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Blog - 8 July 2014

by Kathryn Solly

Be Prepared! Advice for the Headteachers and Governors of Maintained Nursery Schools

An account of the main points from a workshop led by Early Education, the National Association of Small Schools and the National Governors Association

Governance is firmly based around having the right people around the table and them understanding their various roles and responsibilities. Good chairing and professional clerking make a big difference too. Maintained nursery schools benefit most if the Chair stays in post for a maximum of 6 years before moving on to another school to new challenges and skill sharing.

All governors need to know about every aspect of their school and support good relationships based upon trust. It is never safe to assume someone else covers that area. Concurrently governors need to ask challenging questions of the school and hold courageous conversations, which are in the best interests of children.

Be aware of a successful school’s institutional modesty and sharing your school’s strengths and achievements with the press, councillors and Members of Parliament by inviting them in to see the school in action. Advertise the nursery school’s specialism for early years with a specially trained headteacher and high quality professional teaching staff who are more expensive because of their levels of training. They are paid above the living wage as a direct result unlike some PVI settings.

The recruitment of governors is therefore crucial and particularly as nursery schools face up to another reconstitution of their governing bodies during 2014-15.  Hence evaluating the present governing body by carrying out a skills audit and taking time over the recruitment of new members is very worthwhile. This review will clearly need honesty and not defensiveness. Governors can really benefit from understanding their code of conduct (available from www.nga.org.uk) as well as expecting to participate in training and continuing professional development. Specific assistance can be acquired from clare.collins@nga.org.uk

All governors need to work together especially in these challenging days when nursery schools are under threat.  It is really beneficial to carry out a SWOT analysis and develop a plan for future options having considered every possibility such as federation, diversification with the inclusion of 2 year olds, reception aged children etc. Consider applying for any available money for special groups of children and consider widening the age range of the school. Look at how your school can become a Teaching School or possibly an Academy.

Governors need to be fully appraised of the following factors:

  • Understand in detail the 5 stage statutory procedures for school closure as it quite rapid - hence understanding the clear guidance from the DfE is critical.
  • Make sure that the information, which must appear is all there.
  • Develop your armoury and understand that being outstanding is of key importance as it makes it far more difficult to start closure procedures. Therefore use the frequent inspections to celebrate your quality.
  • Ensure you have excellent self-evaluation.
  • Ensure your evidence of data, strengths, quality, costings is ready and available at short notice.
  • Ensure you keep a trained early years headteacher.
  • Ensure you have clear evidence of vulnerable children’s progress and evidence from social care and health sources too.
  • Ensure you use external evidence of evaluation, Ofsted and other inspection reports, parental and community engagement.
  • Distribute your evidence to everyone especially parents.
  • Develop a strong parent body with a clear voice and are an action force to challenge closure.
  • Make sure that parents understand their right of access to a local school place of similar quality.
  • Engage with the unions that due process has been followed.
  • Clarify all details from the LA about costings, consultation periods, minutes of meetings, documents are also critical as they may well be economical with the truth!
  • Ask for all the LA’s evidence of why they see closure as the only option.

Other ideas to explore:

  • Be political write letters to councillors, MP’s and the press.
  • Call in the oppositions support for your case at Overview and Scrutiny meetings of the local council.
  • Ask questions via Freedom of Information requests-it keeps them very busy!
  • Some LA’s carry out a war of attrition so support each other and the headteacher.
  • Talk to other nursery schools, which have survived and learn from them.

View the Powerpoint presentations from the workshop.

Comments from Mervyn Benford of NASS

Your paper includes the absolute essence of the advice NASS has given schools facing closure - and more. You are so right to maintain the emphasis on governors awareness of school performance. The link between Osfted views and closure or other reorganisation is stronger these days. A  school’s best defence is its quality.

Your advice on those several aspects of evaluating school strengths and weaknesses could form part of a sub-Committee that would as a result own the nuts and bolts of the vital “good start” a campaign against closure essentially needs. Being able to move quickly is a real advantage. The group could have a  starter strategy in place - namely arrangements for immediate defence statements to local and national media, local and national political representatives, letters to Chief Executive, Leader of Council and Director of Education registering disagreement with what the closure papers say - invariably limited to what the Authority wants to say and no more - and not forgetting doorstep campaigning on the basis of all that evidence of quality results that has been accumulating as normal governor action. Those letters and e-mails from individuals in the community count far more than petitions except where petitions have some power to force action.

So you cover all aspects of governors’ responsibilities. I would just add some words on what ultimate preparedness would mean - namely not just having done all the good things as normal good practice but readiness for the fight. Until the moment comes it need not be burdensome but it should always be in mind. I am aware of countless schools who really had not thought they would be facing closure proposals.