Tuesday, 29 December 2015

I can't sleep.

It's 5.30 in the morning and I haven't slept a wink all night, not for the want of trying, because my beloved has a bad knee and has spent the hours of darkness yelping with every movement. And yes, I've administered pain killers, bleary eyed advice & support before giving up and getting up.

Possibly too much information, but I'm a snuggler; I go to sleep with the duvet up round my ears, hunkered down into the pillows as snug & cosy as the proverbial. I can't sleep if my feet are cold, if you breathe on me, or bizarrely, if my hair's on my face - duvet yes, hair no.

If I dwell on the chill in my feet, the breathing on my cheek or the hair tickling my face then I reinforce my insomnia and that elusive sleep continues to evade me. I lay awake wishing I was warmer, that you wouldn't breathe so near to me, that my hair was shorter... If, however, I put some socks on, turn over to face away from you or sweep those stray tendrils away I can soon enter a blissful state of slumber.

As governors and leaders we must guard against getting caught up in thinking too much about the 'problem', wasting valuable and limited time and resources revisiting issues without identifying solutions and acting on them in a timely fashion. Tempting though it may be, dwelling on the problem itself doesn't resolve anything: identify it, find a solution and act.

I'm off to the spare room, make of that what you will.

Monday, 4 May 2015

A Teacher is a Teacher is a Teacher

A couple of weeks ago I went along to the Character v Knowledge debate in East London and, although I enjoyed listening to the speakers, I was irked. Let me tell you why, but first a bit of background.

Helping Hands sculpture, Three Mills Green.

As a Clinical Tutor I am responsible for the clinical education of future osteopaths graduating from my School and I happen to think that they are pretty good at what they do when they leave us. Privately, of course, I may well consider that our offering is the best preparation for practice life but there are other schools/courses and all who graduate from them are called osteopaths and they are all my professional colleagues. Regardless of the route they take, even within my School there are three different pathways, at the point of graduation they become members of my profession and colleagues to be respected. The diversity of approaches and practice that emerges is to be celebrated and creates a rich and rewarding community rather than a bland, homogeneous gloop.

Osteopathic training is subject to rigorous QA, both internally and externally, and any institution that doesn't meet this exacting standard has to address its issues or face closure. This assures all that standards are maintained and confidence in the profession is high. Training, however, is only the start of the journey.In order to maintain registered status there is an element of compulsory CPD on an annual basis, so the learning continues, and the first six months in practice is probably the steepest learning curve of all.
So, what irked me and continues to irk me weeks later? It was a comment from the floor, regretfully from a Teach Firster, that appeared to question the capacity of individual teachers arriving in the profession from other routes. What concerned me was not the question of QA of the various pathways. There does need to be an exacting standard to provide confidence and any provider should meet it or face the consequences. No, what really worried me was the lack of professionalism; a teacher is a teacher is a teacher, no matter which path they have followed, and deserves the respect of their peers rather than criticism based on personal perception. Regardless of their starting point they have earned the title and their learning journey is only just beginning. I would like to think that this was a rare occurrence and perhaps I misinterpreted the intention but some of the interactions I've witnessed on social media might suggest otherwise.

If teaching and teachers want to be considered as professionals then you all need to behave professionally. This includes respecting your colleagues, working together and celebrating diversity rather than judging each other on the basis of a chosen route into the role. Until this happens and you look forward rather than back you risk missing out on the opportunities to grow your own rich and rewarding community.

Rant over, tin hat on.

Wednesday, 31 December 2014


Thinking about 2014 one word, one common theme keeps popping into my head - extending. Yes, it's been a year of extending.

The first, and most obvious since our house was clearly visible from space once it got its hat on, was the material extension of our house, a long talked about plan reached fruition & although not yet finished we do have some beautiful new spaces; not to mention a splendid secret bookcase door, a gloriously decadent wet room and my very own dedicated  'craft' room.

                                                               Going under wraps

The big reveal, some months later.

