The rush to virtual meetings

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What incredibly strange times.

Just a few weeks ago – it was the everyday-normal. Governors and trustees attending the usual, face-to-face board meetings to support schools and MATs to deliver the best possible education to children and young people.

Within a matter of days, the landscape has changed dramatically. Schools are facing incredibly challenging times. Our support as governors and trustees remains important but we can no longer do this by gathering together in one room – tea and coffee in the corner. We must move online.

For some, the first attempts to dabble in virtual meetings have already taken place. Julia Skinner logged in for her very first ‘virtual’ finance committee meeting in Bristol earlier this week. She says it went surprisingly well:

“By the time we’d signed in, the Chair had all the papers ready and was able to share documents on the screen. The meeting itself didn’t take very long, it didn’t go on for hours – we seemed to whip through it all. It seems to be the nature of the beast, we were just able to focus on the business which needed to be dealt with. It was very proficient, I was very impressed.”

“It was really good for governors to hear from the Head to find out how things are going… what he’s doing and for governors to say, ‘Well done, yes we’re fine about that.'”

“I think if governing boards realise how easy it is and how efficient it is – and the fact you can get governors attending from all over the country, wherever they are – I think it will actually go down very well.”

Other governing boards have also had to adapt fast in these challenging times. Paul Garland is a Chair at a maintained primary school in West Norfolk. He used the GovernorHub noticeboard to host an extended meeting earlier this week. Paul says members logged in, looked at the agenda and papers and then asked questions in their own time:

We had a meeting at night, so I cancelled it and put the agenda online instead. It did become quite difficult to manage, particularly for the head. There were lots of questions posted and because the thread was long, and there was a time lag, it was difficult to keep track of everything.

But I think it’s fair to say, due to the hard work of the Head, virtually every query which was raised was answered and any queries that weren’t, the head has taken a note and will get back to us. What our clerk will try to do is read through and produce some minutes – a record of this.

According to the NGA‘s latest guidance for boards, this is an unprecedented and extremely difficult situation. Governors and trustees will still want to support schools in the best way they can although arrangements will now look and feel different:

“More than anything governing boards should ensure that the COVID-19 issue does not create an environment which allows for a lack of care and diligence.”

Here at GovernorHub, we’re working very hard to provide video conferencing for our users. If there’s one way we can help schools and boards at the moment, this – surely – is it. It’s early days and we’ll keep you posted but we tried it out this morning and it seemed to work OK, even on a tablet! We hope to have this ready after the Easter break (if such a break even exists anymore). Our aim is to provide this at cost.

Note: we think we’ve developed a new word at GovernorHub: Confaffing. It refers to the slightly hectic bit at the start of a video conference when everyone is coming online, seeing if their microphone works. This may even need time allocation on agendas!

Here we are testing the system – note Neil’s face of delight as he realised, it works!

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