Archive for March, 2010
As I spoke about in a previous post, the potential upcoming SATs boycott by NUT and NAHT members of Key Stage 2 SATs is bringing the issue right back to the top of the news. As well as being an issue for individual schools, it’s also a hot topic for governors – especially if you’re in a school with a head that decides on a potentially illegal boycot.
So what do you think. Separate of the strike issue, should KS2 SATs go?
You can discuss this issue further on our Facebook page. I’ve set up a discussion board on this very topic. See the next post for some of the interesting feedback on whether governors should be paid.
SATs are the wrong tool for the job. It’s entirely right that primary schools should be held accountable for their performance at the end of Year 6, but this could be much more effectively done through teacher assessment than through blunt national tests. The government, school inspectors and the public feel that the results are ‘scientific’ when presented with this performance data – but the reality is that these tests are highly variable and often do not provide a true measure of a child’s ability.
As it stands the SATs ruin the whole of Year 6, and bend all the teaching that year towards a dull exam curriculum that focusses on drilling to the test to the exclusion of all other things. What with the challenges of transition in Year 7 that’s a whole 2 years of a child’s education disrupted.
More than that, pupils do realise that these tests are a big deal (for the school at least) and it’s unfair to put pupils through such testing early on in their lives.
Nobody says that SATs like this are a perfect measure of performance, but they are the best, the fairest and the easiest for schools to deliver. If the results that SATs give can sometimes be variable what about the variance in teachers’ judgements in teacher assessment – the only credible alternative. The pressure to ‘mark up’ will be even higher in a high stakes environment such as Year 6.
Look what’s happened in schools that are no longer forced to do the Year 9 SATs – most of them still opt to do the test. Why? Because teacher assessment is laborious, because national marking is fair, and because with a national test you can benchmark your performance against that of other schools more easily.
If the problem is that schools deliver a dull exam based curriculum in Year 6 is the problem really the test itself? Surely if there is a problem it lies in the accountability regime that prevents schools from gaming the system and dare I say it with the schools themselves that allow themselves to get sucked in to a state where they’re subverting a child”s education to climb league tables.
Does your school have a voluntary code of practice for school governors?
I can see a use for one for two reasons:
- Firstly, it’s good to be able to provide governors with a very broad set of principles by which they should conduct themselves – especially new governors in induction.
- Secondly, you may well want to add extra requirements in. So for example I can’t understand why CPD isn’t mandatory for school governors bearing in mind the shifting nature of education, so I added it in. You can add in other principles to help meet the unique ethos of your school and/or governing body
What follows below is very much a first attempt. I’d love any feedback you’d be able to provide – either on the idea or the individual principles.
Voluntary Code of Practice for School Governors
Selflessness – Governors should act solely in terms of the interest of their schools, pupils, parents and staff. They should not do so in order to gain financial or other benefits for themselves, their family or their friends.
Integrity – Governors should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might seek to influence them in the performance of their duties.
Objectivity – In carrying out their role, including making appointments, awarding contracts, or recommending individuals for rewards and benefits, governors should make choices on merit, and strive to preserve the equal opportunities of all who work in their schools.
Accountability – Governors are accountable for their decisions and actions to their students, parents and staff, notwithstanding the DCSF, the local authority, Ofsted and other government agencies. They must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office.
Confidentiality – Governors are subject to privileged and sensitive information, and as such should keep all information from governing body and committee meetings confidential, unless it is otherwise agreed.
Honesty – Governors have a duty to declare any private interests relating to the agendas they are discussing and to take steps to resolve any conflicts arising in a way that protects the public interest. Pecuniary interests should be noted before each meeting.
Best Value – As guardians of public money, governors must do all in their power to secure that this money is spent in the most effective way to the greater benefit of their school.
Capability – In order to discharge their responsibilities effectively, governors must make sure they are current and up to date with all the relevant information pertaining to their role. They should visit the school at least termly, and take part in at least two CPD activities each year.
