Nominate someone for an MBE – all it costs is your time
Download probably the most widely read “How to” guide in text, PDF or word from this site; here
|Nominate someone – all it costs is your time|
|This guide was written to help ordinary people like you and me to nominate others for recognition within the UK national honours system. It is not an official guide but has been written drawing on the official and unofficial sources available.
Written by Martin Matthews a part of the movement to nationally recognize more governors.
With thanks to Julia Skinner for editing and sage advice.
Many great volunteers give their time quietly week in and week out. They don’t seek recognition but maybe they deserve it?
I am a volunteer, I give my time to school governance.
The reasoning behind developing this process is to support and guide people who want to nominate anyone for recognition within the national honours system.
The honours system was changed several years ago to help ordinary people like you and me to nominate anyone for recognition.
It’s not the intention of this process to become a publicity machine for anyone; simply to enable local people to nominate those they know. We aim to support the best quality and rounded citations to maximize the potential recognition.
What we can offer you
You own the nomination, we support you.
This quick checklist should give you a basic idea of how strong a nomination could be….
If you answered yes to all three there could be the potential to nominate that person. They can nominate them but the nomination won’t be as strong without these 3.
Any nomination solely based on length of service is unlikely to succeed.
No matter what you answered you can still nominate someone. Competition for honours is fierce and this is only intended as a guide.
Where to start?
There are no deadlines for applications and people can submit their nomination at any time of year. Awards are announced at New Year (end of December) and for the Queen’s Birthday (mid-June). It usually takes 12 to 18 months to process a nomination because of the background work undertaken by Cabinet Office officials. Initially a nomination is assessed by a committee from the area the person volunteers, then by a cabinet office committee that reviews all nominations.
You do not nominate a person for a specific award. You make the nomination and the process decides on the level of award.
Background checks and substantiating claims made in the citation are rightly taken very seriously. Checks including HMRC are routinely made. Where claims are made relating to organisations data checking and speaking to people within those organisations may happen. Some honours exclude people with criminal records for certain offences (particularly violence or fraud). Do not exaggerate or make false claims under any circumstances.
Ideally nominations should be made while the nominee is still in service and at least 12 months before they retire or step down. A person nominated post retirement is not likely to be successful.
Don’t delay making a nomination. I regret not putting a friend of mine forward for recognition sooner.
Individuals are approached a month before the award is announced to see if they would accept the award. People do turn down recognition. This is their personal philosophy and should be respected.
It is not possible to nominate yourself. If you choose to nominate someone it is not advisable to tell them they may be disappointed.
British Empire Medal
Awarded for a ‘hands-on’ service to the local community. This could be a long-term charitable or voluntary activity, or innovative work of a relatively short duration (3 to 4 years) that has made a significant difference.
Nominating someone has two parts,
The citation is the only evidence that most people involved in the process will see about your nominee.
You need to take the following into consideration;
Honours committees actively look for evidence of nominees who have gone above and beyond. Committees are pragmatic about this; evidence that the nominee is giving back to society will strengthen a case.
Committees regularly discount citations which do not demonstrate wider commitment: competition for honours is so strong that this is often the dividing line between a successful and unsuccessful nomination. You must make it clear where someone’s activities are extra to the “standard” role – if the committee is unsure they will assume that what is being described is paid activity. Be clear.
The citation sets out the grounds for the recommendation and should concentrate only on the nominee’s main achievements. When drafting a citation, you should consider why you are making the nomination now. It should be clear within the first few lines why a nomination is being made, and the rest of the text should be used to provide evidence to substantiate this.
It is important that the details given are accurate. The nominee may take some time to come through the Departmental selection process and be considered on more than one occasion. The information given in the citation may be checked regularly and updated where necessary as the nomination winds its way through the process.
They look for people who have made a significant contribution and have added extra value to their roles.
Long Citation Writing
Like any piece of persuasive writing, the opening sentence is the hook for the reader. Many citations fail as they don’t convey what the reviewers need. What is the essence of why you are nominating this person?
