Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Not Only But Also And...- the difficult art of school governance

Trustees of independent schools have a difficult task, on top of all those extra, Waldorf, complications. As a trustee you are an unpaid company director, a trustee of a charitable organisation, &, most important of all, governor of a school. Collectively, you are joint "proprietors" of a legal organisation, responsible to the members of an Association tasked to provide "public benefit" &,ultimately, accountable to the Department for Education to ensure the school complies with the Independent School Standards. With that you have also undertaken to do this while helping to maintain the aims & ethos of Steiner Waldorf education.....Not only, but also, &...          

This paper sets out & discusses the implications of the current regulatory position for Steiner Waldorf school trustees & governors. It is, in part, written in response to the consequences of the change-over to the Common Inspection Framework in England. The Framework introduced a new focus on "Leadership & Management" as one of the four areas overarching the Independent School Standards. Some member schools that had previously received satisfactory inspection results appear to have been caught out by the change &, as a result, the SWSF organised the Mind the Gap conference in the spring of 2016. These notes summarise key points from that conference, focussing on school governance. In addition, I have added some reflections related specifically to the challenges presented to Steiner Waldorf schools as well as issues raised in the light of the "quick survey" circulated after that conference. Although this paper refers to arrangements for independent schools in England, its essence applies to all schools, especially publically-funded Academies, but schools in the other nations of the UK & Ireland as well. The regulations may be different, but the underlying spirit is congruent. 

The broadest general principles for trusteeship & governance have been set out by Lord Nolan in his "Seven Principles for Public Life". These apply to any & all public institutions, including governance of independent schools. The seven principles are:
·       Selflessness
·       Integrity
·       Objectivity
·       Accountability
·       Openness
·       Honesty
·       Leadership[1] - this last item being concerned with leading by example, i.e. in behaving in such away as to exemplify the eight previous virtues
(See www.gov.uk)

[While these are abstract qualities open to a variety of interpretation, & in spite of the dangers of proceeding from such generalities to the particular, they do serve to emphasise the seriousness with which trusteeship needs to be thought about & the personal & moral demands involved. The first six qualities in particular, become more practical & immediate when expressed in the form of observable behaviour: selflessness = proceedings & decisions of trustees serve the school, even when individual trustees may be relatively inconvenienced; integrity =  conflicts of interest are properly managed but robust discussion is held in confidence; objectivity = decisions are founded on evidence; concerns & complaints are carefully considered as opportunities to improve the organisation,; accountability = trustees report their decisions to membership with only the names of individuals, or other identifiers that would infringe the dignity of the individual withheld in the interests of integrity; honesty = trustees state their views in accordance with these prior behaviours, scrupulously avoiding hidden agendas]

Ideas about Governance are often confused! Practically, independent school trustees, hold a remit to uphold the Objects of the organisation, viz, "to provide education according to the principles of Rudolf Steiner" (or words to that effect), on behalf of the Membership (ultimately, "the public" since charitable status involves "public benefit"). Thus, the activities of governors are summarised as follows:
·       supporting, monitoring & holding to account those tasked with managing schools & the education
·       ensuring financial health, probity & best use of resources

The Governance Handbook, in which the role as described above can be found is   published by DfE & regularly updated, also providing a useful toolkit for any governing body: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/governance-handbook includes links to official regulations & advice, for which reason it is best accessed electronically. The most compact version of the Independent Schools' Standards (ISS), however, is the Self-Evaluation Tool (SET) developed by School Inspection Service. Trustee bodies should regularly refer to this, using it as their key to ensuring their school is complying with the ISS. That applies, of course, to a far greater extent to those who carry management responsibility within the school. The SET can be found at -

[The SET, although designed for the ISS for independent schools in England, could be used by schools elsewhere within the UK in order to monitor the primary work & responsibilities of the school, with some change of nomenclature. The document applies to publically-funded Academies in England as well because ISS, with the key exception of "Teaching & Learning" - which is linked to the funding agreement - covers all Academies. See: www.nga.org.uk/.../Academy-Governance-from-NGA-s-Governing-Matters--N.aspx & https://www.sgoss.org.uk/images/easyblog_images/24067/A-Guide-to-Academy-Governance.pdf  For Scotland, see the website of the, recently founded Scottish College for Educational Leadership (SCEL), www.scelgage.com]

Although ISS include essential regulations for schools, these are not the only responsibilities for school trustees. In addition to these, school specific, policies & practices, trustees need a grasp & overview of matters such as finance, employment law, insurance, public & community relations, data protection (although the latter is included under the Early Years Foundation Stage regulations, ISS make only tangential reference to data protection).

