How governing bodies will operate while schools are closed during the pandemic.
The Minister for Education, Kirsty Williams MS, announced on 4 January that schools would close to all but vulnerable learners and those whose parents are key workers. A decision about re-opening to more learners will be made at the next review point on 29 January.
What is the role of a governing body in these circumstances?
The governing body is responsible for its school at a strategic level but headteachers have delegated responsibilities for the day to day operational management of their school. Governing bodies will need to be aware of the operational decisions being taken by the headteacher, and should be assured that an adequate risk assessment has been conducted, and that protective measures are in place to reduce risks to children, young people and staff. In practice, we expect headteachers and governing bodies to work collaboratively in deciding how schools will manage their provision to vulnerable and critical worker children.
Governing bodies should also be assured that remote learning plans are appropriate and meet the needs of all learners not attending the school site.
All schools should work together with their local authorities and, where appropriate, diocesan authorities to ensure the services they will need to support their operation are in place.
How should a governing body be involved in a school’s risk assessment?
Governing bodies should be assured that the headteacher has had regard to the detailed operational guidance in their planning. This includes advice on putting in place appropriate measures. Governing bodies should discuss critical risks as they normally would with the headteacher in a supportive manner and review the risk assessment and plans as necessary.
Governing bodies should decide whether to delegate risk assessments to a committee, select governors or the headteacher. Local authorities are on hand to ensure a robust process is being used and offer advice.
The latest risk assessment guidance can be found here.
What steps can governing bodies take to ensure the well-being of the headteacher and school staff?
Governing bodies, together with headteachers, should be conscious of the well-being of all staff, including headteachers themselves, and the need to implement flexible working practices in a way that promotes good work-life balance. Governing bodies will want to assure themselves that workload is being carefully managed by headteachers and that this is factored into their resource and curriculum planning, including considering where additional resource could be safely brought in if necessary.
Chairs should regularly check in with headteachers to see how they and other staff are coping and what additional support the governing body could offer. It may be helpful to ask questions like:
- How are you feeling? How can the governing body support you?
- Have you been in touch with the local authority for advice?
- How are learners coping? What are the main messages coming back from staff? Is the school adequately staffed?
- How have parents responded to the remote learning offer?
- What urgent business would you like the governing body to focus on?
What happens if a member of school staff or a pupil contracts coronavirus?
Detailed advice is available in the operational guidance. To be clear, under no circumstances should learners or staff attend school if they:
- feel unwell with any of the identified COVID-19 symptoms. They should remain at home and self-isolate and arrange a COVID-19 test.
- have tested positive for COVID-19
- live in a household with someone who has symptoms of, or has tested positive for COVID-19. All schools and settings must follow this process and ensure all staff are aware of it.
How can governing bodies take account of the views of staff, parents, carers and the local community?
Governing bodies should be satisfied that headteachers and the school leadership team are communicating frequently and effectively with staff, parents, carers and the local community, and listening and responding to any concerns they may have regarding the re-opening of the school. Governing bodies and headteachers should work together with their local authority to listen to and address any local concerns.
How can governing bodies continue to function effectively during this time?
Welsh Government appreciates that governing bodies have a key role in supporting their school throughout this period and that decisions will need to be pragmatic, proportionate and sensitive to local circumstances. Governing bodies remain accountable for their schools and should stay connected to headteachers, and the key operational decisions they are taking, to retain a strategic overview of the school.
How should governing bodies meet at this time?
Everyone must work from home, if possible, and not meet anyone outside their own household.. We therefore advise governing bodies to only meet by remote access. The Government of Maintained Schools (Amendment) (Wales) Regulations 2020 clarify that school governing body meetings may take place by remote access and that decisions and minutes may be recorded and kept electronically.
Where possible, video conferencing such as Skype or Microsoft Teams is preferable, as you can see and hear the individual so as to ensure the governing body members present are those expected. Use of such technology is not uniform across governing bodies and so a judgement call would need to be made as to its practicality.
If you are using video conferencing platforms to continue to meet as a governing body, then please consider the security of the platforms that you are using. You should read the privacy terms and conditions and ensure that where possible you enable any security features. If you have any concerns, you might want to consult your IT provider or staff for support.
Clerks to governing bodies will want to be assured that they can maintain a clear communication and audit trail which explains why it was necessary to take an alternative approach to traditional meetings and committees.
Please be assured that where meetings are unable to proceed as a result of coronavirus, school governing bodies will not be penalised.
How should governing bodies keep records of discussions and decisions?
The 2020 amendment Regulations state that records may be kept electronically.
Local authorities may be able to help you with adopting new ways of making decisions and voting electronically and in virtual meetings.
Please also make contingency plans in case the Chair, Vice Chair or Clerk become unavailable. You may also revisit your agreed delegations of certain functions to enable fewer governors to make business critical decisions. Your local authority can help you with this.
Please consider delaying any business that can wait. The wellbeing of learners, staff and everyone in the school community including governors is of paramount importance.
Governing body functions
What constitutes urgent business for governing bodies at this time?
We anticipate that the following governing body functions can still take place in most cases:
- Business critical decisions (e.g. budget approval, ratifying school leadership appointments).
- Monitoring how the school is continuing to provide care for vulnerable children and children of key workers, and assessing and recording associated risks.
- Supporting the headteacher to manage the day-to-day business of the school and being on hand to discuss any issues.
- Monitoring any issues arising from how the building and school premises are currently being used.
