19 October 2022

"If our school is a ship, we need to plot a course and set sail, ensuring the captain and crew are manning the bridge."


Vision and mission

As governors we are not onlookers who cheer when all is well and bemoan failure and setbacks from a safe distance, we are responsible for overseeing the success and shortcomings of our schools. We need to be in command of our brief, present when required and otherwise keeping a watchful eye scanning the horizon as well as checking on the decks below. If our school is a ship, we need to plot a course and set sail, ensuring the captain and crew are manning the bridge, decks and engine room, looking after the passenger’s safety and wellbeing, and providing them with an enriching experience. Charting the course ahead and occasionally looking back, ensuring the journey we are embarked upon doesn’t need a tweak or correction, piloting choppy waters with an occasional switch to manual. How granular is the level of detail we need to know to ensure all is going well, too much and we get bogged down and too little we lose the ability to affect change or understand what the headwinds will bring. Ensuring we do a full 360 of decisions we make from the perspective of all onboard – the optics of a wrong or ill thought decision can wreak havoc with the direction of travel. Let’s look at some of those headwinds and other things to note for this term.

Short term challenges (hopefully)

With school and academy budgets already set earlier this year there is now a perfect storm of budgetary pressures; cost of living, energy bills and unfunded pay awards to name but three. Taken together they are a material risk to all our careful planning and vision. There will be relief that some help to ‘cap’ energy prices for the next 6 months has been offered but without longer term solutions to support schools with their energy efficiency things will remain challenging. It seems clear that there will be little other support on offer so budgets will need to absorb pay awards over and above those budgeted for and the impact of high inflation rates for the foreseeable future. Boards will also need to be mindful of not only the impact of the cost of living increases for the school but also for staff and pupils. To this end governors need to be aware of the changes on the affordability of school uniforms and how this must be communicated now on your school website. The latest September 2022 DfE guidance for governors update: Gov.UK: School governance

Black History Month (BHM) 

What to do and how to respond to this annual month of importance and reflection? It’s a well-timed month in that it generally coincides with the first board meetings of the new academic year and thus an opportune time to reflect on the progress you have made as a board and school on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI). Where are you on this journey – have you moved beyond discussion to taking concrete actions to improve EDI or is this a prompt to get those early discussions underway? Boards should not only reflect diversity in their local community but nationally as well, this allows for inclusive discussions, hearing from a range of voices that not only help shape your schools’ strategic aims but also prepare your pupils for life and work in the UK and beyond. Be mindful to not just celebrate it for its own sake but take the opportunity to review practice and policies, curriculum provision, opportunities, community engagement, pupil and staff voice. This may be an annual event but should be regularly monitored by your board and link governors throughout the year. 


No matter how farsighted your strategic vision the ever-present focus must be on Safeguarding and the recently updated Keeping Children Safe in Education (KCSIE). We will all be aware of the recent tragic case of Molly Russell, the testimonies that continue to mount on the Everyone’s Invited website and the ongoing ramifications of OFSTEDs report on sexual abuse in schools. As boards we need a laser focus on this area, the choice to look the other way, overlook or worse still don’t look at all is frankly not an option. OFSTED will be asking questions about what you have done in response to last year’s report, especially if they observe any such behaviours on their visit. You will need to be able to articulate your board and school’s response; have behaviour, online and social media policies been updated? Have you reviewed your IT protocols? Did your staff receive training on spotting and managing these ‘accepted/ normalised’ behaviours? Are your reporting systems sufficiently robust and sensitive? Is your RSE/ PHSE curriculum fit for purpose? Remember doing nothing is not an option, start with the premise that these behaviours are occurring in your school, put aside fears about lifting the lid on this sensitive subject in order to protect the most vulnerable and create a positive consensual culture in your school. See the latest version of KCSIE: Gov.UK: Keeping Children Safe in Education

Scanning the horizon 

After another changing of the guard in government things have gone a little quiet on the White Paper and the subsequent schools bill remains stalled. Despite this the direction of travel signalled is one that boards of maintained schools should remain mindful of. For now, it’s still about joining, or planning to join, a family of like-minded schools, think of it this way and the destination is less daunting, demystifying and debunking the myths of the MAT world needs to be a priority for boards. How about setting up a small working party and looking at local MATs in your area, invite the trust chair and/ or CEO to come and talk to you, arrange a visit to see their academies in action, suggest a joint board meeting to discuss what their plans are re expansion and understand if their values/ vision/ ethos align with yours. This way you may find you have far more in common than you think, there’s no commitment and at the end of the day even if the decision is still medium or longer term you are better informed if and when you decide to progress things.

Whilst boards need to stay focussed on the vision for their school there needs to be an acceptance that ‘events’ may cause delay, revision and in some cases change in ultimately realising those aspirations for your school. The key thing though is to retain a keen focus on the vision whilst dealing with the expected and unexpected challenges to the progress towards your aims, if we can keep our schools pointing in the right direction during the pandemic then we should be reassured we can do the same whilst facing the current challenges. It may be worth having a couple of governors as custodians of your vision so that no matter what comes your way there are those vested with reminding the board of why you are embarked on a particular direction of travel and who regularly review the progress made towards achieving it, even if this means revising the timelines or elements of the vision.

The HFL Governance team stand ready to support you through what is already turning into a year of challenges, whether it be through our acclaimed training programme, our supportive Clerking and Chairs service or our fantastic helpdesk – we salute and applaud all that you do for the children in your schools.

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