Appointing a new headteacher without haste

Commentary

Appointing a new headteacher is probably the most important task the governing body has to undertake.  Although such appointments are fairly infrequent, governing bodies need to give the process careful consideration.

Once the current headteacher has stated their intention to leave the school and a letter of resignation has been received, the governing body will need to meet to discuss the next steps.  The process for the appointment of headteacher takes time, and the governing body must look at the needs of the school moving forward.  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.  It is wise to review the Individual School Range (ISR) for the headteacher, taking into consideration, the size and circumstances of the school.  Information on this can be found in The School Teachers Pay and Conditions Document 2021 – https://gov.wales/school-teachers-pay-and-conditions-wales-document-2021

Throughout the appointment process, the governing body will receive advice from the Local Authority / Regional Consortium as happened in this case.  Governors have to take account of the advice offered, and it is advisable that there is a consensus over the suitability of an appointment, both within the governing body and between the governing body and the Local Authority, although ultimately, the decision rests with the full governing body. 

Whilst it is important for the governing body to appoint the right candidate, so there is a substantive headteacher in place, there may be no rush to get someone in post by the following term, due to several reasons e.g., a review of the staffing structure which is currently underway, consideration of school organisation proposals, specific advice from the Local Authority / Diocesan Authority.  There may be a suitable person that can be appointed as acting headteacher in the interim, (this could be someone within the school, or external).  In this case, the governing body appointed the current deputy headteacher to act up. This is a good way for that person to gain experience in a headteacher’s role for their future development.  Acting headteachers do not need to have the National Professional Qualification for Headship (NPQH) but it is a requirement for substantive headteachers.  Further information on this can be found here –

https://hwb.gov.wales/professional-development/leadership/national-professional-qualification-for-headship

Governors Cymru Services has a comprehensive guide on the process for appointing a headteacher (and deputy headteacher) – http://governors.cymru/publications/2018/08/29/governor-guide-appointment-headteachers/

Resolving complaints made by parents against teachers

Commentary

Schools should deal with complaints swiftly and sensitively.  Complainants need to know that their concerns are being taken seriously and that they are being listened to, which was the case here.  Usually, the Chair and members of the governing body get involved in school-based complaints when there are concerns raised about the headteacher, or the complainant was not satisfied at the earlier stages in the complaints procedure. (There are 3 stages, with Stage 3 being heard by a committee of governors).

What isn’t clear in this situation, is at what stage the complaint was at, for the Chair and another governor to deal with the issue.  

Whilst the complainant was happy with the outcome of their concern, which was relayed during a meeting. There should always be a response provided in writing to conclude the process, as a letter of complaint was initially received. 

Further Information about school complaints can be found in this useful guidance

https://gov.wales/school-complaints-procedures-guidance

How to address tensions between governors and members of staff

Commentary

The issue here is whether the teacher was complaining about a parent, who was also a governor at the school, or complaining about the person in their role as a governor, who was also a parent at the school.  These are two very distinct situations and would be dealt with differently.

If it was the former, the school’s complaints procedure should not be applied, as staff are unable to complain about the actions of parents. There would have been no need for the Chair to get involved in the matter.

If it was the latter, then the Chair (or another governor) investigates the complaint against the governor using the school’s complaints procedure.

If staff have concerns about the behaviour of parents, they should in the first instance, go to their line manager or headteacher to discuss.  It may well be that the line manager or head can act as mediator between the parent and the member of staff to resolve any issues.  If the relationship is still difficult between the parent and the teacher, then any future concerns the parent may have, could be directed to the school’s complaints officer or headteacher to resolve.

A parent can however, complain about the conduct of a teacher, and this will usually be investigated by a relevant member of staff, or the headteacher.

Even if the process used in this case may not have been the right process, and whilst the Chair indicates that the situation is not fully resolved, it would appear that the issue had been dealt successfully, with the Chair dealing with it fully and sensitively with both parties.  Above all, it is so important to deal with any concerns or complaint as soon as possible to avoid any further escalation and stress for all parties concerned.

