The Journal for Executive and Governance Leaders

Becoming a Vice-Chair during the pandemic

“Allow me to encourage you to reflect on the impact you have had at this time.”

So spoke our CEO to our four Headteachers, thanking them for the quality of their leadership and the support they have shown each other during the public health crisis. For those of us on trust and school boards, anxiously weighing up the safest way to re-open our schools, it’s been important to create the headspace to reflect with our CEOs and school leaders on the remarkable impact that they have had.

As we seek to mitigate risk, and balance educational need with psychological and physical safety, we recall our first duty as trustees to provide support and challenge. Elements within the media have been awash with misinformation about how schools have been “closed” when in fact our teachers, support staff and leaders have been working flat out to remain open for the children of key workers while providing online learning and food for families in need. Thanking them for their creativity, commitment, resilience and fortitude and supporting them through these challenging times is paramount, as is reflecting with them on how they are growing as leaders during this time.

The commitment to collaboration and knowledge-sharing between schools and school trusts across the nation has been humbling, with CST, ASCL, Oak Academy and many others providing outstanding advice and support to trusts like ours. We’re all addressing the same immediate challenges – how we can create the conditions for learning in the “new normal” and mitigate risk to the lowest possible level – while engaging in continuous debate about the longer term opportunities – in particular how we harness the power of digital learning for the coming decades.

It has been so hopeful to listen to our leaders’ ideas about how to navigate the challenges and seize the opportunities, and to add some value to that creative thinking. At the moment, in common with all other schools and trusts, we are urgently reviewing our risk assessments and action plans to consider whether and how to re-open from 1st June. We’re planning how to deliver education for those in Year 5 due to sit Key Stage 2 SATs in May 2021, those currently in Year 10 and Year 12 for whom this time is critical; and for those transitioning to secondary school in September. Front of mind for us, as for everyone, is how we reach vulnerable groups who may wish to keep their children at home, and how we build their confidence in our plans.

As we seek to mitigate risk, and balance educational need with psychological and physical safety, we recall our first duty as trustees to provide support and challenge.

It has been exciting – and a positive for our Trust – to continue the strategic work in the background on matters previously on the table for Board discussion before COVID-19 struck. In our case, this includes our exciting plans for the opening of our new school, Coombe Wood, (which will be a free comprehensive school in the heart of Croydon with state-of-the-art sporting facilities), and the ways in which we might expand as a Trust to serve other communities in our region. As well as extending impact to wider communities, it’s clear that scale is internally desirable too, enabling a trust like ours to offer additional service provision, for example mental health support for families and a centralised digital learning service. A small group of us have been working on these areas alongside our urgent ongoing work on COVID-19. Judging how to balance the two in terms of executive and non-executive time spent on it has been one of the particular nuances of stepping up to the role of Vice-Chair.

As I write, it’s Mental Health Awareness Week, focusing on the power and potential of kindness. We’re holding our Extraordinary Board Meeting to reflect collectively on what we do next. We’re reminded as we approach difficult decisions that we must be guided by the science and do what is right based on the best available evidence; but also that the Nolan principles of selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership will guide us.