Support – Governors should be enthusiastic supporters and proponents of their school in the wider community. They are the voice of the school and should do everything possible to maintain a high public image for their school.
Leadership - Holders of public office should have a duty to promote and support these principles by leadership and example. Governors should provide strategic direction and leadership for the school, supporting and challenging the school in its key decisions.
Generally I’ll be leaving discussion of policies to the our occasional series on the topic, but I’d just like to raise your awareness of a policy you may not have at your school – one on dealing with pupils with eating disorders.
In some ways this is a bit of a plug, because this is from research my wife is currently doing for her PhD thesis in how to better support eating disorders in schools. Eating disorders is clearly a hot topic, and i’ts an area where a school’s involvement can make all the difference – for better or worse.
The rest of this is cross-posted from her blog:
Of 772 schools polled, only 40 had a specific eating disorders policy and only a handful of these policies were deemed to be effective by school staff, however majority of staff said they would welcome an effective policy. I have developed model policies for both eating disorders and self-harm which you are welcome to use (email Jodi.email@example.com ) but if you wish to develop your own, here are my twelve top tips.
- Keep it practical: a policy should be written to be used and referred to, not just to sit on a shelf
- Make sure it is clear and simple to use – use lists and bullet points where appropriate and don’t use unnecessary jargon
- Name key members of staff so it is clear who is responsible for what
- Ensure all staff are aware of the policy and how to access a copy at any time
- Discuss the policy – eating disorders are often a taboo topic in schools, use the policy to bring this topic out into the open and educate staff
- Include key information
about the major eating disorders – some staff may not have even a basic understanding
- Outline the early warning signs staff should look out for – some of the early indicators for eating disorders aren’t all obvious to those not in the know
- State clearly what course of action staff should take if they are concerned about a student – this will prevent students falling through the gaps (see below)
- Think about academic expectations – and to what extent these will be revised for students suffering or recovering from an ED
- Be aware of sources of support – local, national and virtual sources of support should be indicated
- Tackle the question of confidentiality – staff must never promise complete confidentiality if it could put a student’s wellbeing at risk
- Develop clear disclosure pathways – what should a student do if they are concerned about a friend?
An effective eating disorders policy can ensure that students causing concern don’t ‘fall through gaps’:
“A boy in year 10 was suffering badly from anorexia and ended up in A&E – when staff were debriefed several of us realised that although we were very concerned about him, we had all assumed someone else was dealing with it – but nobody was. We now have a policy with a named member of staff who all these concerns are passed to.” (Secondary School Geography Teacher)
I’m sure many chairs will recognise this:
“So who would like to be the Safeguarding governor, now that Laura has left? Anyone? Anyone at all? Er … ok, no-one then.”
All too often the bulk of the burdens of governing fall significantly on the chair, and few others. It was never meant to be that the chairs did all the work whilst a rump of remaining governors sat impassively.
So how as a chair can you make sure that the rest of your governing body steps up and takes an active role in the governing of the school? I’d argue one of the key weapons in your arsenal is distributed leadership.
Distributed leadership is another one of those great bits of eduspeak – it basically just means giving other people responsibility. In the past I’ve generally found in management that the more responsibility you hand out the more involved people become and they have a much greater sense of ownership over the strategic direction you’re taking them in.
It isn’t about being lazy or about being hands off – you will still want to make sure that the people you distribute leadership to are capable and are discharging those responsibilities effectively. But in the end you will have a much wider group of capable and involved governors each with important and distinctive insights into key areas of life at school.
So, now for some practical applications:
Firstly, do you chair all the committee meetings yourself? I’d argue that while of course as a chair you’d want to be represented on some of the committee meetings, you’re much better off giving that responsibility to another capable member of your governing body. Apart from freeing you up from some of the smaller decisions, you’re giving 3 or 5 members of your governing body real concrete roles from which they’ll each develop a unique perspective and body of knowledge.
