How does governance in lockdown feel?
I became Acting Chair at Co-op Academy Delius shortly before lockdown and soon after was asked to cover, when necessary, as Vice Chair at Co-op Academy Grange. Hands up: I’m not a sponsor governor, but I do know both academies fairly well. I have been a governor at Delius since before the school opened and was also involved with Grange before we joined the Trust in June 2019.
Delius is currently the Trust’s only primary special academy. The range of Delius’ provision reflects the diversity of our pupils’ special educational needs: the original building includes a small swimming pool, rebound and sensory rooms, and the Sparkle Suite described in Charlotte Millea’s recent blog. The additional site provides a curriculum focusing on a wider range of life skills. Many of our pupils move on to Co-op Academy Southfield, co-located with Grange!
Grange is one of the largest secondary schools in Bradford. There have been at least third generation Grangers! All our pupils arrive with potential, but many lack the – widely defined – means to make the most of it. They, like Grange, are on the way to a brighter future. A well-timed inspection took Grange out of special measures just before we joined the Trust.
— Co-op Academy Grange (@coopgrange) April 7, 2020
So, how does governance in lockdown feel?
Possibly quite frustrating for many governors. Reducing the governance workload has been a priority, but it does mean less active involvement for the wider Local Governing Board (LGB). Governance is about teamwork and I aim to keep other governors up to date, occasionally prompted by the ever-vigilant West Yorkshire Hub, but that is obviously not the same as us all engaging directly with staff, pupils and the issues of the day!
Some aspects of governance are clearly difficult, if not impossible, to carry out without visiting school. Less urgent work has been postponed until next term – and hopefully not beyond. There’s nothing quite like walking into school, seeing and being greeted by pupils and staff and hearing the familiar call of “Ah! [insert name], while you’re here …”. I’m sure every governor looks forward to visiting classes again, whether Year 10 Maths or a session in soft play!
As in every walk of life, future practice will be informed by our current experiences. Since March I have chaired a meeting with a governor rocking his son, born during lockdown, to sleep (the joke is too obvious). Pets have been introduced prior to the start of meetings and it is obviously easy to flit from one meeting to the next. Okay, so the pet thing might not catch on, but greater use of virtual attendance at meetings could be of real benefit! Delius has appointed various staff virtually; Grange has recruited a governor the same way.
I am immensely proud of just how much the staff in academies have done and will continue to do for pupils, families and each other. Families have been contacted regularly. Within a couple weeks of closure, Grange had delivered work in hard copy to every student. Over 50% of Grange families did not have internet access, so with the help of the Co-op, Chromebooks were provided.
— Co-op Academy Grange (@coopgrange) March 30, 2020
The Grange Rover – acquired some time ago to collect pupils who struggle to arrive at school on time, if at all – now also delivers some of the vital, non-academic support being provided to pupils and their families. As the photo shows, it also ensures a “personal” visit by our Head Teacher!
— Miss Mander (@coop_MissMander) October 21, 2019
Delius has sent a wide variety of activities home to pupils. A bank of online lessons is available and staff have made regular deliveries of milk and yoghurt to families unable to shop for or afford them, arranged birthday treats – and the occasional socially distanced surprise visit – for pupils, and have sewn an impressive variety of resources for future use.
The Year 6 graduation ceremony, always a bittersweet highlight of the year, took place as a drive-through of the bus compound. The list goes on!
Our drive through Graduation had lots of big celebratory balloons, a DJ and some beautiful banners made by our children. We were even joined by Minnie Mouse for the occasion. pic.twitter.com/OOiBxQvRr7
— Co-op Academy Delius (@coopdelius) July 15, 2020
I spent the first ten years of my career at the Bank of England. The Bank gave me my first links with schools, introducing me to the Education Business Partnership in Tower Hamlets, careers conferences and pupil mentoring, all of which eventually led me to become a governor at a special school.
After a move to Yorkshire, and a brief flirtation with teaching, I returned to financial services. There I met my husband, then a money market dealer, now a postman, and my future as a Rhinos-loving “Yorkshire” lass was sealed.
We now have a ten year old, growing at what feels like a centimetre taller each week, and a dog whose lockdown haircut definitely resembled that of the alter ego after which he is named – without the orange hair dye, fortunately. Somewhere in the middle of all that I applied to be a governor in Bradford and have been part of Delius ever since!
As a Guide leader, I am part of a team running weekly virtual meetings until our unit can meet in person again. We (Guides and leaders!) are now world record holders, as part of the largest virtual camp ever held, and are currently putting plans in place for our (now virtual) annual chip walk. One surprise has been that it took the Guides three months to start standing (virtually) on their heads during meetings. Don’t tell the governors!
Like many people, I have a long list of lockdown projects, but with family, friends, governance and Guides, I’m not getting very far!