Review by Shekeila Scarlett

Chair of governors, Stoke Newington School and Sixth Form

13 Jan 2024, 5:00

Blog

The Conversation – with Shekeila Scarlett

New year. New covenant?

Jeremy Barnes, better known on social media as The Bald Headteacher, rounded 2023 off with a blog that left me deeply pensive. In it, he makes a passionate call to action for 2024:  to move from the contractual approach that characterises our educational system and towards a more collaborative and compassionate covenant, working together to meet the diverse needs of students.

Drawing on his own experience as parent and headteacher, he highlights the continuous challenges faced every day by educators, from attendance to behaviour and more. All, Barnes argues, are evidence of an unsustainable system and of the need for a new way of framing relationships, not just with staff, children and families but between schools too. For example, he talks about the impact that pooling resources, knowledge and expertise can have on individual settings.

From a governance point of view, it all makes a lot of sense. I’ve often asked myself, while sat in meetings, why we are only talking to ourselves. The whole sector is facing similar issues, and as they say, a problem shared is a problem halved. 

With the possibility of a new government in 2024, Barnes’s blog fosters a sense of hope and optimism for change that is just what the sector needs after another challenging year. Timely, thought-provoking and on point: Let’s make this the year we to ditch operating in silos.

Governor exclusion

When I read the NGA’s November report, Taking stock of governance workload, it was with a deep sense of feeling seen. With it, the NGA posed some tangible proposals for the school sector and DfE to implement to manage increasingly unsustainable governance workloads. In her latest blog, the organisation’s co-CEO, Emma Knights reflects on the report’s high levels of engagement – evidence that it ‘clearly hit a nerve’.

Here though, Knights zeroes in on a particular aspect of this growing workload problem: exclusions. More than that, she endorses the complete removal of exclusion review panels from governors’ responsibilities, advocating for a qualified and experienced independent reviewer to take on the responsibility, as recommended by the legal reform charity, JUSTICE.

I agree, and not just because I’ve personally found this work highly time-consuming and intricately challenging. In fact, I’ve sat on both sides of this table. Going from being a young person who was subject of a pupil disciplinary committee to being a governor and chairing exclusion panels has truly been eye-opening. For more about that, you can hear me discussing the experience on The Governors’ Podcast. In the meantime, suffice to say I’m glad the NGA is garnering support to change the involvement of governors in this process.

Food for thought

Finally this week, I’m sure we would all agree that we would feel 2024 had been successful if it was the year the rising tide of families using food banks finally turned. Sadly, that’s unlikely to be the case, and in that context this podcast with UCL professor of sociology, Alice Bradbury is of particular importance.

The podcast hears of the findings of research conducted into the use of food banks in schools and the impact this has on children’s learning and engagement. Conducted in six schools across England and with insights from teachers and senior leaders, the research found that having food and other items available to families makes a difference to concentration, attendance and participation of students within the school eco-system. This will be of little surprise to Schools Week readers, but nevertheless useful to have evidenced.

What was perhaps more enlightening was the podcast’s exploration of what prevents food bank use and why school food banks are so important. Most food banks tend to be in religious buildings, which can pose an obvious restriction when you stop to think about it. Schools, on the other hand, are open to all – and not just open, but physically accessible. While it seems quite clear now, I hadn’t really acknowledged how much schools, beyond education, are truly a hub for everything and everyone.

As a governor, I will definitely be campaigning for the government to increase support to schools in this space.

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