Secondly, how involved are your link governors? Lots of schools have governors assigned to a topic or focus area of some sort, but in some cases that attachment is superficial and there are no real demands on it. Make the link governor role more meaty, expect them to visit the school and feed back to the governing body or a committee on their topic area, expect them to give strategic direction on key issues around their chosen topic, expect them to train and to know their topic closely.
Thirdly, at a normal governing body meeting how many actions get assigned to governors other than you or the vice chair? An easy way to start with distributing leadership is to try and make a conscious effort to make sure that all the actions of a meeting don’t end up resting with you. Having strong link governors and committee chairs will help here too – it will often give a clear path to which these tasks should be passed.
The National College has some good further information on distributed leadership – which you can see here.
Ultimately though, every change like this has a risk associated with it. If you start asking more of your governors some cosy ones might decide to leave – my view is that you probably didn’t want them anyway. Also distributing leadership requires capable governors with good knowledge of the area they’re covering – again this is something that should be being fostered anyway, and if not now’s a good time to start.
I came across the fascinating web site yesterday – The Mechanical Turk.
It’s named after Chess Playing Automaton, invented in the late 18th century, which was actually a human player in a box. As Amazon say on the website ‘Artificial Artificial Intelligence’.
The idea is that you upload the basic tasks you want to get done, the website divides them into bits amongst a massive group of people sitting at home tapping on their keyboards, it reassembles them and then presents you with a finished job, at a very very competitive price.
What’s the relevance for schools? Well, no matter which party gets in this May it’s pretty clear that the times ahead for schools and school budgets in particular are going to be pretty austere. Businesses have been outsourcing for decades, but now the internet (and sites like The Mechanical Turk) makes that easier to do in your school than ever before.
If as a governing body you’re sitting down now to discuss what your plan will be to keep the quality of teaching high with diminished resources over the years to come, cutting back on administration rather than teaching time is certainly an attractive prospect. It then becomes a process of working out what administrative tasks you need to do, and what can be done elsewhere, cheaper.
Don’t quote me, but it’s like remodelling on steroids.
Governor Services in the various Local Authorities often provide loads of useful information – but if you’re not a governor in that authority it can often be very hard to find.
Now though you can search all the governor services websites in England from this handy Google powered search engine I created for Supergovernor. It indexes every local authority – just type in your question and go!
We hope you find this useful, and we’d love your feedback on how we can improve it!
I’m starting a new feature this week on the blog: The Big Debate.
Each week we’ll look at a key debate in governing, some of the arguments for, some of the arguments against and you can let everyone know your thoughts on the Facebook discussion board.
School governors are ultimately in charge of our most important assets – our children’s future. Quite apart from the huge amount of public money that schools spend each year, when the job of a governing body is done well schools have the ability to create a whole nation of secure and prosperous individuals.
With the huge impact that governors have on schools, and the huge impact that schools have on young people it’s only appropriate that we try to secure the best candidates for this job – and to secure the best candidates they must be paid for the job they do.
Almost overnight you would see a change in attitude. The numbers wanting to be a governor would increase and schools, rather than having to beg time off busy professionals, they would have more applicants than spaces – enabling them to select only the best, most committed individuals.
Paying for the work that people do in governing a school is an insidious prospect, and yet another incursion of the commercial world in what should stay the public sector.
People don’t become governors for the money, they become governors in order to shape the education of the next generation. This is a reward in and of itself and any mention of money would only serve to degrade and tarnish the hard honest voluntary work done by thousands of people across the country.
Not only is there no need for it, but the money it would cost would take away much needed cash from school budgets at a time when front line services are already under threat.
Add yourself as a fan on Facebook and you’ll be able to join in discussions on the forums (of which more in my next post!) and chat with your fellow governors. Networking with other governors is often one of the best ways to find out new ideas, and the facebook pages should become a focus for doing just that.
Follow Supergovernor on Twitter and there’ll be extra little tidbits, including some of the random little thoughts on governing I have during the day that never quite make it on to this blog.
