Herts for Learning (HfL) was delighted to welcome over 200 governors to the 2019 Hertfordshire Governors’ Conference, held at the Hertfordshire Development Centre, Stevenage on Saturday 16th November.

With the theme of ‘Governors Understanding Education: a look to the curriculum’, delegates enjoyed a comprehensive conference programme jointly put together by the HfL Governance Services team and the Hertfordshire Association of School Governors (HASG).

Opening the conference, HfL’s Managing Director Andrew de Csilléry spoke about the challenges governors and schools are facing.  He outlined how HfL has improved its governance services offer for schools in Hertfordshire, including through the recent acquisition of Modern Governor, the leading online learning platform for governance.

He also explained how HfL supported the common good of Hertfordshire schools by reinvesting any surplus into new services aimed at addressing key challenges for HfL shareholding schools.   Since HfL was established six years ago, it has reinvested almost £1 million in common good activities.

Andrew shared an overview of Hertfordshire’s current academic results, with average attainment outcomes for all phases across Hertfordshire remaining ahead of national results.  Regarding the proportion of schools rated good or Outstanding by Ofsted, Hertfordshire consistently rates higher that national and statistical neighbours.  The provisional progress score for 2019 between Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 4 is ahead of national results but has fallen behind between Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2.  Andrew explained that, the gaps in outcomes for disadvantaged children have not closed and we all have a responsibility to address this attainment gap which he termed “the Achilles heel of education in Hertfordshire”.  Andrew summarised by saying that we all have much to celebrate but clearly there are of opportunities for improvement:

“When it comes to securing positive outcomes for young people, the bar can never be set too high.”

Andrew then went on to discuss the climate change emergency and the need for everyone to act. He outlined the steps that HfL is taking to reduce its own carbon footprint, an integral part of its new Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) statement. He also challenged schools to look at how they can reduce their own footprint and said that HfL intended to work with HCC and schools to help share best practice. He concluded:

“Much is already being done, but much more can be done by us all. The children in our schools expect nothing less.” 

HASG held their Annual General Meeting and voted in Michael Taylor as the Chair of HASG, and Robert Smith as Vice Chair.  Robert also announced the joint winners of the HASG Outstanding Governor Awards 2019; Simon Mundy from St John Lawes School in Harpenden and Sally Laflin from St John’s C of E Primary School in Lemsford, Welwyn Garden City.  For the first time, a special award was announced for outstanding governance in a special school, which went to Michael Wheeler of Brandles School in Baldock.  Each received a prize of £1,000 for their schools.  Runners up were Marion Brown from Verulam School in St Albans; Helen Simpson from Bridgewater Primary School in Berkhamsted; Gillian Knibbs from The Reddings Primary School in Hemel Hempstead; Rosemary Charsley of St Mary’s Junior School in Baldock; and Mike Newman of Hunsdon JMI School in Hunsdon, all received a prize of £250 for their schools.  Each winning governor received a prize of £50.


Prof Mick Waters talking at conference


Professor Mick Waters, Education Consultant, led the first keynote of the day on the subject of ‘The governors’ role in curriculum effectiveness’ and the need for balance in all respects. In his hugely informative session, Mick talked about the importance of an enticing, rich and varied curriculum; making the curriculum desirable so that students want to be a part of it. 

He said: “we want children to be so captivated by the curriculum that they don’t want it to stop.”  He added: “It’s important that schools help pupils into exam success, but it’s also important that we help our children to get a picture of the real world, and that we root that learning from a very young age…. We want them to enjoy the learning journey”.

He also addressed the issue of the potential for distortion in the curriculum; the challenge of taking planned curriculum to what is experienced by children – from vision to practice.

During the day, delegates had the opportunity to attend two or three seminars providing updates on a huge choice of subjects. These included: RSE and health education; effective safeguarding in schools and colleges; cultural education; schools financial values standard (audit changes); primary science curriculum; secondary science curriculum; secondary maths curriculum; primary maths; secondary English/ literacy across the curriculum; primary English; and understanding and using assessment data.  Delegates also had the chance to speak to the conference exhibitors, who included Hertfordshire Cultural Education Partnership, Hertfordshire Standing Advisory Council for Religious Education (SACRE); Hertfordshire Music Service; Herts FullStop; GovernorHub; Modern Governor; Proactive AV, Winkwood Sherwood as well as HfL.

In the second and final keynote session of the day, Rachel Macfarlane, Director of Education Services at HfL, talked about ‘The role of governors in growing great schools’. 

She asked delegates, “What is the vision of your school?” 

She said: “It all starts with the vision and you have an absolutely key role in ensuring it is clear and in how it is lived”. 

She remarked that in some organisations, including schools, there can be a gap between the rhetoric and the reality. 

Rachel commented that governors have a dual role:

“a role to be in the thick of it, in the scrum sweating the hard stuff, but also standing on the sidelines looking in objectively, looking at the extent to which there is or isn’t a gap between the rhetoric and the reality.”    Governors, she said, needed to “find the sweet spot between challenge and support.” 

Rachel Macfarlane speaking at conferenceRachel outlined The Great School Framework© Portal, which was launched to schools on 9th October. She remarked on the close resonance being witnessed between the Great School Framework and the new Ofsted framework. To add further value and benefit to the Framework, Rachel encouraged governors to submit case studies giving examples of the good practice in their schools, which can then be added to the portal to sit behind each lens.

Finally, Rachel explained how governor days can be a way of doing the forensic analysis from the sidelines.  She talked about “the challenging but supportive role, using both appreciative enquiry and, at times, radical candour.” There is, she said, a need for governors

“to hold the mirror up to the leaders of you school and show them what it looks like.”

In closing the motivating and informative day, Catherine Tallis, Director of Business Services at HfL, thanked everyone for attending the annual conference and for their leadership, commitment and many contributions as Hertfordshire governors.  She also outlined the governance tools and services available and gave a reminder about registering to attend HfL’s Technology Showcase on 26th February 2020, which is free to Hertfordshire Schools to attend.

Cathy Irons, Head of Governance Services at HfL, said of this year’s conference:

“The Governance Team always look forward to the annual conference as it gives us the opportunity to network and most importantly celebrate and say thank you for the commitment from Hertfordshire governors who do amazing work in our schools. 

With over 200 governors in attendance, the atmosphere was lively and verbal feedback the team received throughout the day provided evidence that delegates found the whole day rewarding.

The day wouldn’t be possible without a number of teams across HfL, HASG and HCC working collaboratively so thank you to everyone behind the scenes involved in helping to make the day a great success”.

The date for next year’s Hertfordshire Governors’ Conference will be announced shortly.

For further information about the range of support services offered by the HfL Governance team and access to the presentations from the day, please visit our Governance pages.