreement being negotiated even though, until today, the LA have been insisting that we formally sign up to the agreement or suffer the consequences.

As a Special School, we have lots of staff eligible for the SEN allowance and have been pushing our Council very hard indeed to come to a resolution that does not involve a very significant portion of our staff losing out. We, along with a few other schools, refused to sign up to the initial offer and are convinced that this move 'stiffened the spines' of those doing the negotiation. We stood firm and this afternoon got a result of sorts. The LA are now working with the JV Company to find a way to 'fudge' (although they woudl not use the word!) the system so that we can paqy our existing employees a different sort of allowance - retention perhaps - that will cover their losses.

Moreover, we have ended up in a position where we have not accepted the deal, merely acknowledged that it is happening. Weasel words to some but an honourable position to us - we fight hard for our staff and this is an unstoppable train so let's do our best to get it to the right destination.

A good day.

Not so different after all...

In schools we seem to spend a lot of time moaning about lack of funds, despite the huge amount that is being spent rebuilding schools and the not inconsiderable amount we get each year for our revenue expenditure (the biggest schools are in excess of £10million 'businesses').

Well, I was in a business yesterday and recognised the same challenges. This business spends over £1million per day building new stuff and well over that on operational costs. I was talking about how to fund the extension of a personal development programme that has already given massive savings indeed the programme so far has paid for itself several times over and that is just in the direct savings, not the long-term benefits from having more capable staff. "We might not be able to afford it" was the cry - "Despite the 7 figure benefits already delivered by previous programmes?" I ask. It seems that to divert some of the savings, or indeed part of the £1m per day capital spend, into training to save even more money is at least a challenge.

Small box thinking is everywhere I am afraid, not just in schools - the grass is not necessarily greener on the other side (NB Trusts!).

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Ofsted's competence

I have raised the issue of the competence of Ofsted's Board with my MP. Specifically, whether or not they need some experience of governance:

"As a school governor myself (Vice-Chair at the Leeds North West SILC) I am very aware of the importance of Ofsted’s inspections and pronouncements. As you say, the operational responsibility for these lies with the officers and inspectors who certainly, in my view, need some experience of the requirements and challenges of being a governor. After all as governors it is us, and nobody else, who is accountable for the strategic direction of schools and I believe that the current inspection regime underplays that strategic role, especially when a school is found to be in need of improvement or special measures. Having been in such a position I know how little effort the inspectors make to really engage with governors – to be blunt about it, if a manipulative and devious Head can pull the wool over the eyes of a whole governing body then they can certainly do so for one or two individuals visiting for two or there days and I have been in the position where as an Additional LEA Governor in a school in Special Measures the Inspectors were unable to talk to me despite my having a somewhat different perspective to the majority of the governing body that had go the school into SM.

On to the Board then; if the Board is to effectively set the strategic direction of Ofsted then my view is that the members need to have, between them, experience and understanding of the issues affecting the work of the organisation. If I were running a bank I would want to be sure that at least some of my Board had bank accounts (and so understood the practical implications of the system). Board members in a water company need to know something about water supply and effective Ministers need to know or learn about the topic for which they are responsible. How then can we justify a system in which the body responsible for the strategic direction of Ofsted need not have either experience or understanding of the role and challenges of the bodies responsible for strategic governance of schools? I am not saying that all members need such knowledge/experience, merely that some do"

He's passed the query on to Ed Balls - let's see what he has to say...

What do you think?

HR strategy again...

Well, it seems like the major item on my agenda at present is people, so I am off to the penultimate working session of our "Shaping the Future" working party.

This has been really interesting, not only deeply engaging those staff who are part of it but also highlighting a series of issues that as a governor I need to keep an eye on. More of this later after we have drafted our recommendations, meanwhile it has been a real pleasure to help with this (I facilitate this sort of thing for a living and it it not always a pleasure, believe me!) and to recognise the committment and capability of the people we employ.

This teamworking approach has cost us in the short term - paying for cover whilst teachers and TAs are out of the classroom - but I just know that it will pay off in the longer term. Short term pain, long term gain.

Our next challenge is to extend the remit of the strategy beyond the school boundaries - as a Special School we have deep reliance on other agencies, such as Health, Transport, Psychologists, Speech and Music Therapists, none of who we employ but all of whom are an essential partof our team. Ah well, one step at a time, eh!

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Pay for qualifications

Interesting point raised last night in relation to whether or not we pay anything for staff getting themselves further qualified.

It has been custom, for example, to advance TAs by one Grade on achievement of the relevant NVQ. This, regardless of whether or not there were additional duties expected of them or we had higher level posts available.

So the discussion was whether or not to maintain 'training grades' with automatic progression, or to say that if you want to study we will support you but you can only get advancement if there is a vacancy available. The interesting analogue was a Deputy Head who got their NPQH - would we automaticaly advance them to a Head's position/salary? Probably not!

