As we emerge from the restrictions of the pandemic, many boards will be looking to the future and asking how best to conduct business and support their schools. We are frequently asked about the return to face to face meetings, governor visits and training. There is no one size fits all solution, it will be for individual boards to determine what best meets the needs of their school. The latest DfE advice DfE April 2021 suggests a pragmatic and tailored approach.
After a year of meeting remotely, we have written at some length about both the pros and cons of returning to the way things were. The reality is that behaviours and expectations have changed over the period of the pandemic and it’s clear that for many boards embracing the positives of remote meetings (i.e work life balance for volunteer governors, senior staff workload, improved accessibility to meetings from work and home and wider recruitment opportunities etc) means that remote meetings will remain their default.
Consideration will need to be given to the view of your clerk as well, in many cases they will clerk for boards across a number of schools and may need, or want, to continue clerking remotely. After considerable investment in the technology to deliver remote training and the overwhelmingly positive feedback from Governors, for us at HfL, remote training is here to stay. We will of course offer face to face training and support where this makes sense.
Pupil Premium funding
As I am sure you are all aware the government has signposted a change to Pupil Premium (PP) funding for 2021/22 (to be confirmed in June) DfE PPG document, previously the funding was based on the census in January but this has now been moved back to the October census date.
Anecdotally the numbers qualifying for FSM rises during the Autumn term, one recent survey suggesting by as much as 8% for Primary and 3.5% for Secondary schools, which could lead to a shortfall in PP funding against what would be expected/ budgeted for by your school. School leaders and governors have expressed their dismay at this proposed change and there is little time to persuade the government to change tack – how will your school be impacted, have you discussed this and what changes will you need to make to the schools Pupil Premium planning going forward if less funds are available per PP child?
Anti-racism and climate emergency
These are two key areas of focus at HfL and we want to continue to support and work with boards to help with improving board diversity, to adopt an anti-racist stance and to respond as a school to the climate emergency. These issues together with the unfolding challenges discussed below are topical and an absolute priority of today’s young people. A number of these areas can make for uncomfortable discussions and self-evaluation, but it is vital that we acknowledge issues and work together to make positive changes for young people.
Governors need to challenge their schools in all three of these areas, arguably they should be a standing item on GB agendas until the dial is moved for good, in both senses of the word. At HfL we are offering a briefing ‘Systemic racism in schools’ on 22nd June (6pm) which we would encourage all governors to attend and the October Chairs briefing will be hearing from Chairs who have made some progress on board diversity and of course we will continue to, hopefully, stimulate discussion through our blogs.
Sexual violence and abuse in schools
I am sure you will all have been shocked by the accounts of peer on peer sexual violence and abuse published on www.everyonesinvited.uk in March. The suggestion of a ‘rape culture’ existing in the very institutions where we hope children are safe made for incredibly uncomfortable reading and to be writing about it in this blog somehow feels taboo. However if we shy away from this difficult subject and fail to ask the right questions both of school staff and of young people in schools we will not succeed in addressing peer on peer abuse.
Firstly, and importantly, Ofsted are carrying out an urgent review of sexual abuse in schools Ofsted review, looking in particular at the culture of safeguarding and safeguarding practices in a sample of schools across both the maintained and private sectors. They will report at the end of May so we will look at their findings and the implications for governance after.
In the meantime boards should urgently review these processes in their own schools whether primary or secondary – do you have the latest safeguarding policy on your website, are there clear and easy lines of reporting for children who want to report sexual violence and how will their concerns be followed up, write to parents reassuring you are looking into this issue, set up a high level group to review practices in your school (include school IT lead, DSL, SG governor and members of SLT). Is your RSHE curriculum fit for purpose? Is there a focus on talking to boys from a young age about respectful behaviour and consent?
It’s because awful things can happen in schools that we have such a well-developed safeguarding culture and responsibility, this national scandal needs to be confronted head on and governors must take the lead in challenging it.
Mobile phones – exclude or embrace?
Following the intense media coverage of the above, Gavin Williamson was quick to suggest that schools should consider banning mobile phones in schools. The wider reasons were quickly lost due to his ‘discipline and order’ comment but read on and the links between mobile phones and the culture above are easily (too simply?) drawn.
Imagine as a child enters your school with a bulging school bag, a teacher asks “what’s in your bag?” and the child replies “Well Miss I have a telephone, keyboard, encrypted communication equipment, television, sound system, home cinema, headphones, a virtual megaphone, maybe some material of an explicit nature including magazines and some photos of me and my friends that we share in the playground”. As governors we would expect all those items to be confiscated and the child (and parents) be reprimanded and that this would not be tolerated in future, however every day 10,000’s of primary and secondary school children enter schools with some or all of the above all contained in a pocket sized device.
We have all seen the power of digital devices over the last year and the value they can bring to education. However, they can also enable the spread of fake news and disinformation, enable peer on peer abuse and bullying, sexting, revenge porn and a world of confusion and pain for so many of our young children.
As governors we should always be monitoring the causes of low level disruption in the classroom (the constant battle over mobile phone misuse and the traumas of confiscation can be a daily battle in schools) and more so the wider behavioural, bullying and wellbeing impact of mobile phones in schools. At the very least regularly revisit the discussion on mobile phones in school on your boards, it maybe some time since you last did this and things have evolved exponentially in recent years.
The upcoming Ofsted review on Sexual Violence may be just the tipping point to tackle this head on and move discussion on from ‘this would be impossible to police’ to ‘we actually need to do this for our children’s mental health, safety and wellbeing whilst they are in our care’.
From CAGs to SAGs to finally TAGs & Yr6 Transition
Teacher Assessed Grades (TAGs) is the Ofqual outcome, and across schools teachers are working hard to ensure a balanced and rigorous approach is taken to ensure the correct grades are awarded to this highly impacted cohort of students. Ofqual has just published a student guide to their summer results, a welcome move from the exam regulator to want to ‘speak’ directly to students about how this all works.
Following on from this will be the ‘school managed’ results appeal process during August and the hope this will impact as little as possible on these students chosen destinations. Running in tandem with this will be the all-important transition arrangements for Year 6 Primary pupils, hopefully as restrictions are removed there will be the opportunity for these pupils to actually visit their chosen schools this term and participate in the Summer School programme funded directly by the DfE.
Spoiler alert - secondary schools need to provide these summer schools and have to plan the support required but will only be funded for the number of pupils who actually participate! So governors in both phases will want to be checking what is in place, how staff and students will be supported with all the additional pressures of TAGs, appeals, the autumn exam programme and Yr6 transition plans
Can your school access these funds?
- buildings programme fund increased to £1.8 billion
- summer schools £200m
- £17m for mental health support in schools
Faced with so many current challenges it’s easy for boards and schools to miss funding opportunities, make a note to ask the question at your next meeting and ensure that if there’s a chance to access funding it’s taken.
With our blogs I want to feel as if we are having a conversation, albeit with only one voice! In trying to cover a wide range of topics and returning time and again to some of the more challenging issues facing schools, I hope at least it empowers you to ask questions at your board meetings, as difficult as that may sometimes be. If you have any feedback on this or suggestions for future blogs then please do email them into me.
For now as the promised light at the end of the tunnel appears to be shining a little brighter, as governors, we need to get back to the day to day work of supporting and challenging our schools.
The work we do is vital, the training to improve our knowledge is easy to access and vital, the need to check the wellbeing of our school community after this unprecedented year is a priority and above all we need to do all this with integrity and passion to offer the best chance of recovery, progress and achievement of the pupils in our care.
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)