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So – what do we make of 2020?

It all started so well! Governors on task (mostly) and visiting our wonderful schools for our ‘purposeful’ visits, chatting before meetings over refreshments and coffee before holding school leaders to account in our board meetings. And then a pandemic!

I made a huge mistake at the start of online meetings. We did actually get to grips with the technology pretty quickly. No-one was excluded and we all embraced this new way of working. My mistake was thinking we could all sit in front of a screen for a couple of hours for the usual style meeting. How wrong I was there.

I always email my colleagues after a meeting to thank them for their contributions to the meeting. That was something I did as a matter of course was even if we had been face to face at a meeting. As I pondered on how that meeting had gone, I knew it had not been right. I spoke to my clerk. Working together we sorted some protocols which included the amount of time we should be on screen. We truncated the agendas and focused much of our time on safeguarding, well-being (staff and students and each other) and risk assessments. Much rested on chairs to keep that team spirit going.

We were very reactive during that first lockdown and so mindful of the experiences that students and staff were having away from schools. Key worker’s children were in school where possible which meant staff were there too unless vulnerable. We RAG rated students (no names obviously) and ensured that staff were contacting them. We risk assessed everything!

Access to online learning was patchy. Paper copies of work were delivered. Laptops were ordered. Technicians worked hard to set up those laptops to be delivered to students.

Some families were in crisis and were supported by schools with food and clothing. I am sure that you have heard of so much done by schools to support their communities.

Governor CPD was suddenly free from a variety of sources. We could do this from home, providing the cat or dog or small child did not want to join in! I emailed CPD opportunities so often to all my boards that I am sure they got irritated with it. I got irritated with it! I have learned to be a little more selective with the webinars I watched or the online conferences I attended. Report forms are still completed and shared of course.

Directives came from government regularly and sometimes at inappropriate times. I did send a snarky tweet on at least one occasion after a late-night directive.

Never have governor networks been so crucial. Some local authorities have not shown the level of leadership that governors had hoped. Talking to governor colleagues across the country I found that support was patchy. Never has ‘outward looking’ been so important and being able to share experiences or ask questions on custom and practice has been so critical. Your thinking always has to be challenged and there is nothing like a debate about practice.

So here we are at, almost, the end of 2020. Governance continues. Virtual visits to school are the norm as we hold schools to account. School leaders and their staff are exhausted. We miss seeing each other and visiting our schools.

I did a survey with all my board colleagues at the end of July asking how they felt about this virtual way of working. All were positive and felt they had opportunity to express a view. So, some of this virtual world could continue I think but the need to engage on a personal face to face level remains the aim when it safe to do so.

I have every admiration for school leaders who have coped so well with all these challenges and am grateful to all those I work with for embracing new ways of working.

On a lighter note, I have never waved goodbye to anyone as a face-to- face meeting ended. But waving ‘goodbye’ seems to be the norm online. It is all very strange!

I hope everyone has a restful break and Happy New Year to you all.

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