Challengingly, at the same time as extending our physical space, I was endeavouring to extend myself academically. Writing M level assignments in the middle of winter in a house with no roof, walls or heating but an abundance of jocular tradesmen, all obviously born in a barn, was doubtless character building. Throughout the whole project Andrew continued his double life, reappearing every two weeks from Ireland. With the chaos and stress of assignments looming it was probably no bad thing that oftentimes it was just me and Bob the dog camping out in our building site. I loved the challenge of returning to study after nearly thirty years in practice but confess that the air was frequently a hazy shade of blue as I searched to find my academic 'voice' and multiples of 3000 different sensible words. Spurred on by colleagues, friends and family and the unwavering support of my Tutor I completed my PGC in Academic and Clinical Education and even got to wear a hat and gown to shake hands with Princess Anne at Graduation. As a practitioner I reflect daily on my work, as a clinical tutor I reflected a lot on the students performance and patient responses to treatment. Doing my PGC has given me the insight to reflect more readily and regularly on my effectiveness as a teacher, mentor and role model and hopefully strike a better balance between clinician and educator, which continues to be an exciting journey.

I'm sneaking Alix in here at number three, clearly our proudest 'extension' of all, taking our family into the next generation. We were delighted and immensely proud to see her graduate from the University of York and commence on her own academic extension by embarking on an MA in 19C Studies at King's College London. We are now a pair of bookends on the shelf and she is the Scarlet Pimpernel. My only sadness being I no longer have a ready excuse to potter off to York but that's more than outweighed by having her home, at least for the time being.

I was designated as a National Leader of Governance in 2014 and this, along with the continued success of  UkGovChat, has given me the opportunity to extend the reach of the support I have been able to offer Chairs and Governing Bodies. The experience has been hugely satisfying and rewarding and I'm sure I have got as much out of it as the people I have worked with.

The fifth and final extension, for which I have to thank the amazing A&E Doctors at our local hospital, was the continuation of life together with Andrew. Without them we would have come to a sudden and certain end in the early hours of an October morning when he suffered a cardiac arrest, from 'Meh' through 'I can't breath' to flatlining in moments. Thankfully, the stars were in alignment and we were in the right place at the right time. I will be happy if I never have to listen to a PAD monologuing 'There is no evidence of a pulse' ever again, never have to wake my daughter at four in the morning with the dreaded 'I don't want you to panic, but...' phone call and need no further reminders of just how fragile even an apparently hale and hearty life can be.

2014 threw all it had at me physically, mentally and emotionally and there's certainly no part of me that wants a repeat so 2015, bring it on. This year I plan to get the house finished, and dedicate some time to my poor neglected garden. Despite the angst it caused me, doing my PGCACE sparked a flame and there's another PGC, this time in Paediatric Osteopathy, that I am toying with but not until later in the year. House rules state that only one person can be doing  M level study at any one time and this is Alix's year. I will hold those I love a little closer and more dearly and be sure to make the most of our time together. Finally, I hope I can continue to make a difference for my patients, my students and my governor colleagues and do so with love, humour and respect.


Sunday, 14 September 2014

That Ofsted Meeting.

A couple of weeks ago I joined five others in the Death Star, aka Ofsted's London Office in Holborn, at the invitation of Mike Cladingbowl, National Director of Inspection Reform. This was the first of three meetings held over two days in London and Manchester and the speedy bloggers have already published their blogs handily collated by Naureen in this post.

These meetings, which were the first of many opportunities for engagement, will see Mike 'putting himself about a bit' and like everyone else I am grateful for his time and genuine interest in the concerns and expectations of us mere mortals. Ofsted have chosen well in a charismatic, accomplished communicator, and the PR machine must be rubbing their hands in glee. The twitter love for Ofsted has been palpable and I'm convinced that there wasn't a person in my meeting who didn't, even fleetingly, wish he had been their English teacher or Head. He is an educator at heart and with his own children in school has an additional investment in the system. (Imagine those parents' evenings....).

Others have already reported the narrative of the various meetings so I don't intend to replicate their posts but focus on what I see as the significance of the discussions from a governor's point of view.

The key messages I got from Mike, which bear significance for school governors are:

  • A clear statement that Ofsted has no preference for any particular teaching, planning or monitoring style so guard against unnecessary 'Mocksteads' and 'Ofsted preparation' eating into your CPD budget and protect your staff, for whom you have a duty of care, from zealot Heads and SLT hiding behind 'It's what Ofsted wants' to legitimise poor or outrageous practices. Ofsted does not expect.... 
  • 'Inspection not audit'. Although data may be King, context is its Queen and there is a clear shift towards hearing the school's 'story' and a growing recognition that no two schools are the same. Inspectors should use common sense when looking at schools and although there is a drive towards consistency in grading there is also recognition that there will always be an element of interpretation and, therefore, variance. The move towards in-house training (more later) will hopefully address concerns over rogue Inspectors. This element of context and understanding the story behind the data is exactly what governors should be doing when they receive reports. By all means bench-mark but remember your school, staff and students are all individual and unique so draw your comparisons with this in mind.
  • There is a drive to recruit more serving practitioners or recently retired staff to the Inspectorate and I wonder if, as governors, we should be more actively promoting this developmental opportunity within our schools to everyone's mutual benefit.
  • The new framework has a much greater emphasis on curriculum and the personal development of learners (culture and ethos). As guardians of the curriculum this is clearly an area for governors to explore.
Of the three meetings that took place I am aware of only three governors in attendance, two of us at ours and one at the next. As a clear minority our chances of monopolising any discussion was limited but I did manage to steer the conversation in our direction and raise some issues.

Mike was categorical that governors are an integral part of school leadership and that there is no intention to split judgement grades. For the foreseeable future governance will continue to be graded as part of Leadership and Management.

On the subject of governors on Inspection Teams Mike was clear that, having removed lay inspectors with the express intention of teams being populated by experienced and qualified practitioners, there was no mechanism or justification for appointing governors to such positions. He was keen to emphasise that Ofsted was investing in training for Inspectors with a significant investment in training specifically on governance. Those who know me won't be surprised that that was the point where my hand went up in a 'Let me at them' fashion.

Once again we raised the question of draft reports and letters being sent directly to Chairs and I'm still not convinced by the arguments about contact details. A simple solution is an additional box on the Lead Inspector's paperwork to include the email/address of the current Chair - it's not rocket science.

The final topic I was keen to raise covered concerns over Reviews of Governance and the lack of quality assurance and accountability. It was this, rather than training, which I described as a 'free for all' and I was concerned that it didn't seem apparent to Mike that The College currently had no jurisdiction over quality assurance or training of reviewers, nor that not all reviews were undertaken by National Leaders of Governance. If Ofsted is to recommend External Reviews then I feel strongly that they should have an awareness of the skills and competencies of those completing them. It's something that I am following up, along with Inspectors' training on governance, so perhaps more later.

This is my personal reflection on topics covered in our meeting and I do hope that I have represented both Mike and Ofsted fairly. It is encouraging to see this unprecedented level of engagement and it looks like Mike is going to be extremely busy in the coming months popping up anywhere he can get a gig. Only time will tell but it does feel like we are moving towards a fairer, clearer inspection regime and walking the road together.


Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Who Wants to Waste Time Watching Their Feet?

“He found himself understanding the wearisomeness of this life, where every path was an improvisation and a considerable part of one's waking life was spent watching one's feet.”
                                                      ― William Golding, Lord of the Flies

Christmas and New Year have clearly been a time for blogging, everyone seems to have been at it recently. I am permanently in awe of those who can turn out an erudite post on matters topical in the blink of an eye but I find I need some time for rumination so apologies for being a little late to the party.

I am a governor at two schools placed not merely at opposite ends of the educational spectrum but, it sometimes feels, in totally separate universes; the first an 'outstanding' super selective girls' school and the second, where I am a Member of an IEB, an ESBD Special School in Special Measures. At the first Governors concern themselves with apparently inexplicable decreases in the number of A*s whilst at the other we celebrate single figure passes in core subjects at GCSE.

The second school was actually closed for a brief period following a Section 8 inspection because it was deemed that the safety of students and staff could not be guaranteed. Many of  the young people in this school had parents who were either unable or unwilling to adequately parent them and, at that time, they were also being failed by their school which should have offered them the consistency and security otherwise absent from their lives. This brilliant conversation courtesy of @Educationbrew articulates this so much better than I ever could.

As  parents, we set the rules and boundaries for our daughter which rightly moved as she grew in maturity and independence. Equally and possibly, some might argue, archaically, I believe that staff in schools (and in that I include all staff not just teachers) are acting 'in loco parentis' and, as such, need to set similar rules and boundaries.  All societies need rules, understood, enacted and subscribed to by all members of the community, the absence of which lead inevitably down the path to anarchy and chaos exemplified dramatically in my second school before it was temporarily closed (and I hasten to add before it was my school). I fully agree that there is scope for negotiation but that comes at the point where the limits of acceptable behaviour are set rather than retrospective individual interpretation of established boundaries. It is in the nature of young people to push against those boundaries, and we would expect no less from them, but there needs to be a line clearly delineated over which, no matter how hard they push, they know they cannot tread without fear of consequence.