As described by the National Governors' Association, working with the Wellcome Trust, good school governance is composed of three elements [adapted]:
  1. Governing principles
  2. Strategy setting
  3. Strategy monitoring
These elements are linked together in a planned cycle of meetings. See -www.nga.org.uk

Element 1, Governing Principles:
·       The right people - i.e. clear criteria & recruitment of trustees based on governance needs (trustees should not be appointed to act as "representative" of differing interests within the school, but as independent "counsellors" qualified to attend to needs of the organisation & its proper functioning)
·       Trustees should have a clear understanding of their role & responsibilities - i.e. each has a defined role & training &/or prior experience to fulfil it. These roles include: chairing, financial overview (treasurer), company secretary (compliance with charity law), safeguarding, human resources, equality & special educational needs & disabilities, health & safety, curriculum & quality of teaching & learning (knowledge of Steiner Waldorf principles & practice)
·       Meetings should be effectively chaired - i.e. this implies well-designed agenda & decision-making processes that are implemented & adhered to & that good records are kept so that decisions are followed through
·       Trustees should be able to work together in trust - i.e. discussions can take place with mutual confidence & decisions must be corporate
·        Knowledge of the school - i.e. ethos, staff, parents, students, the community & wider Waldorf movement
·       Commitment to asking challenging questions, including the confidence to raise difficult issues in the interests of the students
·       Finally, openness to seek qualified advice. Where possible this would ideally include professional clerking      

The NGA document includes a series of questions to audit school procedures in line with these points. Always bear in mind, however, that these need to be contextualised with Waldorf principles & best practice. Perhaps it need not be said that such principles apply to those in executive roles as they do to trustees. 

Element 2, Strategy Setting:
Governance is about the longer term interests of the school. A strategy plan, based on shared vision is essential. It is the job of the trustees to agree a strategic plan for a three to five year period. It is then the job of the management to turn this into a school development/improvement plan that is updated annually. Thus the executive role is to facilitate implementation with the support & scrutiny of governors (see below)

Element 3, Monitoring Strategy:
In order to do this, trustees should have indicators for the progress of the plan. These provide "success criteria" used in a similar way to those for formative assessment in the classroom: such criteria can qualitative as well as quantitative. The criteria should be worked out with key members of staff, based on the shared vision & aims of the school as set out above. Aspects included could be:
·       Pupil achievement
·       Other data from assessments of teaching & learning
·       Review of behaviour & attitudes to learning
·       Assessment of personnel development & wellbeing of pupils
·       Assessment of effective curriculum
·       Staff morale
·       Effective use of resources
·       Partnership with parents
(see: What Governing Bodies Should Expect from Senior Leaders & What Senior Leaders Should expect from Governing Bodies, joint paper from LGA, NGA, NAHT, ASCL - April 2015 at www.nga.org.uk)

The distinction between strategic & operational leadership:
This is perhaps the most difficult distinction for colleagues in schools to manage. For governors, the slogan, "eyes on, but hands off" applies. Their task is to act as "critical friend" without usurping the authority of those appointed to work within the executive & leadership of school. As indicated in all the foregoing, governance is strategic, but management is operational, i.e. those with executive responsibility draft policies, recruit & deploy staff & co-ordinate staff evaluation. While policies are drafted by "managers", "governors" must sign off their work (a formal necessity which should be indicated at the beginning of each key school policy document). Strategic leadership can be thought of as framing the mission statement & longer-term (therefore more generalised) plan for the school, managers are responsible for framing & organising the implementation of shorter term (& therefore specific) action plans as well as ensuring policies are followed

