I wrote this guide to support people being better candidates. Governors want to appoint the best person for the job, not the best interviewee.
One of the fiercest debates in education at the moment is how or if gender affects schools and leadership.
This research is to add data to the discussion.
As the sample size is over 10% of the total number of primary schools in England it has a high level of statistical validity.
After discussion with other governors over the last few days a thought about the long term of Multi Academy Trusts (MATs) has been rummaging around my head.
Jokingly someone suggested setting up a Spartan MAT that once established started to take over and enslave its neighbours. Sadly this doesn’t seem too far from the truth in some places.
The current wild west (apologies for mixed metaphors) of MAT growth and expansion needs to be curtailed and more detailed definitions of future MAT planning need defining.
To prevent the necessary reform of over large national or regional MAT’s which become “too large to fail” and establish local area MAT’s linked to local democracy (sound familiar?) the future of MAT’s should be planned now.
The number of schools is finite and even when 500 new free schools are factored in the maximum is about 23000. In turn this will mean that there will be a maximum number of MAT’s which can be established When a MAT fails the schools are distributed among other MAT’s at the whim of the Department for Education (DFE). The logical conclusion is that over time the number of MAT’s will decrease.
If the current policy is followed to conclusion this will have predetermined unintended consequence that increasingly vast numbers of children’s education will be concentrated into an ever smaller number of MAT’s.
Schools can’t leave a MAT once they join. Even if the school achieves consistently outstanding and teaching school status once in they cannot leave. All legal authority is ceded to the MAT board and what would encourage them to allow a school to leave and set up a competitor MAT?
At this point remember that there are no national selection processes, criteria or best practice models for recruitment to MAT boards. Perhaps once a MAT reaches a certain financial turnover board recruitment should be brought within the national public appointments process? This is a deeply unpopular idea with some MAT boards which makes me think it could be a good thing.
While I’m on also think through that MAT boards set their own expenses. How long before we get a governor duck house fiasco?
The process by which a school can or should leave a MAT should be defined by the DfE.
Is it linked to Ofsted grade?
Pupil attainment and achievement – over how long?
How will local people be involved – parental referendum?
Could the DfE compel outstanding/good schools to leave a MAT and set up their own?
Should there be a central quango to make these decisions?
All these factors can be planned so schools can review their long term direction.
The process by which MAT’s are broken up should also be defined to enable transparent “offers” from existing MAT’s.
Perhaps the Office of the schools adjudicator should have its remit expanded to become the arbiter in this situation?
This openness will reassure students, parents and staff that at least there aren’t deals being done behind the scenes. In turn this will smooth difficult times and minimize impact on the children.
We need clear plans for the future of MAT’s and crisis planning on the hoof simply isn’t good enough for the children in our care. They get one education and we should do the best we can. Avoidable known risks should be resolved before they impact.
Governors have oversight of the staff in their school. If you start to see a high staff turnover and the loss of experienced teachers what can you do?
Experienced staff are the engine room of every school and the more high quality staff you have at every level the higher quality education children receive.
What can governors do if they see school loosing the very staff they are trying to attract and retain?
Its perfectly normal to have staff (and I use staff to include all staff within school not just teachers) at all stages of their careers throughout school. This shows that there are people joining school, progressing and then leaving to promotion.
Its also usual to find some people who don’t want to be promoted and are content in being great at their role. They aren’t people to be “moved on” they can be the fixed solid points in a well-rounded staff. Experience has a value.
What can be causing a higher staff turnover?
Look National; If the national picture for staff retention is in the headlines and a high priority this may be a factor. As a governor you still need to understand why people are leaving in line with the national pattern to try and differentiate your school and retain staff.
Look Regional; Are there factors specific to your region? Is the standard of living afforded by teachers pay lower than other regions for the same level of responsibility? Does your school budget support the possibility to offer a higher starting salary? Could you look to retention payments for significant staff?
Look local: Is your school staff turnover higher than other schools locally? Are you running a school with a high number of supply teachers? If this is the case you need to quickly investigate, Burning through high numbers of competent staff can be a sign all is not well.
What can governors do?
Governors can conduct exit interviews with staff. A couple of governors having a confidential chat for 15-20 minutes with leaving staff can be very enlightening. The information may not immediately lead to action but if staff independently repeat the same themes there may be more worth looking into.