 What it boils down to is, young people do need to know that "I AM the boss of you" and just as both parents need to be consistent so all members of school staff need to apply school rules consistently. Expecting all young people to inherently self-regulate and self-police is, in my opinion, just about as realistic as expecting my dog to save that last Bonio in case she gets a bit peckish later. In my experience young people do attempt to regulate the disruptive behaviour of their peers but they need to be supported by their teachers who in turn need the support of the SLT, the Headteacher and the Governing Body. As parents our children will sometimes do things we don't like but that never stops us loving them, as we are quick to point out in our remonstrations. That unconditional positive regard in which we hold our own has to extend to all the children and young people in our schools, no matter how hard they push against it. That is not to say that there won't be times when it is in the best interests of all involved to consider exclusion or even a managed move when all endeavours have been exhausted.

Although poles apart the young people at both of my schools share the same basic need. The adults in their lives need to consistently model the behaviours they wish to engender and police the boundaries of acceptable behaviour with a hawk-like scrutiny.

So, where do Governors fit into all of this? Yes, of course Governors need to know what the behaviour is like in their schools; there should be regular reporting to the Full Governing Body highlighting any significant incidents and consequences and Governors should observe behaviour as part of their monitoring visits to the school.  But even before that Governors need to take a lead, in collaboration with all members of their school community, in setting and agreeing reasonable expectations to be drafted into a workable policy by the Headteacher and Senior  Leaders. The Governors' Handbook details the requirement for policies and, in maintained schools, statements of principles (possibly being repealed subject to legislation) for which the Governing Body is responsible.

"4.2 Behaviour and discipline
An academy trust must make sure that a written policy is drawn up and carried out that promotes good behaviour among pupils and defines the sanctions to be adopted where pupils misbehave41.
Maintained school governing bodies must make sure that their school has policies
designed to promote good behaviour and discipline among pupils. These policies must
include the school’s approach to the use of reasonable force to control or restrain pupils.
The governing body must also make, and periodically review, a written statement of
principles to help the headteacher determine the measures that make up the school’s
behaviour policy42. This duty cannot be delegated. The governing body must consult the headteacher, other appropriate members of staff, parents and all registered pupils before making or changing this statement of principles43. It must also publish the statement on a website44. "

Your policy needs to be visible in all aspects of the school's life, not just another piece of paper on a dusty shelf and, if it works, you should see it and feel its effect in everything that goes on in your school; every interaction, every classroom, every corridor, every moment of every day within the school and outside.

Remember though, the policy is only one small part of a much wider picture that is the ethos and vision of your school for which you have a significant responsibility both in its formulation and articulation. You employ your Headteacher to realise your vision and to ensure the embodiment of the school's ethos. Embedded within these are your expectations for the whole school community, including behaviour, and it is only through effective communication that you can know just how they are enacted. Direct communication with all members of the community is vital. Your role is not to get involved in the day to day management of the school, the clear remit of the Headteacher, but how can you know the level of staff morale and how supported they feel in behaviour management if you never ask them? Are your students confident that issues are dealt with fairly and consistently and do they feel safe? How do parents view the effectiveness of pastoral care and behaviour management and do they support the school in its operation? You can only know these things by knowing your school through visits, observations, conversations, regular surveys and actively gathering evidence for yourselves. When you visit your school can you see the values on which your vision is founded; respect, tolerance, integrity or do you see something else? It is not enough to rely solely on the reports you receive at Governing Body meetings.

Ultimately your purpose is to ‘conduct the school with a view to promoting high standards of educational achievement at the school’ and I would suggest that you can only achieve that aim if you are sure that your vision and ethos are supportive of the highest levels of aspiration academically and exemplify fully the expectations for meaningful engagement with learning and behaviour.

Ofsted have issued a revised Inspection Handbook, a tracked changes version is available on Heather Leatt's website, and Subsidiary Guidance (copy with tracked changes available from Clerk to Governors) both of which have new guidance on behaviour for Inspectors, which appears to be fairly common sense. If you know your school in the way that you should this new guidance shouldn't cause you, as a Governor, to lose sleep. If not, now is the time to get into school and start those conversations.