Plus, both will be updated every time there’s a new post on this site!
Hope you enjoyed the last post of questions you could ask to support and challenge your head.
Here’s a useful list of further questions – 5 from Health and Safety consultant Dave Fagg about the place Health and Safety has in your school and a further 8 from a discussion on Governornet we were having about this topic.
5 Questions to challenge the SLT
1. Schools have been successfully prosecuted for failing to provide the necessary Health and Safety training for staff (this requirement applies to all staff ). Would you be able to demonstrate that the necessary training has been provided? Would staff agree that they have received the training they perceive as necessary?
2. Consultation on matters of Health and Safety is a legal requirement placed on employers by the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. Would you be able to describe the arrangements that exist for consultation? Would staff agree that these arrangements have worked adequately for them? Have staff ever been asked what they think about the consultation arrangements?
3. Schools are required by the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 to have in place an appropriate Health and Safety Policy and for this policy to be communicated effectively to relevant persons, e.g. employees. Can you demonstrate that the current policy is in fact up-to-date, appropriate for the particular requirements of the school ( i.e. not merely generic), and has been communicated effectively? Is there evidence of ‘ownership’ of the policy by the school community?
4. Schools are required to have access to competent assistance (Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999). They are also required to consult safety representatives in good time on the arrangements for the appointment of competent assistance. Can you demonstrate that such arrangements are in place?
5. Health and safety culture can be described as consisting of the following components (among others) : competence, co-operation, leadership, control, openness and communication. Can you demonstrate that these elements are playing a part in the school’s management of health and safety? Are there other positive factors you could highlight?
8 Further Quick Fire Questions
1. Are Display Screen Equipment assessments carried out for staff using ICT room, at home, or for anywhere else? Where is this recorded?
2. Do we report ‘near misses’? How often has it been used? Does everyone know about it?
3. Where are the Fire Risk Assessments kept? Have we got occupancy limits on the hall?
4. Where are activity risk assessments kept? In particular PE activity / exercises and science?
5. Health and Safety at Work Act requires consultation with employees to be a regular activity – is Health and Safety an agenda item at regular staff meetings?
6. We should test fixed electrical installations regularly. Do we have records and when was last one?
7. Does our school contain asbestos? Have we completed the relevant survey to find out?
8. PAT testing should be carried out roughly annually – is this in place? Where are the records?
If you’re interested in contacting Dave Fagg on any Health and safety matter for your school, you can reach him on *firstname.lastname@example.org*
The NGA recently sent out a useful update on the situation with the SATs boycott at Key Stage 2.
This a bit different to your common of garden industrial dispute. The National Union of Teachers and the National Association of Headteachers sent out ballot papers on March 13th as to whether this year’s KS2 SATs should be boycotted. If the ballot is in favour of action this will create an odd conflict where headteachers may be boycotting the tests despite having a legal obligation to administer them.
What will happen to those headteachers that defy the law and fail to administer the tests remains to be seen, but the NGA offer some sage advice:
The duty to arrange the tests falls directly on the headteacher and is clearly an operational matter. If the boycott goes ahead the governing body should not get involved in operational matters and should not get involved in the administration of the tests. The governing body can reasonably enquire of the headteacher (assuming your headteacher is a member of the NAHT/NUT) what action they will be taking and what steps are in place to administer/manage the tests. The governing body cannot force the tests to be carried out, and should not try to do so, but it may remind the headteacher of the government’s view of the boycott’s legalities.
In summary the legalities are:
It has not yet been established whether this is a legitimate industrial dispute; the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) believes that as headteachers are under a statutory duty to make arrangements for the tests to take place if they do not comply with that duty they are acting unlawfully. On the other hand, the NAHT’s legal advice is that this is a legitimate dispute. This has not been tested in the Courts (and the DCSF has not said that if the unions vote ‘yes’ to the boycott, it intends to do so).
So it’s a case of wait and see. Ballot papers will be returned by April 16th, so we should know soon after that.