Further Information about school complaints can be found in this useful guidance:

https://gov.wales/school-complaints-procedures-guidance

Dealing with a grievance against the headteacher

Commentary

All schools must have a Grievance policy to deal with issues that staff may have with their working life at the school.  There is usually a 3-stage process, with an informal stage taking place first.

It was shame that the issue couldn’t be resolved informally in the first instance, but unfortunately this sometimes happens. 

It would appear that the investigator was given a strict brief of what to investigate – this is an important step in the process to make sure the investigator is aware of their remit for the investigation and to ensure that he/she does not go outside of this.

ACAS has produced information on dealing with grievances at work (https://www.acas.org.uk/grievance-procedure-step-by-step) but ultimately, the school would have to follow the policy that has been agreed and adopted by the governing body.

It is assumed that the issue is now at Stage 2 in the procedure.  The investigator would produce a report based on the evidence collected from both the member of staff and the headteacher, as well as any witnesses.  A decision would then be made as to whether the grievance is upheld or not. 

From possible school closure to forming a school federation

Commentary

There are a number of federations in Wales, and these are increasing.  Most schools enter into a federation for sustainability, securing effective leadership and enhanced school improvement, and the ability to share resources across the federation (between two to six schools).  Being part of a federation certainly helps schools where they may have potentially closed, for example, due to pupil numbers, or not being able to appoint a headteacher, as schools in the federation can share one headteacher.  However, this would not be the only reason to federate.  With more focus on school-to-school collaboration, and the self-improving school focus, federating the governing body may seem like a good next step.

There is Welsh Government guidance on the process to becoming a federation. Proposals can be led by the governing bodies of the schools involved, or by the Local Authority who maintains the schools. Schools in the federation retain their individual legal identities, and their individual school budget, but share governance arrangements, i.e. there is one governing body.

https://gov.wales/federation-process-maintained-schools-guidance-governing-bodies-and-local-authorities

There is some flexibility in the number of governors that you can have on a federated governing body, which means that you can appoint people with certain skills and expertise.

Estyn has produced a thematic report on effective federations which may be of use if your governing body is considering this option.https://www.estyn.gov.wales/thematic-reports/federated-schools-common-features-effective-federation

Addressing the rise of complaints and unreasonable behaviour from pupils and parents

Commentary

It’s always a good idea to have access to legal advice in case there are more serious issues to deal with at school, and most Local Authorities offer this under a Service Level Agreement. 

All schools must have a behaviour policy which details how to manage pupil behaviour, noting who has the responsibility to enforce sanctions etc.  This should be regularly reviewed by the governing body to make sure it is right for the school and fit for purpose.

Whilst employing more staff would be a solution in this case, this may not be feasible due to financial constraints.

Has the school arranged for sessions on INSET days that focus on managing pupil behaviour? This would be the ideal opportunity to ensure all staff are aware of and understand the school’s policy, and know how to apply it confidently and appropriately.

Where parents have concerns with the school, they should be encouraged to raise them to ensure they are dealt with in the correct manner. All schools must have a complaints procedure in place, which is publicised, maybe on the school’s website, and referred to in the governors Annual Report to Parents.  Welsh Government has produced a model policy that governing bodies can use, adapt and / or adopt, within their guidance on dealing with school-based complaints:

https://gov.wales/school-complaints-procedures-guidance

If this is a large school, it might be worth the school thinking about designating members of staff as the complaints officers.

Most complaints or concerns can be dealt with informally (Stage A). However, where they can’t be resolved at this early stage, the procedure is in place, to make sure that there is a consistent approach to dealing with complaints.  As long as complainants feel that their concern has been taken seriously and dealt with sensitively and as swiftly as possible, there should be no appeal to the more formal stages of the procedure (Stage B and C).

