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Research background

Research was carried out by WISERD with the aim of understanding how school governors in Wales could be supported in their work. Data collection involved in-depth interviews with governors connected to Cardiff University and a survey of governors, administered nationally. Findings from these data led us to develop governor generated case studies. The aims of these case studies are to: prompt reflection about the kinds of issues governors may encounter in their role; provide insights on how governors have addressed issues; stimulate conversation and information sharing across governing bodies. There are three broad themes of case study: those providing examples of good practice; those that highlight the challenges of governance; and, those that reveal how governors can get things wrong or run into problems. It is important that users recognise the different uses the cases can have and appreciate that these are governor created reflections not definitive answers or complete stories. Broadly speaking, we see that cases that address challenges might be useful for new governors to consider as a way of broadening their perspectives on the role; examples of good practice can be shared more widely and offer suggestions on ways governors have tackled issues; cases that present difficulties and problems governors have encountered would be best used in training situations where additional information and material can be provided. Please note the aim of a case study before using it: Reflection; Insight; Debate.

AimThemeUse
ReflectionChallengesNew governors, induction
InsightsGood practiceGovernors addressing specific issues
DebateProblemsTraining situations

The case studies have been organised thematically and can be searched by key words and topic tags. We have hosted these in a blog format to allow colleagues to write responses and to allow the collection to grow and develop. We appreciate that the collection is limited in many ways, both in terms of the numbers of case studies from secondary, all-through and special schools, and in relation to the topics covered. However, we have taken the decision to proceed with publishing in the hope that this will stimulate other governors to contribute their experiences and insights, as well as test the value of such a resource. Accompanying each case is a helpful commentary, many with additional resource links, and we recommend governors reviewing these alongside reading the personal reflections of their colleagues.

There is also a link to a form that governors can use to contribute new case studies: Governor Reflections Proforma.

Acknowledgements

We would like to express us deep thanks to all the governors that participated in the research, both those who volunteered to be interviewed and the hundreds of governors throughout Wales who completed the survey. Special thanks also must be given to the governors who kindly provided case studies, many of which are used here.

A number of other individuals provided valuable support and information, including colleagues in Estyn, Local Authorities and Consortia. We are particularly indebted to the help and advice of Governor Cymru Services, who gave generously of their time to review the case studies and provide helpful guidance notes with useful resource links. 

How to cover budget shortfalls

Commentary

One of the main roles for the governing body is setting financial priorities for the school and monitoring expenditure against the school’s budget.  Whilst funding is allocated on a year-by-year basis (depending on pupil numbers in the main), it is best practice for the governing body and staff at the school to plan the school improvement activities over a three-year period.  This will need to be reviewed once the budget has been agreed in May each year.  Chapter 8 of The School Governors Guide to the Law provides a useful overview of managing the school’s budget:

https://gov.wales/school-governors-guide-law

Governors Cymru Services also has a guide on school finance which may be helpful.  It includes information about the role of the finance committee, linking the budget with the School Development Plan, as well as questions that governors could ask when discussing and evaluating the school’s finances, plus additional reference material:

http://www.governors.cymru/publications/2018/08/29/governor-guide-governors-and-finance/

Applying for grants, receiving sponsorship and the role of the PTA in raising funds for specific purposes is clearly going to help and is very commendable. However, the level of funding raised would undoubtedly change from year to year so whilst incredibly useful, is not always sustainable. 

Many schools work in clusters to share ideas and work collaboratively on specific areas. Cluster schools may even share staff, for example, a Business Manager.  Has your governing body thought about anything like this?

When faced with a reduced budget, the governing body must look at areas in which they can save finances, hopefully without having to start the statutory redundancy process.   However, many schools, sadly, have to face staff redundancy situations and will have a policy to follow for this. It is important though, to consider all other options before going down this route. Your Local Authority will also be able to advise on the processes to follow.  There a wealth of useful information available.  Here are a few examples:  https://neu.org.uk/advice/redundancy

This will always be a difficult time for everyone involved so has to be handled sensitively.  The headteacher should keep staff up to date on what is happening throughout the process.

ACAS  has produced guidance on redundancy procedures and fair procedures: (https://www.acas.org.uk/redundancy) but the governing body must follow the steps within their own policy at the school.