Write to your audience.
Write for the audience of the reviewer. Would someone who does not know the nominee understand what you are trying to say? Think about how you would explain the nomination to the person if they were sat in front of you.
Citations should be ordered to start with major achievements, then supporting facts and career details last and should tell the story of your nominee.
Do your research so you know what you want to say. Plan before you write, it will be much easier to get it down on paper.
Read your work carefully. Check and edit, check and edit. Get someone else to read it.
Fresh eyes can find missed basic grammar or spelling mistakes. Trim as much as you can; you only have 3000 characters in which to tell a compelling story about your nominee.
Stick to the point you have limited space. Keep your reader in mind all the time
Citation: Content tips
Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE)
Awarded for an outstanding achievement or service to the community. This will have had a long-term, significant impact and stand out as an example to others.
Citation: format tips
Think about which words have most impact
With the limited space for writing the citation the choice of a short but impactful word can help you shape the whole tone. This will support the reviewer in their decision making.
Effective nominations often include nouns such as:
adjectives such as:
and phrases such as:
Officer of the order of the British Empire (OBE)
This is awarded for having a major local role in any activity, including people whose work has made them known nationally in their chosen area.
The official advice is that two letters of support would be sufficient. With increasing competition between 5 and 20 letters of support are more likely to be successful.
Supporting letters well written will have a supportive effect. Badly written ones will not help.
Coordinating and advising people with supporting letters are the main administrative aspect of the process. Politeness and perseverance are often successful with local politicians. Most people are happy to help.
For a chair of governors consider asking the following to write a supporting letter;
|Date contacted||Letter written|
|2||Council cabinet member for education|
|7||Council cabinet member for education|
You may want to consider offering a draft form of supporting letter. This can enable busy people to have a start point and change the letter rather than starting with a blank page. Remember all letters can be submitted via email. Include the correct cabinet office contact email with the draft. Thank people if they confirm they have written a letter of support.
Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE)
This is awarded for having a prominent but lesser role at national level, or a leading role at regional level. You can also get one for a distinguished, innovative contribution to any area.
Examples of extracts from persuasive citations:
“She has devoted most of her spare time to running a social club for elderly people with learning difficulties. She says such people are sadly neglected in society and, although she is in full-time employment in a Tesco store, she runs this club with two helpers, a small budget and a lot of hard graft. Over the past five years, more than 200 people have benefited from the facilities, as well as their carers who have been given valuable respite from their responsibilities.”
“He lived on an estate with high numbers of single mothers and disaffected young people but, instead of moaning about the youth of today, he started to listen to them and, as a result, started a club with sporting activities and facilities for mothers and their children. This is now used by 500 local teenagers. He had to work hard to gain the support of police and other agencies but was determined to succeed. Now, a once crime-ridden, hugely unpopular estate, is thriving with a real sense of purpose and achievement and crime rates have plummeted.”
“She has transformed the agency from an organisation troubled by high profile technical operational challenges into a highly effective body with 96% of customers satisfied with the services her staff provide. The IT system is user friendly and a model of good practice.”
“He found that the charity was wasting over a £1m a year on time-consuming inefficient administration and had no effective PR. He altered procedures, reduced staff and adopted a ‘can do’ approach by putting the people the organisation was supposed to be helping at the top of his priority list, rather than at the bottom.”
“When she took over the company it was running at an annual loss of £4.2m and it took her five years to produce a healthy profit of £2.5m. She has maintained a steady increase in profits since 2001 with a £.7.2m profit in year ended March 2006. Employees have increased from 356 to 870 in her time, in an area of high unemployment following the closure of the local car plant”
“For over 40 years he has been a prolific fundraiser in the community. Since 1970 he has stood outside the local supermarket every Saturday in all weathers rattling his tin for good causes. He has during this time raised around £40,000 for the local hospice and the Old Rectory Club for disabled people. On retirement in 1990 he began to organise bingo nights three times a week at three different village halls and also arranges a monthly dance. These activities have brought the community together and have helped to raise over £15,000 for several local charities.”
