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....