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Coronavirus: setting your school on the road to recovery
Now, more than ever, is the time for you to take ownership of your school’s priorities, vision and values. Use this unique opportunity to reflect and rebuild, to make your school even better and stronger than before. Here's how.
As schools reopen to more pupils, you and your school leaders are likely to be considering 2 key questions:
- When will things return to normal?
- How will we know when we get there?
The responsibility for answering these questions lies with you, the governors.
"Consider the events of the past few months to be as consequential as if the school had burned to the ground - and that you now have the opportunity to make it just as transformative," was a suggestion from one of the people we spoke to about this article.
As the guardians of your school's vision and values, it's vital that you renew your energy and focus to set your school back on the road to that vision. 'Recovery' will be the point where you can comfortably say that your school is firmly fixed on that vision and making steady progress toward that singular goal.
Julie Cordiner and Patrick Ottley-O'Connor spoke with us about how to set your school on the road to recovery (you can find out more about them at the end of this article).
The first step is to work with your headteacher and the senior leadership team (SLT) to work out what you learned during the lockdown. COVID-19 changed the world of education dramatically, and it wasn’t all negative.
You might have to encourage your SLT to come to the table for this, as they might feel that it’s not the time. As governors, your job is to make sure they don’t focus in solely on what’s urgent at the expense of what’s important - and this is really important.
Taking this step will help you set your roadmap for recovery by answering key questions about:
- The way the school community works together
- The way your pupils learn
- The way you use your resources
- The way staff use their time
- The way the school interacts with your local community
- The way you spend your money
Once you've established your school's key learnings from the lockdown (what you'd like to keep, improve, start and stop) - it’s time to reframe your priorities.
Revisit the 20 key questions for governing boards
These were created by The Key, the National Governors' Association (NGA) and the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Education Governance and Leadership to help you self-evaluate your board's effectiveness.
The board that was effective last year might not be fit for purpose for what lies ahead. If you have any skills gaps, make it a priority to fill them ASAP.
Revisit your school's vision and values
- Vision: a statement that clearly and simply states what your school aspires to
- Values: the overarching principles that steer your school in everything it does. They define your core beliefs, guide your decision-making and demonstrate what your school is at its best. When you're reviewing your vision, you'll usually think about your values at the same time
Your vision should be what guides your decision-making throughout the school year. It’s clear that the next year isn’t going to be anything like years before, so put in the effort now so that everyone - governors, staff, pupils and parents - can be clear on what they're working towards.
For example, if your current vision's based on ideals related to progress and academic achievement, this might not serve as a beacon for the coming school year. Recovery will instead need to focus more on:
- Making sure everyone's safe and secure
- Consolidating prior learning
- Catching up on lost learning time
Remember that your vision statement needs to define what your pupils will experience at your school this year.
Reflection may also force you to ask some tough questions about your values - such as whether you’ve put enough focus on things like:
- Mental health and wellbeing
- Collaboration - with parents, with the local authority, with other schools in the area
- Inclusivity and equality
- Safeguarding and identifying your most vulnerable pupils
If not, embrace these as real, living values for your school. Do this by setting these as your overarching principles and making sure they're at the core of your strategic planning - that way you can be sure that any efforts made towards upholding these values are more than tokenistic.
Get more guidance on how to develop your vision and values here.
Revisit your SIP
Your school improvement plan for next year’s going to be different from the years before. It might be better to reframe it as your ‘school recovery plan’ to help you focus on the goals for this next year.
Realign your priorities based upon your new vision and values for school recovery. Be a bit ruthless here and remove anything for now that doesn’t advance your singular goal of rebuilding your school in line with your vision, better and stronger than before.
For help with school improvement planning in the age of coronavirus, read this article.
Taking the time and effort to reflect and reframe will make this part much easier. It’s vital to get everyone on the same page early, joined in a single vision for what your school will be at the end of this road.
But where the road ends depends on you. There’s no prescribed time, no defined landmarks, no set goals.
You have to decide what matters. The pandemic should force you to reevaluate why your school matters in the absence of traditional metrics like Ofsted ratings and school rankings.
Redefine ‘success’ for your school
You won't have much of a baseline this year. You’re going into the new year without:
- Performance data
- Attendance data
- Budget benchmarking
If you ask your headteacher, they’ll likely tell you the word ‘progress’ has fallen out of the vernacular for the foreseeable future. But as mentioned before, this is a chance to define why your school matters without these things.
So take this time to measure how successfully your values are embedding in the school. For example:
- Instead of focusing on attendance, focus on engagement - "Are our pupils excited about learning?"
- Instead of focusing on progress, focus on closing learning gaps - "Are all of our pupils getting the support they need to fulfil their potential?"
- Instead of focusing on productivity, focus on wellbeing - "Are we supporting our teachers, so they can be the best they can be for our pupils?"
- Instead of focusing on parent engagement, focus on parent empowerment - "What can we do to make our parents our allies in education?"
Just as before, you’ll need to set short-, medium- and long-term goals based on the priorities you’ve set out in your SIP.
Consider though that 6 weeks is a long time right now. You might be thinking of recovery as a marathon rather than a sprint, but that’s not accurate. To effect rapid change, you’ll need to adopt a framework from tech companies and approach recovery as a series of sprints.
In this condensed timeframe:
- ‘Long-term’ = 1 term
- ‘Medium-term’ = 3 weeks
- ‘Short-term’ = 1 week
This is a period of experimentation, so it’s vital to stay on top of these efforts so you can pivot quickly if something doesn’t work. It’s cyclical: review/learn/repeat.
Identify your metrics
This doesn’t mean that school leaders need to manufacture new data - that would be counterproductive. Work together with your SLT to identify the information that will inform these new areas of focus.
For example, monitoring ‘engagement’ may require looking at a combination of:
- Attendance data
- The number of calls made by staff to parents whose pupils aren’t completing remote assignments
- Pupil and parent surveys
- Interviews with teachers
Other things may just require looking at existing data with a new focus. For example, taking a more granular look at data to really hone in on:
- Which pupils groups are lagging behind - not just by gender or ethnic group, but by year group and class
- How active wellbeing measures are impacting attendance/engagement
- How working from home has impacted staff attendance and job satisfaction
Step up monitoring
The months ahead might seem like an overwhelming prospect not just to you, but to school leaders, too.
So spread the workload more evenly by reorganising your board to make sure you have the right eyes in the right places and no single school leader is bearing the brunt of governors’ focus.
And plan to meet as a full board more frequently. Monthly wouldn’t be overdoing it, as long as you stay laser-focused on the most pressing issues for each meeting.
If meeting monthly is too much for your board, then delegate decision-making power to your chair (and chairs of any relevant committees) so that your board is responsive to your school's needs in these early days of recovery.
Julie Cordiner is an independent consultant specialising in school funding and education finance. She's passionate about helping support better outcomes and enable children and young people to maximise their potential.
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