(41 The Education (Independent School Standards) (England) Regulations 2010.
42 Subject to the passage of legislation, this requirement may be repealed during 2013/2014. 43 Section 88 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006.
44 The School Information (England) Regulations 2008 as amended by the School Information (England)
(Amendment) Regulations 2012.)

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Good Governance- Not Just The Core.

 SMW spoke recently at the ASCL Conference, giving his views on paid governors, accountability and Ofsted's expectations.

One aspect of his speech that concerned me was his interpretation of *good* governance; Governing Bodies with a "core of governors doing most of the work" whilst the periphery presumably watched on scratching their heads and doing little. He asserted that this was a reasonable model to support the argument for paid governance, the inference being that incentivising good governors to form such a core in areas of weak governance would solve the problem of weak governance.

I'm not sure that I agree. Surely the aim should be for all governors to be at least good, if not outstanding. That's what we are striving for, for our schools, so why should it not be the case for governance? Governors both individually and collectively need to accept responsibility for their underperformance, reflect and act decisively to bring about improvement. There need to be appropriate mechanisms whereby weak or disengaged governors within a GB can be identified and supported on a journey of improvement or failing that, removed from the GB. There is no place for tokenism or self- serving motivation in the governance of our schools. We need all governors on a governing body to be actively engaged, with a profound understanding and ownership not only of the school but also of their own role, regardless of the route by which they have arrived on the governing body.

Rather than paying governors I would like to see the development of an accredited Governor Access Course*, completed prior to joining a governing body,  whereby potential candidates could be equipped for the role and educated in the expectations placed upon them in order to fulfil it. This would serve the dual purpose of preparing individuals for immediate engagement with the work of the governing body and affording them an opportunity to reflect on whether the role is one that they are ready and willing to take on. I would also like to see this followed up with an explict expectation  of commitment to continuing development tied to annual self-reflection (in my world mandatory) upon which continuation in role would depend; a Governor Mark type of evaluation for individuals against a set of governor standards.

Perhaps the concept of the small active group demonstrating effective governance is based on the success of IEBs; hit squads brought in to turn around failing schools, replacing existing governing bodies to effect rapid progress. These are successful for short term intervention and their generally small size certainly facilitates decision making and action, but they are not sustainable in the longer term and not anticipated to effect the long term governance of the school. It is extremely challenging and, in my opinion, ultimately impossible to govern a school effectively in the longer term with just a handful of skilled, trained and knowledgeable governors.

The whole school community served by the governing body deserves a fully engaged and informed membership. Anything less should not be tolerated.

*Moderngovernor have a free module on Becoming a School Governor which gives a basic introduction.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Not JUST a volunteer

Many of England's largest band of volunteers have been enraged by the apparently damning comments of SMW but after the knee jerk responses,anger and effrontery isn't it time for governors and GB to reflect on their role and how they could indeed do better.

The first hurdle to overcome is the popular misconception that the term volunteer is synonymous with amateur; an unskilled dabbler. Unfortunately some would consider this exactly describes the average governor and governors themselves identify training deficits as a significant barrier to effective governance. Governors need to reflect  on and appraise their performance on a regular basis, identifying their needs and being pro-active in seeking solutions to enable them to act professionally and be viewed as such.

I know many school governors who are entirely professional in their conduct of governance and this is what we need; more governors being professional, rather than necessarily more "professional" governors. In my experience those venerated (by some) skill rich "professionals" are often so time-starved that they are unable to commit to the softer side of governance, coming into school, really getting to know and developing a deep understanding of their community to inform their duty.

Governors need to challenge themselves individually and corporately, rejecting mediocrity, in pursuit of being the best they can be.  Being passionate, supportive and hard working are highly commendable starting points but governors must accept that once they take up the role they occupy a position of public office and, in the case of Academy governors the potentially uncharted territory of Company Directors and Charitable Trustees with their additional responsibilities. Most governors are familiar with the seven principles of public life and I would recommend The Good Governance Standard for Public Services from 2004 which builds on them, as a source of reference in understanding and developing their role.

I have never been so frustrated as by the excuse from both governors and school leaders that I couldn't expect governors to know x or do y because they are "just volunteers". As long as this attitude perpetuates governance is in danger of stagnation and at risk of failing the schools and children it serves. Only by taking  an informed professional stance can governors achieve the respect of and parity with the school leadership they have a duty to challenge and support.

How can you hold the school leadership to account if you haven't yourself held the mirror to your own face and looked deeply?