The economic situation is being felt in schools across the country and one of the areas of greatest impact is on the children and young people in our schools whose welfare, well-being and educational outcomes are being adversely affected by the cost-of-living crisis. This was the focus of National School Governors’ Awareness Day which took place on Tuesday, 28th February.
At Strictly Education, with the help of our partners at Governors for Schools and other governance organisations, we surveyed governors across the country to ask them of their school’s experiences of the cost-of-living crisis. The results of our survey make stark reading and many of the comments included in the feedback from over 300 governors shocked many of us, in terms of the depth of this crisis and the true extent to which it is reaching into our schools. My article in ‘Schools Week’ made clear that there were no real surprises in our findings, but the sheer scale of what our survey showed is alarming. 53% of governors and trustees, responding to our poll, said that children and young people were arriving at school hungry and 51% reported that parents and carers were struggling to afford the cost of school uniform, footwear and suitable outer clothing.
National School Governors’ Awareness Day began with a ‘Hot Topics’ session hosted by Better Governor which showcased the survey findings and apprised those in governance of the latest government school attendance data, which highlights that for the academic year to date (from September 2022) a 23.4% persistent absenteeism rate, much of which is driven by illness according to the Department for Education, but some of which is as a direct consequence of pupil anxiety, linked to the cost-of-living crisis. This theme was picked up by our partners Thrive Approach, who led a session ‘Cost of Living Anxiety: the signs to look out for’. Viv Trask-Hall and Anna Smee, from Thrive who shared some valuable data and explored the impact on children and young people’s learning of cost-of-living pressures, with a real focus on child anxiety and how governance can be supportive of meeting their pupil’s needs relating to stress, anxiety and well-being.
We were delighted to welcome Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) to the day’s programme and the first of two lunchtime sessions was presented by Kate Anstey. Kate’s session spotlighted data which demonstrates the scale of the challenges that schools face in terms of poverty and its impact. A startling example of this is that 800,000 pupils in England alone, who are living in poverty, do not get free school meals. As governors we all know that hungry children will struggle to learn and schools have to find often-illusive funds to support vulnerable children and young people, to simply make learning a possibility. The initial feedback to National School Governors’ Awareness Day, from those involved in school governance, indicates that whilst the content was alarming, the CPAG session was thought provoking and hugely informative.
The National Governance Association led a valuable session for us spotlighting some of the resources that they produce to support governing boards in addressing most aspects of vulnerability of pupils in our schools. The theme of the day is of course one that all boards should be focused on at present and the NGA’s message was perfectly aligned to this.
The country’s first ever Professor of Social Mobility, Professor Lee Elliot Major from University of Exeter, led a thought-provoking and inspiring session exploring some of the longer-term societal implications of the current cost of living crisis. Lee talked about disadvantage and equity in our schools and the impact they have on pupil outcomes and life chances. He shared some examples of strategies that schools have and can employ to tackle disadvantage and he certainly generated a huge volume of questions from attendees.
Our key partner for this year’s National School Governors’ Awareness Day, Governors for Schools, led two webinars, during the day, on recruiting governors in 2023, and Introduction to School Governance. These two sessions fitted perfectly with our aim of celebrating governance and raising its profile due to the shortage of school governors with up to 25,000 positions vacant at any given time*. The sessions also highlighted that without governors, who are informed, and prioritise their own professional development, our schools risk missing out on the invaluable external perspective and sense of challenge that governance brings.
The marathon event, that was National School Governors’ Awareness Day ended with a Question Time event, which I hosted, included Hannah Stolton, CEO of Governors for Schools, Viv-Trask-Hall from Thrive, Emma Knights, CEO of the NGA and Jackie Eason, from the Confederation of School Trusts. It was a lively session with some challenging questions, which were well-fielded by our panel of experts and covered all aspects of the day.
We had more than 800 governors, trustees and clerks/governance professionals register for National School Governors’ Awareness Day (NSGAD). We were thrilled at the commitment of all involved in school governance who joined us and we have now created, in our Knowledge Hub, on the National School Governors’ Awareness Day website, access to all recordings of the days events, which are freely accessible to all.
By Steve Barker
Head of Governance Services - Strictly Education
*Source: Governors for Schools