During the pandemic a stand out feature of school boards has been the quiet and dignified way you have adapted and led your schools through uniquely uncharted territory, adapting to a never ending stream of advice to allow the safe operation of your school. The time will come when this phase of history is over and we can all look back with pride at what has been achieved across schools in Herts and beyond. For now many challenges that pre-dated Covid have been thrown into sharper relief with the plight of our disadvantaged pupils and more generally with the mental health and wellbeing of school communities probably the most pressing. As boards, thought must be given to making these two issues standing items at FGB meetings now, and for the foreseeable future, to ensure they do not become collateral damage as we focus on all the other aspects of recovering education in our schools.
The importance of all transitions that pupils make from nursery to reception, Y2 to Y3 through to secondary transition should have a renewed focus for boards after the disruption of the past 18 months. Governors need to understand what their schools have in place, what events are planned for pupils especially those with SEND and more generally disadvantaged and vulnerable pupils, how has practice been strengthened in light of the recent disruption to the normal work around transitions, how could governors be involved? Also for governors to look at their school’s website – what is there to promote and assist with pupil transitions, do you have a welcoming statement for SEND pupils? Also, particularly in Primary, but often in Secondary, to consider the transition needs of parents and carers – what does the school have in place to support their needs and how is their voice heard to ensure their concerns are taken into consideration.
The autumn term will see a return to routine graded inspections for all schools, including schools previously graded outstanding. The inspection framework is to be reviewed over the summer prior to the commencement of graded inspections so be sure to look out for any announcements from Ofsted which could be fed into your early board meetings if you are ‘in the window’. One anticipated change is a lengthening of the initial phone call with the head to allow for reflection on the impact of Covid on the school community and what remote learning provision has been retained for ongoing use. Both these areas will possibly form part of any conversation the inspectors will have with governors so be sure that governors are aware of what was put in place to mitigate the various impacts of the pandemic and that their impact is understood.. Given the key role governors played during the pandemic maybe now is the time to prepare a report on the work you have done to support and review the following: Catch up funding, remote education provision, staff and pupil wellbeing, communications to the school community, safeguarding and risk assessments – as an aide memoir for when Ofsted call.
Talking to a board recently they are very excited to welcome Ofsted to their school and share all the amazing things that have been done and put in place during the past 18 months, I was struck by this positive approach to Ofsted visiting and their determination that inspectors understand the challenges the school faced, how they responded and the strategies now in place for recovery and progress.
Ofsted review of sexual abuse in schools (and colleges)
After the media storm created by the Everyone’s Invited website there was a period of reflection whilst Ofsted carried out an urgent review Ofsted review. When this was published the headline finding was that sexual harassment and abuse in schools has become ‘normalised behaviour’ to the extent that pupils rarely report it. To coincide with the publication the Everyone’s Invited website published a list of schools whose pupils had posted testimony Everyone's Invited, in Hertfordshire 79 schools were listed including both secondary, primary and private schools – given the perception that experience of sexual harassment and abuse goes under reported it is probably safe to assume that this occurs in most schools and for governors this should be a starting point for looking at their response to this. I am not sure how we have got to the point where this has become normalised behaviour for our pupils but clearly doing nothing is not an option – boards should be reviewing their safe guarding policies and practices, how training for staff may help them recognise the signs of this ‘normalised behaviour’, how pupils can be encouraged to report this and understand what they are experiencing should never be accepted as ‘normal’ and if further strengthening of the PSHE curriculum needs to be considered (Ofsted have updated the School Inspection Handbook for Sept ’21 revised handbook in light of their review outcomes and where schools do not have adequate protections in place it’s likely that safeguarding will be judged as ‘inadequate’) . Following on from all this the DFE have launched a consultation on behaviour management strategies in schools DfE consultation seeking opinions of ideas such as banning mobile phones from the school day through to the setting up of removal rooms – this could be an opportunity for boards to look at new strategies which may help make schools a safer place in view of the above report. If pupils don’t understand the right way to behave, or understand that the behaviour highlighted is far from being ‘normal’, then we will have no hope in shifting the dial on the corrosive and damaging effect this is having on this young generation.
Mental health, wellbeing (and the extended school day)
I mention the mooted extended school day more because the discussions around this (and many other DfE proposals) and what support may or may not be in place can, together with all the other plans to be mindful of the wellbeing of students and staff, have a debilitating effect on the collective morale in schools. As the widely regarded Sir Kevan Collins departed his role as Education Recovery Commissioner so many questions were left unanswered around the levels of catch up support required and why the focus on the National Tutoring Programme as the silver ‘catch up’ bullet. The promise of further reviews later this year does little to steady the already frayed resilience of school leaders as they try to get their pupils back on track at the same time as teaching the planned curriculum. With no timescale, plans lacking in detail of what needs doing and when, and how the delivery of tutoring will be monitored and moderated it really does fall to governors to ensure that what is on offer is not only carefully considered but also implemented as soon as possible as the time for need is NOW and not months down the line. More generally what is your school doing to support the mental health and wellbeing of both students and staff? What quick wins could be implemented to better support both staff and pupils and what longer term strategies should the board be suggesting to support this vital area?
Academy Trust Handbook 2021
Formerly known as the Academies Financial Handbook this new version for 2021 came into being mid-June ATH 2021 and has some interesting new areas for MATs to focus on which equally apply to maintained schools as well. Firstly the current hot topic of cyber security and schools preparedness for the cocktail of challenges this subject presents from simple ‘outages’ through to ransomware attacks. As governors and trustees what awareness do you have around the risks these present, how are these risks assessed and what plans are in place to mitigate them and how will the school respond in the worst case scenarios particularly around critical infrastructure and sensitive data? The National Cyber Security Centre have listed eight key questions for governors and trustees to ask their settings in relation to cyber security cyber security questions Secondly the suggestion that external reviews of governance can be a more powerful diagnostic tool than the more conventional self-evaluation – clearly there are questions of cost linked to external reviews but a board discussion could be had if you feel it could be of benefit in ensuring the effectiveness and impact of the work you do.
To conclude in this extraordinary year schools have closed (but remained open), pupils were at home (but still needed educating), teachers were not in their classrooms (but still needed to teach), governors were not in school (but still needed to govern), exams and tests were cancelled (but grades still needed awarding), a tsunami of advice was issued (modified, changed and modified again), government support in turn became political hot potatoes (FSM, free laptops, tutoring, catch up funding etc), mask wearing was introduced (advisory then mandatory then advisory again). All these things, and more, will become part of the historical narrative of the pandemic in schools and hopefully somewhere in the footnotes to this chapter will be a mention for the governors who endured, pivoted, adapted and steered their schools through these times and must now pick up the pieces to ensure that in the words of the PM ‘no child is left behind’ (and mean it).
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