“She is unusual because she is a black woman farmer in a rural county but she is keen to rid the world of stereotypes and uses her status to promote diversity and encourage women from non-British ethnic backgrounds to try different careers, particularly in male dominated industries like agriculture.”
“Although in full-time employment in local government, he gives up two evenings a week and all day Sunday to helping in the hospice. He has managed their very complex finances and is prepared to help behind the scenes or on the frontline, wherever he is most needed. He has contributed his services consistently for the last 32 years.”
“She has been the under-16s football team coach for 15 years. During the season she gives up every Tuesday evening for training and every Sunday for matches against other local teams. It is a testament to her success as a coach that there are now enough junior members for two boys’ and a girls’ team. She has undertaken all manner of tasks to support the club, from mowing the pitch to acting as club secretary. She organised several fundraising tournaments to raise £4,000 towards renovation of the football pitch and clubhouse, a facility now used by the whole community for village events.”
This is awarded for having a major contribution in any activity, usually at national level. Other people working in the nominee’s area will see their contribution as inspirational and significant, requiring commitment over a long period of time.
Example citations for governors (available on National Governance Association website)
Example governor citation 1
The nominee has been a governor at numerous schools across the authority in the primary, secondary and special school sectors for the past thirty-nine years. He has been a member of three Interim Executive Boards where his leadership, tenacity and hard work have brought the schools out of special measures. He is also chair of the authority’s Pupil Referral Unit Management Committee, the authority’s Governor Forum and the Schools Causing Concern Group. He was a member of the Governors’ Forum during the Special Educational Needs (SEN) re-organisation in the authority and was a guiding force to secure a new build for an existing primary school to be co-located within a primary special school located in a socially deprived area. As chair of governors for the closing school he brought enthusiasm, fresh ideas and provided support. He kept up to date with the assimilation process for colleagues and was a guiding hand in arranging the building of a primary and special
primary school in a socially deprived area. He had the confidence and expertise to hold his own with educationalists, architects and building contractors. He was an excellent negotiator and dedicated observer who made a major difference to the smooth running of the closure and opening of the primary schools. His successful involvement in the Building Schools for the Future programme during the re-organisation of special schools prompted the authority to invite him to join the Emotional, Social and behavioural focus group. As chair of governors at a local primary school he worked closely with the newly appointed bursar to unpick the confused school budget brought about by council re-organisation and produce a clear budget picture. As a result of this, a clear plan of action was produced which was then monitored by the nominee to ensure value for money was delivered. The school is now one of the best resourced and staffed schools in the authority. He has given his time unstintingly and has a commitment to fairness which is evident in his work with the schools, community and local authority and his desire to make a difference in the field of education. He has absolute determination to face up to challenging problems and to seek the resolutions in a constructive way. In July 2010 he was awarded a Diploma in School Governance from the local university. Key Stage 2 results for one of the nominee’s primary schools are as follows: 2010 – English 64%, Maths 79%, Science unknown, CVA 99.6. In 2009 – English 68%, Maths 66%, Science 75%, CVA 99.5. 2008 – English 71%, Maths 71%, Science 80%, CVA 99.5. Key Stage 2 results for another primary school at which the nominee is a governor are as follows: 2010 – English 69%, Maths 72%, Science unknown, CVA 99.1. 2009 – English 59%, Maths 59%, Science 59%, CVA 98.5. 2008 – English 42%, Maths 63%, Science 58%, CVA 98.4. He carries out a considerable amount of work in school governance in addition to his day job as chair of a company involved in world-wide finance.
