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EFFECTIVE CHAIRS – Autumn 2020
The start of a new school year against a background of COVID-19.
1.Virtual and Practical Governance
At the end of the summer term the DfE via their Governance Update told governance boards; “We would like to thank you for your ongoing commitment to school and trust governance, and for the support you have shown your school leaders this summer term and throughout the national response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. We wish you and your schools a restful summer break.” Following over 50 COVID-19 related updates from the DfE during the ‘restful break’ period, not to mention the subject of schools returning featuring in almost every news item from the day schools finished their summer term up to today – it has been hard for anyone in education to have a ‘break’ and this may well have implications for many schools and many boards as we all try to be ready to welcome our pupils back to school. While the aim is to have all pupils back at school in the autumn, every school will also need to plan for the possibility of a local lockdown and how they will ensure continuity of education.
2.The board’s role in pupils’ return to school
Much of the latter part of the summer term will have been focused on risk assessments carried out by school leaders and evaluated by the governing board. The successful implementation of these plans along with changes required to suit changes in circumstances will be a key role for boards over this term. There will be discussion around ‘control measures’ as the public health advice in the latest Guidance for schools: coronavirus (COVID-19) refers to a PHE-endorsed ‘system of controls’, building on the hierarchy of protective measures that have been in use throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. When implemented in line with a revised risk assessment, these measures create an inherently safer environment for children and staff where the risk of transmission of infection is substantially reduced.
The system of controls provides a set of principles and if schools follow this advice and maximise the use of control measures, the DfE advise that they will effectively minimise risks. All elements of the system of controls are essential. All schools must cover them all, but the way different schools implement some of the requirements will differ based on their individual circumstances. The system of controls is an adapted form of the system of protective measures that will be familiar from the summer term. Essential measures include:
The latest DfE guidance is clear that schools and boards should have active arrangements in place to monitor that the controls are:
Confidence will be key to parents sending pupils back to school and staff returning. Schools will need to be clear with parents that pupils of compulsory school age must be in school unless a statutory reason applies (for example, the pupil has been granted a leave of absence, is unable to attend because of sickness, or is absent for a necessary religious observance). It will be a few weeks before evidence is available on how many parents have decided not to send their children back to school, so boards will need to engage with attendance figures regularly to identify how this might affect their own schools and what can be put in place to encourage more parents to comply. Schools may even find an increase in requests for flexi-schooling to support requests for home education, do you or your board understand how this works? If not have a look at the DAG Busy Governor Guide to Home Education.
Regarding staff, the guidance notes that most school-based roles are not ideally suited to home working and schools may expect most staff to return to work in settings. Some roles, such as some administrative roles, may be conducive to home working and school leaders should consider what is feasible and appropriate, noting that people who live with those who are clinically extremely vulnerable or clinically vulnerable can now attend the workplace.
One additional area that might be contentious is school uniform. It is for the governing board of a school (or the academy trust, in the case of academies) to make decisions regarding school uniform. Some schools may have relaxed their uniform policy while only certain categories of pupils were attending. The DfE does, however, encourage all schools to return to their usual uniform policies in the autumn term as they believe that uniform can play a valuable role in contributing to the ethos of a school and setting an appropriate tone.
To stay up to date ensure that you read the regular DAG COVID-19 Updates for the national information along with updates from our local authority Devon County Council (DCC) around risk assessment templates, school transport and many other aspects of responding to this pandemic on a local level.
Most chairs will have worked out how to achieve a balance between keeping the board informed and supporting their headteacher during COVID-19, the relationship between the headteacher and the chair is key to effective governance and at times like this even more so. Governing boards and school leaders have a duty to consider work-life balance and wellbeing for all staff. Boards should be confident that schools have explained to all staff the measures they were proposing putting in place and involved all staff in that process.
