The ArgusYour interview: Patrick Lowe, education expert (From The Argus)

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Your interview: Patrick Lowe, education expert

The Argus: Your interview: Patrick Lowe, education expert Your interview: Patrick Lowe, education expert

JOE TANSEY, phone-in: In view of the hard work that governors put in and the amount of hours – often unsociable – that they put in, do you think they should be given allowances similar to councillors?

PATRICK LOWE (PL): That’s a good question for a debate. I personally did not become a governor to be paid allowances similar to councillors but to give something back to the community and make a real difference. I love what I do and I have found that the more you put in the more you get out. A part of me goes into everything that I am involved in and I feel so privileged to be in the responsible positions that I am in. I have great memories and never know what I will face when I visit the school. For example one day I found myself as the next victim of a murder mystery. Of course the children solved the mystery, the head was arrested and I thanked everyone for saving my life with an approved box of treats.

CRAIG SHORT on email: What are the main responsibilities of being a school governor?

PL: The National Governors Association explains this in detail which I have summarised. School governors provide the strategic leadership and accountability in schools and appoint the head teacher. It is governors who hold the main responsibility for finance in schools and work with the head teacher to make the tough decisions about balancing resources.

Each individual governor is a member of a governing body, established in law as a corporate body, may not act independently of the rest of the governing body and decisions are the joint responsibility of the governing body. The role of the governing body is to set the aims and objectives for the school, set the policies for achieving those aims and objectives, set the targets, monitor and evaluate the progress the school is making towards achievement of its aims and objectives, and be a source of challenge and support to the headteacher (a critical friend).

ANDREW MENDONCA on email: Are there enough thorough vetting procedures for school governors?

What background checks are carried out?

PL: Safeguarding is a crucial area for all schools and Ofsted and it is taken extremely seriously. Every school has a rigorous safeguarding policy and I am confident in the vetting procedures for school governors being carried out. As the governing body is either the employer or exercises employer responsibilities, it has responsibility for ensuring that the school meets the legal requirements in terms of safeguarding. The school undertakes criminal record checks (now officially known as DBS checks) on all new members of staff and records this information in a single central record.

The governing body makes sure that this record is properly maintained and is kept up to date. Each new governor has the same DBS check which is free as we are volunteers and refusal if requested according to latest guidelines is grounds for dismissal.

RYAN TELFER on email: Are school governors active enough in standing up to a school’s administration if they are acting beyond their powers or unreasonably? Too often they seem to support the school no matter what?

PL: The governing body is the school’s accountable body and I personally have complete respect and admiration for my fellow colleagues in carrying out effective governance along with being able to handle the many challenges.

Ultimately the head is answerable to the governing body and is more likely to be the governing body’s critical friend in a strong and effective relationship than to be acting unreasonably. The second part of the question is a little unfair. As a governor of course I will support my school but myself and the rest of the governing body from the school will make decisions that we believe is correct and that we are all working effectively for the best interests in the education of the children.

KEITH SEARLE on email: What influence can governors have on improving education/schools?

PL: The simple answer to this question is a lot. It’s a huge topic and can be discussed at length but I will give you the shortened version. Governors bring a wide range of experience and expertise.

These skills are identified by a skills audit and with our experiences we make a difference with effective decision-making. Governing bodies establish a strategic vision and set the aims of the school within an agreed policy framework. The head’s performance is managed and is accountable to the governing body.

We also agree the school’s improvement strategy which includes setting the statutory targets with supporting budgets and the staffing structures and we monitor the effectiveness and provide feedback.

When Ofsted carries out an inspection we need to demonstrate that we have been an effective governing body and that we have influenced the schools improvement and children’s education.

KAREN REYNOLDS on email: How will you use your position on the National Governors Association to boost education standards in Brighton and Hove?

PL: The National Governors Association plays a very important part in improving governance throughout the country.

One of the benefits of being on the National Board of Governors is that I am in contact with incredibly talented people, kept up to date with the latest developments and have an input in the consultations. I am part of a team working together and shared good practice is passed on locally. My new role has allowed me to identify similarities with other coastal areas of the challenges that we are facing.

Having chaired a recent South East Conference in Guildford with governors describing similar experiences along with a fellow regional director I believe it would be of great benefit if we had a conference focusing on the coastal regions after further consultation. I am available to offer any support that is asked from me and I will continue improving our partnerships.

TRACY EASTER on email: Is it difficult to juggle work commitments with being a governor?

PL: I personally am very lucky because I am self-employed so I have more free time than most. I try to manage my time effectively but sometimes it can be tough. There are many incredible people that I have the honour to know who are actively working but manage to have the time to take on the role of a school governor and juggle their commitments. Meetings tend to be in the early evening and planned well in advance along with any school appointments and visits. One area that is extremely important is keeping up with the latest developments and that does involve a lot of reading and attending courses.

saveHOVE, online: Secondary schools will soon have to find places for the population bulge currently in primary schools. Has the time come to switch focused attention to that and to discourage free schools from overproviding primary school places?

PL: I believe that it is important to keep an eye on both primary and secondary places. Inevitably there will be added pressure as pupils start moving up towards secondary places and there are challenges ahead. However, there is still great difficulty in Hove, for example, where there is still a huge demand for primary places. You can’t prevent someone from opening up a new free school that meets its obligations and far from putting up barriers we all need to be working together in partnership with sensible solutions for the sake of the children.

Personally, I would hope that we don’t see bulge classes and extensions in our secondary schools and that a way forward can be found. The most important thing is that we are able to see a clear strategic vision.

JEFF WHITE on email: Brighton and Hove currently has two academies; both were forced into becoming academies. There is a growing interest in other schools electing to become an academy. What advice would you give to governors who are being asked by senior management about considering this move?

PL: Nationally, I am aware that there has been a lot of schools who have become academies. So it is of no surprise that schools are now considering the move in Brighton and Hove. Each school will have its own reasons for doing so but it would require the approval of the full governing body who would look at what is in the best interests of the children’s education. Every school has different circumstances so I couldn’t provide any advice without a better understanding of what those circumstances were and I would need to have been invited by the chair of governors with the support of the governing body. I know that we have highly skilled and effective governors who are extremely capable at what they do and I would be happy to offer any support if I was asked.

One thing that I do think is important, whatever decision is being made, is maintaining and strengthening the school’s partnerships.

BETTY WIDDOP, phone-in: While I understand the teachers’ frustration and respect their rights to strike, surely they’re setting a bad precedent for their students?

PL: Thank you for your question but it is a contradiction. On the one hand there is an understanding of the teachers’ frustration and respect for their right to strike whilst on the other there is a criticism of setting a bad precedent for their students. I am sure it has been a difficult decision for the teachers but I hope that there is an amicable solution in the very near future.

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