From Virtual Governance to Governance 20:20+

The lockdown has forced many of us to come up with new ways of working to complete tasks that were usually done face-to-face and thinking about processes and routines differently. We certainly have, Shaping Governance’s unique feature is that it is an all-in-one training and improvement meeting where governors meet together to learn, share, and improve all in 2 hours.

A great USP - but not during a Pandemic 😂. But, thanks to packages such as Zoom or MS Teams, and a little bit of ingenuity on my part - Shaping Governance is now online. 🙌

Governance has had to change to. At first, I think we all thought that the lockdown would be over after Easter; but it soon became apparent that it was the new normal for some time to come. As governors, over the past few months, we have had to ‘pivot’ the way that we conduct our governance meetings, relying on video conferencing for ‘seeing’ colleagues and communicating.

As a Chair, a Clerk, and my role in advising schools on how they can maintain governance during the lockdown, I have to say that, in the main, governance adapted well. Most boards now meet virtually, some have met more often as they want to support the Headteacher, others have just maintained their schedule, but it is clear that governance meetings can be virtual.

Yes, there is more work to prepare; Yes, if I had a £ for every time I have heard, ‘you’re on mute’ I'd be rich, but governors have, in my view, grasped ‘virtualness’, and for me, it's the future.

As we all start preparing for the next academic year, will virtualness still be in your Governance Toolkit?

I feel that there have been so many benefits associated with virtual meetings. So, to be sure that it wasn’t just my view, I did a quick survey with schools that I work with; and here are just a few benefits expressed by them:

Time-efficient meetings

Meetings, in most of the schools that I work with, have been much more succinct, with fewer, but more structured agenda items, focused discussions without losing the quality of debate, and a sense of structure. What was missing though, was the opportunity to network and have conversations - chit chat, at the start of the meeting. But this can happen too, just in a more focused way.

Better for working governors

Most governors on my own governing board, and in many schools work full time. There is always a debate at the start of the year about the best time for governing meetings. Holding virtual meetings can help with this, as governors can return home from work and dial in, without the additional burden of travel. Leading to…

Better attendance

Many boards that we have spoken with say that the governor attendance has improved. Maybe this is because they are more focused, or that they don’t have to travel, or that we were all on lockdown and wanting to see people; not sure of the reason, but meeting virtual has definitely improved attendance.

Better for Headteachers and senior leaders

Often governor meetings are held in the evening, to help those that work, but this makes the day very long for staff. Virtual meetings would enable the staff to go home at a reasonable time and dial-in.

Better for documentation

Many boards have moved their paperwork online and can access this during usual face-to-face meetings. There is the expectation that governors have read papers in advance, but it is useful to sometimes view documents that you are discussing, and the document sharing ability of video conferencing works a treat.

Better for Recruitment

Yes, better for recruitment. I work with many boards that struggle to fill governor vacancies with local people, either because there isn’t the interest, or they haven’t got the skills that the board is looking for. Could virtual meetings open up the Country; having Governors governing form 200 miles away? I think it does.

Better for evaluation

The lockdown time has given many of us who govern the chance to review and reflect on how we work, how we communicate, and provide support and challenge the Headteacher and senior leaders.

However, it’s not all been smooth…

Whilst the above benefits are great and to be applauded, there are some things that have not worked as well or are future challenges to overcome. These include supporting less techy governors; maintaining confidentiality; less opportunity for natural conversations and networking; designing how governors can monitor the quality of education, and seeing and speaking with pupils.

Governance 20:20+

How can school governing boards take the best of being virtual and create a blended governance framework? I expect that many boards will be considering this question now, I know I am with my Boards. What could a blended approach look like?

As many of you who have worked with me know, I use appreciative approaches in my work; supporting boards to understand and grow the good. So, using this tried and tested approach, I’m developing a new approach to governance, capitalising on the above benefits, whilst navigating and overcoming the challenges.

I’m really excited about what I’m calling Governance 20:20+; balancing our need to be in school seeing what is happening, with the benefits of virtual working. Covering full board meetings, development days, monitoring visits and link roles, which I'm trialing now.

More than happy to talk this through with you if you are interested in developing your own blended Governance 20:20+ approach.

Su Turner

Managing Director

Insight to Impact, and creator of Shaping Governance®