The school should not have to deal with parents who are aggressive.  It is a good idea, therefore, for the governing body to have a policy that deals with vexatious complaints and unreasonable behaviour.  As a last resort, schools can of course barr troublesome and aggressive parents from the school for a period of time. Paragraph 71, chapter 25 The School Governors Guide to the Law, provides useful information on this:

https://gov.wales/school-governors-guide-law Ultimately, schools need robust policies and procedures in place to address any issue that arises swiftly. Governors should also be provided with the number of complaints the school is receiving, usually via the headteacher’s report so it can monitor the situation carefully.

How to deal with parents disrespecting staff on social media?

Commentary

There many benefits of using social media but unfortunately there is a downside too. Schools should have a policy for using social media for staff, governors and parents, in conjunction with any information from the Local Authority.  South West Grid for Learning has as suite of resources for online safety, including  a model policy on social media – https://dysgu.hwb.gov.wales/playlists/view/dfdcd1d6-21b0-46ac-b6bb-fc83402ef3d7/en#page1

It is of course, totally inappropriate for parents to post any disrespectful comments about school staff on social media. This can be very upsetting for all concerned. The idea of sending out information about social media in a newsletter is a good one, but even better if something is sent before any incident occurs, perhaps at the beginning of each school year as a reminder, or even mentioning briefly at parent events can be a step in the right direction.

Schools will have distinct polices that parents should follow, if they have a concern or a complaint. Often concerns can be dealt with before they escalate. Parents however, need to know how they can raise any issue from the outset and need to understand the correct process to follow.  Highlighting this in newsletters may help.

If unfortunately, this doesn’t work, the school will need to address the situation and each case will be different, of course. It may be appropriate to invite the parent to discuss what has happened and to explain that if there is a specific concern, the parent will need to follow the schools’ complaint policy. Equally, written correspondence could be sent to the parent, outlining any possible cause of action. Above all, it is important to try to ensure that the situation does not escalate and is dealt with swiftly.

Governors Cymru Services has a helpful publication on governors and social media which includes some useful tips and also provides a link to a school policy:

http://www.governors.cymru/publications/2018/10/22/governors-and-social-media/

The onus is on all of us to ask the question, “Am I confident that any social media content I post if accessed by others, will be considered reasonable and appropriate?” Do think about it.

Adapted from the EWC good practice guide on using social media responsibly – http://www.ewc.wales/site/index.php/en/fitness-to-practise/good-practice-guides/134-social-media-do-you-use-it-responsibly

Excluding racist pupils

Commentary

Exclusion (fixed term and permanent) from school is a very serious matter and is not something that is done lightly. Several factors would have been considered before the Headteacher made this decision. Whilst the specific details are unknown, here are some useful publications to assist you:

Schools have an obligation to record any incidents, noting the action taken. Likewise, the governing body needs to monitor information carefully and make any relevant changes to school policies as appropriate.

The Equality Act 2010 protects learners from discrimination based on protected characteristics, one of which is race. The public sector equality duty of the 2010 Act places a general duty on the governing body to have due regard to the requirement to  eliminate discrimination, harassment and victimisation etc., and to advance equality of opportunity  between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it and to foster good relations between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it.

Relevant information can be found in sections 1.17.2 – 1.17.13 – https://gov.wales/exclusion-schools-and-pupil-referral-units-pru

School policies are therefore, so important to underpin the school’s values and to assist in developing an inclusive ethos, i.e., respecting one another. A whole school approach involving all staff, pupils, parents and governors, helps to embed exemplar practices and secures a common understanding of what is not acceptable.

Schools and governing bodies need to review their policies (for example, behaviour, anti-bullying, equality), practices and procedures to ensure that all school staff are aware of and understand the processes that are in place. 

Many Local Authorities will provide training for governors on pupil exclusion. Schools should also ensure that staff understand the processes and act consistently. Some school will use designated INSET time to reflect on pupil behaviour management strategies and to review and update procedures. This is an excellent way for all staff to share effective practices.

