The turbulence of the past year is quite frankly astounding and will no doubt make essential reading for future students of politics and history. But in the here and now, the fallout has left governors, trustees, boards and schools picking up the pieces. Resilience is being tested in a way not seen since the pandemic, with the couple months of calm we had now feeling like a distant memory! In times such as this ‘being effective’, whether as an individual or board, will be a vital support to your school, let’s explore some effective practice.
The recent budget had some unexpected news on school funding from the DfE with some additional monies over the next two years which according to the IFS will return spending to 2010 levels in real terms, the highest previous level. The detail will follow but it is expected that schools will be exempt from any future energy price cap, and that the additional funding will allow for pay increases. When we add in SEND funding pressures, falling primary roles, a recruitment and retention crisis and the corrosive effect of high inflation, it’s hard to see how this money will stretch far enough. Ensuring that your 3-year forecast is robust is now essential. Too many schools describe their third year forecast as a work of fiction. It can’t and it mustn't be. Every organisation out there is having to work hard on their forecasts to stay solvent, schools should be no exception. Most current school/ academy budgets will have had some mitigation built in for pay rises, inflation and utility costs but it’s understandable that these assumptions may now fall rather short of the reality. Boards need to be working with school leaders to monitor the current and projected budgets ensuring that where savings can be made that they are. It is extremely challenging to forecast cost pressures next year, so modelling several scenarios is pragmatic. Starting from the bottom up, looking at what is essential is key to effective budgeting. Last year’s budget plus inflation is unlikely to stretch far enough.
Boards will have been discussing energy efficiency and carbon reduction over the past few years spurred on by COP26 and their pupils amongst others, given what has happened to energy costs this is probably the greatest financial pressure on budgets – let’s face it most public buildings, especially our aging school stock, are possibly the worst examples of energy inefficiency. The Government’s announcement of further funding to reduce energy costs made last week is therefore welcome. Hertfordshire County Council has also secured funding, 30% of which will be targeted at schools, for details see here.
In the quest to be effective we need to ensure recruitment is an ongoing focus. We need to ensure that the right people are around the table and that the workload is shared evenly across the board. Looking at recruitment it’s essential to conduct a skills audit at least bi-annually to identify skills gaps within the board and then to actively look to recruit to refresh the board and fill those gaps. As an example, a board of governors with mainly educational expertise will not be enough to deliver the full spectrum of constructive challenge that’s required at meetings whereas a mix of educational, finance, wellbeing, HR, legal, business, local community experience are all skills gaps that need filling. This is not to discount the importance of parent and staff voice represented by parent and staff governors and where they have any of the above skills then that’s a bonus! Herts County Council have revised the governor recruitment section on the HCC website and are about to launch a governor recruitment campaign, have a look to see what’s there that could help your own local recruitment drives.
Visiting your school
Governors should attend as many FGB and committee meetings as they possibly can, but that alone won’t make you effective. There’s no substitute for getting into your school and seeing theory put into practice. Visits are usually planned based on the link role you may have but be sure they include what you would like to see and focus on – let school leaders know in advance the year classes you would ideally like to visit, whether you would like the opportunity to talk with pupils, are there displays or children’s work that you would like to look at – you should be looking for evidence to support the schools progress/ achievement in the particular area you are linked with to enable you to put together a short visit report that can be shared with governors and retained as evidence of governor effectiveness in particular for Ofsted & HIP visits. In terms of board effectiveness planning for one or two ‘Governor in School’ sessions during the year is essential – the board would agree a particular focus and again let the school know the sort of evidence they will be looking for which will enable leaders to plan for the visit. Feedback should be done on the day if time allows, governors coming into school should be a positive experience and to share your immediate impressions with school leaders will help cement the supportive role you play and increase the visibility of governors with staff and pupils alike.
We have spent many years focussing on senior leader and teacher workload for obvious reasons, if the balance is right, they will be more effective at what they do. Sometimes in doing this we forget that governor workload should also be at the forefront of our thinking – we are volunteers, often with other work, caring or parental commitments. It’s important to ensure that link and key roles are shared equally across board members otherwise it will rely on a few doing the work of the many which in terms of governance is neither healthy or effective for those individuals or the board. How about a mid-year review to check in on colleagues to ensure that they are coping with the roles they took on at the beginning of the year and if not to reshare some of that workload, this way you may catch those that are about the throw the towel in and make better use of new governors who by that point will have found their feet.
Education white paper
The new Education Secretary, Gillian Keegan, has announced that the white paper is to be scrapped, read full story here. We will consider the impact of this in our next blog and how this may impact on the drive for academisation.
As we discussed in our last blog being crystal clear of purpose and where you want to be as a school is an essential starting point, the vision for your school should be costed and mapped out over 3-5 years with a clear of idea what needs doing and as importantly why you are doing it. Equally that this vision is shared by all stakeholders – parents, staff, pupils and even the local community need to be invested and included – together with senior leaders and the board you are all on a journey together. A famous example of this is when President John F Kennedy was visiting NASA in 1962, he stopped to ask a janitor ‘what are you doing?’ to which he replied, ‘I’m helping put a man on the moon’. In your school, if asked the same question, would all staff members reply along the lines of ‘I’m aiming to improve the outcomes and life chances for every pupil in my school.’ Having a shared purpose and for everyone to understand that whatever their role is, will ensure they are equally valued and contribute to the school’s success. When your school next achieves a milestone moment or when test and exam results are published, we should take a moment to thank not just the teachers and senior leaders but also those behind the scenes – including site staff, office staff, classroom assistants, pastoral staff, midday supervisors, catering staff, lollipop person, lab technicians, parent volunteer readers etc – who by the work they do have equally contributed to that moment of achievement or success.
If we value, we retain - not only our staff but our purpose, our reputation, our vision and our belief in what we are doing – in that way whatever the headwinds and challenges if we are ‘together’ we will be effective in overcoming and ultimately succeeding in these imperfect times.
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