Are schools a vector for hope post Covid?

    Published: 21 October 2021

    There can be no doubt that Covid has impacted significantly on schools, settings and trusts. Leaders have faced an extended period of unprecedented challenges. However, the children and young people in our care only get one shot at education and, given that the impact of Covid has been felt most acutely by them, it is more important than ever that we set and deliver the highest standards in education. Ofsted have resumed a full-inspection programme and it is right that they are holding us to account against a framework that takes very limited account of the operational challenges posed by Covid. Early experience from this academic year has shown that many schools are not improving on previous judgements, in fact we are seeing some drop one or more Ofsted grade, which is a stark reminder of how forensic we must be in our roles as Governors to ensure that the highest standards are being achieved.

    In this blog we discuss the key issues we are seeing in schools, settings and trusts as we adjust to a new normal.

    Workload

    The risk of staff burn-out remains real and as Governors we must be doing all we can to support strategic decisions that will reduce workload and ensure that energy is focused on improving outcomes in the classroom. Whilst we cannot influence the life decisions that staff may make, we can ensure that the schools in which we govern are doing all they can to support with reducing workload. There is a balance between delivering the very best education for children and young people and safeguarding staff wellbeing. Summer schools are a great example. Evidence from many schools shows that summer schools had a positive impact, with many schools considering making them a permanent fixture in the school calendar. Naturally schools will want to deploy their “A” Team to maximise impact of summer schools, particularly with vulnerable learners. However, ensuring staff get a proper break over the summer is key, with a clear balance to be achieved. Asking questions about strategies that ensure outcomes for children and young people are being optimised whilst workload is being proactively reduced by leaders is a great place to start. Staff surveys can be a useful indicator of issues around staff workload.

    Attendance

    Attendance remains a key issues for school leaders. The emotional, social and mental health of children and young people is of concern. Boards should be asking strategic questions around the provision being made for students to support social, emotional and mental health. Questions around how school refusers are being supported and how effective strategies are should also be posed. Attendance should be a regular item on agendas for boards, with clear strategies identified to improve persistent absence and support pupils who may be experiencing more frequent short-term absence given the prevalence of coughs and colds following an extended period of social distancing.

    Disadvantage gap

    The disadvantage gap remains a real issue in schools, settings and trusts. Funding for leaners eligible for Pupil Premium Grant is being made available in the form of the Recovery Premium Fund. This will be paid in four tranches throughout 21/22, with a guaranteed minimum per school depending on the type of setting. The same evidence-based approach will need to be taken to planned spending and reports must be in line with the Education Endowment Foundation’s pupil premium guide and posted on the school’s website by December 31st 2021. Governors will need to be aware of the impact that this additional funding has had which may be probed by Ofsted as part of their inspections.

    See more information regarding Recovery Premium Funding: DfE guidance.

    SEND

    Nationally SEND remains a key issue, with Hertfordshire no exception. The pressures on securing diagnoses, on getting EHCPs in place and on funding are significant. It is imperative that we are doing all we can to ensure the all learners realise their potential. Boards should have a link SEND Governor but may want to consider a committee to focus on the effectiveness of their SEND strategy. SEND should be a regular item on agendas, with Boards kept appraised of the challenges around SEND and the steps that schools are taking to successfully overcome these challenges.

    Diversity

    If you’re a regular reader of our blogs you will know we have encouraged conversations and action at board level to improve diversity on boards, and to ensure that board decisions reflect a rich diversity of opinion. The NGA produced a report in June on Increasing Participation in School & Trust Governance which they refer to as a ‘state of the nation’ report. Some of the key findings are not only around diversity but also inclusion – are those around the table encouraged to contribute, will their questions be welcomed and heard and more importantly be valued? The findings in relation to the lived experience of BAME governors are quite shocking.

    Increasing participation in school and trust governance: NGA report 

    We will explore this further at the autumn term Chairs’ Briefing but would encourage all boards to review their progress. As the NGA states ‘….this is not a separate agenda item….. it should be threaded through everything a board considers…..it’s not something to be done once and ticked off.’

    It is important that we don’t lose sight of other protected characteristics which it is critical that we acknowledge in creating truly inclusive environments where learners feel safe to be themselves. Boards can support this agenda by establishing a diversity/inclusion link Governor role to look at how inclusive the school environment is and challenging and supporting to make environments even more inclusive. Capturing student voice will be key to the success of this role.

    Sexual abuse

    The reporting of peer on peer abuse continues to gain momentum, with over 54,000 testimonies now published on the Everyone’s Invited website. The Ofsted ‘review of sexual abuse in schools and colleges’ highlighted the extent of the challenge. HfL, HCC and school leaders have collaborated to create a Sexual Abuse Toolkit which covers everything from immediate steps for named schools (79 in Herts as of July 2021) through to resources, reading, support, self-assessment tools and importantly for us a whole section of advice and resources for governors. Please use the following link to access the toolkit on Hertfordshire Grid HfL toolkit and look at the newly updated Ofsted School Inspection Handbook (Sept ’21) that includes specific reference to their expectations of schools in this regard (paragraphs 306-310) Ofsted handbook Sept '21 Has your school reviewed their practices and policies with regard to peer on peer abuse and are you satisfied everything that can be done and learnt has been?

    Funding

    Budgets remain tight in schools. Governors need to ensure that schools are on a sustainable financial trajectory. As a rule of thumb, staffing costs should be sitting at around 75% of income and schools should be able to produce a three year balanced budget and hold at least 2% in reserves. The finance committee should be asking searching questions about the impact of investments. Strategic plans should be in place for key areas including technology, which has been so key over the last 18 months.

    There is no doubt this term will be as dynamic and challenging as any that has gone before but it is key that we are addressing the issues set out in this blog. Support is always at hand from the governance team and specifically the helpdesk. No question is too silly; either ring in or email us and we will do our best to support, advise or just put your mind at rest. The things discussed in this blog are but a small snapshot of what governors need to be considering this term but are examples of areas where more knowledge and understanding can be sought which will undoubtedly support an interesting discussion at your next board meeting. We will continue to probe and discuss a range of topics and would welcome any thoughts on areas you would like to be included, just email me at the address below. For now, keep doing what you’re doing and maintain that relentless focus as a governor, and collectively as a board, on those amazing and resilient pupils in your schools.


    The Governance team are here to support you, please use the following contact details:

    HfL Governance Helpdesk: Phone 01438 544487 (Mon-Fri 9-5p.m)

    Email: governance@hertsforlearning.co.uk


    Blog authored by Jonathan Ellam and Catherine Tallis

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