Hosting #ukgovchat; hints and tips

Andrew Cunliffe has put together some hints and tips to hosting #ukgovchat sessions. Thank you, Andrew. We are sure others would find this useful too.

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Topics which engaged our followers the most.

As we come to end of the summer holidays and start thinking of the tasks which lie ahead of us, we thought it would be a good idea to look back and see what issues/topics were of the greatest interest to our followers. The topics which had the greatest views are listed below. We have only listed those topics which had 100 and over views.

The topic which had the greatest number of views was “What should the governors ask Heads to cover in their reports to the governing body?”

The other topics which were of interest to our followers are (listed in order of decreasing number of views).

Governors and the SDP; is it just rubber stamping?
What makes an effective Chair?
What is effective monitoring and the role of individual governors and the GB?
The role of the clerk.
What should governors be doing in the classroom?
How do you ensure and prove that your GB is having an impact?
How to recruit the “right” governor?
How and where to draw the line between strategic and operational matters?
Developing and embedding the school vision.
Data; how do you ensure it is accessible, appropriate and proportionate?
Parents; how do GB’s engage with them and respond to their concerns?
Successful strategies to enhance working relationships between Heads and Governing Bodies.
Has the stakeholder model had its day?
How to manage ineffective governors?
Would you like to see a mechanism for removal of ineffective governors and what could it be?
Academy conversion; go it alone or safer with others?

As you can see the topics which attracted the most views are those which have tackled the working of the governing body. This was very encouraging to see as it proves that our followers are determined to ensure that they and their governing bodies are effective.

We would like to read what you think of the above list? Are you surprised at the topics which had the most views? Would you have expected some other topics to be included in the list? Were you surprised at the topic which had the most views? Let us know what you think by commenting on this post.

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#Govbuddy

As a new governor way back when, I was fortunate to have help and guidance from some very experienced governors. Many governing bodies provide excellent mentoring for their new recruits but if you would like a buddy to help you grow into the role or feel able to support a new governor please do complete the form. We will be running a pilot until the end of the academic year.

A buddy can help and support new governors with questions or queries about roles, governance in general and development. The scheme is not intended in any way to replace formal training or channels of support.  

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Governing In the Digital Age

The School Governance (Roles, Procedures and Allowances) (England) (Regulations 2013) which came into effect in September 2013 allow governors of maintained schools to participate in meetings via conference calls, etc. The regulations state

14 (8)     Notwithstanding the requirements of paragraphs (1) to (3), the governing body may approve alternative arrangements for governors to participate or vote at meetings of the governing body including but not limited to by telephone or video conference.

Academy governors already had the option to participate in governing body meetings via video conferencing, conference call, etc by virtue of their Articles. The above regulations now allow governing bodies of other schools to do the same. However, before maintained schools go down the virtual route, their governing bodies need to discuss and approve the procedure. Ruth Agnew has discussed what steps need to be taken before a governing body can have a virtual meeting. There was a Twitter discussion on this topic which has been storified here by Naureen Khalid.

@UKGovChat decided to survey its followers to see what they thought of virtual governance. We had only 25 responses which may indicate that virtual governance is not a major consideration for governing bodies in the current climate. The results of this survey are as follows. Because of the small numbers involved, these results must necessarily be interpreted with caution.

We started by asking if governors thought virtual meetings were a good idea.

The fact that 64% thought virtual meetings were a good idea may be due to the fact that the survey was conducted online and publicised via twitter. It may have, therefore, attracted respondents already familiar with the virtual  environment, thus skewing the results.

Although the sample size is very small, it is interesting that 44% have decided to make use of the freedom granted by the new regulations. It remains to be seen whether there is a greater uptake over time.

The fact that only 33% have an agreed protocol in place is of some concern. We would hopes that governing bodies will realise the significance of implementing appropriate procedures prior to embarking on virtual meetings.

Those who answered in the affirmative to the above question were then asked if they had encountered any problems.

The respondents were asked for comments to clarify their responses. The following observations were made.

