Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Making a difference

Isn't it nice when you come away from a meeting having made a difference.

Like, I suspect, many of you, I spend a lot of time in meetings where I represent either my school(s) or governors in general. Sometimes I sit there wondering "just how is this discussion helping our children?" and am not averse to asking the question very specifically (and sometimes pointedly!). I have too little time to spend jaw-jawing for the benefit of bureaucrats when I could be sunning myself on a beach somewhere, or something rather more useful than that.

So how nice to come home last night having spent two hours seemingly making a difference, being listened to (because that's what makes the difference) and feeling enthused. Here in Leeds we have a difficult year ahead with the demise of Education Leeds and the creation of an integrated Children's Services Directorate. We must not waste time in meetings that could be better spent improving the chances of the pupils we serve; we must give no quarter to self-serving bureaucrats; we must challenge everything and everyone to do better for less; we must not give in to procastination or indecision. After all our kids have only one chance and their future cannot wait for yet another round of internal politicking before life-changing decisions are made.

Do you spend too much time discussing and too little acting? If so, change it now - thoughts never changed anything, only action can do that.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Keeping meetings on track

OK, here we go with Part 2 - tips for keeping your meetings on track.

  1. Start on time - if the meeting is not quorate then deal with items that do not require a decision. People will soon learn that your meetings start on time and will be there.
  2. Indicate when the meeting will finish - and stick to it!
  3. (I have been known to write a copy of the agenda on a flipchart so that each item can be crossed off as it is completed - a very good visual reminder of how much has been done/is still to be dealt with).
  4. Separate approval of the minutes from any Matters Arising (not on the agenda - remember my earlier tip). 
  5. Use language that moves you to where you want to be "Are we agreed that these are a correct record?" or "Does anybody wish to challenge these mimnutes as a corrct record?"
  6. Positively lead Matters Arising - draw attention to what you have already put on the agenda, if someone who was absent from the last meeting asks for an explanation of an item then volunteer to do so after the meeting.
  7. Remind governors how the time is going - especially if things start to drift - remind them that there are another 'n' items, some of which are more important than discussing 3 month old minutes...
  8. Do not let anyone read out their reports, we are assuming that people have read them, ask them for a brief summary of key points (of course you briefed them in advance about this) and if anyone asks for details on delegated matters then encourage the relevant Chair to brief them afterwards.
  9. One of my favourite phrases is "Does anyone else feel that we are now going round in circles?"
  10. Go out of your way to 'invite in' the quieter members of the team - create space for them to have their say.
  11. Give very clear signals when it it time to move on - "OK, so that's dealt with Item 4 let's move on to Jenny and Item 5 on School Uniform; our challenge here is to decide what to do based on the report that you will all have read"
  12. Before you finish review all of the actions to which various people have committed (if you are really organised you could have a flip on the wall for "Next Steps" - who has agreed to do what by when...)
  13. Thank everyone for their patience and understanding - it's often the only thanks us governors get!
  14. Finish on time - if for no other reason than out of respect for individuals' other committments - and remind people of future meetings.
No rocket science then, and it's worth thinking about how the meeting will work as well as what will be discussed. There is a lot more I could say but this is just a short blog, not a thesis on meetings management!

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Keeping your meetings focussed

How often have you attended GB meetings that went on for hours, lost track of what they were supposed to be talking about, got stalled while people read the papers...?

Well, here are a few tips that have worked for me in keeping meetings focussed (and not just governor meetings, I use these tips in my 'professional' arena as well:

  1. It all starts with planning (Remember the 6Ps - "Proper Planning Prevents P*** Poor Performance").
  2. Well in advance of the meeting, go through the previous minutes and follow up any actions - is a report-back needed? If so put it on the Agenda. Try to avoid Matters Arising by having any follow-ups as specific agenda items.
  3. Establish what other Reports (Committees, Working Parties...) are needed and brief the reporter to provide a short written report to which they can speak at the meeting (I do not like verbal reports, althought they are inevitable sometimes).
  4. Circulate all FGB members a very rough draft agenda asking for additions/amendments
  5. Omit "Any other Business" - if it's not important enough to raise beforehand then it's not important.
  6. Finalise the Agenda by deciding how long each item might take, who will lead it and what the point (Discuss, Decide, Information) of the item is; write a sentence or so about each item explaining what it's there for - so now people have more of an idea what will be expected of them.
  7.  Put at the top of every Agenda "To speed progress and improve the discussion, we will expect all papers to have been read in advance of the meeting" and do not give time in the meeting for those who have not done so!
  8. Put at the bottom of every Agenda "How have we helped improve the chances for our pupils during this meeting" - and discuss it; this will help focus people on what really matters (and it's generally not the trivia that too many meetings get bogged down with!)
  9. You might want to do the Clerk's job for them by getting all the papers together - it's a good way of finding out how organised everyone is (HT included - they are the professional who knows well in advance when the meeting is and ought to be well prepared!). No paper for circulation 7 days in advance = not on Agenda.
Try these tips, it's a bit of a hassle at first but the message soon gets through and your meetings will go more smoothly.
Look out for the next post on the meeting itself...

