Last reviewed 15 April 2020

Tony Powell, Consulting Educationist, considers how senior leaders and governors can deal with crises and how lessons can be learned from the Covid-19 crisis to manage those in the future.

The task

“There cannot be a crisis next week, my schedule is already full” – Henry Kissinger

Establish systems and procedures in school to deal with crises when they arise.

Note the absence of “if” and “from” the above task. They will arise!

Define crisis 1: There a number of strands to the definition of ‘’crisis” as a noun. Most people will accept it means “a time of intense difficulty or danger when difficult and important decisions must be made”. Generally, they are unexpected and occasionally unprecedented. They should never be ‘absolutely unprecedented’.

Given this definition, it may seem absurd to talk about using hindsight, being prepared and even being proactive. Well, consider the alternative.

Define crisis 2: Because we have been through a global pandemic crisis doesn’t mean that there can’t be crises on a smaller scale, just, unfortunately, as there have been lots of wars after the ‘War to End all Wars’. We will continue to have crises on an international, national, regional and local scale, and even at individual school level.


Think about ’unprecedented’ then the word loved by lawyers; ‘precedent’. Remember those difficult and important decisions may come back to haunt you or succeeding generations.

It would be wonderful if we could have a crisis cycle. In the post-crisis period, we could note down everything we had learned when we were dealing with the crisis; all the mistakes we made and of course how we eventually resolved it. Then, during the pre-crisis stage, we could refine our systems, so we were much better prepared for the next one. We know it doesn’t work like that, but it will help if we use this model anyway.


  • Set up a crisis-management committee

    or a Crisis Action Team (CAT). This should consist of the Chair & Vice-Chair and the Headteacher & Deputy-Headteacher. It is best to keep the public face of the school to as few people as possible. Normally it is one person, the headteacher. In a crisis this should be broadened to include the Chair, so staff, parents, the Local Authority (LA) and others can see that the Head has the backing of the governing body. However, as we have learned from the Covid-19 crisis, leaders need deputies and stakeholders should know these are part of the CAT.

  • Assign roles and responsibilities

    among CAT members, staff, other governors and others as the school deems necessary. For example, a governor, or perhaps the Clerk or SBM, could be given the responsibility for researching any crisis when it arrives. Try to involve as many people as possible. People will want to contribute.

  • Identify CPD and resource needs

    CPD for all staff and governors – knowledge about this initiative and why.

    All governors will need to know how to use tools to communicate, such as videoconferencing.

  • Ensure IT systems and equipment are in place for remote working.


In any crisis the initial advice is always the same.

  • Stay calm

  • Radiate calm

    • buy time

  • Be where people are

    • because we know that people will panic (and buy toilet rolls) but at the same time, they will be looking to those in charge for a lead.

  • Be an example

    • of how you want people to behave, because how you behave is the example they will take. (So, if you want people to buy toilet rolls …)

  • Be knowledgeable of the facts

    • because people will think up the strangest scenarios. As an example, during the Covid-19 crisis, bins in local parks, which usually have notices affixed about bagging and binning, have notices about Covid-19. This has generated the rumour that the virus can be spread by dog excrement.

  • Be united

    • The Head and Chair should share any requests and give an agreed response. See next point but at the same time, there should be regular contact with senior staff and the governing body.

  • Respond quickly

  • Stick to the mission and

  • Stick to the rules

    • After a time, any crisis becomes a waiting game so your tactics will need to change but stick to the school’s mission and core purpose.


  • Don’t forget about it

    • It is natural to want to breathe a sigh of relief and get back to normal, but if we do, we will make the next crisis worse and sooner.

    • Perhaps make a governor responsible for ‘follow-up’. During the crisis, s/he will be making notes for improvement and will be keen to see these implemented.

    • Use hindsight

Above all, keep yourself well and check on the wellbeing of your team at regular intervals.