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How Governors Can Lead From the Front in a Crisis

Decision making. Delegation. School management. The role of school governors is crucial within education, with governors driving and supporting each of these processes. Good governance helps to develop the frameworks by which support is given, which is especially crucial during the crises such as COVID-19 and unforeseen challenges. 

So how can governors lead and support during a crisis?

  • The Role of Governors
  • Key Responsibilities 
  • How Do Governors Remain Effective?
  • Reopening Schools

The Role of Governors 

Governors need to be aware of the strategic decisions made by an institution's senior management team. They need to make sure the appropriate risk assessments have taken place and are to a satisfactory standard.

They also need to guarantee adequate protective measures are in place. This needs to be a collaborative process between governors, teachers and senior school management. Governors can take recourse to the following guidelines to make sure these practices are being followed. 

  • Department of Education’s (DfE) guidance on protective measures.
  • National Governance Association (NGA) information on for governing boards.
  • Confederation of School Trusts (CST) advice on opening schools.

Governors can use this information to review the business-critical risks that happened to be specific to COVID-19. This type of information also applies to other crises and issues, as the coronavirus pandemic is just one of the many and varying challenges schools may face.

Key Responsibilities

During the COVID-19 pandemic, there were several practices governors needed to commit to. These included:

  1. Maintaining the credibility of a school: Governors must work to uphold the ethos of an institution during the pandemic. Schools need to remain the respected places of education by maintaining communication and support for families.
  2. Promoting accountability: If there are any issues with an institution's approach to either social distancing or overall COVID-19 response, the root cause must be determined to ensure proper action can be taken.
  3. Supporting the Head: The Head has the largest amount of responsibility. They're also the ones in the public eye and any issues will fall on them to resolve. Governors must support them in these trying times.
  4. Remaining collaborative, limit interference: A governor needs to know the balance between helping and interfering. There are many cases in a school where other professionals are more suited to taking action, so a governor needs to know when they can take a step back.

How Do Governors Remain Effective?

Governors play a key role in school leadership, especially during times of crisis. The decisions they make have to be scaled to the specific crisis conditions and the needs of the school. On top of that, they also have to be pragmatic.

A key aspect to remaining effective is by staying in close communication with senior management. Discussions concerning key operational management shouldn't be neglected. Both sides need to work together to form a complete strategic overlook of the institution.

In light of social distancing measures, this communication can be done through alternative arrangements (as face-to-face meetings aren’t wise at this point). Meetings can be held over videoconferencing applications or teleconferencing systems.

If you’re looking for more information on how you can host, the NGA has guidance you can explore. You can also read about the experiences of three governing boards here.

Reopening Schools

The UK government announced schools would reopen on 1st June. However, this was only for limited amounts of students, with some schools only opening for year one and year six pupils. Now, it’s aiming at a full re-opening in September. 

Before reopening, schools need to undertake risk assessments. If the risk assessment is not positive, it’s worth reevaluating a school’s setup and procedures before inviting pupils back.

With the new September reopening, governing boards will have to take part in the responsibility of communicating any decisions made with both staff and parents. They should take special care to include detailed reasons for any decision, such as the decision to reopen. 

Any decision within a crisis such as this should be made unanimously. If anyone has a single shred of doubt, the source of that doubt should be investigated and put right. Schools and governing boards need to advocate for their own plans but also produce accountability should any failings occur. Finally, it’s worth reiterating the welfare of the pupils needs to be at the heart of any decision made.

September Reopening 

At the beginning of June, the UK government began a phased reopening of primary schools. This was then scrapped. For weeks, teaching unions and school heads had been notifying the government that their plan to reopen for all pupils wouldn’t work because of the social distancing implementations that they also had to work with. 

Now, from September, attendance will be mandatory again for all at the beginning of the autumn term. In a statement, Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, said he wanted schools to return to a “broad and balanced curriculum”. 

During a reopening, it’s crucial that all school staff ensure that proper procedures are being followed. This means taking recourse to create and promote effective protective measures, such as:

  • Developing proper hand-washing policies.
  • Having regular and thorough cleaning.
  • Educate staff on the procedure for contacting NHS Test and Trace.

The reopening in June discovered that there was simply a lack of physical space in schools, not enough for them to have full attendance and also practice social distancing. The key hope in September is that the number of cases has reduced to a sufficient number to ease distancing measures further, so schools can open without feeling the pressure.

For further information on governance and reopening, education professionals can read the UK GOV’s Governance Handbook and the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies’ (SAGE) coronavirus response information

To find yourself in the best-prepared and most knowledgeable position for providing help and support to schools as they reopen, we’ve created a guide covering the effect of COVID-19 on education. If you’d like to explore information that helps you envision what the education system may be like after COVID-19, this guide will help you do that. 

The Impact of COVID-19 on Education

In the guide, you’ll find a valuable range of information that provides a foundation of understanding the impact of the pandemic on the UK’s education system. It includes a helpful timeline, allowing you to envision all education-related decisions made by the UK government as well as sections on social distancing and the future of education. 

To download your copy, click the button below.

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