Amy Mossop has volunteered as a governor for almost 10 years now, initially starting as a parent governor at her children's community infant school as a way of keeping busy whilst she was not working and to give something back to the local community. At the end of her first term of office, Amy was co-opted to the governing board and is now in her second term.
Outside of governance, Amy works as a finance professional in the field of corporate taxation. Her interests – when she has time for them – include offshore sailing and reading.
Q: How has governance been affected in your school by the coronavirus pandemic? What changes have you implemented?
A: The main changes have been in the lack of physical contact with the school – although this has been countered by the increase in communication via phone calls. We have also implemented virtual meetings for the first time.
Governors volunteer their time and, at the moment, many of them are also facing additional work responsibilities along with caring responsibilities for their own families. Whilst we have put in place processes for communication, we need to be flexible with each other and consider our own wellbeing as well.
Q: Did your school have a plan in place for the disruption to pupils’ learning and school life which has been experienced?
A: Whilst we had plans in place for business continuity and disaster recovery, they were all aimed at short-term closures, e.g. snow and burst pipes, and not for anything in the longer term or limited notice situations. Teachers, however, had already begun to respond to the growing pandemic by putting together packs to send home which, at that time, were aimed at those in isolation, rather than for a full school closure.
Our last governor meeting was literally the night that the ‘if you can work from home do so’ measure was announced by the Prime Minister. In line with the existing social distancing guidance, we debated moving to a virtual meeting, but instead felt the face-to-face support to school staff would be more important – and probably be the last for a while. We decided to shorten the meeting to deal with urgent business only.
Q: How has communication been maintained with school leaders?
A: I am currently the chair of governors, so I am communicating with the headteacher, and feeding back to other governors via the GovernorHub notice board. We are using a mixture of communication methods including phone calls, emails and text messages – depending on the purpose of the conversation. If I am unable to continue this for any reason, then we have a plan in place for the headteacher to communicate with the vice chair. In addition, I am in regular communication with the vice chair and our clerk.
Q: How has the governing board monitored key priorities such as safeguarding and the health and wellbeing of staff and pupils?
A: These areas are being covered in phone conversations, monitoring of updated policies, and keeping up-to-date with the changes in school provision. We have also received advice from our clerk who has access to different sources of information which is shared with all governors.
Q: How has communication been maintained with the governing board?
A: We are fortunate that our LA provides GovernorHub, which we were already using prior to the pandemic. We utilise the ‘Noticeboard’ feature within GovernorHub well and governors are encouraged to ask questions, and to acknowledge the updates via the Noticeboard. We have also had a trial online meeting between governors which worked well.
Q: What is the smallest action you have taken as a governor or as a governing board during the coronavirus pandemic that has had the biggest impact?
A: I would have to go with just being there as a sounding board for the headteacher. We have a very small SLT, most of whom continue teaching, so giving the headteacher the opportunity to share frustrations or discuss a plan with me, during a period when the world was changing on a daily basis, enabled teachers to continue with teaching the children.
And, this is not a small action – writing a thank you card to all staff!
Q: What lessons do you think have been learnt by the governing board during this pandemic?
A: No one can wholly plan for the unexpected but being flexible ensures that changes to provision can take place quicker. School leaders are used to following guidance – nationally and from the LA – so making those difficult decisions before the guidance was available is not something that they are used to. Keeping up-to-date with the changes required a lot of time.
Q: What plans do governors have for the recovery phase and the steps needed to return to usual governance procedures?
A: We are moving to virtual meetings as an interim measure and will continue our monthly full governing board meetings remotely – although these will be shorter. It is likely that the finance monitoring group will meet virtually with the finance manager to look at the budget for next year. Our monitoring visits were all documented in the SDP, so we will review those carefully and ensure that the areas that were missed this year are covered early in the Autumn term. We plan to discuss with the SLT how they will ensure that the current Year 1 pupils cover the required curriculum within the reduced time. When things are back to normal, we hope to plan some form of thank you to staff – maybe afternoon tea.
Q: Has the governing board considered a process for reviewing the school’s continuity plans once school life returns to normal?
A: I am sure we will, even if all we do is document what we put in place for this situation. I think there is also an opportunity to see what we can learn from how other schools approached it, and whether any of that would have worked for our pupils.
Q: Do you think the governing board or school leaders will maintain any changes to practice and provision made during the pandemic once schools return?
A: We are an infant school, with a focus on learning through fun and play – the activities that have been sent home reflect that. It has reinforced how important staying in contact with families via phone is. It has enabled teachers more time to plan and put forward other ideas, which I hope will be incorporated into school life.
There has been a lot of collaboration with other schools in the area which it would be good to see continue. Headteachers are sharing more with each other.
Q: What has been the biggest challenge for you and the governing board during the coronavirus pandemic?
A: We are still a new team of governors and don't have much contact outside of our monthly governor meetings. On reflection, the challenge for me has been in communication and in getting governors to engage with what is happening, if there is not a specific task for them – I don't think this can be wholly blamed on coronavirus though.
Q: What have you been most proud of during the coronavirus pandemic?
A: All the school staff for going above and beyond for our children of key workers and vulnerable pupils, even though many of them were scared for themselves and their families.
Q: What has surprised you most during this time?
A: Not surprised, but good to have it confirmed that our school is a flexible environment and although everyone is at home, the values that we encourage at school are still present in people's homes. The attributes we are seeking to encourage in our pupils, have been displayed by the adults involved with the school.
For those at home, activities are being provided and teachers have phoned all the parents of children in their class – and will continue to do so once a fortnight. For those in school, the teachers have created a fun, safe space that the children want to attend. The children have done many different activities; however, they are also being supported to complete the work that has been sent home.
Q: Do you have any other comments or observations to share?
A: As we know, different governors bring different aspects and qualities to the board. This has been essential for getting things done in a hurry. We have needed to consider who can get virtual meetings arranged and accessible to all governors (not just the IT literate) and who is key in the local community to provide support from a wellbeing perspective – actually cake delivery, although lockdown came before it was implemented.
There have also been opportunities for senior teachers to step up and take on additional responsibilities whilst school has been operational for a small number of pupils.