School governance and the impact of Covid-19

    Published: 12 April 2020

    These are extraordinary times for school governors, the world of governance has been turned on its head. For the immediate future all in-school engagement that you carried out has ended; governor visits, link role visits and Governing Board and Committee meetings have all ceased. The fact that operational concerns trump all other strategic thinking at present has left many school governors worried, confused and feeling helpless; let us unpick a few of these things.

    For those worried that they have little or no involvement in their school’s response to Covid-19 is understandable but, as school governors, we have to accept that almost 100% of the decisions taken in recent weeks are solely operational so fall outside our remit. Your Chair will have been kept abreast of developments, all of which will have been in response to DfE and County guidance, and timely communications from your Head will have kept you up to date with the actions taken and plans for how to manage working from home for students and staff alike.

    If you are confused about your role as a school governor during these unprecedented times then look no further than the DfE’s guidance for governing boards, it covers all aspects of the expectations around your work going forward until things return to as before:

    Also, a reminder that the HfL Governance helpline is available to help, we have supported many governors, boards and clerks to governors in their response to partial school closures and how to hold meetings remotely. We have a model policy you can adopt on holding remote meetings plus technical support and guidance on running remote meetings, contact us and we can send these out to help you prepare for next term.

    For those feeling a bit helpless in the face of these challenges we can reassure this is quite a normal response, things we have been able to monitor and control have changed in the blink of an eye, importantly we need to accept this and switch to a supportive role whilst the school finds it feet. An email from governors thanking the staff and students for all that they have been through and the incredible efforts to adapt to a new way of working will be well received. A welcome back message after the Easter break would help support the schools’ efforts to restart educating your students remotely as we head into the summer term.

    The regular business of meeting as school governors must continue, it will be a new way of working but is essential as the work of school life continues. There will be teething problems with your first Zoom, MS Teams, Google hangout meeting, much is written about how best to use these online platforms but nothing prepares you for the learning curve of that first meeting! Muted microphones, video on or off protocols, blurring your background, knowing when to talk (remembering first to unmute your microphone!), all will prove a challenge to start with but it is surprising how fast it is will become the new normal. The meetings will be based on slimmed-down agendas, more routine business deferred to after things return to normal, and time-bound decisions. It may be an idea to RAG rate items on your agenda to ensure that you at least cover the Red and Amber items. If you’re used to 2-2.5 hour meetings then it would be advisable to prepare for shorter, smarter meetings, a 1-1.5 hour remote meeting will test the mettle of even the most resilient colleagues. HfL have set all HfL clerks up with access to MS Teams and we will ensure they are supported.  After Easter, HfL Governance will offer its clerks an opportunity to take part in a trial remote meeting to equip them with the knowledge to facilitate and clerk remote meetings effectively.

    As school governors we have adapted and responded to many challenges over recent times, Covid-19 has been exceptional in this regard, but if we remain united and committed in the support of our schools we will come out the other side stronger and better prepared than ever for improving the outcomes of the students in our care.

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    Further blogs to read

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    Remote learning: maintaining connections post school closure

    Covid19; how are schools planning to communicate with students and staff during school closures?

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    Chasing the rainbow - the joy of colourful science experiments

    Supporting positive learning behaviours at home

    School governance and the impact of Covid-19

    Bridging the digital divide- how to help disadvantaged students stay connected

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