8th JUNE 2019

As always, attending the NGA conference to represent North Lincolnshire governors provided a wealth of information and food for thought. Despite starting the day with a 4.15 am alarm call and not arriving home until 8.45pm, I felt that the time had been well spent. In addition to listening to high profile speakers, there was ample opportunity to discuss current challenges and pick up ideas and tips through interaction with colleagues from across the country who represented many different roles connected to governance.

The keynote speaker was Amanda Spielman, HM Chief Inspector, Ofsted. She spoke for about 20 minutes about the new framework to be introduced in September and highlighted information in the associated new handbook.

Amanda began by stating that substance and integrity would be at the centre of inspection and inspectors would want to see people putting most time into the things that make the most difference without ‘getting bogged down in the weeds’. She stressed that this would be by evolution and not revolution.  The reasons for the change were summarised and Amanda talked about growing concern that there was too much focus on data rather than the overall quality and breadth of the whole educational experience – what was being taught and how it was thought through. She expressed the view that if pupils were experiencing a broad and rich curriculum the results would reflect this. It was explained that inspectors will question any fancy spreadsheets. They are likely to ask: ‘Were they worth the time?’ ‘Do they show something that could not be gained from talking to the teacher?’ What else could this time have been used for?’ This did lead to concerns being raised from conference delegates during the short question time after the presentation. These mainly focused on how governors can effectively monitor and hold to account if they do not have evidence that can be triangulated. In my view the response did nothing to reassure and was not clear.

More detail was given about what would be considered in reaching the 4 key judgements. Amanda stated that leadership and management would be very much as now but with more focus on how leaders and governors/trustees work with staff to empower them to develop the curriculum and to support them through high quality Continual Professional Development (CPD).

The evolving landscape of governance, which is no longer clearly defined, was recognised. It is being developed differently in different organisational structures, but Amanda did stress the priority, in Multi Academy Trusts in particular, is to be absolutely clear about where roles and responsibilities sit. The role that NGA has played in helping to train inspectors in governance was acknowledged. The inspectors will speak to whoever has delegated responsibilities and will be guided by the organisation on this. It will be vital that terms of reference for committees in maintained schools and schemes of delegation in academies are clear, are understood by everyone and are reflected in practice.

Inspectors will look at how governors/trustees are working and what impact they are having on outcomes for pupils. They will be looking for clarity of vision and strategic direction which should be reflected in the curriculum. This led to consideration of what makes a ‘good’ curriculum and Amanda spoke of ‘coherence and good sequencing’ so that pupils acquire the knowledge they need to move on to the next stage of their lives. Precisely what this knowledge will be is for the school/academy to decide in consultation with their stakeholders and will be explained within their vision. Inspectors will particularly also look at how the curriculum meets the needs of pupils with SEND and those who are disadvantaged. Amanda stated that there would be an expectation that the curriculum in each organisation would be constantly reviewed and adapted.

In respect of safeguarding, Amanda stated ‘Governors are responsible for making sure the culture of safeguarding is right and they do not need to go in and do regular checks on things like the school central record’. This again raised questions amongst delegates.

As already mentioned, the time for questions was brief as Ms Spielman had to dash away urgently and indeed the programme for the day had been adjusted to accommodate this, but several of the points raised during the presentation were questioned by delegates. As the day progressed, I realised that I was not the only one who had not been reassured by what, in my view, can only be described as ‘waffly’ responses to the questions. I guess that we will only find out the answers during the autumn term when we begin to see if the theory converts to Ofsted practice. As I said at the start of this report, lots of food for thought.

Every delegate had the opportunity to select 2 workshops (from a choice of 9). Each one was long enough to accommodate a welcome combination of information sharing, group discussion and debate. Certainly, the two I chose were lively and extremely interesting. One focussed again on the governing boards role in the curriculum which gave us the chance to unpick some of the issues raised in the keynote address. There was a lot of reflection and sharing of views. Those attending the session agreed that the curriculum must ‘make learning irresistible’. It was acknowledged that there will be no universal consensus on the curriculum and it will be different in every establishment as it will be adapted to the needs of that particular community. Governing boards will need to think about what drives curriculum development and the rationale behind it in their own school/academy/trust. In making this exciting, it must reflect the ideas of the staff and pupils as well as meeting the needs of the community (families/businesses, etc.) and then use the individual skills, interests and experience of staff, embracing the enthusiasm and energy of young teachers and ensuring they are enabled and fully supported to have maximum impact on outcomes for pupils. It was agreed that governors/trustees should ‘create the atmosphere and conditions to let staff and children develop the curriculum’. We need to be seen to actively inspire and encourage our staff.