Governors can become more actively involved in recruitment. In maintained schools governors delegate authority to the head teacher to recruit so there is no reason why they cannot play an active role f they choose. In a multi-academy trust a responsible board cannot complain if a diligent LGB bring potential issues to their attention and then offer support to resolve them.
At the moment my experience tells me that there are three common reasons for high turnover;
- Staff workload and Wellbeing
- Poor recruitment by school leaders
- School senior leadership behaviour
Governors can influence all these areas.
Given that most governors see numerous head teachers come and go in their time the long term implications of poor staff recruitment can haunt you after that head teacher is gone. We must be vigilant and value staff.
With the recent speech to the National Governors’ Association conference in Manchester Nicky Morgan made clear the preferred model of governance is moving away from stakeholder representation.
Does this matter?
At the moment the vibe coming from the Dfe is towards medium sized multi academy trusts of 8-10 schools.
In itself this is not an issue but this will reduce the number of governors nationally to a frightening small number.
To be clear local governing bodies are not governance they are accountable committees solely at the mercy of the patronage of the MAT board. The presence of individuals on the LGB “board” is at the behest of the board and can be removed at any time. What the LGB is given to do is at the whim of the board and can be changed at any time.
The only governors remaining will be MAT board members.
The numbers (please bear with me these are approximates)
There are circa 22,000 schools in England
The ideal MAT size is 8 -10 (DfE)
The average MAT board is approx. 10 people
That roughly equates to 22,000 governors nationally – down from over 300,000 today.
Even if my figures are off by 100% the drop by over 250,000 is potentially the single biggest dismantling and disenfranchisement of a volunteer group in our history.
Again – does this matter?
I have spoken to a number of MAT boards and several have no governance expertise at all. Skills such as legal, HR, and finance are valued but the mechanics and understanding of governance are not valued.
This does matter.
Governance has the Nolan principles running through it, is rooted in the local and accountable and is connected to the students and families it serves.
This will be lost.
Education will move to a service delivered to a community not reflecting the context it serves.
When parents find that a board remote from them their school and their child is the final arbiter of any disagreement with the head teacher. That if you have a SEND child the head teacher has no accountability locally. That if the board makes a decision which is disagreed with locally there is no formal method of arbitration people may start to take notice. By then it will be too late.
The balance of local accountability by head teachers does matter. Some head teachers are not outstanding and the freedoms in this model allow a poor head teacher to have a disproportionate local effect.
Is it worth the risk?
The concentration of the education of our children in the hands of a small number of people matters. Remember MAT board members are chosen by existing MAT board members. They are immune from the public appointments process despite running multi million taxpayer pound budgets.
Perhaps a MAT above £10M should be brought within the public appointment process?
The possibility of failure by a MAT board will have a disproportionate affect on the children within the MAT; way beyond the reach of a poorly performing governing body. Remember the phrase “to big to fail” and reflect on how that ended.
The flip of a coin to fly high or plumb the depths is not a chance I would relish with my own child’s education or any child for that matter.
The golden future of academisation will have to be very closely monitored but by whom?
There is neither the desire nor the capacity centrally or regionally. Local Authorities and regional schools commissioners and the DFE do not have the capacity. The local community may see what is happening but have little impact on preventing failure.
Too many known unknowns to paraphrase the metaphysical Dick Cheyney.
Worth the risk?
Governance questions for the new Ofsted framework.
With the changes to Ofsted inspections from September 2015 what governing bodies and trust boards have to discuss with head teachers will also change.
If your school is already “Good” or “Outstanding” then how your school will be assessed has changed significantly. An HMI (yes just one for primaries and two for secondaries) will start with the assumption your school is still good. They will check data, safeguarding and unless they find evidence to the contrary they will affirm that school is still good.
The only fly in the ointment is if they feel school may be outstanding or RI. That triggers a full section 5 inspection.
Is that an incentive?
The HMCI Sir Michael Wilshaw has conveniently published what HMI will ask head teachers.
This blog is based on page two of the letter.
HMI may ask how well leaders:
- have built, or are developing, a school culture that is calm, orderly and aspirational so that teachers can teach and pupils can learn
- have a grip on the school and fully understand its strengths and weaknesses
- know how different groups of pupils currently at the school are achieving across a range of subjects
- have removed any excuses for underachievement and are prepared to go the extra mile to compensate for family background
- know the quality of teaching and are prepared to confront complacency wherever they find it
- have communicated their strategy for raising standards to parents, governors and key stakeholders
- ensure that pupils have access to good quality materials, for example textbooks, readers and library books that they can use in classrooms and at
These questions equally apply to any school type and build on the concept that a safe well taught child should learn well.