  • There were no problems with virtual attendance though some took a while to get used to it (eg the need to identify oneself when one speaks).
  • Alternative arrangements for meetings including telephone and video conferencing is included within the model Articles for academies.
  • No dedicated conference phone available – need specific equipment for best reception.
  • The education ‘heads’ in the room were wholly unfamiliar with how this process worked and it took them a little time to adjust.
  • We voted not to allow it
  • Governor did not understand that dialling in meant had to actually participate.
  • Yes some governors did not have previous experience of conference call
  • Lack of protocols and/or understanding of them, lack of technical facilities
  • We used a conference call and it worked really well

Not unexpectedly, the problems experienced related to a lack of appropriate technical facilities, absence of protocols and people being unfamiliar with conference calling.

Conference calls are not a new concept. These are routinely used in the business, finance and other sectors. The next question was asked to in order to establish how many people are used to participating in meetings in this way.


The fact that 56% of the people responding use some method of virtual participation as part of their day job may explain the fact that 64% thought that this would be a good way to conduct governing body meetings.


It is of significance that 43% of governors thought that governing body meetings conducted “virtually” would face problems not seen in their day job. When asked to clarify their responses, the respondents said

  • Video conferencing is very skilled work and my governors will not know how to interact with the technology.
  • There is little or no difference. Let’s be frank, if the global board of BT, Coca Cola, Starbucks and many, many more can conduct meetings this way (and they do) then why do we have a caste of governors so against its adoption?
  • Schools not having suitable equipment & access to service that provides dial in number etc
  • Technical difficulties at work can be solved on site by IT specialists not available during the evening. Not all governors have access to equipment and secure firewalls. Difficult to manage large group meetings via ‘conferencing’.
  • Multiple simultaneous connections; more widely variable connection quality
  • Virtual governance v straightforward if you have the right attitude and the right tech. Too many people making a big deal out of it probably because it’s new (although it isn’t really) and they don’t understand it.
  • Technology in school is not as advanced, documents are not always electronic and so unable to share.
  • Individual technical knowhow/equipment
  • Less technical competency
  • Lots of small schools do not have facilities for video conf or even proper dial in
  • Technical failure

The majority of people listed the lack of appropriate technological facilities as the cause of problems.

We were also interested in finding out if people thought there was any difference in conducting virtual meetings if these were full board meetings or committee meetings.


It is interesting to note that the majority of governors (63%) thought that dialling in would work both at committee and full board level. It is also interesting to note that the number of people who thought dialling in would work only at committee level was double the number who thought it would work only at full board level.

We were also interested in how virtual governance would work. To this end we asked the following questions.




Q13. WHAT DOES YOUR CLERK THINK OF VIRTUAL GOVERNANCE?

We only had 18 responses to this question which are as under.

  • Not been asked.
  • I am the clerk. It is not a problem so long as protocols are observed.
  • No opinion.
  • Won’t work.
  • On the fence publicly but I have a feeling there is strong resistance under the surface!!
  • Interested to know more about it!
  • Not keen.
  • Undecided
  • Useful for small committees to ensure meeting is quorate.
  • Don’t know, haven’t asked yet.
  • Haven’t asked.
  • No idea.
  • Not discussed.
  • Agrees it could work if there are protocols.
  • Not asked.
  • No problem – they work with the LA and they use it there.
  • We do not have a clerk!
  • Unsure.

And finally,

Q14. IN YOUR OPINION WHAT IS THE BIGGEST ADVANTAGE OF “VIRTUAL GOVERNANCE”?

  • Ease of meetings for busy people.
  • Keeps us quorate when governors can’t attend due to unforeseen circumstances.
  • Quick to set up meeting.
  • Flexibility.
  • Ensuring all opinions heard.
  • Time saved.
  • Governors who are away can still participate.
  • Possibility of proxy voting and post meeting decisions by email.
  • Getting meetings quorate.
  • Best for occasional use, to facilitate contribution by someone with key input who cannot attend through work, illness etc.
  • Help make it easy for people to participate.
  • Flexibility for meeting times.
  • Increase ability of governors to participate.
  • Better use of governors’ time.
  • People don’t have to miss meetings if they are away.
  • More time efficient. More convenient therefore more likely to have more people participating.
  • Those with the technology can be a part of a meeting at a time when it would have otherwise be prevented.
  • Participation of those not able to be at meeting.
  • Increased governor participation.
  • Participation at distance.
  • Greater chance of input from all governors.