Please seek advice from the Local Authority or Diocesan Authority as appropriate, right from the beginning or contact Governors Cymru Services on support@governors.cymru

Appointing a new headteacher key to addressing other school issues

Commentary

Appointing a new headteacher is probably the most important task the governing body has to undertake.  The skills of the headteacher are particularly important in securing the success and improvement of the school. The best headteachers are the driving force in taking a school forward and ensuring a strong commitment to high standards in all aspects of the work of the school.  Bearing this in mind, the governing body will want to attract the right candidates to interview.  After a succession of acting headteachers, the governing body was able to make an excellent appointment to move the school forward.  Governors Cymru Services also has a guide on the appointment of headteachers and deputy headteachers and includes information on the advert, the job specification and the application pack:

http://governors.cymru/publications/2018/08/29/governor-guide-appointment-headteachers/

This case study highlights several key factors:

Was the governing body aware that there was an issue with over-staffing and therefore an overspend?  With a deficit budget, it is crucial that governing bodies look at the staffing structure to determine whether there is a need to start redundancy procedures, or consider reduced hour contracts to try and reduce financial outgoings.  Whilst it would have been preferable to reduce hours rather than lose staff completely, sometimes difficult decisions have to be made, i.e. voluntary / statutory redundancies. 

It is unclear how long the over-staffing at the school had been an issue.  Did the governing body have a finance committee in place that scrutinised the spending at the school? This is an effective way of reviewing and monitoring the school’s finances. Governors Cymru Services has model terms of reference for this committee – http://governors.cymru/finance/ 

Local Authorities offer a Service Level Agreement for Human Resource issues.  If the governing body has concerns regarding the service that it receives under this agreement, then they should be raised using the relevant procedure with the Local Authority. 

Addressing concerns caused by recurrent teacher absences

Commentary

School Human Resource issues can be very complex, so it is important that governing bodies review their policies and are familiar with the correct processes to follow. Your Local Authority may also provide a range of training for you to attend, particularly if you are a member of any of the relevant statutory committees, in addition to the provision of specific guidance to assist you.

Your governing body will have the following policies in place, which are usually produced by the Local Authority.

School Staff sickness absence policy

School Workforce attendance – https://gov.wales/school-workforce-attendance-guidance

Staff capability policy – https://gov.wales/capability-school-teaching-staff-guidance

Staff disciplinary policy – https://gov.wales/disciplinary-and-dismissal-procedures-school-staff

The school will have a Managing Sickness Absence policy as well, and this must be followed when staff are off sick. If there are prolonged periods of absence, then the capability procedure could be invoked, in certain circumstances. This happened in this school.

It is so important to ensure that the relevant policy at school is followed, as any errors could call the whole procedure into question.

The process for staff undergoing a capability process does take some time, as the staff member must be offered the opportunity to improve and support must be provided. There is usually a 3-step approach which includes an informal stage with a support programme put in place, to a more formal stage when warnings may be issued, to the final stage of dismissal. 

The governing body were lucky to have members with experience in Human Resources, however, getting advice from the Local Authority is crucial in cases such as this.

Please seek advice from the Local Authority or Diocesan Authority as appropriate, right from the beginning or contact Governors Cymru Services on support@governors.cymru

Appointing a less than satisfactory subject specialist teacher

Commentary

The school was in a difficult position, having gone through the appointment process a number of times.  The appointment panel would usually appoint the best candidate for the role, and appointing someone that doesn’t quite meet the standard that was needed was a gamble, but has paid off at this school.   Never feel pressurised into making an appointment though, it has to be right and it is certainly worth considering other options available in discussion with the Local Authority, Regional Consortium and Diocesan Authority, such as sharing a teacher with other schools, secondment opportunities etc..

Ensuring that there is support in place is important for any new member of staff.  This could be a light touch induction or a more comprehensive package based on levels of experience etc.

Sometimes teachers perform better in front of a class than they do during the appointment process so appointment panels should have an open mind.  Was lesson observation part of the interview process? 

Please seek advice from the Local Authority or Diocesan Authority as appropriate, right from the beginning or contact Governors Cymru Services on support@governors.cymru

Establishing correct health and safety policies

Commentary

The school and governing body are absolutely right to check and review its emergency evacuation plans. This is of utmost importance for the safety of all at the school.

Community school buildings and land are owned by the local authority (LA).  The land at foundation schools is owned by the governing body or trustees.  In Voluntary Aided schools, the school buildings and land are usually owned by trustees, although the Local Authority may own the playing field land.   Chapter 25 of School Governors Guide to the Law has a useful chapter on Health and Safety that identifies where the responsibilities lie for the different categories of schools – https://gov.wales/school-governors-guide-law

It is assumed in this case that the school in question is a community school.

The school will have a health and safety policy and it is noted that they have also sought advice from several key agencies.  Undoubtedly, risk assessments would have been carried out and it is envisaged that the Local Authority would have played a key role in assisting the school in determining the correct way forward.