One aspect of a more normalised approach to staff oversite is performance management undertaken in schools in the autumn term. The instructions from DfE this term make it clear that 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. They expect schools to use their discretion and take pragmatic steps to adapt performance management and appraisal arrangements to take account of the current circumstances. Schools must ensure that teachers are not penalised during the appraisal process or in respect of any subsequent pay progression decisions as a result of the decision to restrict pupil attendance at schools, such as where this has had an impact on the ability of the teacher to meet fully their objectives. Schools and colleges will receive details of grades awarded directly from awarding organisations, but schools and colleges should not use the 2020 exams data as part of their teacher performance management process. The latest DfE guidance also notes that appraisals and performance management for support staff should be carried out in accordance with the employee’s contract of employment. The board’s role in appraising the headteacher and the clerk would therefore remain in place for this term.
Holding to account will continue to look very different this academic year. All those working with schools and colleges, such as Ofsted, DfE regional teams and local authorities, should use data from previous years when assessing school and college performance and not the 2020 data.
Governors are going to have think carefully about what appropriate challenge will look like for the rest of this academic year. Performance tables and Ofsted will return at some point and the assessment they usually make around ‘pupils who need to catch-up’ will apply to considerably more if not one could argue, all pupils in education during 2020.
In June, the DfE announced a £650 million catch-up premium for schools. Schools will receive additional funding for the 2020 to 2021 academic year to ensure they have the support they need to help all pupils make up for lost teaching time. More information and guidance has now been published covering when schools can expect to receive the funding and how much, how they should use it and how governors and trustees should scrutinise use of the funding. As the catch-up premium has been designed to mitigate the effects of the unique disruption caused by COVID-19, the grant will only be available for the 2020 to 2021 academic year. It will not be added to schools’ baselines in calculating future years’ funding allocations. As with all government funding, school leaders must be able to account for how this money is being used to achieve the central goal of schools getting back on track and teaching a normal curriculum as quickly as possible.
Given their role in ensuring schools spend funding appropriately and in holding schools to account for educational performance, governors and trustees should scrutinise schools’ approaches to catch-up from this September, including their plans for and use of catch-up funding. This should include consideration of whether schools are spending this funding in line with their catch-up priorities and ensuring appropriate transparency for parents.
Boards will need to consider how the curriculum is responding to the needs of pupils during this academic year. The DfE specifies that during this period the curriculum should be broad and ambitious and a wide range of subject should be taught and has the following key expectations for the academic year 2020 to 2021:
Teach an ambitious and broad curriculum in all subjects from the start of the autumn term, but make use of existing flexibilities to create time to cover the most important missed content. Up to and including key stage 3, prioritisation within subjects of the most important components for progression is likely to be more effective than removing subjects, which pupils may struggle to pick up again later. In particular, schools may consider how all subjects can contribute to the filling of gaps in core knowledge, for example through an emphasis on reading.
Aim to return to the school’s normal curriculum in all subjects by summer term 2021. Substantial modification to the curriculum may be needed at the start of the year, so teaching time should be prioritised to address significant gaps in pupils’ knowledge with the aim of returning to the school’s normal curriculum content by no later than summer term 2021.
Plan on the basis of the educational needs of pupils. Curriculum planning should be informed by an assessment of pupils’ starting points and addressing the gaps in their knowledge and skills, in particular making effective use of regular formative assessment (for example, quizzes, observing pupils in class, talking to pupils to assess understanding, scrutiny of pupils’ work) while avoiding the introduction of unnecessary tracking systems.
Develop remote education so that it is integrated into school curriculum planning. Remote education may need to be an essential component in the delivery of the school curriculum for some pupils, alongside classroom teaching, or in the case of a local lockdown. All schools are therefore expected to plan to ensure any pupils educated at home for some of the time are given the support they need to master the curriculum and so make good progress.
The DfE does note that schools may consider it appropriate to suspend some subjects for some pupils in exceptional circumstances. Schools should be able to show that this is in the best the interests of these pupils and this should be subject to discussion with parents during the autumn term. They should also have a coherent plan for returning to their normal curriculum for all pupils by the summer term 2021.
Relationships and health education (RHE) for primary aged pupils and relationships, sex and health education (RSHE) for secondary aged pupils becomes compulsory from September 2020 and schools are expected to start teaching by at least the start of the summer term 2021.