Q15. IN YOU OPINION WHAT IS THE BIGGEST DISADVANAGE OF “VIRTUAL GOVERNANCE”?

  • Individuals can make excuses for not attending in person.
  • Needs tighter adherence to agenda than many governors are comfortable with.
  • Technology and some people.
  • Slightly disconnected feel to meetings.
  • Do schools have the technology to make it work?
  • Encourages people not to attend in person.
  • There aren’t any!
  • Governors not needing to turn up.
  • Participation focused on meetings.
  • Managing technical difficulties could suddenly render the meeting in-quorate. Governors not feeling part of the community of the school/college.
  • More difficult to have a proper debate if several participants are physically absent.
  • None.
  • Active discussion when several parties are on the phone is difficult.
  • Governors missing out on visiting the school, seeing and being seen by pupils/ staff.
  • People not understanding how it’s done.
  • Less personal. Less time in school.
  • Lack of personal time with those you should be in a team with. A lack of bonding.
  • Teamwork.
  • No biscuits.
  • Loss of Face time.
  • The unknown.

DISCUSSION

Although the sample size was small which means that the results have to be interpreted with caution, this survey has provided some useful insights to what governors think of virtual governance. The majority of people who responded thought that virtual governance was a good idea. Interestingly, of those who had decided to allow governors to participate virtually the majority still had to agree a protocol. We would argue that a clear protocol should be established prior to any agreement to virtual attendance. Agreeing a protocol establishes clear procedures regarding when and under which conditions a governor can dial in to attend,  if the chair should be allowed to dial in or do they need to be present in person, how voting will work and other related issues. At this point it is worth pointing out that Regulations do not permit proxy voting. Governors have to be present, either in person or “virtually” in order to cast votes. The same is true for Academy Directors. The model Articles allow Members of the Trust to cast proxy votes but not Directors.

Along with an agreed protocol it is clear that a number of governors, should such practice be adopted, would benefit from training in virtual attendance and we would recommend that governing bodies should look to providing this in order to facilitate those governors’ confidence and capacity to engage in this way. Many governors operating in the corporate world are already familiar with virtual meetings and should be in a position to support fellow governors in developing such skills, at no cost to the governing body. It is possible that an apparent unwillingness to engage with the virtual meeting (25% of respondents held the opinion that virtual governance would not work at any level) may be allayed by such provision.

Another matter of concern was the fact that the clerk does not seem to figure prominently in the discussion. Although ultimately, the decision to  adopt this practice sits with the governing body, they should, in our opinion, seek views of the clerk too. It is after all, the clerk who will be tasked with setting up the conference call and who has the responsibility for  minuting the meeting.

If your governing body does decide to allow participation via conference calls or other means, it needs to be aware of and prepared for problems which it may encounter. Many of these were mentioned by governors in response to Question 15 (see above). Some other issues are listed below.

1. Does your school have facilities to support “virtual governance”? There are various products in the market you can buy or you can use the various free systems available. The former has cost implications and the latter usually means that your governors will have to download and install the free system.

2. Firewall issues.

3. Connectivity issues, time delay and feedback problems.

4. Call drop-outs

Participation in meetings via conference calls etc is established practice in the commercial and business world.  Governing bodies, once they are aware of the issues involved and how to address them, need to consider carefully how introducing virtual governance might enhance their working practice and potentially move governance forward.

We would like to thank all our followers who took time to complete our survey.

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Reflections

Here on UkGovChat it can sometimes appear from Sunday chats that all is awry and that the governance of our schools is somehow broken. Clearly, this is not the case and there are many excellent governors out there doing a great job in what are, admittedly, sometimes challenging circumstances.

The New Year is traditionally a time for both reflection and looking to the future and we would love to collate a collection of memories of 2013 to reflect the positives of your governing year. If you haven’t done so already PLEASE tweet your governor best bits using the hashtag #GovLove and let’s celebrate the good that we’ve done.

There have already been some great moments shared but we would love to hear about yours. It doesn’t have to be a monumental event, just something that has touched you, made you glad or made those interminable meetings seem worthwhile.