Thursday, 18 March 2010

A successful governing body meeting

Well, I have just come back from a great FGB - we covered all the business and finished early. Now those two points are not the real indicators to me, they real indicators are that the Committees are working - dealing with the day to day business of the school (OK, month-to-month, we are strategists after all) and they have all the delegated powers we can legally give them so decisions can be made where they need to be made.

The FGB can thus concentrate on the key strategic issues - for us at present they are responding to a Good Ofsted judgement and dealing with the forced move of one of our sites. It was so good that the CEO of Education Leeds took time out to speak with the FGB - whatever he said the committment was evident from the moment he accepted our invitation.

A good evening.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Governance across different institutions

As well as a school governor, I am also a Trustee/Director of a smallish creative arts charity/company in Bradford (Artworks) and the relationship between governing a school and a charity has been exercising my grey matter recently.

Both roles are fundamentally strategic yet both offer the potential for (or should I really say 'risk of'?) dipping deeper into management and detail. The challenge that we talked about in Artworks is how to find out enough detail to be able to make meaningful strategic decisions yet not interfere with the operations of the organisation; isn't this exactly one of the challenges that we school governors face?

In schools this might be by visiting the school, spending time with pupils and staff ina structured way - no visits 'just to see what is going on' but always with an agenda to find out about something specific. In Artworks we are exploring attaching each Trustee/Director to one or more areas of work or projects (link governors!)

In Artworks we have just created a 15 (?) item balanced scorecard that lets us see the key performance indicators on one sheet of A4 - what is the education equivalent of this?

I have been looking at The Carver Model, a way of using policy to both empower and constrain 'the executive' (HT) and I wonder how these principles might apply to school governance.

It seems to me that far too often school governance is seen as amateurish. The recent DCSF proposals for compulsory trainig for Chairs is a good move IMHO, and with more Academies (whatever we might think of the concept), Foundations/Trusts, etc., it seems that we really need to be making governance much more 'professional' with the disciuplines and rigours that would be second nature in a £multi-million business. If I ran a £multi-million business I woudo not be happy with a bunch of enthusiastic but unntrained amateurs running it, why is this OK for schools?

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Governance models

Just come back from a really interesting discussion about possible models of governance for special schools in our LEA. We were very clear which is the cart and which the horse - physical provision first, then figure out how to govern that provision most effectively.

We covered federations, Joint Collaborative Committees, trusts and foundations, whether we will end up with one school on several sites or several schools, how we formalise the relationships between a school and other (mainstream) schools whose sites we share on a partnership basis.

Then we looked at a list of factors to take into account when evaluating the possible options - this is an incomplete list, so any additions wil be very welcome, they are not in any order of ‘importance’!

a. To what extent is the proposed model already understood and operating?
b. Budgets – would the overall budget go up or down, how would they be managed across multiple sites...?
c. Management complexity – how would the model impact on leading and managing across multiple sites with a wider or smaller geographic spread?
d. How complex would the process of transition be and would the end-result be worth the pain of transition? Factors such as creating and embedding a shared ethos, integration of ICT and other systems, curriculum, teaching and learning would need consideration.
e. What would be the implications for employment practices, such as place of employment, mobility of staff between sites, the possibility of creating a shared 'Supply Pool'?
f. Are any of the models more or less supportive of outreach potential from the SILC?
g. Do any facilitate or hinder Best Practice sharing?
h. What are the implications for relations with Wedges/AIBs or whatever?
i. How do the models impact on community cohesion/connection?
j. What about transfer of existing and application of future school Funds?
k. Will the models hinder or help parental engagement?
l. Will the model impact on the size of GB needed and, if so, how?
m. Do any of the models impact on the potential to manage one or more EduLeeds contracts – HHTS, EOTAS, etc...?
n. What are the implications for support services, be those from within EduLeeds or externals such as the PCT?
o. What will the public perception be of any change and how ‘sellable’ would a change be?
p. Would there be any differences regarding relationships with host schools for Partnership?
q. What about the opportunity to formally collaborate amongst the GBs (of either multiple Special Schools and/or mainstreams) and form joint committees?
r. Would the governance role be different for different physical models? Some might suggest more strategic, some a more tactical approach
s. What else???? I am sure I have missed somethings...

Sunday, 7 March 2010

The end of Education Leeds

So, the LA have decided (well, technically they will vote on it next week but we all know what the answer will be!) that children in Leeds can be better served by an integrated Children's Services Directorate within the council and that, as a consequence, the highly successful Education Leeds will cease to be.

Some will say that is a good thing, others will disagree. Whatever, the decision is clear and our efforts will be best spent making the new Directorate into a greater success than we have already had. Let's look forward with both hope and expectation that whatever is formed will be flexible and responsive to the strategic needs facing the city, avoiding getting bogged down in the bureaucracy that so often becalms local authorities. Those of us with the privilge of being both connected and independent have a valuable role to play in reminding councillors and senior officers what it is really all about - "the children, stupid" to paraphrase Bill Clinton. Whatever happens, they must be uppermost in our thoughts and plans - not politicking or Politicking or empire-building or change-fearing.

Let those of us in schools just get on with our jobs, the powers that be will be making things happen that will affect not only our own but especially our pupils' futures - we need to keep part of an eye on that but most of our attention on the day to day work of giving our kids the best education we possibly can.