ASCL 2014 matters: A Governor’s View

Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) held their annual conference in Birmingham on 21st and 22nd March 2014. The two speakers I was interested in were Sir Michael Wilshaw and Tristram Hunt MP. I was hoping that governors and their hard work would get a mention. It didn’t, or at least not as much as I would have liked. You may argue that this was because the participants of this conference were school and college leaders. According to their website, people who can join ASCL include

  • Head/Principal
  • Deputy Head/Vice Principal
  • Assistant Head/Assistant Principal/Senior Postholder
  • Business manager, Bursar, Senior Support Staff

There are two reasons why I think governance should have figured more in the proceedings. Firstly, governors are part of the leadership and management and are held to account by Ofsted in this role. Governance fails, then leadership and management fails as well. There is a well publicised Ofsted report where the governance has been judged as Requires Improvement. The other judgements were all good, but because of the judgement on governance the school was judged to be requiring improvement. Someone said to me the other day, “Whether they like it or not, heads are shackled to their governing bodies”. Shackled is perhaps not the word I would have use, but I do agree with the message. It is, therefore, in the interest of heads that governance is good. Secondly, heads are governors by virtue of their office. This is something heads sometimes forget. I wonder how many heads attend governor training courses. How many have attended governor induction courses? I admit that heads have to juggle their “hats” more than other governors. They attend the meetings of the board of governors, present their report and are held to account by the board but they are there as a governor too and have a vote. Maybe we need to debate whether heads should be governors, but that is a different blog!

Sir Michael Wilshaw1 said that he would like the great majority of inspections to be led by Her Majesty’s Inspectors and he is planning to increase the number of HMI posts over the next few years. This has been welcomed, although people have questioned how this is to be accomplished. What I would also like is for the inspection teams to be trained in what governance is all about. Better still, have a governance expert as part of the team. Too often we have heard of inspectors asking governors if they have gone into classrooms to make judgements on teaching or marking. Having someone on the team who knows what governors should not be dong is just as important as having someone on the team who knows what we should be doing.

One of the points he made in his speech was that Ofsted don’t see enough creativity, particularly in converter academies that often don’t use the freedoms they have been given. This is something we as governors can and should question our school leaders about, especially if we are academy directors as we will be judged on this.

Sir Michael Wilshaw said, “Teaching is central to the life of the school, central to your leadership, and central to Ofsted’s judgement about a school”. As governors make sure you know about the quality of teaching in your school and make sure when you make a statement about the it you will be able to answer the follow up question, “How do you know?” He then went onto say that inspectors can learn a lot during their 25-30 minutes visits to the classrooms. Everything he said holds true for governors too. When we go on learning walks we can get a sense of what’s happening in our school. Are students arriving in time to lessons? Is there low level disruption in the class? What is the behaviour like when students are in classrooms and out of them?

When talking about inconsistencies in inspections, he said he had been asked why Ofsted doesn’t do away with inspections and rely on data alone. His answer was that the data does not paint the whole picture. This is again where governors come in. We, as governors, should know our school inside out. We must make sure we know that data but equally if not more importantly, we must know the context. If results have dipped, is there a good reason for that? For example, in my school, I know that the timing and duration of study leave impacts on our 6th Form attendance data. If I were to be asked about the attendance figures I can explain why they are what they are.

Sir Michael used this speech to announce Ofsted’s proposal to change how good and outstanding schools will be inspected. According to this proposal, a single HMI will inspect these schools every two to three years. On the face of it I don’t have any problems with this proposal. I would, however, like to know if this brief visit will involve governors. Will we have a chance to speak to the HMI and will we be present at the debrief? Ofsted will be talking to the Department of Education and professional associations over the next 18 months to work out the details of this proposal. I hope NGA will be involved in these discussions.

Tristram Hunt MP did mention governors in his speech but what he said does not make good reading! He said that the reason why there aren’t more female headtachers was because of everyday sexism. Governing boards are rejecting female candidates just because they are female. Kate Chhatwal, Director of Headship at The Future Leaders Trust, has previously written about this in New Statesman. Some of the examples quoted there would make for a wonderful tribunal hearing! In one case the female applicant was rejected because a man could “deal better with the local ex-mining community”. In another case the female applicant was rejected because she was a woman and was too young! This is very worrying. The headteacher appointment is a function which falls to the board of governors. The board must make sure that they select a suitably qualified panel. The board can hire a recruitment agency which would be able to help and give advice. If the costs of going down this route are prohibitive then the board can perhaps ask the Local Authority for a suitably qualified person, the school improvement partner, for example. The panel must remember that anyone who advises them is just that, an advisor. That person will not have a vote or a say in the final decision. In this day and age it is very surprising that sexism is alive. We, as governors, need to make sure it is rooted out.

 

1 Sir Michael Wilshaw’s speech in full

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