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CPD in governance for members of your SLT

Image credit: 7 Wonders by Daniel Kulinski - licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

CPD in governance for members of your SLT

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A headteacher’s position on a maintained school’s governing body is described as ex officio – meaning that s/he has that position due to the leadership role s/he occupies. Most governors would probably say that having their headteacher on their board is invaluable, as we can get insights and understanding which we otherwise might struggle to gain.

Potential conflicts exist, as a core function of the board (including the headteacher) is to hold the school’s leadership team (including the headteacher) to account for the its performance. Most charity chief executives aren’t members of their own boards, but the structural wrinkle of the ex officio position gives any headteacher an operational role in the strategic leadership of a school.

Getting up to speed with governance

However, if you were to ask headteachers about their first interactions with school governance as an education professional, what sort of answers do you think they’d give?

Come to think of it, if you are a governor or trustee, how often do you encounter members of your SLT while you’re actively involved in governance – rather than at school events, new parents’ evenings, etc.?

If your governing board has a need for someone with particular skills – for example in the area of understanding educational data – then you might well have asked a senior member of staff who oversees the school’s use of data to be an associate member. Other than that, a member of SLT would normally need to be elected as a staff governor in order to gain experience of the operational reality of governors’ strategic role.

As senior leaders have no ex officio governance role – which depending on your point of view might be a good or bad thing – this might mean that their first genuine experience of governance responsibilities could come at interview and (shortly afterwards) upon being appointed. Read Gaz Needle’s account of the interview process for a headteacher post and see how the governors featured – he was already a deputy HT at the school in question, but if he hadn’t been, then he might have been faced with both having to get to know the school’s governors and get an understanding of governance at the same time (spoiler alert – he got the job).

Does a truly national Leadership Curriculum still exist?

At the wider level, the National College of Teaching and Leadership’s leadership curriculum programme has three levels:

  • Level 1: National Professional Qualification for Middle Leadership (NPQML)
  • Level 2: National Professional Qualification for Senior Leadership (NPQSL)
  • Level 3: National Professional Qualification for Headship (NPQH)

and across these governance is acknowledged, but other than occasional exceptions (the standard NPQSL module suggests that those studying the module request permission to attend a governing board meeting at their school or academy) it is noticeable by the lack of emphasis. This is odd when, as described in the first part of Tony Breslin’s article, governance is intrinsically linked to the quality of leadership and management in a school.

Beyond this, the materials for the NCTL’s leadership curriculum were not centrally updated after September 2014 – meaning that it became the responsibility of the many, many licencees to update them. This leads to two potential issues:

1. Keeping up with the Morgans

Changes to the education system haven’t eased off in the intervening two and a half years and so, if they’ve not been updated, these “local” copies of the leadership curriculum won’t have taken into account any changes in governance during that time. This means that cohorts taking the leadership curriculum might be working on outdated models of and assumptions about governance.

2. Licensees’ views of governance

As the responsibility for updating the leadership curriculum is devolved to the licensees, this means that the “national” essence of whatever NPQ- qualification someone is undertaking could be questioned. This means that some who achieve a qualification might have an understanding of governance if their licensee has updated the modules to include it as a topic, whereas others could (potentially) have managed to avoid the topic if their licensee hasn’t updated the modules, or has rewritten them to exclude governance to a greater degree.

In a similar way the National Curriculum is the same across maintained schools, but isn’t required in academies, as they’re not required to deliver it. We can’t assume that governance is included in a licensee’s version of the leadership curriculum, any more than we can assume that Topic A exists in what any given academy teaches. This means that senior and middle leaders’ experience of governance is dependent on a combination of their licencee’s view of governance and the visibility of governance in their own institution. If you’re a senior or middle leader in a school, ask your peers from other institutions what their experience of governance is – assuming they have some, it will almost certainly be very different from yours – unless of course you are both oblivious to its workings.

Professional development for your SLT

In his recent two part article Tony Breslin explored how we can ensure that a good understanding of governance is available to our school community beyond those on a board. It’s likely that many SLT members will aspire to headship – though of course not all will, as there’s a projected shortage of 19,000 headteachers by 2022 and the current climate doesn’t encourage risk taking:

Increasing our SLT members’ understanding of governance can enable them think about strategic leadership at an institutional level, which can obviously help equip them for applying for the role of a headteacher in your school or beyond – as well as supporting and informing your board right now. Jilly Berry’s Guardian piece on becoming a headteacher gives further insight how this knowledge and understanding could be applied:

Access for your SLT: included with a Modern Governor subscription

With that in mind, if you are in one of the thousands of schools who subscribe to Modern Governor, then access for your SLT to all of the modules – those about governance and the Core Skills modules – is included. Your SLT can enrol alongside your governors, trustees clerk and headteacher, develop their skills, knowledge and understanding and get their certificates – all with phone and email support for your use of the service.

How to use Modern Governor as an SLT member

There are 50 modules in Modern Governor’s catalogue of courses – a mixture of modules on the functions of governance and how it works in practice and the Core Skills modules, which are intended to improve anyone’s transferable skills. This latter collection of modules is divided into topics such as Working with others, CommunicationPersonal effectiveness and more which are applicable to your wider work with colleagues across school and in any other aspect of your life. So, if your school, academy or MAT subscribes, you can take as many of these modules as you like.

Almost unbelievably, governors still aren’t obliged to undergo any kind of professional development (even induction) – so if you’re not on your school’s governing board and yet still took the initiative to learn about and understand governance, this could equip you to make informed decisions about applying for other roles in other schools. The modules can of course be used alongside any NPQ programme you might be enrolled on – to deepen and broaden your understanding and provide a vital strategic perspective on school leadership.

What if my school, academy or MAT doesn’t subscribe yet?

Any governor, trustee, school leader or SLT member can get full access to five of the mobile-friendly Modern Governor modules for 30 days by signing up for the free trial:

– those will give an idea of the 50 modules and discounted subscriptions are available for multi-academy trusts or through many local authority governor services. Get in touch to find out the rate for your school, which based on a typical governing board costs a matter of pence per module per person.

Questions for your governing board

  • Do we know about the strengths of the members of our SLT? If we’ve carried out a skills audit of our board and discovered gaps, would we consider appointing them as associate members?
  • If they’re not already on our board (how) do we involve our SLT in governance?
  • Where are they in their career paths – and how does this inform our thoughts of succession planning?
  • Do we feel that SLT members who were more knowledgeable about governance would be more likely to leave, or be an asset to us as a board?

Image credit: 7 Wonders by Daniel Kulinski – licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

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