Before I go any further, I should make it clear that this post has nothing to do with my school’s recent Ofsted. In fact, I started writing this before we got the call. I then had to put it aside while we dealt with Ofsted. Now that the inspection is behind me, I thought I should come back and complete this post.
There are numerous Ofsted reports which have criticised the governing bodies. For the purposes of this report I will be writing about three such reports. The comments/observations made about governance in all of these are worth noting. Ofsted is a fact of life and, like taxes, like it or not we have to live with it. Delegates at the NAHT’s annual conference in Birmingham passed a resolution calling for no inspections to be carried out for the next five years. Now, I admit that there are problems with how some of the inspections have been carried out recently. I also admit that consistency is lacking and some inspectors are not following the guidelines. But, I still think that suspending inspections for five years is not the answer. Until there is an alternate accountability mechanism, we need to let Ofsted continue inspecting schools.
The Cardinal Newman Catholic High School Report caused a lot of comment on Twitter. The school had been previously judged as satisfactory. The December 2013 inspection resulted in a Requires Improvement judgement. What is striking about this report is that Achievement, Quality of Teaching and Behaviour were all judged to be Good. The judgement on Leadership and Management was Requires Improvement. What is even more noteworthy is that it was the governance which was judged as requiring improvement and as governance is now part of Leadership and Management, the overall judgement was Requires Improvement. The governors were not able to demonstrate knowledge of performance data, especially that relating to different groups of students. They also did not know how pupil premium funding was allocated or the impact it was having. The governors did not know enough about school resources and were unclear about the budget. The report also said that their knowledge of performance management was limited. This report should be compulsory reading for governors as it demonstrates that shortcomings of governors can have a devastating effect.
Next, consider the report for Hurlingham and Chelsea Secondary School. It had been judged as Outstanding in 2011. When inspected in October 2013, it was rated Inadequate. Leadership and Management was judged to be Inadequate. The Ofsted report noted that the minutes of the meeting did not record any discussion about the 2013 disappointing results. The report also noted that the results were presented at meetings and governors said they had challenged the Head about these. Now, either the governors did not understand how they should have questioned and challenged the Head about these results or the minutes did not record the discussion correctly. The minutes, instead, showed that the discussion at meetings was focused more on issues of federation.
When Ofsted judges a governing body as not performing as it should, it can recommend a review of governance. This is not an additional inspection. It serves as a means of evaluating the governing body practices and working out how improvements can be made. I’ve read a report where an external review was carried out but it hindered rather than helped the governing body. The review resulted in an action plan but that action plan proved to be a source of distraction for the governing body. The governing body started focusing its attention on maters which were not a priority. The Section 8 warned that if this were to continue the school would take longer to move out of special measures. The person who carried out the review should have made sure that the resulting action plan would ensure that the governors tackled the major issues facing the school and the governing body and not get side-tracked.
So, coming to the actual purpose of this post; I wrote this in order to point out why governance had fared badly in inspections so that we may learn some lessons. From the above reports it is clear that governors need to
- Fully understand performance data of their school
- Be able to explain how different groups of students are performing and how progress which is below expected levels is addressed
- Be able to explain where and how pupil premium is being spent and the impact it is having
- Know how the school resources are spent and the state of the budget
- Performance management
- Be able to demonstrate how they challenge the senior leadership. The minutes of meetings need to be of a very high quality and demonstrate the holding to account of the Head/SLT by the governing body
- Ensure that if they commission an external review it is done by someone who is qualified and has experience of conducting such reviews
One thing which I suggest governors and governing bodies do is to see how they score if judged against the above. If they do not score highly then it is
Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
I want to end this post on a positive note. Obviously not all Ofsted reports judge governance to be requiring improvement. There are good governing bodies and there are outstanding governing bodies. Didsbury Road Primary School moved from Good to Outstanding when inspected in April 2014. The report shows that the governing body, when judged against the above criteria, scored very highly and has, therefore, rightly been judged to be outstanding. Take home message of this post? Discharge your statutory duties well and you can be outstanding.