Many governing bodies appoint a link governor for health and safety, as well as forming a committee for premises, health and safety.  Governors Cymru Services has information on these:

Link governor role – http://governors.cymru/hsgovernor/

Premises, Health and Safety committee – http://governors.cymru/premises-health-and-safety/

Bearing in mind the complexity of Health and safety, it is essential that the school and governing body seeks advice from the experts, so please contact the relevant officers at the Local Authority who will be able to provide advice in the first instance. Has the governing body signed up to a Service Level Agreement for repairs and maintenance with the Local Authority?  How often are health and safety inspections carried out? Is there a designated health and safety officer for the school?

The Health and Safety Executive has lots of useful information too.

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/health-and-safety-advice-for-schools/responsibilities-and-duties-for-schools

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/fire-safety-in-new-and-existing-school-buildings/fire-safety-in-new-and-existing-school-buildings

The case studies indicate that there are still some ambiguities arising from discussion. It is essential, therefore, that a clear path of action is agreed with the key stakeholders as soon as possible. Keeping a paper trail as an evidence base is also very important.

Reviewing and changing the evidence needed in a headteacher performance review

Commentary

Every school will have performance management policy that sets out the parameters for the performance management process of school teaching staff and the headteacher.

Performance management provides the school teaching staff with the opportunity to reflect on and assess their practice against the professional standards during the year https://hwb.gov.wales/professional-development/professional-standards

 Objectives will be set which will contribute to the school development priorities and strategic planning. The governing body should ensure the timing of performance management is linked to the school’s planning year where feasible. It should not be an onerous process. Building this into the school’s schedule of work enables panel members to know well in advance when the process will take place. Above all, it is a supportive process.  Further guidance information on how to conduct the headteacher’s performance management is available here:

https://hwb.gov.wales/professional-development/performance-management

Performance management is a continuous process which includes planning, monitoring and reviewing. The panel is made up of at least 2 governors and up to 2 Local Authority representatives, who will agree the objectives, along with the headteacher. The overall discussion, however, will be informed by the progress of the school, prior attainment and the contribution the headteacher makes and has made towards securing school improvement. In addition, discussion will focus on the development and support required, all of which needs to take into account the work life balance of the headteacher.

Once targets have been set, there should be agreement as to how monitoring the headteacher’s performance takes place throughout the year.  Monitoring procedures can include a variety of methods, including the head teacher’s practice review and development record; the school development plan; school performance information etc., as well as informal in-year discussions.

It is certainly good practice for relevant paperwork and data to be sent out well in advance of the meeting. This will allow for careful consideration of information and a clear focus on discussion and will help to streamline the meeting.

Governors Cymru Services has produced terms of reference for the appraisal meeting:

http://www.governors.cymru/head-pm/

What happens when external organisations fall out on school premises

Commentary

This is an interesting situation. It would be useful to know more about the background and circumstances of how the initial arrangements were established. It is assumed that the school is a community school but the legal set up and contractual arrangements for both organisations are not clear. Are they separate entities from the school and are both operations hiring the school premises?  If so, does the school have a ‘use of premises policy?’

That said, it is a pity when organisations fall out. This can have a knock-on effect on the work people do, in this case providing out of school provision for children. Legal issues are obviously on-going and it is hoped that the situation will be resolved swiftly.

Governors must always complete a declaration of business interest each year, usually at the first governing body meeting in the Autumn term. Governors Cymru Services has information on this, as well as a template form – http://governors.cymru/publications/2019/08/01/register-business-and-other-interests/

The Local Authority may also have business forms that governors can use.

Any governor who may benefit from the outcome of the decision, must declare an interest in any specific agenda item and withdraw from the meeting, therefore, taking no part in the discussion or voting. 

It is good practice for the Chair of governors at the start of each meeting to check that there are no conflicts of interest relating to any of the agenda items.

If there is any doubt as to whether a governor should withdraw or not, the governing body will need to make the decision.

Detailed information regarding the restrictions on persons taking part in proceedings of governing body and committees can be found in Chapter 4 of The School Governors Guide to the Law https://gov.wales/school-governors-guide-law

It is always best to check out the position if, as a governor, you are unsure. Impartiality and objectivity need to prevail at all times.

http://www.governors.cymru/publications/2019/08/01/register-business-and-other-interests/

The case study also indicates that a complaint arose and an investigation took place. What is not clear is the nature of the complaint i.e., is the complaint about a governor with a perceived conflict? Further information on complaint processes can be found here https://gov.wales/school-complaints-procedures-guidance

Please refer to the section on special circumstances page 22 section 4.8 – complaint about a governor.

