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Governance during Covid-19

25 May 2020   |   Karen Froggatt   |   Wellspring Academy Trust

Like all of us, our Directors and Governing Body members had to ‘hit the ground running’ in order to adapt to using virtual communications when the lockdown struck.

Comfort zones were very definitely stepped outside – and that’s just me! Thankfully the work undertaken by Jonny Wathen and his team late last year in establishing virtual meeting hubs and introducing us all to the world of Google helped enormously. Directors’ and Governors’ online access to meeting documentation was already well-established (thankfully), which was a great help.

The Spring 2 round of Governing Body meetings coincided with the start of the lockdown and were impacted, though School Leaders and Governors were actively communicating with each other by other means from the outset. The regular and detailed updates from Academies and the Trust has been extremely beneficial in keeping Governors and Directors up to speed with developments, enabling them to gain assurance and insight during this unprecedented time.

Meetings of the Trust Board, Board Committees and less formal governance-related meetings have continued as planned, which has enabled workplans to be adhered to – not least in respect of key areas of work such as the production of budgets, the development of the Trust’s ‘Vision 2025’ Strategic Plan and an extensive review of governance policies and practices, as a key part of the review of the Trust’s Schemes of Delegation which define ‘who does what’ within the Trust.

Everyone has pulled together to ensure that governance has been as much like ‘business as usual’ as possible. New Governors have been appointed to a number of Governing Bodies, induction sessions have taken place, finances have been subject to their usual scrutiny and various approvals have been gained, avoiding any operational delays.

There’s been even greater focus on risk assessment than is already the case, including the development of a Covid-19 Strategic Impact Analysis and the Trust’s Audit Committee having ‘catch-up’ meetings every couple of weeks.

Though our Directors and Governors (like employees) are clearly subject to the external ‘noise’, confusion and competing challenges of recent weeks, they have much appreciated the calm, confident approach by the Trust and our Academies. They clearly have important roles to fulfill within the Trust and need to be aware of and involved in what’s happening – whether in respect of safeguarding,
educational provision during lockdown and next steps now that attention has turned to pupils starting to return to schools. They also want to seek assurance re the welfare of staff (and leaders) and to ‘do the right thing’ for the benefit of all.

I very much hope that colleagues’ experience of governance has been positive. There are some extremely strong and mutually supportive relationships between (eg) School Leaders and Governors – particularly Governing Body Chairs – who give considerable time and commitment to their extremely valuable role. Everyone wants the best for the young people in our care and for colleagues – especially those ‘on the front line’.

Governance throughout the Trust needs to be informed, resilient and provide assurance to the Trust Board and Executive Management. Risks clearly need to be assessed and monitored / mitigated against. While trusting professional management to undertake such assessments, Directors and Governors should test their robustness.

Directors and Governors will understandably be seeking assurance of a range of factors, including the quality of communication with staff and parents/carers. They are advocates for the Trust and Academies and need to be confident, assured and able to fulfill their duty of care.

They will show their support for the Trust and Academies in a proportionate fashion, supporting Senior Leaders without adding to the immense pressure of the current situation. I believe that this is what we’ve been experiencing and hope you agree…

In addition to our Governors and Directors being assured by the calm and confident approach that’s permeated throughout the Trust and Academies during the last few weeks, I believe that our support for each other and our collective commitment to ‘One Wellspring’ and our values – with the welfare of our young people being at the heart of all our decision-making – has been particularly evident, further demonstrating our commitment to doing the right thing…

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