Back to the future

    Published: 11 February 2021

    I did wonder if the title was a bit hackneyed, does it reflect where, as governors, we currently find ourselves? However looking up definitions of what is meant by ‘Back to the Future’  I fell upon one explanation which seems to ring true:

    Back to the Future -The expression refers to the time when one has to stop (over) thinking about the things they could, or shouldn’t, have done in the past so that what happened wouldn't have happened. Do not dwell on the past! The past has been written with ink, the future in pencil! (anon 24/7/20)

    I am sure we can all relate to some or all of the sentiments in the above explanation whether reflecting as a board on what we could have done better last year or what we have learned from last year to improve how we do things now. I love the point that the past is written in ink but the future in pencil, so in this blog we will definitely look to the foreseeable future and reflect on the foundations laid last year to support where we currently are and go from here.

    Catch up scheme ‘needs a rocket booster’

    Anne Longfield (Children’s Commissioner) in a recent interview stated an urgent overhaul of the help given to disadvantaged children is required now to prevent a devastating generational impact on these students. She is pushing for the further accelerated distribution of laptops and broadband provision to support disadvantaged learners and wants to create a commission to examine what will be needed longer term. When you consider that all year groups in 2020, from reception through to Yr12 will have by Feb 2021 experienced at least 39 weeks of ‘partial’ or ‘lost’ education then the ongoing impact for all these students could roll on for a decade at least. Considering this possibility governors will need to carefully consider how they will view progress and attainment data for the foreseeable future and how it will be contextualised to take into account the lost education of 20/21. In Hertfordshire there is a huge range of catch up resources available from HfL and many other providers – governors are you pressing your school on buying into these resources and holding the school to account for the impact they are having and if not what alternative strategies could be pursued?

    Return to full opening II

    Now that the media focus has swung back squarely onto education, after a brief reprieve, the government are under huge pressure to fulfil the promise that schools will be the last to close and first to open. As I write this at the beginning of February I am aware that things may have moved on before you get to read this and apologise if events have overtaken this blog! So two weeks notice will be given for schools to prepare with the earliest date set for further reopening the 8th March following the 22nd February lockdown update. During the two weeks notice period governors will need to be reviewing the school’s risk assessment and Covid-safe workplace protocols but also understanding the setting up of school based testing and a world of new acronyms LFT’s (Lateral flow tests), SOP’s (Standard Operating Procedures) and PCR’s (Polymerase Chain Reaction test) to name but a few. As well as the plans for the careful reintegration and support for exhausted, troubled, confused but possibly relieved students back into face to face school life. Governors will also need to check on the wellbeing of senior leaders, for whom time off will have been very limited for almost a year, to ensure the business of educating your students back in school can resume and some form of work life balance can be resumed.

    The DfE have further announced that schools should be closed this February half term and are not required to be open for vulnerable pupils or children of critical workers. Furthermore schools will not need to supply food parcels or vouchers to those in receipt of Free School Meals as this will be covered through councils using the Covid Winter Grant Scheme.

    SATs and exams

    Having announced the cancellation of this year’s SATs tests and GCSE and A-Level exams the DfE have asked Ofqual to consult with schools and parents on how the end of year assessment should look. Noises from various quarters have floated the idea of mini exams for some subjects marked internally, multiple layers of assessment, training for teachers to support the process and ensure as near as possible to having results that have a national rather than local validity. It goes without saying that for governors in both the primary and secondary sector the fact there will be 2 years without nationally moderated test and exam results it will be difficult to hold your schools to account for student outcomes in the usual way, much thought (and allowance) will have to be given to these cohorts as they track their way through the education system.

    Ofsted

    So for now Ofsted will continue visiting schools this term, much the same way as the Autumn visits, but critically they will be done remotely until such time that restrictions will allow the return to face to face visits. There is the possibility of a return to the normal inspection regime in the summer term but possibly this may be delayed until Autumn to allow for schools to focus on restarting the return to onsite education for all students. For schools in the ‘Ofsted window’ boards will want to be considering their approach to a possible inspection, this may include; a rigorous analysis of the remote learning provision provided, how any additional Covid support funds were spent and the impact this had, plans to build back better i.e is it a race to return back to how things were or is there an opportunity to do things better?

    On a lighter note the Secretary of States suggestion that parents should complain to Ofsted if they feel that the remote provision isn’t satisfactory in their schools rather backfired when upwards of 10,000 emails of support were sent in by parents!

    Diversity

    At a recent governance conference run by the Chartered Governance Institute there was a very powerful presentation on board diversity from amongst others Sanjay Bhandar from the board of footballs Kick it Out campaign. He underscored that boards need to fully understand why they want to improve and achieve greater member diversity, he made the point that ‘Diversity is counting the numbers whilst inclusion is making the numbers count’. This isn’t a tick box exercise, nor revolution, but an emergence of taking a different approach and ways of thinking. Another point made was that boards have a tendency to regenerate in their own image mainly due to unconscious processes and the challenge is how to break out of that cycle and not allow the mindset that inclusion and diversity somehow lead to a dilution of the skills on offer – Sanjay reminded delegates that ‘talent is evenly distributed but opportunity isn’t’. This blog will continue to champion the push to get boards talking about this challenge, the more we do the easier it will be and at HfL we will continue to support any board wanting to improve diversity and inclusion alongside other organisations. As an example the NGA have included recruiting governors under the age of 40 as part of their diversity aims. As times moves on this push for improved diversity and inclusion will be key to ensuring boards are refreshed with a range of voices from their local community, and beyond, to reflect the incredibly diverse student population that all schools serve.

    Wellbeing

    Clearly I could write a whole blog on this one challenge and there is a wealth of support and information for governors to look at to understand the impact of the pandemic alone on the mental health and wellbeing of students, staff, school leaders and ourselves. In your school mental health needs the same priority as first aid support. Who is your mental health lead? Where do staff direct students who are displaying symptoms of poor mental health? Are your staff trained in spotting the signs and not confusing them with more accepted displays of poor behaviour? How are staff being supported and school leaders? Many will have been home schooling or suffered bereavement or succumbed to Covid with possible long term affects and in some cases all of the above. The wellbeing of your parent body will be having an impact on their children in many ways including job and financial insecurity through to the tragic increase in incidence of all forms of abuse in the home.

    As a next step, if you haven’t already, consider appointing a Mental Health & Wellbeing link governor – this will be a significant show of support for all of the above challenges and give a voice to this critical area on your board.


    It feels a bit like being in limbo at the moment, fully locked down but with a vaccination programme that may see us on track to return to some form of normality by the summer. Our schools are well versed in all matters Covid and are daily achieving, what a year ago would have seemed pie in the sky i.e the hybrid delivery of education to students both in class and at home all at the same time! The road map out of this looks likely to become clearer on the 22nd February when hopefully schools will be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. The Prime Minister has promised a long term plan to close the gaps of lost education supported by £100’s millions to get the job done (his words, not mine!). So let’s sharpen our pencils and start planning the future to fulfil the deserved expectations and undimmed aspirations of our wonderful students who continue to put their trust in us.

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