[Maintaining these distinctions can be a particular challenge in our schools. Clarity depends on dismissing certain myths common both in Waldorf & anthroposophical institutions in general. To be brief the main myths[2] are:
·       Myth 1: "Steiner's model for the first school precluded any leadership" - It must obvious to anyone who reads the records of the school staff meetings Rudolf Steiner attended (the Conferences) that Steiner himself took the role of school leader; Emil Molt (the "father of the Waldorf School") that of "business manager". The appointment of a Management Committee, as early as 1922-23, gave rise to one of the earliest (& most famous) organisational disputes recorded in the meetings of the first Waldorf School (see Conferences, vol 3 pp 61-69) &, it could be said, those problems were not fully resolved during Steiner's lifetime. It would be closer to the truth to say that Steiner intended that every staff member would be a "self-leader" capable, as need arose, to undertake leadership roles on behalf of the school. Unfortunately these are not infrequently conflated     
·       Myth 2: "The schools operate with flat management" - Collegial, or associative leadership is not the same as "flat management". Taken to its extreme, "flat management" results in a totally undifferentiated democracy, or "homoarchy", in which no decision could be made without discussion & equality of agreement by all concerned. This is the opposite of "republican leadership" (see, the indispensible, Republican Academies complied by Francis Gladstone).In a "republican" structure leadership is authorised by all involved in the work of the school, based on remits, objectives & rules for review & (if necessary) recall   
·       Myth 3: This grows naturally like an overgrown veruca from the previous myths & consists of the de facto prejudice that "no group or individual should carry any authority that cannot be second guessed by the collective/college" (usually an implicit assumption rather than explicit principle) -  This version of organisation helps to explain why left-wing & anarchist groups (in particular) naturally fragment! The most pernicious hierarchies tend to be unacknowledged hierarchies in which no-one technically acts as leader, but everyone knows decisions opposed by certain people will not stand. In an unacknowledged hierarchy, the most powerful (the cleverest or loudest speaker, the retrospective nit-picker , emotional-manipulator or most stubborn bully) can always prevail. It is important to realise that the exercise of power is natural & not itself wrong: power is amoral. Power involves both higher self-leadership & basic self-preservation. The fact that these are in separable to one another is the problem, & the problem asserts itself when instinctive self-preservation over-rides motivated self-leadership. Pure power also tends to the antisocial unless it is ameliorated by, & clothed with, authority  emanating from the social context in which it is exercised. Power expresses the individual; authority must be given willingly. Authority is founded on consent to be led. But that leadership is modified towards positive ends by its qualified nature, which sets boundaries, applies criteria & enables authorisation to be withdrawn & reallocated if the social contract fails or is abused. In many anthroposophical settings problems about authority often rest most dangerously in swamps & quick-sands around those given tasks of responsibility without consenting to the authority necessary      
·       Myth 4: Modern Steiner Waldorf schools are a decadent echo of the first school & only by returning to arrangements like those of 1919-25 can they be set on the right path again. This is another non-specific trap because "loss of principle" is an easy accusation lacking in objectivity: it is a powerful interpretation, often relying on mere assertion. Even the most superficial study of the foundation & first years of the Waldorf School shows the very many alterations, round-about routes & improvised arrangements that had to be adopted. Moreover, when something clearly did not work, Steiner proposed change. True "decadence" involves living on dying embers while adding no new fuel to the fire. The requirements & conditions (law & regulation) attached to opening & running a school in the first quarter of the last century in Stuttgart bear no comparison to those in UK close to a century later. The truth is that Waldorf education was designed to be continually remade, reinvented, reworked, & Steiner himself set the example for how to do that (see the introduction by this writer to Rudolf Steiner's Curriculum...published by Floris Books, 2015, fifth edition)
There are many other myths around discussions of Waldorf leadership & management . The four discussed here attract others, much a log-jamb draws other debris, blocking the flow. A possible contemporary Waldorf school model is summarised in the final section, one of many possible]

