Plans for all England's primary children to return for a month before the summer break have now been dropped by Education Secretary Gavin Williamson. This announcement takes the pressure off our Headteachers and senior leaders who were having to plan for accommodating all pupils before the end of the term. Unfortunately this decision may cause some unrest amongst parents/carers who were preparing for their child(ren)s return. Clear communication to the parent body of government advice being followed is essential. Equally important is communicating the ongoing provision in place for those children not returning this term.
Let’s take stock of where we are now and what governors should be looking out for and considering over the coming weeks.
Here and now – the original plan prior to Gavin Williamson’s announcement was the wider opening of schools this month following implementation of risk assessments, and operational decisions being made. Governing Boards will have had opportunity to support those decisions from a strategic view, and ensure those discussions and rationale behind the plan (underpinned by DfE/HCC guidance) are reflective in the minutes. Keeping the risk assessment under review is essential to support the wider re-opening.
Visiting your school – the following is our advice until school visits resume, in the meantime your Chair will be in contact with the Head for key updates and sharing these with governors. We have had numerous enquiries about governors wishing to go into their schools to show support of and interest in what has been put in place to allow the further safe return of pupils. The answer is that schools are still only open to essential staff, returning students and external professional support where required to enable the strict compliance with social distancing and infection control measures that have been required to be put in place. As governors we are visitors and whilst schools remain closed to non-essential staff and visitors then our support must remain strictly remote. Depending on how things unfold this term and over the Summer break it may be possible that once the Autumn term is underway some limited visits by governors to schools may be possible, as with other visitors we should only be attending if the purpose of our visit cannot be carried out remotely. Furthermore there should be clear protocols in place for visitors to ensure compliance with the school risk assessment.
GB meetings – by now we will all have attended our first remote GB meetings and, whatever your platform of choice is, experienced the joys or otherwise of being ‘present’ but in the comfort of your own home. Generally feedback has been positive and a huge debt of thanks is owed to HfL and school based clerks who have worked tirelessly to deliver these meetings as seamlessly as possible. Many governing boards have reported that holding a remote meeting can be quicker, more productive and with far greater governor contribution and engagement ‘around the table’. Clearly once we can return then face to face meetings should still be considered but given the clear advantages of not having governors travelling to meetings, everyone being on time, your Head and staff governors can head home to attend and once the meeting concludes you are ‘home’ has huge appeal. Going forward if governors wish to consider a mix of face to face and remote meetings then agreement would need to be sought and, if agreed, added to your Terms of Reference. It may also have the unintended consequence of making governor recruitment more attractive to single parents and those that work some distance from the school who may have the time but find it difficult to commit to on site meetings.
Governor roles – in the meantime governors can still maintain their link roles. As the wider reopening commences a supportive email to their link staff member with a request for a brief update on for example Health and Safety, Safeguarding or Pupil Premium students will enable them to report back at the next GB meeting where the minutes can reflect governor support and engagement even if it’s at arm’s length. In the Autumn term there may be limited opportunity for individual governors to visit the school during the day to carry out a learning walk or site visit, all these things should remain under constant review by the Head and Chair and facilitated as soon as it is safe to do so.
Governor training – HfL trainers have embraced the opportunity to continue delivering training, albeit remotely, and are now delivering numerous sessions online which are being well received by governors. It is a testament to the desire of governors to continue with training and to trainers in adapting to new forms of delivery that will enable governors to continue to update their skills and offer ever better support and challenge in their schools. Also with the integration of Governor Hub and Modern Governor access to online training has never been easier for governors, just log onto Governor Hub, choose and complete the short training modules and your training record will be automatically updated.
Re-skilling students – there will be significant cohorts of students that, come September, will have missed 6 months of school despite the delivery of education remotely by schools. Not only will they have missed the bespoke nature of taught lessons in a classroom but may well have lost some of their learning skills. Furthermore the lack of friendship contact and isolation will have contributed further to the growing wellbeing and mental health issues that were already a significant issue before the Covid-19 lockdown. Governors will want to see the plans to support these ‘returning’ students and to ensure that closing the many gaps that will have opened up, beyond the ones we usually consider, are a priority focus for the school. Another focus will be the transition planning and arrangements that have been put in place and how they have been adapted to ensure the best possible induction process and preparation for new intakes. To support there is a transition toolkit, a project funded by HCC, which is available from Herts for Learning.
School community – looking ahead consideration will need to be given to reaching out to parents and the wider community who will all have missed the regular interactions with the school. Cancelled milestone events such as plays, concerts, sports days, fetes, parent’s evenings and celebration assemblies are significant moments in the parent/ child/ school relationship. Governors will want to see, despite the huge challenges faced by school leaders in getting schools back to normal, that as best as possible these events are reinstated as soon as it’s practical to do so.
The above are just some of the things to consider and clearly there will be many other issues more particular to your schools setting and pupil profile. The key focus will be the safe and controlled return of pupils to schools and also supporting the key worker and vulnerable students who have actually been at school more than ever who may initially struggle handing back ‘their’ school that they have had to themselves for a long period of time!
These have been extraordinary times for school governors, decisions and challenges rarely ever faced by governors in modern times have come at you relentlessly since early March and will continue for some time yet. The incredible way in which you have responded and adapted is a testament to the strength of character of governors who rarely receive any public recognition for the work they do but who quietly get on with the work of ensuring the best possible outcomes and care for the pupils in our schools.
Updates and support:
The DfE have further updated ‘School governance: coronavirus (Covid-19) – 4th June 2020 with a personal message to governors and trustees from Gavin Williamson (Secretary of State for Education) and a comprehensive FAQ section.
Our team are always available to support you, please use the following contact details:
HfL Governance Helpdesk:
Phone: 01438 843082