With the sun out and the summer term ahead, possibly the first term in 2 years not to be framed by the cloud of Covid restrictions, can governors, trustees and their boards finally look forward again with some positivity and certainty? One certainty is that tests and exams are returning for our pupils and, whatever the merits or otherwise of their contextualised full return, we can finally get some externally verified data to compare where we stand against our 2019 results and put a benchmark in the sand for the years ahead. It was lovely seeing schools share highlights on social media of school trips in the UK and abroad which thankfully resumed at the spring half term and Easter, and it won’t be long before the fun and games, sights and sounds, fun and laughter of school fetes, sports days and summer sports create new and special memories. Governors and boards are now settling into their own ‘new normal’ of how they choose to meet and train with most choosing a blended approach to ensure opportunity of access to, and engagement with, meetings, school visits and training. Meanwhile school clerks and governance professionals have adapted and honed their skills to support individual governors, trustees and their boards online and in-person.
The much-anticipated white paper has landed and much has been said and done by way of analysis, dissection and challenge to its main themes, proposed initiatives and lofty ambitions. At 60 pages long it’s a surprisingly easy read and I think the first action for any board is to link a governor to it, ask them to read it, and ensure that it’s an item for discussion on your FGB agendas – at the very least the paper is a roadmap to the DfE’s thinking which will inevitably impact our schools over the coming months and years. Some of the headlines within its four main chapters that have flown a bit below the radar include: no changes to the national Curriculum for the remainder of this parliament, changes to be made to the statutory exclusions guidance, an expanded Supporting Families programme, reconfiguration of the RSC’s and their regions, the Oak National Academy to produce free resources to help teachers deliver an evidence-based, high-quality curriculum and finally the very welcome news that the Education Endowment Foundation will be put on a firm financial footing to ensure its future.
Of the more eye-catching suggestions was a minimum expectation on the length of the school week of 32.5 hours. It’s important to note that this is the average length of week for maintained schools now but where for instance schools have decided to reduce breaktimes to manage behaviour then some rethinking will need to be done. All that being said it is an ‘expectation’ rather than mandatory, but you can assume that Ofsted will be asking the question once this white paper becomes law!
The one main headline though was the expectation that by 2030 all children will be taught within a strong multi academy trust or in a school that plans to join or form one. Nationally 44% of maintained schools are in MATs with 52% of pupils taught in one. Put this ambition and the above facts together and it’s hard to deny the direction of travel on this, and please be assured at HfL we are not advocating for any side of the argument but when you consider that 2030 is only two full 3-year budget/ planning cycles away some consideration needs to be given to this. If this is now an unstoppable direction of travel, then at the very least it needs to be discussed at committee level even if it’s to park the idea but where it will be revisited on say an annual basis. Whatever your position is now, and for many it’s a very firm no, this is not really a sustainable position – discussing, understanding, researching the academy sector within your area, looking at the national picture on larger MATs and perhaps arranging to speak with or visit a MAT to gain better understanding would seem to be a pragmatic approach. There is no saying that the government will not in the medium term accelerate their thinking and ambitions in this area, the larger MATs will have increased in number and established themselves as substantial families of schools in that time, Local Authorities are not guaranteed to rush and set up MATs with their new found powers to do so – your board needs to be across the development and understanding of all this so that if and when the time comes the board is on the front foot on deciding your schools future. A reassuring footnote to this academisation drive is the expectation that local governance arrangements at individual school level to be responsive to stakeholders within a MAT are seen as key.
A couple of quick things to mention, with the Homes for Ukraine scheme underway and schools now receiving applications for places from displaced families, the DfE have updated their admissions advice in April. The DfE are encouraging Local Authorities to share this information with schools and parents, we wanted to ensure you were aware as well.
Secondly the National Tutoring Programme (NTP) has rarely been out of the news but now schools are being encouraged to make best use of this resource. With 40% of schools not signed up to the programme the DfE are considering publishing data on schools’ engagement with the programme with Ofsted being looped into how best deal with this information. Most of the NTP funding is now going directly to schools which means that boards will be able to monitor how this is spent and what the impact will be on your wider catch-up programme, for governors the following DfE update explains in more detail the latest developments with the NTP.
Following on from recent blogs we will look at an area of safeguarding each half term. This is an interesting one that has recently been highlighted by a BBC investigation which looks into safeguarding complaints at after school clubs. This clearly highlights how governors and trustees need to be considering all aspects of life at their school, how many of us just assume that after school activity is staffed correctly with all the necessary policies and safeguarding in place. Schools are quite different places before and after the ‘normal’ school day i.e accessing the school grounds is often less controlled at these times, the presence of unknown faces is less likely to be noticed or challenged, senior leaders may not be present, pupils may be with staff members they aren’t familiar with and in unfamiliar parts of the school. The safeguarding link governor may want to look at this provision and report back to the board as part of their safeguarding report.
The white paper raises many questions and has caused much hand wringing by the profession. How can those ambitions be realised and delivered by individual schools without the requisite funding and support? Ensure you have your say where possible in the various consultations. In announcing the white paper, the Secretary of State says he wants ‘to spread the DNA of grammar schools throughout the education system’. Not entirely sure how this will manifest itself and what it means, the suggestion being that grammar schools alone enjoy the elixir of success rather than by virtue of the fact that they are able to select their intake. Clearly the white paper was just the start, and we await the outcomes of many consultations from the DfE. So much must be waited upon, and much must and will have to change otherwise, just as some sense of normality is beginning to pervade our schools, it will be all change again as so often happens with the political football that is education. As governors and trustees, we need to be mindful of its content as well as all the other myriad demands on our time and continue to support our schools and academies during this critical term. Test, exam and transition worries will be all consuming for many of our pupils this term but hopefully with the resumption of the usual summer term activities there will be a sense that schools are returning to normal and importantly remain that special, inspiring and safe place for the pupils in our care.
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