Developing & supporting the governance team:
Formal guidance for school governance recommends the following measures in order to sustain the work of trustees & encourage consistency:
·       Conduct all business in the light of the seven principles of public life listed at the beginning of this document
·       Audit trustee skills - A skills audit needs to be conducted periodically & regularly (usually annual) in order to identify any skill gaps & to set about recruiting & training trustees in their role as governors
·       Actively recruit - Having identified the need for new trustees or skills that might be lacking, vacancies should be advertised as widely as possible & potential candidates sought out as necessary. A transparent process for selection & interview should be adopted
·       Provide induction - There should be an overt expectation that new trustees undertake induction training, paid for by the school. This should be set out in advance of final appointment & agreed as part of the code of conduct (see final section)
·       Provide continuous professional development - Trustees must be willing to undertake ongoing relevant training (internal & external) & the school budget should include provision for this at all levels of the school. Governors need to update their knowledge, identifying good practice in other schools as well as learning from experience. (Good practice includes that in maintained schools & others)
·       Be clear about expenses - There should be an agreed policy for reimbursement of out-of-pocket expenses
·       Review performance - The governance team should regularly evaluate its own collective effectiveness as well as reviewing the contribution of individual trustees & identifying any development needs
·       Ensure there is succession planning - It is considered good practice to develop recruitment to replace team members over time. The guidance recommends that members serve for no more than two four year terms in one school         
Code of conduct, including intervention - Waldorf intentions, while meeting regulations:
In this final section we try to draw together the strands of guidance set out above & place them within the practice & principles of Waldorf education. There is general agreement throughout the guidance for governing bodies that governance teams need to operate in terms of a code of conduct. A code of this sort is, like Lord Nolan's seven principles, aspirational: the team seeks to use the code to express behaviour that is in the best interests of the school as a whole, providing a model of good practice throughout the organisation. A suggested code is included as appendix A of this paper, the code, however, should also incorporate the guidance set out above as "Governing principles".

What are the consequences of this for contemporary Steiner Waldorf settings & future developments[3];
In the Chapter 11 of The Philosophy of Freedom, "Life Purpose & World Purpose", Rudolf Steiner criticises the reductionist view of purpose that had grown common in natural science during the latter part of the nineteenth century. In an appendix to this chapter added for the 1918 edition, the falsity of applying concepts of purpose to human beings is further emphasised: "the individual gives purpose to that self & the outcome of the working of human purposes in their entirety is composed of these" (author's rendering). Rudolf Steiner said little directly about the nature of purpose or moral intention[4]. However, it is clear that, if self-identified purpose is central to our acting in the world, any social enterprises must develop ways to  enable individual purposes to come together & associate in a healthy manner. Without a sound social methodology, purposes are all but certain to come into conflict, colliding & negating one-another. Conflict is almost certain where the purpose of the social enterprise is merely assumed.   

This then is the first task for the governance of a school community: to be able to state & uphold what this particular school is about, what it seeks to achieve. Such a statement of purpose should be lucid & uncomplicated, readily understood by all members of the community (including older pupils!). Of course, management & other arrangements of the organisation need then to be consistent with the stated purpose.

Although simplicity is important, a statement of purpose asks for something more than the legal object, i.e. "to provide education according to Steiner principles". The SWSF Code of Practice, for example, opens with a five-fold statement of principles, which could certainly be adopted & adapted as needed (Appendix B). Essentially, this is what a School Governance Team (SGT) is committed to upholding within the practical life of the school & for which it must account to the "membership" (school Association). In turn, the SGT hands on responsibility to those authorised to lead, manage & shape the purpose into day-to-day arrangements.

The SGT - in consultation - also sets a longer-term development strategy with key goals, usually for a three to five year period. This must be translated into shorter-term, usually annual, school improvement plans drawn up in consultation with the whole collegiate, supported & monitored by those with management responsibility. This forms the basis for the SGT Chair's report to the Annual General Meeting of the membership, which may consist of members of all staff & parents with other supporters of the school & its mission. Coherent organisation in these terms involves overcoming the myths we indicated earlier.