Information about the use of school premises is available in Chapter 26 of the School Governors Guide to the Law: https://gov.wales/school-governors-guide-law

Using the experiences and expertise of governors to address school issues

Commentary

It is good practice for a governing body to undertake a skills audit to identify the skills and knowledge that members of the governing body already have. It also enables the governing body to fill any gaps and align future training programmes to individual governor requirements.  Governors Cymru Services has a skills audit that can be completed by individual governors, as well as a template to collect the information to provide an overview of governor skills – http://governors.cymru/publications/2018/08/29/governor-skills-audit/

This case study focuses on supporting Additional Learning Needs (ALN) requirements within the school and how assistance can be best received to help the school staff. The school will have a policy to follow in conjunction with the SEN Code of Practice which currently exists at the time of writing. This information will be updated once all the new publications on ALN have been published.

Many governors will have specific responsibility for key areas of work. One way of doing this is via link governors joined to a curriculum area or year group. This helps to share the workload and assists governors in fulfilling their strategic role. Each school will appoint a governor to have specific oversight of the school’s arrangements and provision for meeting additional learning needs. It is important to have a clear brief for this role so everyone is clear about the expectations from the outset. Do have a look at any information from your Local Authority, along with Governors Cymru Services’ publication:

http://www.governors.cymru/sengovernor/

Having a governor with extensive expertise such as this would be invaluable to a school. It would be a good idea to set up a meeting with relevant staff and agencies as appropriate, to establish the parameters of how the governor’s expertise can be used effectively, as well as looking at how everyone can work together in the best interests of pupils. 

Discussing the questions and information that will be needed will be key to success, all in line with school policy and governor visits. The link governor can then submit a report to the governing body as an update.

http://www.governors.cymru/publications/2008/10/08/protocol-governor-visits/

Examples of useful questions (some are general) that can be asked are provided here:http://www.governors.cymru/media/files/documents/2020-01-03/Questions_to_ask_-_NLDB_Oct_2014.pdf

Please note that the roll out of the Additional Learning Needs and Education Tribunal (Wales) Act will now commence in September 2021. Further information can be found below regarding specific roles and responsibilities.

https://gov.wales/additional-learning-needs-special-educational-needs

https://gov.wales/the-additional-learning-needs-code-and-regulations

How to make sure policies are fit for purpose

Commentary

One of the main responsibilities of governing bodies is “setting policies for the school for achieving the aims and objectives”.  Source: The Terms of Reference (Wales) Regulation 2000.

Schools have numerous policies in place, many of which are statutory, which all need to be kept up to date and must be fit for purpose.   When governing bodies have a large number of agenda items to discuss at meetings, policies are sometimes “rubber-stamped” rather than scrutinised and discussed before agreement.

Setting up a committee for reviewing policies is a really good idea, as this leaves more time at full governing body meetings to discuss, monitor and evaluate school improvement priorities.

Local Authorities usually draft policies relating to staffing, which have already been consulted on with the local trade union representatives.

It is best practice to have a review checklist in place, where all the policies are reviewed over a period of time, for example three years.  That said, even with a rolling review period in place, policies can be reviewed earlier, if for instance an issue was brought up which highlighted a possible flaw in a policy. Some policies however, must reviewed on an annual basis. Governors Cymru Services has a list of statutory policies and documents that governing bodies need to have in place – http://governors.cymru/publications/2018/08/29/policy-documents/

Addressing health and safety issues relating to the school building

Commentary

Community school buildings and land are owned by the local authority (LA).  The land at foundation schools is owned by the governing body or trustees.  In Voluntary Aided (VA) schools, the school buildings and land are usually owned by trustees, although the Local Authority may own the playing field land.  It is assumed in this case that the school in question is a community school.  The funding for day to day repair and maintenance, however, is provided through the school’s delegated budget.  The School Governors Guide to the Law has a useful chapter on Health and Safety that identifies where the responsibilities lie for the different categories of schools.

https://gov.wales/school-governors-guide-law

The school will have a health and safety policy in place and it is noted that they have also sought advice from several key agencies.  Undoubtedly, risk assessments would have been carried out and it is envisaged that the Local Authority would have played a key role in assisting the school in determining the correct way forward.

Many governing bodies appoint a link governor for health and safety, as well as forming a committee for premises, health and safety.  Governors Cymru Services has information on these:

Link governor role – http://governors.cymru/hsgovernor/

Premises, Health and Safety committee – http://governors.cymru/premises-health-and-safety/

Bearing in mind the complexity of Health and safety, it is essential that the school and governing body seeks advice from the experts, so please contact the relevant officers at the Local Authority who will be able to provide advice in the first instance.   Has the governing body signed up to a Service Level Agreement for repairs and maintenance with the Local Authority?  It is paramount to get the issues fixed for the health and safety of pupils and staff on the school site.

Some questions to ask:

  • How often are health and safety inspections carried out?
  • Is there a designated health and safety officer for the school?

The Health and Safety Executive has lots of useful information too.

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/health-and-safety-advice-for-schools/responsibilities-and-duties-for-schools