Steadying the Governance ship as we navigate the turbulent waters of the Autumn term

    Published: 28 September 2020

    So schools are back, pupils have eagerly returned, staff have read and absorbed endless new protocols, briefings and risk assessments -  so is that school life back to normal and governance picking up from where it ‘left off’ (wherever that may be)? Well the answer is plainly no and governance will need to feel its way through what will undoubtedly be a turbulent term with many known and unknown variables coming our way whether they be Covid-19 related or otherwise.

    In this blog we will explore some areas for governing boards and clerks to be mindful of and touch on some reminders of what we need to be doing. So as the first board meetings of the term are underway we need to be considering the robustness of the full reopening plans and risk assessments and review these on a regular basis going forward – has the school had to adapt their plans since the September return and if so why and what mitigations are now in place? Covid-19 will no doubt have many more acts to play out over this coming winter and we need to ensure our schools are alive to whatever challenges present themselves and how our plans will allow us to be responsive to these. Some temporary changes to legislation have been extended by the DfE, for instance the statutory guidance on Exclusions where many of the temporary changes have now been extended from 25th September 2020 through to 24th March 2021, see more details here Exclusions update.


    Question: When is an Ofsted inspection not an inspection?

    Answer: When it’s an Autumn visit!

    There has been much speculation around what Ofsted’s plans are for this term and they have now published confirmation of what they will be doing, this has in turn prompted various professional bodies writing to the head of Ofsted expressing their concerns as to how this will actually look on the ground Ofsted Autumn visit update.

    What is clear is they will be visiting all schools currently graded Inadequate plus a selection of other schools across all Ofsted grades, to discuss what is in place for the full return of pupils and what barriers still remain to achieving this. Whilst HMI Chief  Amanda Spielman acknowledges schools are busy enough and Ofsted don’t want to distract them, and that schools should not be preparing in advance for their visits, critics have pointed out that these reassuring words do not remove the stresses of a visit from Ofsted and the published ‘outcome letter’ outlining what Ofsted have found. Governors will also not be routinely invited to participate in these visits so it’s unclear as to what input governors will have, however inspectors will try to accommodate these conversations if requested.. Normal service is set to resume in January 2021!

    Clerking (really) matters

    Spare a thought for the unsung heroes of governance and the way they have had to adapt, and continue to adapt, to the challenges of keeping GB meetings functioning and there work accurately recorded. There are many challenges for Clerks this term such as; whether to continue with remote meetings, move to hybrid delivery or a full (Covid safe) return to face to face meetings, how to run Parent and Staff governor elections, arrange re/appointment of Chair and Vice Chairs, recording GB votes on items, policy back logs, convening Complaint and Exclusion panels and much more beside. Clerks have all been offered training and support from HfL and we continue to support them individually as they plan for this terms meetings and procedures. Governors can help clerks enormously by ensuring they reply to emails and requests for information in a timely fashion and ensure their contact details are always up to date. The Governance Helpdesk has much guidance and support to offer to all governors and clerks (contact details at the end of the blog).


    ‘All houses matter – but at the moment, the one on fire should get more attention’ (Kris Straub)

    How do we move from statements deploring racism to actually understanding what it means to be (and becoming) anti-racist? As institutional boards, in child facing establishments, we are uniquely placed to lead by example – are your schools revisiting curriculum content to look to ensure we are providing a broad and inclusive education for all students? How are your schools approaching anti-racist education? How diverse is your board currently? How do you go about positively encouraging those identifying as BAME to join your board without being accused of tokenism, filling arbitrary quotas or bias towards other groups? In the UK directors of colour represent 2% of UK board positions compared to making up 14% of the UK population (Sir John Parker review of UK board diversity 2017).

    As Ijeoma Oluo, author of “So You Want to Talk About Race” tells us:

    “If you’re white, and you don’t want to feel any of that pain by having these conversations, then you are asking people of colour to continue to bear the entire burden of racism alone.”