Example governor citation 2
The nominee was appointed LA governor in spring 2010 and, from January 2011 has been the Chair of Governors. In December 2012, the school went into special measures and she demonstrated her drive and determination to lead the school in its development and improvement by playing a key role in devising and delivering a focused action plan and liaising with Ofsted. Given her background as a teacher, she devoted her time, effort and personal reputation to take on the challenge. This involved numerous critical meetings with the LA and Ofsted and appointing a temporary LA head teacher. Using her tenacious and persuasive skills, she contacted the disillusioned and demotivated governors and convinced them to recommit to build a school the community could be proud of. She structured the governing body using individuals’ strengths and using her zeal created the vision for a cohesive whole school ethos. One of the major barriers was the school’s low standing within the community and parent body. Her passion to make a difference convinced parents that the school was worth investing in. Her role within the school has extended beyond the governance, she has attended all the school’s events including assemblies, supporting the curriculum during maths and reading days and she has shown her humorous side by competing in the school talent show. In her role as governor, however, under her rigorous scrutiny, when inspected in March 2012, the school moved out of special measures and was judged satisfactory. The report states that the governing body now asks more searching questions and holds the school to account well. Without her unstinting passion and determination this would not have happened. Her awe-inspiring enthusiasm for improving education standards and opportunities can be seen when she spearheaded links with local tennis and football clubs which resulted in pupils benefiting from expertise coaching from the Wimbledon LTA and Fulham Football Club. Her drive for improvement does not stop at the school she regularly attends courses in governance to ensure she is an effective chair of Governors.
Example governor citation 3
I have written the following example as a clear example of what not to do. It could be that you write your citation with the very best of intentions but without editing or support it may not read how you expect. To achieve what you want you are advised to seek support from someone else. A fresh pair of eyes and a clear understanding of what you are trying to say will do the citation no harm.
Example of supporting letter
Current nomination form
This is available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/nominate-someone-for-a-uk-national-honour
There continues to be intense debate about the highest profile and highest paid roles in English education. This study has examined public data from English MATs to inform the debate on if there is s gender imbalance.
Please use the study to start further research and inform the debate.
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;
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:
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:
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.
This is not what I intended to write.
At the start of this week everything was bumbling along. Why then by the end of the week do I feel like I’ve run a marathon carrying an elephant?
The reason we volunteer is because we care about the quality of education our children receive. Many of us start as parent governors, nosy about what’s going on with our children. Most of us stay to try and make a difference.
I’m so long in the tooth I even remember life before Ofsted, then the cupboard rummagers, the lesson scrutinisers and what we have now.
I firmly believe schools and governing bodies should be accountable; accountable to children, parents and Ofsted among others. I know that’s controversial but I’ve seen too many schools with a sleeping governing body where the world turns and they don’t notice.
I have a chat with the head where I’m Chair every couple of days and exchange emails a couple of times a week. We meet every couple of weeks and occasionally I pop into school on the way past and have a chat with staff, say hello and drop off some biscuits or cake.
This week I was bimbling past when I decided to drop in. I signed in, had a chat with the support staff and sat down in the staffroom. After about five minutes the deputy head stopped as she passed me for the third time and said “by you were quick who phoned you?” At that point my week changed.
About ten minutes before they had the call.
Sometimes being a Chair of governors is more about perception than action. Fighting the temptation to throw my hands in the air and run screaming from the building I adopted a “Steady the Buffs” attitude of cheerful stoic optimism in the face of the oncoming storm. Once I knew there was nothing the senior leaders felt we as Govs could do I left them to it, went home and emailed the team.
Our governing body are a team. We don’t have data storm troopers, we don’t drill everyone to the grade six governance. I know my fellow govs and I know what they bring. It was getting Ofsted to see that which occupied the next two days.
By half time on day one the head was quiet, not like them at all. The deputy who is a caring and dedicated professional was similarly tacit. I started to worry.
I emailed the Govs at lunchtime and at the end of the day, asking specific people to be sure they knew their areas of responsibility. Our finance guru was working 200 miles away and other govs couldn’t get the time off at short notice. We had our final Eight.
The day dawned and by dawned I mean we had our meeting with the lead inspector at 08.30. One Gov assumed this was such an unreasonable hour it must mean 20.30 and was typo (seven left).