The focus is shifting to the professional judgement of head teachers, ensuring they know their students and staff. That they know what a good teacher looks like and they recognise underachievement.
Personally when I hear the parade of excuses for underachievement it makes me a tad agitated.
I was brought up in great but disadvantaged communities and I know many successful professionals who were. The circumstances a child goes to school in are not their responsibility or their fault. Schools should work to provide the safe environment conducive to allowing children to learn.
Being a governor of a primary school it particularly irks me when secondaries take the same children with the same parents in the same community and results crash from 11 to 16. I still don’t feel secondaries should get more funding for the same child and that their floor targets are 50% of primaries.
The questions asked of the head teacher apply the same to governors. Getting to grips with these four questions are at the heart of what we already do. Tweaked slightly they could be the vision of any school:
- understand strengths and weaknesses of school and be addressing these
- know how different groups of pupils currently at the school are achieving across a range of subjects and maximise student opportunity
- have removed any excuses for underachievement and are prepared to go the extra mile to compensate for family background
- know the quality of senior leadership and are prepared to confront complacency wherever they find it
Seems like the core purpose of governance will always be the same.
Is that a bad thing?
Not at all.
Children matter first and last.
Increasingly I speak to people who believe their role is as a governor when it’s not. The complexity of the definition of who is a governor is confusing to everyone.
Every person who volunteers their time to support schools wants the best education for children. No one wants to divert time from focussing on education to governance procedural matters but things have to be legal.
In 2010 the types of school were quite limited and mostly well understood. Community, academy, voluntary controlled and voluntary aided governors had largely similar roles. With the proliferation of UTC’s, studio schools, different multi academy trust types and free schools the structure, legality and types of governance have mushroomed.
Diversity and local autonomy have been the watchwords for the last few years and this has allowed some schools to flourish. Others however have found adapting to the challenge much more perplexing. This doesn’t help the children in those schools.
Where a school chooses to join an existing Multi Academy Trust (MAT) all executive authority transfers to the MAT board. The governing body at the school ceases to exist and the school holds no residual authority to leave the MAT.
The volunteers who were governors are often given a local role by the MAT board. Being called a Local Governing Body (LGB) doesn’t help as the volunteers are not governors in the legal sense. Who can legally act and who is legally responsible are important aspects of governance and accountability. This isn’t me being pedantic; law matters and with the current Education Bill it will become more important.
Interestingly because local volunteers aren’t governors they can be paid for the role. I wonder how many know this and are being paid?
The MAT board should have a very clear schedule of delegation to the school committee, council, senate, synod, congress, cabinet; please no more LGB it’s confusing.
The schedule should be the clear founding document explaining what the MAT board wants the local group to do on their behalf, when they want reports and what data they expect. In essence it’s a service level agreement, very similar to the terms of reference to a governing body committee which the MAT board can change as they see fit.
The schedule should help the local group to demonstrate to Ofsted and any other accountable body how they meet their requirements, don’t meddle and focus on children. Without a schedule it’s akin to doing a job with no job description. The local group will become squeezed between the MAT board and Ofsted, pleasing neither and possibly failing the school.
The temptation to accept responsibility because we care is great but when legally it’s not ours the correctly accountable group must step up.
Similarly the recruitment process for MAT boards concerns me. A middle sized MAT can easily crest £20 million annual budget. Yet the recruitment process for board members is solely at the discretion of the board. There is no requirement to include stakeholders, skills audit to see what they need or potentially more than asking someone they know to join. The national public appointments process is both transparent, skills driven and clear. Perhaps it’s time for MAT boards to be brought into the national process?
The taxpayer funding from the DfE through a MAT to schools can be significant. Yet the MAT headquarters structure is unaccountable to OFSTED. Irrespective of philosophy taxpayers money should be accountable in the same way in every school. It’s not about academies it’s about children and value for money to provide their education.
These issues may seem arcane but the temptations associated with public money and duck houses has proved oversight is critical. I know its old fashioned to keep referring back to Nolan but the simple seven principles still apply.
If the DfE intends to encourage more schools into being academies the DfE budget scrutiny and MAT board recruitment issues have to be resolved.
When you know what you are expected to do doing it is much easier. Knowing the rules of the game means you are likelier to succeed.