    So start having the conversation, make diversity a standing agenda item to ensure you are looking at some or all of the points above on a regular basis. It may be an idea to reach out to someone to facilitate the early discussions recognising that this is an area where board members have limited experience and would welcome guidance. You could begin with a discussion around ‘unconscious bias’ – social stereotypes about certain groups of people and individuals that form outside our own conscious awareness – this is believed to be far more prevalent than ‘conscious bias’ so would make an interesting starting point. Whatever you decide doing nothing in response to the BLM protests and wider awareness around improving diversity is not an option, grasp the nettle and work to improve diversity in all its forms within your setting.

    An opportunity to highlight to stakeholders is that HfL shareholder schools have received notification of elections for a Non-Executive Director position at HfL.

    Questions to reflect on for school leaders

    Now that schools are fully reopen it will be worth reflecting on the lessons learned during lockdown and how changed relationships with stakeholders can be either repaired or in fact built upon. Below are some sample questions that could be asked of your school leaders:

    • How did relationships change with our pupils during lockdown?
    • What do we need to do to rebuild/ build upon our relationship with parents?
    • Can we build on our shared experiences with other schools?
    • Is remote learning now part of our curriculum offer?
    • Have we discovered new ways to reduce teacher workload?
    • What will we stop doing now as a result of our experience of lockdown?

    Financial reporting – Academies ESFA letter and Maintained schools update

    Academy boards all received a letter from the EFSA in July which covered a number of areas for trustees to be aware of including:

    • The catch-up funding announced by government and how it will be allocated
    • The opportunity to engage the services of a School Resource Management Advisor (SRMA)
    • Guidance on fraud and risk, health and safety and estate management
    • Various updates on the Academies Financial Handbook 2020 including setting executive pay and new guidance on complaints procedures, for further details see AFH 2020

    Maintained schools have also received new guidance designed to strengthen financial reporting and bring them into line with the academy sector. For instance for 2021/22 maintained schools will need to submit 3 year budget forecasts to the LA and Related Party Transactions will need to be appended to the SFVS. Also finance information that needs to be published on the school website will need to include how many school employees (if any) have a gross salary of £100k or more in increments of £10k, see here for more details August 2020 update on school websites.

    Performance management and pay reviews

    The DfE expectations are very clear in regard to this area of governor oversight as follows:

    “Maintained schools must continue to adhere to the School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Document (STPCD), which includes the requirement to ensure that all pay progression for teachers is linked to performance management.”

    - Academy trusts recognising or aligning to the STPCD would be expected to mirror this.

    “We would expect schools to use their discretion and take pragmatic steps to adapt performance management and appraisal arrangements to take account of the current circumstances”.

    For instance looking back which objectives set last year, and possibly reviewed/ modified mid-year, still stand and which should be reconsidered as a result of lockdown? Has the Heads overall leadership style, approach & judgement - in light of the circumstances and the setting factors - been below, at or above a balanced set of panel expectations? It is clear for governors reviewing pay and PM for teachers, and those on the Heads PM panel, that pragmatism and understanding will be key in carrying out your duties whilst ensuring morale and motivation are not stymied by inflexibility and contextualising this year’s reviews. Managing expectations with regard to pay and careful communication will be the watchword this term.

    So whilst we explore some of the above, and other school priorities, we should also give a thought to new governors who have joined our boards this year, clearly they have had a far from ideal introduction to school governance and their particular school. The ‘class’ of 2020 governors will need additional support to find their feet and it will be vitally important to reach out to them, in some cases to offer reassurance and a guiding hand but in other cases to ensure we retain them.

    Getting schools, pupils, staff, parents and governors back to ‘normal’ is going to be very much a work in progress for this coming academic year and beyond. Now is the time for governors to step up and accept these new challenges and ultimately the rewards will be in seeing your school community find its feet and the students in your care flourish and achieve their maximum despite everything that has been thrown at them.

    Our team are always available to support you, please use the following to contact us:

    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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