By ten the lead inspector had written many many pages and was starting to get the air of desperation that they wanted to get away. I could not have asked for more from our team. The parents were clear, eloquent and passionate about their children and the work they saw in governance in their children’s lives. The staff were clear about their dual role, what they saw, the openness of the governing body and how we all worked together as a team. I felt deflated worried there was so much more we could have said and evidenced. I did not want to let our children down.
The conversation ranged over the single central register (checked two days before by me), attainment, CVA, achievement, progress, disadvantaged groups, high achievers, data, safeguarding, pupil premium, sports premium, how the governing body interacted with the stakeholders, challenge, VFM, teacher appraisal linked to reward; but above all children. Each aspect linked directly back to children.
To say the process was thorough was an understatement.
I went home.
Then I started to worry.
My hand hovered over the telephone.
Should I ring and say we forgot to mention?
Did we miss a curve ball??
did you realise we do…???
I thought better of it and had a cup of tea.
As I sat there feeling thankful my boss had given me the time and space to be so involved with our school, playing the various options in my mind I realised I knew what grade our school was but did Ofsted? What could happen next? How would we react?
The debrief was at 3.30.
I can’t finish this story, yet.
We had the meeting yesterday.
I can’t tell you what was said, why or what it means to our school’s future.
What I can say is I know why I’m a governor. I care about the children. I care about their life chances and their life after they leave us as well as what happens in our school. They get one chance and we can’t squander that. No matter what is thrown at us we’ll do what we can because they can’t, they are children.
Every governor in every school feels the same: we care.
The perception that school governors are biscuit munching sherry drinking do-gooders was inadvertently reinforced by Michael Gove when he was Secretary of State for Education. The reality is radically different.
The concept of a governing body being a genial group of amateurs who rubber stamp the plans of the paid educators has long gone in most schools. Those which are left are slowly being found wanting by Ofsted.
The focus of a governing body should never waver from the children in school. Their education remains the sole and most precious part of governance and this should never be forgotten.
No one wants to work in or send their child to anything but a good school. Since governance became an integral part of the leadership and management strand of every Ofsted report most governors have been well aware that their underperformance can have serious implications.
There is no area of school life which governance does not oversee. From performance managing the head teacher and setting the budget governance decisions impact education throughout every school. Just as the governing body is accountable to stakeholders and Ofsted so the school leadership team is accountable to the governing body.
Many educators don’t fully understand the role of governance and this can cause issues. Governance is not a financial sign off; we can and do say “no”. Neither are we a management committee, in many schools the governing body is the employer. If the head teacher underperforms it is the governing body that dismisses them.
Intriguingly almost all head teachers choose to be governors and fail to undertake governor training. There seems to be a perception that being an educator working in a school is sufficient. It’s not. The roles, rules and regulations are different. This basic lack of subject knowledge in an important part of school life can cause unnecessary tensions and misconceptions between the head teacher, senior leadership team and the governing body. If everyone knows what they are supposed to do life is much simpler.
With expanding local school autonomy has come increased responsibility for governors. Many announcements made that “head teachers can now” are additional governing body responsibilities. This fundamental lack of understanding of how schools work is increasing governance workload and work complexity.
Governing bodies have to ensure value for money, impact on education and drive school improvement. We constantly ask “why” and look for reasoned evidenced education explanations. We are part of the wider accountability mechanism to ensure taxpayers’ money is spent correctly.
The current feeling among the majority of governors is that we should not be paid for our role. The reasoning behind this is that we acknowledge there would be no new money and we would not want to take resources from an already stretched system. This is misinterpreted as placing a lack of value on governance but is driven by the very reason most volunteer.
Instead of asking should governors be paid it be could suggested that all public voluntary roles be unpaid. This would take us straight back to the number one Nolan principle “Holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest.”
The breadth of skills, local knowledge and personal commitment in the average governing body would be difficult to find in any comparable public sector board.
Its time that the educational establishment started to value governance; replacing us with a paid alternative would not be easy or cost effective.