|Dear NGA members,
We have received such a number of enquiries following the Prime Minister’s broadcast on Sunday that I felt it was important to break our usual habit of waiting until the end of the week to update you with the news. The Department for Education (DfE) published guidance yesterday evening on how it believes schools can begin to open safely for more pupils: Guidance for education and childcare settingsGuidance on implementing protective measuresGuidance for parents and carers. We have suggested that the DfE also needs to produce guidance specifically for governing boards and we are expecting this later in the week. In the meantime, I thought it would be helpful to confirm where responsibility lies:The final decision on whether to invite pupils back will rest with schools and academy trusts. Schools should only invite those pupils back when and if their assessment of the risk is that it is safe for both children and staff to do so. While school leaders will be beginning to assess options, there is no need to rush into any decisions immediately.
Re-opening a school is an operational decision which is taken by school leaders. Clearly any decision made by school leaders will need to take into account the DfE guidance, applying it to the school’s individual context. We expect school leaders to consult with their governing boards who have a role as employers (or in place of employers) and a duty of care to pupils.
The headteacher (or possibly another executive within a multi academy trust) will need to undertake a full risk assessment before making a decision, and it would be wise for them to bring that assessment to their governing board. Governing boards, while trusting their professional leaders to carry out that assessment, should test its robustness. The assessment will need to be kept under review.
In developing the options, a board would be reasonable in expecting school leaders to have consulted staff and parents; the latter is particularly important to understanding what the response might be to an invitation for their child to return to school. Parents will not be fined for non-attendance at this time, and schools and colleges will not be held to account for attendance levels.
We would also expect a school leader to discuss the options with the chair and the vice chair of the governing board, using them as sounding boards for this very difficult decision. (In a multi academy trust, we would still expect a headteacher to be in contact with the chair of the academy committee/local governing board – as well as trust’s central executive – as the academy chair will be aware of the local context and premises in a way that the chair of the trust board may not).
Governing boards, and chairs in particular, may be asked to support the communications to the whole school community – staff, parents and more widely. Chairs may be asked to co-sign letters from the headteacher/CEO. This illustrates the importance of the board being behind the leader’s decision as they will need to be able to advocate for the position. There is a role for governing boards in constructing, with their senior leaders, confident communications which fit with their school’s values and ethos, putting the welfare of pupils at the heart of decision making.
These are extremely difficult decisions to take and it is imperative that school leaders and chairs of governing boards maintain regular contact. We are aware of much wonderful school leadership over the past two months, but this must not be taken for granted and it is crucial that their well-being is not being compromised. As you are no doubt aware, governing boards owe a duty of care to staff, and in particular to their senior leader.We are continuing to produce NGA guidance but if you are not sure of anything, please do contact the GOLDline – email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0121 237 3782. Our advice team is up-to-date with the latest guidance and will seek an answer from the DfE where necessary. We continue to be in dialogue with the DfE, and as I mentioned in last Thursday evening’s newsletter, continue to make the representations we have received from our membership. NGA will also be publishing answers to frequently asked questions every day while new queries continue to arrive with us.
Governing boards need to continue to show their support for their schools and trusts in a proportionate fashion, as so many of you have been doing, being there for your senior leaders with guidance when necessary, but without adding to the immense pressure of the situation. We are also aware that governing boards are not immune to this strain and anxiety; in particular, chairs will no doubt welcome the support of other members of the board.
Thank you so much for what you are doing to support your schools and their leaders to make good decisions. Please keep in touch and NGA will support you in your good work.
Chief Executive, National Governance Association