Fortunately we are in the process of developing an HR Strategy so we can think this one through a bit more....

Saturday, 28 June 2008

FMSiS success

The assessors have granted us a FULL pass which is aparrently very rare. We have only two minor recommendations - one of which is ridiculous:

  • Financial regulations to be approved by the full governing body and not just the Business Cttee

Our BC had fully legitimate delegations to approve the Financial Regs and has done so; for the Inspectors to decide that they are a higher law than the School Governance Regulations is ridiculous.

We will do this, if onloy because it will be a 1 minute agenda item and then over and done with, but....

Congratulations to everyone involved - it was hard work and ultimately worth it - I am assured that it has thrown up one or two things that might not otherwise have surfaced.

Grrrrrr.....uninformed governors

Just got back from an excellent Governors Conference and need to dump my anger (yes, anger!) at how many governors don't know even the basics!!!!

A Chair who did not know the name of the school immediately opposite them on the same road, a chair who did not know what we call Special Schools round here, a chair who did not know what NPQH stood for, a chair who did not know what CRB stood for!!!! I coud go on and won't.

Why do we allow these people any influence over the future of our children?!

Monday, 16 June 2008

FMSiS again..The Inspector Calls

Arriving tomorrow - is it more stressful than Ofsted? Perhaps for the office staff.

Straightforward Business Committee approving a few missing bits of paper; what was really interesting was to see, for the first time. a benchmark comparison of finances for some similar schools. We have the biggest budget and the lowest per pupil cost! Good or bad - you guess because I certainly am not sure (yet!). Threw up some stuff well worth investigating as part of a cost/Best Value review.

Incidentally find that we seem to have been disadvantaged in prioritising Primary Capital Spend. We have three buildings and they have not been treated independently (imagine - we coudl have a dump and a palace, so on avergae we are OK!), nor has our special situation as a Special School been accounted for in looking at Value Added. I hate to say "I told you so" but when we were consulted I did suggest that we consider whether or not the, surface valid, criteria might disadvantage us. "I told you so!"

Friday, 13 June 2008

Time for disciplinary action?

In another forum, I read a post where the Head had unilaterally changed the uniform requirements. Clearly not in line with Guidance and in need of Governing Body consideration.

What really galled me was that yet again we have a Head acting alone and ultra vires.

Is it time to consider disciplinary action against a HT who is clearly acting other than in accord with well known and publicised guidance and who has taken upon themself a decision that did not follow due process and was not considered by GB.

I am getting more and more fed up with hearing about HTs who think they are 'god' (not ours, thank heavens!) - it is time we as governors reminded them of their and our place.

Business Manager vs Educational Professional in the top slot?

The question – “Does the most senior post in a school have to be occupied by someone with teaching qualifications or can the responsibilities of that role be more effectively be delivered by someone with a ‘management’ background?”

I do not intend to dissect the role and offer pros/cons but to suggest analogues which indicate that the need for a qualified teacher at the top of a school may be unnecessary.

IMHO an exploration of this question needs to start with an examination of the role of the most senior person in the school (for the sake of this item I will deliberately not use the word ‘headteacher’). That role varies depending on the type and size of school. Can it be that the capabilities needed of the leader of a small primary are the same as those for a large secondary? I suspect not.

What is likely to be needed in a small primary is someone who can, inter alia, occasionally teach and regularly offer ‘technical’ support to other teachers to help them improve their performance as teachers. Contrast this with the head honcho in a large secondary, which may have well over a hundred staff and a budget in excess of £10m where if they ever need to teach then something has gone seriously wrong with staff scheduling – their role is much more leadership and management than direct involvement at the chalkfront.

Think about this in the context firstly of the management of your LEA – does the Chief Executive of the LEA have to be a teacher? If not, at what point up the hierarchy does the requirement to have been a teacher stop? Now shift the focus of the question to industry – maybe the head of 10 person IT company needs to be pretty familiar with computers but does the CEO of Shell have to have drilled for oil or driven a petrol tanker or filled vehicles on a forecourt?

An interesting, and no doubt controversial, analogy might also be leadership in the Arts or Hospitals. In both of these sectors there has been a recognition that the ‘arts/health professionals’ do not necessarily have the capabilities, or maybe even the desire, to be effective managers of the whole enterprise. A very clear lesson from both of these sectors is the need for very close collaboration and shared Values/Ethos between artists/doctors and managers. A manager driving commercial success through ‘bums on seats’ may not gel well with an artist driving a grant-funded leading edge repertoire; in the same way, medical consultants need to acknowledge that there is limited funding and consider value for money just as hospital administrators need to handle the fact that they are in the business of saving lives not making money.

