School Governance being stress tested like never before

    Published: 30 October 2020

    I think it is fair to say that in many of our schools getting to the end of the school week without a pandemic related issue is to be considered a win in the current climate. As student bubbles circulate around our schools, risk assessments continue to evolve, new guidance and updates continuously appear and, against this background teaching and learning continues, we need to keep our feet on the ground and support our schools like never before.

    As half term nears its end and the next round of GB meetings crest the horizon there are many routine matters that need to be managed but we need to face the fact that as much as we had hoped for something different we are still in unprecedented and unpredictable times. Your school’s Risk Assessments need to be under constant review and changes to these, and for what reason, need to be communicated with governors. HCC advice on how to deal with school based outbreaks is regularly communicated to your Headteachers together with advice on attendance, parent communication, travel advice for staff and students through to risks associated with events beyond the schools control i.e bonfire night and Covid shaming.

    A great example of how schools have remained forward thinking, despite the day to day challenges, has been around virtual open evenings. Accepting the need to promote the wonderful workings of your school has had to happen remotely this year most have gone into creative overdrive to achieve this! Whilst some have spent £1000’s on employing professional companies to produce polished films with drone footage and high end production most have relied on innovation from within – staff and students recording footage on mobile phones and cameras ensuring that the budget restricted over the well-resourced have been arguably more creative and engaged brilliantly with their audience.

    Below we revisit some areas we have explored in previous blogs for a quick update and also look at some new items as well, apologies for all the links but felt best to include to enable greater in-depth reading if you need it!

    DfE Guidance for Governors

    The latest DfE guidance for governors was published earlier this month and contains some useful updates and clarifications. October DfE Governance update. One section on remote vs. face to face meetings was quickly amended to reflect the fact that, as a place of work, it is possible for governors to meet in school but it must be done following the schools risk assessment, local guidance plus social distancing rules. This allows for some discretion to meet in school but as we currently stand HfL and NGA advice is to continue to meet remotely wherever possible. Other items covered include school cyber-security and a review of the National Leaders of Governance programme. Although a bit lighter in weight than some of the guidance that came out earlier this year it’s a reflection that much of that guidance is unchanged whilst the pandemic continues unabated.


    At the October Chairs Briefing we held a poll on who in the audience identified as BAME – votes were cast by almost 30% of Hertfordshire Chairs, which is statistically a huge sample, and I can report that 10% identified as BAME. 12.4% of the Hertfordshire population is from a BAME background (from ONS survey 2011) so a fantastic starting point for understanding diversity on our boards. Looking at your own board what level of diversity can you see and have you taken those first steps to start the conversation and plan actions on improving board diversity? As Black History Month (BHM) nears its end it is vitally important that we don’t move on and hope action is taking place elsewhere, or we think about this again when the next shocking event occurs or BHM rolls around again next October. Looking at the BHM site there is an interesting article on Gloucester University’s approach to improving diversity on its board, this could provide some talking points to open up a discussion at your next board meeting.

    A further interesting read is a BBC Education article (from 2018) about improving diversity of school governors and an inspiring story of one such governor’s journey.

    Whatever you decide to do in getting the conversation started, or carrying out actions previously agreed, the important thing is keep the topic live within your board and school and keep challenging for change.


    It is fair to say that Ofsted’s plans for their Autumn ‘visits’ were not without controversy, school leaders and commentators despaired at the extra pressure these would cause already stretched and exhausted schools. To be fair to Ofsted they have kept up a regular commentary on their visits and have  recently published an update Ofsted Autumn visits update and provided more details on their findings Evidence from pilot visits. The feedback we have received anecdotally from schools has been of very light touch visits with positive conversations about how they are coping and adapting to the current challenges, their work to get students back on track and the provision for remote learning that’s in place.

    Remote Learning

    There is now a legal requirement (as of October 22nd) for all schools to offer a remote learning provision as stated in Temporary Continuation Direction. It makes clear that all schools have a legal duty  to provide remote education for pupils unable to attend school due to Covid-19, furthermore where individual pupils, class bubbles or year groups need to self-isolate they must have immediate access to remote education. The expectations on the quality of this provision remains the same as set out in the July 2020 full reopening guidance and you will need to receive updates on the implementation and impact of this provision at GB meetings, probably through the Heads report. A positive consequence of offering this is that students who are off on long term sickness but with the capacity to be educated, on fixed term exclusions or for whole school closure on ‘snow days’ you have the immediate ability to provide continuance of their education.

    2021 Exams

    After much speculation the Education Secretary has announced a revised start date for 2021 GCSE, AS and A level exams, they will be moved back by three weeks and most will  begin on June 7th through to July 2nd and results will be published later in August (24th for A levels and 27th for GCSE’s). More time to prepare for 2021 exams.

    Ofqual have welcomed the announcement and commented that exams will be based on the full curriculum but with some subject specific flexibility Ofqual. Clearly we have a long way to go before next summer’s tests and exam season starts for all settings but at least, for now, there is clarity around the need to sit exams and the expectation they will go ahead.

    New Governance Handbook

    An important reference point for all of us is the Governance Handbook, with a new version just published there is no time like the present to reacquaint yourself with its content, a summary of the updates can be found on page 8 (ordered under the core competencies) with hyperlinks to the relevant sections of interest. Governance Handbook October 2020.

    If you are ever in doubt as to the expectations of what being a governor entails and how governance works this is your one stop guide to sense checking and delving deeper into your own and your boards work.

    The much over used term ‘the new normal’ is beginning to sound a bit outdated as it is clearly, for now, becoming the norm and one that looks like it  will remain so for the remainder of this term and possibly well into the new year. This at least gives us some certainty and schools will, with best endeavours, be able to educate in-class and remotely and slowly but surely get our students back on track and begin to close those yawning gaps that for some may sadly be one of the many legacies of this pandemic. As governors we need to stay focussed on our key roles, none more important than holding school leaders to account, whilst supporting our schools as the challenges of this unique time continue to unsettle our school communities. Keeping up to date, accessing training, attending the termly briefings, reading guidance and when confused or confounded contacting our Helpdesk team are all vital tools in helping to be well informed and able to provide the excellent support that our schools require and pupils deserve.

    Next stop Christmas!

    HfL Governance Helpdesk 

    Phone: 01438 843082 


    Follow us on Twitter @HfLGovernance for all the latest updates, news and guidance and also #EduBackonTrack

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