- Supporting headteacher and teaching staff to provide advice to parents and carers to help them educate their children at home.
- Monitoring the wellbeing and welfare of pupils, staff and stakeholders.
- Reporting any issues with managing this business immediately to the local authority for help and advice.
What general governing body functions should continue?
Most normal school operations will have ceased or will look very different for the time being.That doesn't mean that the governing body’s role in monitoring the school has disappeared completely.Governing bodies are still required to monitor:
- health and safety
- headteacher and staff well-being
Governing bodies may not have the same level of detail about their schools as they would expect in normal circumstances. It is important to maintain contact with the headteacher though to ensure wellbeing needs are being met.
How can governing bodies of federated schools uniquely offer support at this time?
Consider the possibility of a specific federation approach to operating during the coronavirus crisis. Your local authority can help you think about the possibility of sharing staff, resources and premises across the federation.
How can governing bodies set their school budgets?
We expect that a good deal of the preparation work for setting budgets will have already taken place. With the caveat that the coronavirus pandemic will have de-railed some of this, governing bodies should be able to provide a minimum standard with the support of their local authority.
How can governing bodies manage staffing issues?
In managing school staffing issues, governing bodies must ensure they comply with employment law which is non-devolved. Governing bodies should seek their own legal advice where required.
How can governors keep up to date with mandatory training if they cannot meet face-to-face?
Many local authorities and some regional consortia provide online training for governors. If this is not available in your area, we advise you to seek advice from your local authority.
Should committees continue to meet?
By now, many governing bodies and committees will have met by remote access. Governing bodies should take a pragmatic approach to handling any urgent business and assess whether it is reasonable for virtual committee meetings to go ahead. Clerks should record all instances where committee meetings are unable to proceed and the reasons for that decision. Availability of governors will need to be considered to ensure that committee meetings are quorate. Local authorities are on hand to advise and help to prioritise urgent business.
Can recruiting and appointing new governors go ahead?
Recruiting of governors can still go ahead and discussions with those who are interested can take place virtually. Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks will still need to be carried out, where appropriate.
At this current time it may not be practical or possible to conduct elections for parent/teacher/staff governors. If virtual elections are not possible, to avoid leaving gaps in governing bodies, if possible and with agreement from the whole governing body, these governors can remain in post until such time elections can take place when the situation normalises.
Voting in a chair and vice chair can take place virtually, so long as a private ballot is possible, where the positions are contested. Your local authority may be able to help with this process using video conferencing tools.
How can governing bodies make changes to school session times?
A temporary disapplication notice to parts of the Changing of School Session Times (Wales) Regulations 2009 has been issued. It will be in force until 31 January at which point it will be reviewed.
Long-term changes to school session times not related to the coronavirus pandemic must follow the procedures for consultation and notice periods set out in the Changing of School Session Times (Wales) Regulations 2009.
How should governing bodies conduct hearings such as formal complaints and exclusion reviews?
It may be possible to do so by holding virtual meetings where virtual meetings can facilitate the process and all, including parents/carers and learners in the case of exclusion reviews, are in agreement that it is necessary and appropriate. Remember that complaints should be dealt with as quickly as possible and, where delays are necessary, the complainant should be informed.
How should governing bodies manage the headteacher recruitment process?
The process of recruiting a headteacher may be affected by delays. Your local authority will be able to advise on how to proceed in these circumstances.
While we advise governing bodies to delay anything that can wait, they will not want to lose sight of their strategic priorities. Governing bodies that are able to keep in touch electronically may already be looking at how the current situation will impact on their ability to achieve the school’s vision and aims.
Additionally, with normal business suspended, there may be more time to do more strategic thinking than is normal. Please remember though that school leaders must be included in such discussions, and it is unlikely that they will have the time and space to think strategically at this time.
Tips for successful virtual governing body meetings
Decide on a platform for your virtual meeting
The Clerk and the Chair of the governing body will want to discuss options and may need to trial tools such as Skype, Zoom or MS Teams. Issues with internet connectivity may come up and may be addressed by limiting use of video to only the person speaking. In any case, the Clerk will need to be assured that they can keep an accurate record of all business conducted virtually. All parties must be in agreement as to how the meeting will work.
Test the platform and provide instructions
It is good practice to try out the meeting platform before the real meeting takes place. The Clerk and Chair will want to ensure the tool works as well as possible before using for real at the governing body meeting. The Clerk should take responsibility for issuing instructions for using the virtual meeting tool as part of their duty to convene the meeting and to circulate the agenda papers.
As with all governing body meetings, the Chair and Clerk will want to make time to discuss what’s on the virtual meeting agenda, how much time is needed for each item, likely questions, required decisions and outcomes.
Also think about setting meeting etiquette, such as joining on time, keeping to the agenda and allowing everyone to contribute. This will help the virtual meeting run smoothly and all parties will understand the purpose.
It’s also important to ensure that governors can join meetings in a private space where sensitive discussions cannot be overheard. Clerks should routinely check with everyone present at the meeting that this is the case.
Keep accurate records
The Clerk and Chair, as with normal governing body meetings, will ensure that notes of discussions and decisions are recorded properly.
Other electronic communications such as email discussions and decision making should be included in the record as well and may be helpful in limiting the need for long detailed minute taking.
Evaluate and change tack if necessary
Don’t be disconcerted if the first meeting does not go perfectly. Go back to the earlier tips and work out how trying something a little differently may improve the meeting. It may be that something as simple as a shorter, more focused agenda could make all the difference.