To overcoming those "myths" it is essential that there is some individual leadership for key areas of the plan. Individuals may be supported by teams or groups[5] (which are not the same thing!) but genuine leadership is fundamental to a "republican constitution": authority accompanied by accountability. In such a constitution, remits need to be explicit. Potentially there is a variety of ways in which a constitution of this sort might b worked out, but the essential point is that leadership remains collegial, but is differentiated. By differentiating leadership & granting authority through clear remits it is possible to sustain the "flat principle" of collegiality while ensuring that necessary responsibilities can be adequately handled. (Human social arrangements need to include the "horizontal principle" & the "vertical"). A collegiate in these circumstances can then focus attention on the core task of developing the education out of the collective action research of its members. Collegiality too relies upon a natural differentiation that takes place in any human group with varieties & variations of background, ability, resilience & experience, while at the same time making opportunity for each to contribute in a community of mutual esteem. Of course, no human being is a complete, integrated & self-sufficient entity: human beings need one-another & the "most worthy" also rely on the "less worthy". (Had Einstein to have cooked, tailored, scrubbed & generally has to care for all the norms of civilised existence, time for thinking would have been very short, if not, non-existent). In an entirely undifferentiated, therefore mythic,  social form esteem for humanity is diminished. (We might think of Maoist China during the Cultural Revolution, noting that, although the "simple tunic" of the Chairman was de rigueur, the quality of the cloth used played a vital role as token of status: status is a hand-me-down substitute for leadership within unity of esteem). A truly republican constitution, then allows for managers to manage, leaders to lead & each to contribute as fully as they can towards the commonly-held goal. This implies a three tier governance structure:
1.    The legal template, "Articles & Memorandum", of the school
2.    A "constitution" - an expanded memorandum that describes how the school will work in terms of responsibilities & accountabilities, practical decision procedures &c. This will be reflected in the staff & parents' handbooks &c
3.     Policies & procedures within the structure set out by the "constitution" (2. above), including collegial & management procedures (e.g. "All staff are expected to attend a daily briefing & morning verse at 0830"; or, "Office staff do all possible to cover for one-another's absence, in the following ways...")     
                 
Items covered by each tier can be changed, but change of the legal instrument will usually be a rare event, while change of "constitution" (via a process the document itself lays down) may happen more regularly (reviewed &, where necessary, revised every 3-5 years). Changes in working arrangements, responding to needs & circumstances, are likely to be subject more frequent amendment.

Deeper points to consider:
  • How is the "membership" of the legal association determined, according to principles that fit the mission of the school & how can this be developed & sustained?
  • How can the school ensure that its community understands itself in relation to the core task of the school & feels invested in supporting & promoting it?
  • What procedures are in place to secure the evolving organisational identity ("I" quality) of the school? (The biography of the institution, revealing its spirit)
  • How does the school stand as a place in which individual destiny is clarified? (As a practical reality based on the core task of the school)
  • Is the school a "sanctuary", in which adults care for & respect one-another out of honesty in order to meet the needs of young developing pupils? (Qualitative evidence in behaviour & moral ethos)
  • How do evaluate our school as follows?[6]:
Seek the practical life
To reveal the Spirit at work within it;
Seek Spirit, while avoiding spiritual egotism,
Applying Spirit to the needs of practical life,
Unselfishly, within the material world:
Make use of the ancient principle:
Spirit is never without matter,
Matter, never without Spirit;
And so:
Strive to handle material things in the light of Spirit,
strive to kindle enthusiasm for practical deeds.

Matter shaped to reveal indwelling Spirit;
Spirit forged in the material realm,
And matter filled with revealed Spirit
Builds a living & vivid substance
That can take humanity into true development;
Into that kind of progress that people today,
In depths of soul, long to experience.




[1] A list of abstract qualitative nouns is, of course, open to abuse, especially abuse by co-option: "I am selfless, but that cannot be said for others"; i.e. the unconscious, or semi-conscious, fixing of assumed motive to another while ascribing to oneself simpler, more allegedly factual or rational intentions. The antidote to this is emphasis on the Objects of the school/charity, honest questioning & regard for the primacy of what is observable & evidential.    
[2] "Myths", of course, in this context also represent failed practices that may be maintained on the basis of a false principle claim 
[3] Also see Chapter 5, Leadership & management in Avison, K & Rawson, M (ed), The Tasks & Content of the Steiner Waldorf Curriculum, Floris Books, 2014
[4] In lecture four of the Waldorf School founding course, Foundations of Human Experience (sometimes referred to by its older title Study of Man) Steiner describes the working of will ("doing") in the human being, describing the increasingly sophisticated levels of "purpose", from "instinct", "drive"& desire through self-conscious "motive" to the super-conscious "intention", "resolve" & "resolution". Those thoughts serve as a background to this discussion                  

[5] In brief,  a group is relatively free combination of individuals who share some common interest: e.g. the group of people who are members  of my local tennis club,  the group of tennis members, squash members, social members, the Bridge Group...A team has a defined membership, purpose, &, usually, some specified roles: e.g. the tennis "teams" for different age groups each with a captain & deputy...
[6] From: Supersensible Knowledge and Social Pedagogical Life – September 23rd 1919, Stuttgart. This comes from ‘The Spirit of the Waldorf School’ published by AWSNA (free rendering K.A.)

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