The role of the board in curriculum design is to be reassured that it is clearly linked to achieving the long-term vision they have agreed for the organisation, regularly monitoring its intent, implementation and impact. Is it comprehensive, inclusive wide-ranging, fair and unbiased? Does it embrace opportunity and meet the needs of all? NGA recommend that the vision should make explicit reference to the curriculum intent and expected impact on the educational experience pupils will receive. NGA helpfully provided delegates with a list of suggested questions that governors/trustees might want to ask in relation to the curriculum. Other helpful questions to ask yourself are also included on the powerpoint from the session which can be accessed via the link at the end of this report.

NGA is also acutely aware of concerns amongst governors and leaders nationally about funding concerns and their impact, including the imitations that these put on what they would like to do/could do to develop the curriculum in an ideal world. Amanda Spielman also recognised this and said Ofsted understands that lack of funds can lead to very difficult decisions on giving access to experiences that enhance the curriculum. The attached one-page NGA document ‘Funding the Future’ lists the 9 key asks to government and asks boards to support the work of NGA in campaigning for better funding by providing evidence of how finance has impacted on decisions boards have had to make.

The second workshop I joined was one run by Luke Weatherill who is now Policy Adviser within the Governance Unit at the DfE. This was the only workshop that ran in both the morning and afternoon and appeared to be attended by the majority of delegates. It was on the agenda as ‘A conversation with the DfE’ and consisted of an input of information from Luke leading to a question put for table discussion followed by feedback and comment. Luke definitely gave the impression that he wanted to hear what those putting the theory into practice had to say, constantly circulating amongst the tables inviting and encouraging honest comment. He certainly acknowledged many of the views expressed during feedback (giving the impression that many came as no surprise to him) and he welcomed some of the suggestions for improvements in communication and support to those in governance roles. Delegates were also invited to write messages and hand them to him to take back for further consideration.

In her presentation, Emma Knights, NGA Chief Executive, explained that despite the huge changes in governance over recent years, the 8 key elements of good governance initially identified 8 years ago, are as relevant now as they were then. She expanded on the first element which relates to ‘having the right people round the table’ and highlighted that the helpful NGA guide on this has now been updated. There is recognition of the need to focus not only on skills and experience, but also on diversity amongst board members. She also referred to another new NGA publication ‘Preparing your board for the future’.

Emma also highlighted the publication of the NGA document ‘Moving MATs forward: the power of governance’. This is a very long document and the summary version is extremely useful. This is the link to both reports:

The final session of the day was a very upbeat, lively input from Professor Dame Alison Peacock who is CEO of The Chartered College of Teaching, a new initiative aimed at raising the status of the teaching profession by offering the opportunity for teachers to achieve chartered status. The college wants to establish networks and encourage professional collaborating through collegiality where there is clear recognition of the common belief and values that bind the teaching profession together, acknowledging the need for lifelong learning whatever stage a person is at within their career.

Alison is a very successful, well respected long serving headteacher and her enthusiasm for this project was infectious. She was clearly passionate about the potential benefits of such a system which would try to bridge the gap between theory and practice. Teachers can join for £3.75 a month giving them access to all the research and supporting them to achieve chartered status. She asked governors/trustees to look for ways of supporting their staff in this and, in answer to a question from delegates about links with Teaching Schools, she explained how the college is working with the Alliance to use chartered status to ensure that organisations have the very highest quality teachers. The organisation is also hoping to introduce chartered leadership status in the next year which it is anticipated will sit alongside the National Professional Qualification for Headship (NPQH).

Sensibly, The Chartered College of Teaching is targeting those now entering the profession and the UCAS registration process for those training to teach will now incorporate a button to press for free membership. The student will immediately be sent Chartered College information that will emphasise the professionalism of the career they are embarking upon. 

Alison ended by suggesting that helping staff to join the College would be an excellent way of governors/trustees demonstrating their commitment to staff and confirming how much they value their contribution and potential to the organisation as a whole. 

As always after attending NGA events, I was left with a lot of food for thought and I continue to reflect on all I heard as I work with governors and leaders as they work diligently to try and maximise the effectiveness of their governance arrangements and the impact they have on improving outcomes for young people. I hope that this report helps others to also reflect and initiate research and discussions in their own establishments.


The full transcripts from each input at the event can be accessed through the following links:

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