Governance in a pandemic – time to start learning the lessons?

    Published: 16 December 2020

    With the second lockdown behind us and settling into the new Tier 2 restrictions, where do we find ourselves in terms of governing our schools? The media narrative seems to be focussed on other elements of the pandemic for now, taking the spotlight off schools, the various studies showing the number of school closures and pupil and staff absenteeism due to Covid infection/ shielding barely makes the news. Perhaps we should be thankful for this. However it does little service to the incredible work every school leadership team and staff are doing to deliver education during such extraordinary times. Gavin Williamson continues to thank school teachers and leaders whilst at the same time quietly relying on schools to shoulder all the additional costs of keeping their estates Covid-safe and still banging the drum about tests and exams still being the best way to judge our children in years 6 & 11. Who knows how this will all come out in the wash for the 20/21 cohort, but it will no doubt become a focus again as we enter the build up to exams and tests next year. In this blog we will go on to explore some of the new areas of accountability that governors need to be aware of and other non-covid thoughts!

    Lost Learning

    Nick Gibb the School’s Minister recently made reference to making allowances for the learning that students have ‘lost’ when it comes to grading of exam results next summer when presenting to the Education Select Committee (Ofsted too are now using the language of lost learning as well). He was acknowledging the ‘unevenness’ of remote learning over the first lockdown, and presumably the ongoing impact of schools differing approaches to closing the gap/ diminishing the difference for all learners this term and going forward into next year. Recent announcements about more generous marking of next year’s exams, advance notice of topics and second chances to re-take if exams are missed due to illness are all welcome news. As governors we need to understand our own schools approach to all of this: how has the curriculum being recalibrated to allow for the ‘extra’ three weeks in the summer term before GCSE and A-Level exams commence? How are the gaps in pupils learning being targeted and closed? What will be the context and value of data sets from all year groups be, given this tumultuous year? These and many other factors will need to be taken into account as governing bodies hold school leaders to account for the outcomes and achievement of this year’s cohorts: TES article

    M. Rashford MBE – no child should be left behind

    One footballer (fairly well known!) has called out the governments approach to, and funding of, free school meals during holiday periods and has focussed the nation’s attention on an area of acute sensitivity and huge need. In doing so he galvanised an army of volunteer businesses and members of the public to feed some of our most vulnerable and economically challenged pupils. Again, as governors, we need to be aware of how this provision is being provided in our local community, not because we have any duty to ensure those on FSM are fed during the holiday period but now because we have a moral duty to signpost the support that is available to parents and students. Also once we begin (hopefully) to put the pandemic behind us and inevitably the media spotlight turns to new campaigns how will the rights of children requiring the basic right to be fed be protected during the holidays? For now we have the support package that was wrestled from the government in place until March 2021 Winter Support Package. These funds will not be paid to schools but will go directly to local authorities. HCC have provided the following statement on how they will deliver this support and will update in the coming weeks HCC update on school holiday support for families.

    Managing and accounting for Covid 19 costs

    The Covid-19 Catch Up premium was clearly welcomed by schools and equates to £80 per student from reception age through to Year 11 Catch up premium (Special schools received £240 per student). Whilst the premium can be spent as each individual setting sees fit it must be used to bridge the gap of lost learning, particularly for the most disadvantaged students. Given this flexibility it is important that governors are now challenging school leaders on the catch up premium : what was received; how was it spent; what impact has it had and upon which students. It is pretty much a given that, as and when Ofsted inspections resume next year, this will be a focus, their Autumn interim visits will have given them sight of the good, bad and sometimes misjudged approaches schools have taken with regard this funding and how they have spent it.

     Website Compliance

     In November the DfE announced new publishing requirements for school websites.  At the best of times maintaining your school website can reflect the painting of the Fourth Road bridge analogy, but now with these new requirements it is essential. Use the following links to see what is now required (click on ‘see all updates’ next to Nov 2020) they include reporting on Catch up Premium spend, reporting on context of exam and assessment results, equality objectives and much more including what schools must do if they have no website. Websites always benefit from a set of new eyes looking at the content and cross checking with compliance – why not set up a termly audit of your website rotating it around your board members? The new, and existing requirements for both sectors are as follows: Maintained schoolsAcademies

    Where are we with remote meetings?

    With Hertfordshire in Tier 2 and thankfully schools still open, the business of governance continues but the debate around face to face, hybrid vs. remote meetings, visits and training delivery continues apace. Herts for Learning and the NGA continue to advise that meetings should continue remotely and for both organisations the delivery of training continues to be a remote provision. Governor visits to schools have been taking place on site where it is possible and where compliance with Covid-19 protocols can be met.  This will have been a huge relief for both governors and their schools.

    As for 2021, it will be worth starting the conversation about how you anticipate hosting meetings and visits if the pandemic begins to abate, and equally to consider some of the benefits of remote meetings before rushing to return to the way things were BC. Many boards have seen this as an opportunity to widen the governor recruitment net to include those previously excluded by work/ commute restraints/ child care challenges – let’s not rush to close down this new selling point to attract new governors!

    The DfE have released their latest guidance for school boards, this includes advice on attending meetings and other areas impacted by the pandemic and Brexit December DfE Governance update


    I think it is fitting to celebrate the achievements of a local (to Herts for Learning) hero, a son of Stevenage and Hertfordshire, namely Lewis Hamilton. What a double champion our locally home grown hero is  – winning races and leading on issues of race too! I lived and worked in Stevenage Old Town when Lewis was growing up and attending school, he and his father were nothing but courteous and humble even when he was achieving great success as he climbed the motorsport ladder. What a role model he is to the students of his home town and Herts, with his recent championing of Black Lives Matter and his attempts to improve diversity in the most ‘white’ of sports. Such work has shown what can be achieved. He pushed through the obvious discomfort he was causing to those running and participating in the sport, taking ‘the knee’ at every race and repeating the mantra that he will not stop until change is achieved. For governors and our boards we hope we have helped with our recent blogs to facilitate these conversations and that steps to effect change are now in process. To learn more about the man and his journey this excellent article may inspire and help your board on its own journey: Lewis Hamilton

    (the latest DfE guidance (see above) also has links to a series of webinars on diverse governance)

    So as this most tumultuous of years draws to a close we all have the chance to take a break over the festive period and return to a new term and  new year with hope aplenty that some form of normality is on the horizon. The head of Ofsted Amanda Spielman has confirmed, in launching Ofsted’s annual report, that there will be no return to regular inspections until April next year and that they will not be looking back at the lockdown challenges or expecting schools to have performed miracles but rather to see that they have done their best given the circumstances of the pandemic. Ofsted: coronavirus (COVID-19) rolling update - This provides some hope that those in the Ofsted window will be able to contextualise what they have achieved in 2020 and be reassured that Ofsted will view what has been achieved through the lens of exceptional circumstances.

    We also have the known and unknown challenges that Brexit will bring to pass in the new year, schools are being asked to prepare for potential issues around catering supplies, employing new staff from the EU and beyond and foreign school trips to name but a few – to understand these further go to Prepare your school for Brexit – we will explore these points further in future blogs once we know what the immediate issues are.

    For now we hope our blogs have been of some support and guidance since we started them back in April and hope you all find time to relax and enjoy the festive break with your family (and friends) Tiers and restrictions allowing!

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