For the last few months I have been reading Ofsted reports. I, in fact, am so fond of reading these that I have email alerts set up for new reports! My main interest in these reports is in the judgement about governance. I have written about this previously where I discussed what lessons we could learn from these reports. One report which interested me recently was the inspection report for CET Primary School, Westminster. This is a school which has been judged as requiring improvement. The Report states the following about governance.
The governing body is a small group of highly skilled members who bring with them a range of experience. The governors have regular contact with school leaders, and are the driving force in establishing the school in its current premises. They have appointed an experienced executive headteacher to lead the development of the school as it moves into its second year and are working closely with her to ensure a safe and suitable learning environment in the very heart of London. Governors understand about the importance of linking pupils’ achievement to teachers’ performance and pay, and how to use this to improve the quality of teaching. They have the last say in rewarding good and outstanding performance. However, they are too reliant on information provided to them by school leaders and by external consultants brought in to quality assure the school’s work. They do not know enough about the core business of the school – the quality of teaching and how well pupils achieve. Whilst they have a broad understanding of both, they do not demonstrate a strategic focus on improving weaknesses by gaining first-hand evidence themselves and through monitoring a strategic and robust action plan. Consequently, teaching and learning are not improving fast enough.
This was a governing body which was highly skilled and which had brought in external consultants to quality assure the school’s work. The Ofsted report commented that governors did not have first-hand evidence and did not monitor a strategic and robust action plan. I decided to email Ofsted and ask about the “first-hand evidence” bit of the report. The reply I received is as below.
This response shows that as far as Ofsed is concerned, it is not enough to be highly skilled, for the school to provide data and for the GB to seek external help to quality assure this data. According to Ofsted, the GB should not accept this information at face value but go into school to judge for themselves. The governors were in regular contact with school leaders but Ofsted wants governors to form an opinion of the quality of teaching through other ways, like talking to parents at school gates (I’m not too happy about this, by the way. Seeking parental views is important but this, I think, must be done in ways other than chats at school gates), looking at books etc. I don’t know how often governors of this school carried out monitoring visits. The Ofsted report and the response to my query shows that these visits are very important. These visits, however, must have a clearly established protocol, aims and objectives and should be shown to have an impact. Wellcome Trust has published a resource, Questions for Governors to ask about science and maths. This, for the time being, is only for governors of secondary schools, but it does provide a framework to facilitate discussions between governors and school leaders. So, in summary ask the school for data, get external help to quality assure this data if you want, but go into school and judge for yourself too.
PS: As you can see I wrote to Ofsted on 27th April. This post was drafted when I received their reply. Soon afterwards my school was inspected and this post stayed in my draft folder. Today news is dominated by what is happening in Birmingham. Whatever those Ofsted reports have to say will effect governance and not only in Birmingham. We wait to see how.