In our last post we shared many of our highlights for 2013 but what we’d really like to do is showcase yours. Please join us in celebrating the governance of all of our schools in the past year.

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The highs and the…..highs of 2013!

Who would have thought it? Nobody could be more surprised than us how something which started life as a random Sunday morning tweet would become so popular and be so well received. Our first ever #ukgovchat was held on 10th March 2013. Since then we have gone from strength to strength and are delighted to have so many loyal and engaged followers. Along the way we have tackled some difficult topics, had some chuckles, offered support to each other and enjoyed some fabulous cakes!

Most importantly,though, we have made some really good friends.

We have attended NGA events

and a Modern Governor event.

Lord Nash told us that someone from his office would be following @UKGovChat to keep up with what we as governors were thinking!

Our weekly chats have proved to be very popular and we’d like to say a huge thank you to all of our hosts throughout the year. There are over 60 chats storified now with topics ranging from ‘Effective Governance’ to ‘Ofsted Expectations’. These sessions have been so popular that we have even trended on Twitter, finishing ahead of Downton Abbey!

#ukgovchat made the shortlist in the Best Twitter Hashtag for Education 2013 and placed 9th out of 15, a great achievement considering we only started in March!
http://edublogawards.com/2013awards/best-twitter-hashtag-for-education-2013/

As we come to the end of 2013, we thought we should take this opportunity to thank you all for your support. We, at UKGovChat headquarters, will continue to do all we can to raise the capacity and profile of governors. Have a lovely Christmas and see you in January 2014.

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Letter to prospective parent governors

Governors join governing bodies via different routes. One category of governors is that of parent governors who are elected by the parent body. Clerk to Governors has information on organizing parent governor elections. We thought it would be a good idea to draft a letter which could go out to parents when a vacancy arises. Our followers have contributed their thoughts and the result is the letter which appears below. Note that this is not the nomination form and does not have information about the election and eligibility criteria. The purpose of this letter is to inform parents about the role of the governing body and the important part played by parent governors. All too often we find that parents join the governing body without a clear idea of what the governing body expects from them and what can they expect in return. This letter attempts to address this.

Dear Parents,

The governing body is responsible for both the conduct of the school and for promoting high standards. The governing body carries out its role by setting the vision for the school and then ensuring that the school works efficiently and effectively towards achieving its vision. It does this by building a thorough knowledge of the school and its community, by both supporting and constructively challenging the school, and by ensuring accountability and compliance. The governing body of our school is made up of parent governors, staff governors, [insert other categories].

A vacancy has arisen for a parent governor on our governing body. The governing body is asking you to nominate someone with parental responsibility for a child at the school. If it receives more than one nomination, then a ballot will be held.

Before you decide to nominate someone, or indeed stand yourself, you may want to know a bit more about what is involved. Governors need not be experts in the field of education. What they do need is an interest in the school and in the welfare of our children and the time and willingness to get involved. The skills you have can be very useful to the governing body. At the moment the governing body is lacking governors who have expertise in [insert what skills you want]. If you are someone with the required experience, would you consider applying? Governors also need what is known as ‘soft skills’ – the ability to be able to build relationships with a range of people, to be able to work as part of a team, to be able to question, and to make connections between different types of information. All governors are expected to be able to read straightforward budget reports and data on school standards.

Our governing body expects governors to

  • attend [add number] termly meetings of the full governing body
  • sit on [add name] committee and attend the meetings which are usually [add number] a term
  • visit the school formally for monitoring purposes at least [add number] times a term/year
  • visit the school informally at least [add number] times a year
  • commit to attend training courses, perform additional research as required and take part in monitoring at least [add number] areas within the school

In return, our governing body commits to

  • provide you with a structured induction
  • provide access to quality training via [add name of provider]
  • provide you with an experienced governor as mentor
  • provide informal feedback on your contribution to the governing body on a bi-annual basis

If you would like to find out more about how you can contribute to governance at our school, please email me with your contact details and I will pass on your details to the chair who will then arrange a time for a conversation.

[Insert name]

Clerk to the Governing Body

[Insert email address]

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