Your Local Authority will also have useful information to assist you.  Here are some links to additional information to support schools and governors:

The demands of the governor role

Commentary

Yes, the role of a governor is demanding and challenging but it is also rewarding too. However hard it can be at times, please never forget that! There is no doubt the mandatory governor training is a step in the right direction to inform governors about the role, but ongoing training is essential to keep up to date and develop knowledge and expertise for the core governor responsibilities.

Distributed leadership within a governing body is essential. Governing bodies cannot do everything so looking at the skill set of governors and deploying accordingly is often the best way forward.  Sharing workload and working to the strengths of governors is hugely beneficial – it promotes ownership and effective partnership working. So, if you haven’t already completed a governing body skills audit, why not have a look at:

http://www.governors.cymru/publications/2018/08/29/governor-skills-audit/

Some thoughts to reflect on:

– Has the governing body reviewed its committee structure – is this effective, how can it be improve?

– Does your governing body have link governors – how effective are they, should the governing body look to do things differently? – Has your governing body set up working groups to complete an area of work?

– Does your governing body bring in non-governors with particular expertise to assist the governing body?

The governing body self-review exercise is an excellent way of looking at the work of the governing body to see they have everything in place. http://governors.cymru/selfevaluation/

The self-evaluation template may seem overwhelming at first glance but you can approach it in small steps initially, to just get an overview of where you are as a governing body. We all want to improve what we do, so allowing some time for reflection is a great way to start and can be therapeutic!

The role of the Chair is not an easy one. Governors Cymru  Services has a guide to assist Chairs with their work:   http://www.governors.cymru/publications/2018/08/29/governor-guide-role-chair/

If you are a new chair, it may be useful to have a mentor chair or join up from time to time, with Chairs of governors in your school cluster group or Governor Improvement Group. 

There are distinct areas of work that the governing body needs to complete on a yearly basis. Does your governing body have a schedule of work that can be adapted to your own school’s need?

You might want to look at Part 2 of the governor handbook that provides information on delegation of responsibilities and a schedule of work planner. Governors Cymru Services has some lovely examples of how governing bodies work which might be of assistance.   http://www.governors.cymru/handbook/ and see http://www.governors.cymru/goodpractice/

Estyn also has examples of effective governor practice:

https://www.estyn.gov.wales/effective-practice/supporting-governors-fulfil-their-role-more-effectively

Becoming a federated governing body

Commentary

The number of federated governing bodies is increasing in Wales so it is helpful to look at the specific requirements and how a ‘federation’ comes about in practice.

Welsh Government guidance provides useful advice and information on the process to follow to set up a federated governing body, as well as practical aspects to consider. Here’s the link:

https://gov.wales/federation-process-maintained-schools-guidance-governing-bodies-and-local-authorities

In essence, the federation of schools enables them to work together in a structured way by sharing a governing body. Up to six schools can federate in total. Federation increases partnership working and shared collaboration and can help to improve overall school and pupil performance. Like everything, for a federation to be truly successful, there has to be willingness and commitment from all parties for it to succeed.

From the initial proposal to the actual federation establishment, it is inevitable that this will take time, more so, if a greater number of schools are involved.

The case study particularly focuses on policy review and how the policies committee took on board this area of work. 

Yes, bringing together policies from several schools could be quite a task. It is possible though, that several of the Human Resource policies would have been the same in each of the schools, especially if the Local Authority produced certain policies for school governing bodies to adopt.  

Governors Cymru Services has a definitive list of statutory policies that governing bodies should have in place.

http://governors.cymru/publications/2018/08/29/policy-documents/

Moving on, a checklist for policy review enables a planned and staggered approach with defined timescales, so as not to be too overwhelming. The hard work of reviewing and agreeing all policies for the federation has now been undertaken.  It should be far easier moving forward.

Estyn has produced a thematic report on effective federations which may be of use if your governing body is considering federation.

https://www.estyn.gov.wales/thematic-reports/federated-schools-common-features-effective-federation

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