Education governance in a time of pandemic

In ADCS Vice President Charlotte Ramsden’s blog at the beginning of 2021, she wrote about the positive benefits of new beginnings. Here we are in half term, awaiting announcements relating to more new beginnings, possibly from 8 March, for schools and colleges and the governing boards that oversee them.

The academic year 2020-21 has asked leaders in our schools and colleges to constantly adapt to changing requirements and guidance. Governors, in particular, who volunteer to fulfil these roles, have had to show resilience and sound judgement as they make decisions that, more than ever, relate to the health and safety of employees and students. This is whilst they are also coping with pandemic pressures in their own working and personal lives.

The National Governance Association has been part of the DfE Education Stakeholder meetings, along with ADCS, throughout the pandemic, ably representing the views and concerns of governing boards.

An adaption that governing boards have had to make, along with the rest of us, is the move to virtual online meetings. One of the benefits of this, as in other areas, has been increased regular engagement at meetings particularly from some of our governors from communities where cultural, caring, or other commitments have, on occasion, precluded regular attendance at evening meetings held on the school site. Anything that guarantees diversity of board membership has to be a positive benefit!

The most significant, and usually infrequent, decision governing boards have to make is the appointment of a new headteacher or principal. Many will be turning their attention to recruitment during this school term, to replace retiring headteachers for September. To undertake this process during a lockdown period has meant that governing boards have had to be both creative and committed. Often a blended approach has been developed with one day of remote tasks and a second day of on-site in-person interviews, in accordance with the school’s risk assessment and controls to mitigate risk. Committed to ensuring that time was not lost in appointing the very best candidate has meant, in one case, governors interviewing with the windows wide open on the coldest day of the winter! Governors have wanted face-to-face interviews for those able to be in school, with other governors Zooming in, to enable them to evaluate key leadership components of the selection criteria in person.

Recruiting and retaining strong governors will continue to be a priority activity for all types of schools. I was prompted to reflect on recruitment recently when a neighbour, who is chair of governors at a local school, put a note through my door with an application form as they needed to recruit two new governors. They thought I might be suitable.

We do need to ensure that we consider governance fatigue as we move into the full opening of schools, especially where the burden of support to staff and headteachers has had to be taken on by a smaller number of governors than in more usual times. In a recent webinar with chairs of governors, the message ’ Keep going, Chairs!’ came up on the screen. On behalf of all Directors of Children’s Services, I would like to record sincere thanks to all those volunteers who have been providing exceptional education governance during this pandemic.

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