Ask the Experts: Get the best from governing bodies


Our panel offers advice on school governing bodies, new youth club members, nursery transitions and learning from job interviews.

Q: Some of our governing bodies are huge yet don't make a big difference to the school. What is the optimum size?

Peter Lewis: governing body needs to be large enough to do the job well but not so big as to make it harder than it needs to be. Recent Department for Education guidance gives some good pointers.

Ofsted will want to see evidence of a "skills audit" that shows every governor has a clear role and every responsibility is covered by someone who can do the job. It makes sense to have sub-committees for areas such as staffing, finance and quality of learning. But don't let schools go overboard on either appointing people or creating sub-committees just for the sake of it.

Ensure the governing body has a training and development plan that will help them constantly improve. Encourage governors to visit the school regularly and meet students and staff, observe learning and get a good feel for what the school does and how well it does it. As a director of children's services, it is not your job to run schools. But you should challenge what they do to make sure this meets the needs of all children.

Peter Lewis is a freelance providing interim local authority children's services leadership, and a former DCS in Haringey

Q: A neighbouring youth club has been closed down and we're being asked to take on members and volunteers. Do you have any advice?

Tracie Trimmer-Platman: Young people can be quite territorial so ensure you consider the needs of both the newcomers and your own members. Those who have lost their club may feel let down and wonder why your club has not suffered the same fate. They may choose not to come to your club at first in protest.

Young people at your club might seem open and welcoming but will no doubt notice their resources are stretched further - there will be less space, less staff time, fewer opportunities and so on. Even if they are happy about new members, do not underestimate the impact.

Work with staff and volunteers around their fears and expectations and with both groups of young people. Talk to them about what they feel they might lose but focus also on the benefits and what each group could bring to the other. When you bring them together start work on shared ideas and opportunities.

Tracie Trimmer-Platman is senior lecturer in youth and community work at the University of East London

Q: How do we ensure a smooth transition as children progress through nursery?

June O'Sullivan: Transition between different rooms in a nursery can be a worrying time for everyone. A child may be just going along the corridor but it can feel like the end of a relationship.

This is when the key worker system comes into its own. The two key people need to meet each other in advance of the move and share details about the child.

Timing is very important when it comes to deciding whether a child is ready to move. Their ability to cope rather than their age should be the determining factor. The child must remain at the centre of the process. Sometimes parents get anxious when friends have moved and their child stays put.

Prepare children for change by talking about it and making a "transition box" that includes a photo of the key worker, book and favourite toy from the room they're leaving. When toddlers move into the "big room", arrange settling-in time, starting with an hour, then a morning, then staying for lunch and eventually a full day. Build in time to talk to parents to reassure them and include them in the key worker handover.

June O'Sullivan is chief executive of the childcare charity and social enterprise, the London Early Years Foundation

Q: I was recently encouraged to apply for a promotion. I was confident I would be successful but to my surprise and embarrassment I wasn't appointed. I feel like I have let myself and everyone else down and have lost my motivation. What can I do?

Jeanie Lynch: It is hard being rejected for a job. As a starting point, ask for feedback from the chair of the interview panel.

Ask the chair what would have made a difference. It is possible that someone with more experience than you came forward and that the organisation felt new blood would enhance the service.

Don't let this knock your confidence. Instead, try and see it as a learning experience so that next time an opportunity comes up you are better prepared. And remember that you would not have been shortlisted if you did not have the skills and experience for the post.

Jeanie Lynch works for Barnardo's and has 25 years' experience of working with vulnerable children and families

Email questions, marked "Experts", to cypnow@markallengroup.com

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