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Governance during the pandemic

We find ourselves in unprecedented times, a situation where we are given Government instruction to close our schools. As Governors, we find ourselves in a situation that is totally alien to us, one where statutory tests are being cancelled and so we are left wondering what our role is. We can’t attend meetings, so how can we still be effective?

The Government have offered advice to Governing Boards, but the most important task that we can do as Governors is look after the mental health and wellbeing of all of our staff. Our legal duties as employers have not changed, even though we are governing remotely. Our fantastic staff and especially our brilliant Headteachers are still working tirelessly to ensure our children gain the best possible educational experience. Children of key workers are still coming into school and teachers are working, putting themselves at risk of infection.

Staff working from home are still planning resources to send to children. They are having to adopt to new technologies and a new way or working. Will this become the new norm? Who knows, but as Governors we need to embrace change, and this may give us the opportunity to look at existing practices.

The three Core Functions of Governance still apply to us  even though we cannot physically be in school. We still need to be speaking with Governors and our Headteacher about the strategic direction and how we are going to come out the other side of the crisis stronger.

Statutory testing will be cancelled which means that our children cannot demonstrate their learning, but that does not mean that we cannot look at in-year assessments.

The budget is still the budget, and with schools closed it is still important that we look carefully at how this will affect our budget outturn.

So how can we do this, when we can’t go into Schools? The Government has stated that all non-essential contact must be avoided, and that means that face to face meetings must cease. But meetings can still be held remotely using online technologies such as Skype, Microsoft Teams or Zoom. Will this become the new norm? Who knows, but it may make us question whether we need to all meet on a face to face basis to be effective.

If we are meeting on a virtual basis, then Governors do need to be pragmatic on what subjects are covered. It is also imperative that all meeting papers are sent out electronically to Governors in plenty of time prior to the meeting and this includes the Headteacher’s Report to Governors. The focus of the meeting must be on urgent, time-bound decisions and non-urgent items can be deferred to future meetings. This will mean meetings are generally shorter and it may enable us to question the length of existing meetings and what subjects are actually important.

Governors need to prioritise giving support to our school leaders during times of a pandemic. Governors must allow them to get on with the operational matters of running the school but allowing them to know that Governors are still there in a supportive manner. It is important that Governors receive information as to the welfare of school staff and children, so Governors can still retain a strategic overview. We are still the employers and so have a responsibility for the welfare of our staff. We need to know about the health of staff in a pandemic situation so we understand how our children will still receive an education.

As Governors, we need to have plans in place if the Chair and / or Vice Chair becomes ill. Do we know who would run the Governing Board in that situation? There needs to be clarity about who would receive key information.

The DfE has published a Covid-19 Governance Update which gives the latest departmental and government advice on the spread of the COVID-19 virus, and how this relates to the role of those on governing and trust boards and clerks/governance professionals.

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