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NFER JAN 2020
NFER JAN 2020

Online is good news for school governance

December 18, 2020, 9:20 GMT+1
Read in 5 minutes
  • The pandemic has the potential to open up a huge pool of clerking and governor talent for schools, says Jeremy Kaye
Online is good news for school governance

Before the pandemic governing body clerks had to be within reasonable travelling distance of the schools they worked with and governors had to be local.

If a clerk was unable to make a meeting there would be a search to find another one and if that wasn’t possible then there would have to be a complicated reorganisation of diaries.

Now, with the benefits of videoconferencing technology there is the potential for a highly professional stand-in clerk to always be available because geography no longer matters. It’s perfectly feasible for a clerk from Preston to work with a school in Penzance.

This transformation is already happening with the clerks and governing bodies that we work with. I believe these changes aren’t just for the pandemic and its aftermath and that they represent a huge, long-term change in the way governing bodies operate as a whole.

Construction

For too long schools and academies have struggled to find governors with the wide mix of professional skills they need: skills in areas such as law, health and safety and building and construction. This has been a particular problem for schools in rural or disadvantaged areas.

With a virtual approach governors can attend from their home office or workplace with no need for special arrangements. It also makes it easier to bring in former residents or pupils who have the right professional skills, even though they may live in an entirely different part of the country.

The virtual approach has big implications for the quality of challenge that school leaders can expect from their governing bodies. The wrong mix of governors could make the governing body too operational, with the risk that governors don’t spend enough time focusing on the bigger picture.

The ideal governing body should be a critical friend to the chair of governors, headteacher and SLT, able to challenge them in a way that will help the school to be the very best it can. With online opening up a huge pool of potential governors this is an attainable ideal for virtually every school.

We are seeing a fundamental shift in the operations of governing bodies. Governor recruitment usually happens in September, but with schools still navigating their way through uncertain waters it is likely that current governors will want to stay in place supporting their schools for the time being.

Efficient

There are other benefits to the virtual approach. A traditional physical meeting might stretch to two or three hours, but a meeting of a similar length online just isn’t endurable for most people. The agenda needs to be tight and well managed and a lot of governors I speak to find these meetings to be more efficient and effective as a result.

Another advantage of the online approach is that online platforms can make online governance more effective and better organised than the traditional approach, providing governing bodies a central point to store the paperwork and communicate with each other.

The traditional physical meeting will still play a part. Many schools and trusts will wish to maintain some kind of physical meeting in the future, albeit on a reduced level. A MAT of four or five schools may require more than 20 governor meetings a year. This could be a mixture of physical governing body meetings and virtual committee meetings.

Interact

The schools we work with support us in not returning to physical meetings before the end of the year at least but in the longer term most want a mix of virtual and physical meetings with a number of clients already moving to completely virtual meetings. Others will retain one physical meeting, such as the AGM, with the rest online.

The idea that people always need to interact physically to be able to join the dots and work effectively has been around for decades in almost every organisation. The virtual approach to clerking and governance makes a pretty convincing case for online being as good as, or perhaps even better in many ways than face-to-face and points to a future in which the two are likely to co-exist, benefiting schools, their pupils and their communities.

Jeremy Kaye is Head of Clerking and Governance at Judicium Education, a professional services company working with more than 1,700 schools across England. Judicium Education advises on health and safety, HR, legal services, clerking, governance and data protection. www.judiciumeducation.co.uk

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