Speaking personally, I started my career as a pretty good synthetic and analytical chemist whilst ended it, having climbed very high up the greasy pole, negotiating with government and regulators about environmental quality standards. I did not shake a test tube for the last 25 years of my career, yet an appreciation of the technical/chemistry issues associated with improvements in environmental quality gave me a sounder foundation than if my background had been in teaching. The CEO of Shell needs to appreciate some of the issues around filling vehicles on forecourts but does not need an NVQ Level 4 in the topic to be able to operate effectively at his level.

I see to many managers in industry who have been promoted apparently on the basis of their technical competence and who do not seem to understand that management is itself a discipline that needs to be learned and studied. Engineers (for example) are happy to undertake CPD, indeed it is a requirement of their continued registration with the Engineering Council, why then do they think that they do not need to go and study management? You would not put an MBA to design a bridge any more than you should put a C.Eng. in charge of 100 people without substantial management training.

So my basic proposition is that whilst all head honchos need at least a modicum of leadership/management competence, the amount and balance between that and teaching qualifications/ability depends on the size and nature of the school. The move to new Headteachers being required to have the NPQH is a move in the right direction. A further move to recognise that the biggest schools would benefit from professional managers doing the management and professional teachers doing the teaching would be a further positive move. I would be very happy to appoint a professional manager to head large secondary provided that they formed a sound working partnership with the senior teacher and each of them were able to operate understanding the needs/constraints of the other.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

What a list of topics to rear their head!

Almost at the bottom of the list for capital spend, LEA possibly misrepresenting an email sent (by me!) to them; continuing debate about the implications of the 'Equal Pay Settlement', the improvement advisor we were to have seconded to us has taken an other job and no longer available, discussion about who should hold the Register of Governors' Interests and whether or not it is a public document, FMSiS assessors due in next week, more work on the HR Strategy...all these, and more that don't come immediately to mind, have reared their head in the last 3 days!

Perhaps as Vice-Chair, and perhaps because I tend to be more active than others, I do seem to get involved in all sorts. I sometimes wonder where to draw the line, not in terms of strategy vs tactics (I have a pretty clear position on that) but on which issues I ought to get involved in. The challenge is (at least) threefold- one that I only have so much time, two that anything I do reduces the involvement/development opportunities for other governors and three that the more I get involved in the more I risk getting accused (again) of 'doing everything'.

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

UK Governors your free resource

HOw sad that the first thing I did on my pooter today was to look up new posts on .

Great site.

If you are a governor and you are not a member - now's your chance.

Monday, 9 June 2008

FMSiS - tying the knots

Yet more paperwork to be formally agreed by the Business Committee just in case the assesors check on it. I wonder is this actually a valuable use of governors' time or just bureaucracy gone mad? It increasingly seems like a good idea (making sure that schools have proper financial controls and systems in place) has growed like Topsy and cgenerated an industry for the form fillers. AAAArrrrggggghhhhh!

Great strategy session

Isn't it amazing what can be achieved by a small number of committed and informed people?!

We had a great dialogue around the issues we need to address for the future - so great that we have arranged a further session to finish off the work.

HR advisor impressed with our inclusive approach - "I usually have difficulty persuading schools to do an HR Strategy and those that do agree just ask me to go away and write it". Well, that's not the way we work - this cross-functional team stuff seems to be taking off in one or two other areas as well.

Sunday, 8 June 2008

HR Strategy for school

I volunteered to facilitate development of an HR Strategy for our school (it's one of the things I do...) - working on a development session for tomorrow morning.

Already done the usual data gathering = STEEP, SWOT and filling the team in on stuff they were not up-to-date on.

Next step?

Thinking about how our strategy will be driven by Vision/Ethos, Short and Medium term goals, etc. Looks like we will have to do some work on the overall components as well - tentative list:
  • Change capability
  • Recruitment and retention
  • Team working - across sites as well as within sites
  • Training and development/CPD
  • Flexibility to meet pupil needs
  • Remuneration
  • Life balance (NB NOT Work/Life balance - work is part of life!)
  • Performance management
  • Diversity/Equal Opps
  • Communications
  • Leadership, management and delivery

What's good is that we have a multi-discipline team from across our several sites doing the work for SMT to consider - a real move forward and one that seems to be paying off in terms of broadening and deepening staff understanding of some of the issues involved in running the school.


Well, after searching all over I have failed to find any blog specifically devoted to school governance issues - so here it is.

I have been a governor at three school over the last 10 years; Chair at a mid-sized primary, Additional LEA governor at a school for pupils with Behavioural, Social and Emitional Difficulties in Special Measures and currently Vice-Chair at a Spcial School serving ages 3 - 19.

I am a Community Governor with no children at any of the schools I am involved in (actually I have no kids of my own, although I did 'inherit' three when me and my gorgeous partner hooked up - the story of being a step=father is another blog (but not one that I am going to write!).

There will be more about me on my profile but just thought you might like a feel for my involvement in school governance - I do it because I firmly believe that our kids deserve the best we can offer and that the future lies in their hands so we had better do right by them.