For state-funded schools, the intention is for Ofsted inspections to remain suspended for the autumn term. However, during the autumn term, inspectors will visit a sample of schools to discuss how they are managing the return to education of all their pupils. These will be collaborative discussions, taking into account the curriculum and remote education expectations set out in this document and will not result in a judgement. A brief letter will be published following the visit. The insights that inspectors gather will also be aggregated nationally to share learning with the sector, the government and the wider public. In addition, Ofsted has the power to inspect a school in response to any significant concerns, such as safeguarding. The latest information on what they will be doing can be found in this press release.
Boards continue to have an opportunity to ensure that their minutes provide evidence of their work during COVID-19 and whilst Ofsted may well be limited in their ability to inspect the standard of learning during lockdown, they may well still inspect the standard of leadership and governance that took place especially around vulnerable pupils and from this term the use of the catch-up premium and curriculum.
6.Time to consider…
Governors and trustees visiting schools
DfE guidance does not prevent governors or trustees going into schools. When considering how to organise visits from governors or trustees, schools will need to consider their own risk assessments and how they will protect the health and safety of governors or indeed any visitors alongside staff and pupils, in line with the latest DfE guidance. The guidance explains that schools should consider how to manage visitors to the site and ensure site guidance on physical distancing and hygiene is explained to visitors on or before arrival. The DfE goes on to say that if visits can happen outside of school hours, they should.
Planning for governance catch up
The latest DfE guidance says that depending on their risk assessment, schools may choose to continue to host governor meetings virtually. Many of us will have changed how we work, we may have collapsed committees, allocated responsibilities to individual governors or just accumulated a rather long list of tasks we postponed. Boards traditionally consider how they carry out governance at the start of the autumn term and once they decide, terms of reference need to be modified to reflect that. Virtual governance will continue to be a part of the way we work and the DAG Busy Governor Guide to Virtual Governance provides useful information on how to ensure that it works well.
This is going to be a tricky year if the costs relating to COVID-19 that schools will have to bear are not refunded. The school press is already raising this issue regularly with local headteachers going into print around the extent of the costs. See our DAG article ‘Funding School COVID-19 Costs‘
As many of you contemplate another academic year or indeed the first year as chair please give some thought to your succession plan. Have you any idea of how the board would work once you have stepped away from governance? Some ex-chairs return to the board to continue as a governor but, it is always worth considering how the new chair will feel about doing chairing their way, when the previous chair is still around. Sometimes it is better to step away to provide a clean start for the board and perhaps then consider some time off from governance or, joining another board to use your experience to help another school and another set of pupils.
Remember that boards have a duty to publish certain things. The DfE have updated their guidance What maintained schools must publish online and What academies, free schools and colleges should publish online. The most significant change is that maintained schools now must publish
how many school employees (if any) have a gross annual salary of £100,000 or more in increments of £10,000.
Remember that key policies requiring change during COVID-19 such as Child Protection and Behaviour along with up to date risk assessments should also be published on school websites.
Remember too that details of schools and governors on the Get information about schools (GIAS) website need to be up to date, including email addresses reflecting any recent changes within the board so the government can send direct communications when necessary.
In normal times the advice would probably be to avoid this option at all costs. This type of action along with the chair having two votes when a board vote is tied can be deeply divisive, but these aren’t normal times and might not be for a while. The guidance issued by The NGA and Babcock LDP make the point that actions that cannot be delegated to a board member and therefore must be a board decision cannot be decided by chairs action. By now boards should have developed their virtual governance to such an extent that board responses can be quite swift, this should remove the need for chairs action, but it still remains an option in an emergency.
Remember that DAG publishes ‘Effective Chair’ termly and nearly 200 articles each year to support governors, trustees and clerks to deliver more informed governance, all free to DAG members, please ensure that your board is accessing all the support it can to deliver better governance leading to better outcomes for all Devon pupils.
All the information relating to all the above is available by following the links and on the DAG website www.dagdevon.uk.