Wines for Christmas 2022 9 Dec:  Virtual Food & Wine Pairing Fun
Christmas Lunch 12 Dec:  Ironmongers' Hall
Charities Supper 18 Jan:  Please save the date; booking opens soon
Click here for our rolling calendar or here for City events

Towards a calmer phase of life....

….or be careful what you wish for!

I’ve been really good at moving from one phase of life to the next – three major employers, an enjoyable period of freelance and charity work – now time for a calmer phase; local, no commuting, more family and ‘me’ time and a lower golf handicap.  So I withdrew after 10 years of active service to WCoMC and CCE, ran down my coaching clients and bought new golf clubs.  A slight doubt about keeping the brain cell active was met with sage advice, ‘If you stay open opportunities will arise’.

Our jolly Rector, fuelled like me with very drinkable pinot noir at a Christmas drinks party, asked me what I was doing these days.  Without engaging my conscious brain my mouth said ‘nothing much - '...Will see what comes along.’  Which was how I became a governor of the local CE primary school, managed as a federation with another village school some 8 miles away.  Only 6 meetings a year I thought, schools have outstanding records, brilliant Head, capable Chair and 16 other governors, so why not?

I forgot that opportunities seem to expand. Six months into trying to understand the complexity of the education world capable Chair resigned because of work commitments.  In what I later saw as an exquisite pincer movement, jolly Rector called me and suggested that I might be interested.  The next morning brilliant Head asked me to pop in on some pretext and in a ‘by the way’ told me that she thought she and I would work well together.  As a sucker for flattery I made some positive noises and said I would think about it on holiday the next week.  Six days later, among the red and gold colours of a glorious New England fall, I received an email from the clerk congratulating me on my appointment as Chair.   Lesson – never miss a Governors meeting   (the pinot noir is a given, right?)!

Since then events have continuously and rudely intervened:

  • We are instructed by DfE to reduce the size of our governing body and re-constitute it based on a sensible mix of skills.  Have you ever tried to entice a couple of octogenarians, who have been governors for ever, to stand down gracefully?  Don’t rush.
  • That nice Mr Gove launches a stream of initiatives aimed at raising education standards and nasty Mr Wilshaw threatens his Ofsted storm-troopers to check that you are doing so
  • Local authorities are gradually elbowed out as Governing Boards (I thought I’d joined a governing body) become responsible for school strategy, delivery of the school plan, employment of the brilliant Head and staff, safeguarding of pupils and so on………
  • Performance-related pay is introduced (at least I know about that) with the slight complication that there is no extra money to pay for good performance
  • As a leaving present nice Mr Gove introduces a new curriculum for introduction in nine months – though it had not been developed yet and no extra money was available for staff training or new materials. 
  • He then abolishes the pupil progress measurement system which, though time consuming for teachers was well understood - even by parents who could keep tabs on how their children were doing.  To replace the established 1a, 1b, 1c, 2a……. system the ‘nice’ one gave us the three E’s – pupils were either Emerging, Expected or Exceeding, but he seems to have forgotten to ask his DfE troops to provide yardsticks, suggesting that schools work out for themselves precisely what the Es should mean at the end of every year.  The consequence of this, which may not have been intended, was that school leaders in thousands of schools nationwide have all been developing their own interpretations – to be used for the first time this academic year.  I hope the DfE does not pass the idea on to the MoD for the armed services!
  • As all this was going on the maestro conductor George was busy righting the deficit so staff only got 1% pa pay increases, and only if they were not at the top of their grades.  Maestro is nothing but consistent – ‘I am protecting the schools budget’ actually meant that income for each pupil, in cash, not real terms, had been frozen for 7 years
  • Maestro’s deficit plan was faltering so he announced increases in employer NI and pension contributions amounting to 5.8% over three years but no increases in income to schools to pay for them as that would be self-defeating.  Schools therefore having cut the ‘low hanging fruit’ costs will need to reduce staffing costs to stay afloat, bearing any redundancy costs they occur.  Financial year three for our primary schools looks a disaster.  Secondary schools are worse hit with many already cancelling courses and making teachers redundant.
  • Nicer Nicky succeeded nice Mr Gove, who has now left DfE and soon the EU, promising to listen to Heads and to devolve authority to them.  She has so far done this by sharply increasing even further the SAT test standards required in English (sharpen your subordinating conjunctions before you try a paper) and Maths;  and announcing that all schools should become academies by 2022 – this will kick the dastardly Local Authorities right off the pitch.
  • And who has to make this happen?  Brilliant Head (she would if she weren’t retiring) or ‘open to opportunity’ governors?  Because we are such good chairs we can take on another school if we want; or become a local Lead Governor, or join a multi-academy trust as a trustee! Wow!

PS. Just as I complete this reflection nicer Nicky has become hapless Nicky, having been forced to back-track and withdraw the ‘all schools must be academies by 2022’ edict.

Aren’t leaders meant to set an example to pupils?  What happened to ‘establish the facts, use critical thinking, explore and evaluate options, talk through with stakeholders, build support?' Or are they going to announce a policy change to Ready, Fire, don’t bother to Aim?

Perhaps I need a more cunning phase plan, a part time one……………………….!








Liveryman Gareth Rees