Governance in Education during a time of crisis: a key role


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Message from the Editor:

When I took over the BELMAS blog earlier this year, I hoped that there would be blogs which reported on BELMAS events, including those hosted by the BELMAS RIGs. This is one such blog! I’m thrilled to publish Lizana’s blog which brings together a recent #BELMASchat and RIG event.

Lizana highlights the importance of effective governance, especially in a time of crisis. Governors as critical friends was a clear theme running through the RIG event. Lizana also emphasises the need for governors to support yet challenge, to be acutely aware of operational decisions but to look at them through a strategic lens. As Lizana points out, there is much we can learn from how leaders and governors have responded to the pandemic.

If you are interested in getting involved in the BELMAS Governing and Governance RIG, then please follow this link to find out more.

 - Suzanne

Author: Lizana Oberholzer

In March 2020, schools and education contexts saw a dramatic change in the education landscape. Governors and Headteachers were all challenged by the pace of change since the publication of the Corona Virus Act (2020) and guidance provided by the DfE (2020) in School Governance: Coronavirus released in June 2020. Headteachers, Governing Chairs, Governors, Trustees, and Directors all had to become experts in supporting school leaders in their role to risk assess, to provide guidance and support to ensure that learning could take place safely and effectively.

With the re-opening of schools to the wider learning community beyond vulnerable learners and keyworkers’ children, school leaders and governing bodies need to engage with rigorous risk assessment processes and work as collaborative professionals (Hargreaves and O’Connor, 2018). This will ensure that all stakeholders can engage effectively in their learning at school. It is how well governing boards carry out their governance responsibilities that determines the quality of the education for the children they serve (Campbell & Fullan, 2019).

It is with this in mind that the BELMAS Governing and Governance RIG explored what role governance in education plays at a time of crisis during its #BELMASchat (9th June 2020) and in its BELMAS RIG Event (24th June 2020).

Julia Skinner proposed that the word ‘crisis’ suggests a time of ‘extreme difficulty’ and ‘intense danger’ when decisions need to be made. When evaluating the nature of the pandemic, it was clear that the country was in a position of ‘intense danger’ and important decisions had to be made by school leaders. This meant that governing bodies had to support and provide a ‘kind listening ear’, and act as critical friends to ensure that all were safe. During the session, Derek Boyle highlighted the importance of school leaders working collaboratively with governors. And both Derek and Julia emphasised the importance of governors as ‘critical friends’. Derek also raised the question of how governors and senior leaders can facilitate effective partnerships so that learning environments can function effectively.

Naureen Khalid focussed on effective governance and how it is about presenting school leaders with a balance between support and challenge. She emphasised the important role governors must play in evaluating the risk assessment of operational decisions, with their strategic hat firmly on. During the pandemic, the shift from learning in the classroom to learning online and at home presented its own additional challenges such as safeguarding and welfare tracking. Naureen explored the importance of the governing body’s role in ensuring that e-safety and safeguarding is carefully considered. Deb Outhwaite, like Naureen, unpacked the role parents play during these challenging times too, the different expectations there might be, and how school leaders need to address these. Campbell and Fullan (2019) concur as they point out that governance is the connection between communities of professionals, policy, application, strategy and tactics.  It is vital to work well with all stakeholders in the learning community and local community to address a crisis effectively.

Deb suggested that Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs) are more flexible in how they are able to respond to challenge at times, when compared to governance in local authority contexts. There might also be distinct differences in in how governance needs to play a role at a time of crisis in a national or international context.

An evaluation of the presentations at our RIG event highlighted the role played by governance in times of crisis and I was reminded of a point Campbell and Fullan (2019)  make when they explore what it means to govern. They state that governance is often ‘misunderstood and underappreciated’ (2019, 15) and explain that the word governance stems from the Greek kubernesis which means ‘to steer a ship’. This metaphor is also used by McAdams (cited in Campbell & Fullan, 2019, 15) who suggests that ‘governance is steering; and management is rowing’. This point aligns with all four presenters who view the aim of governance as a need to support with a strategic lens.

The BELMAS Governing and Governance RIG event highlighted the importance of governance not only to support but also to strategically challenge. Its importance must not be underestimated. During the 2020 pandemic the role governors have had to play as strategic support and critical friends has been highlighted more than ever. More still needs to be done to develop school leaders’ understanding of the role of governance, to continue to build on the collaborative professional communities which developed during the pandemic.

Lizana Oberholzer is a Senior Lecturer in teacher education/ programme lead for the MA - Leadership in Education, at the Cass School of Education and Communities at the University of East London. She is passionate about teacher development and is the BERA SIG Convenor for Teacher Education in England, BELMAS RIG Convenor for Governing and Governance, BAMEed Steer Group Member,  WomenEd Regional Lead for London, CMI Women in Management Steer Group Member, CMI Fellow, Chartered College of Teaching Founding Fellow, Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, CollectiveED Fellow, Vice Chair of the UCET CPD Forum, and MAT Director. Lizana is the Chartered College of Teaching Network Lead, at the University of East London, and led on the joint WomenEd and Chartered College of Teaching Early Career Teacher Annual Unconference. Lizana supports the IPDA Annual conference as a Co-Chair of the conference committee and is a member of the IPDA England Committee. She tweets at @LO_EduforAll.

Reference List:

Boyle, D (2020), The importance of strong relationships with school leaders as governors, BELMAS Governance RIG Event, Delivered: 24th June 2020

Campbell, D. and Fullan, M. (2019), The Governance Core: School Boards, Superintendents, and Schools Working Together, London: Corwin

Department of Education (2020) School Governance: Coronavirus (COVID – 19): June Update: UK: Department of Education

Hargreaves, A. and O’Connor, M.T. (2018) Collaborative Professionalism, London: Cornwin

Khalid, N. (2020), The importance of accountability and the governor’s role, BELMAS Governance RIG Event, Delivered: 24th June 2020

Outhwaite, D. (2020), Advice on effective governance at a time of crisis, BELMAS Governance RIG Event, Delivered: 24th June 2020

Skinner, J (2020), The importance of governance in a time of crisis, BEMAS Governance RIG Event, Delivered: 24th June 2020


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