Governors are supposed to hold the headteacher to account. They are supposed to monitor what happens in their school, what the teaching is like, are there any behavioural issues. In short, governors are expected to know about their school in some detail.
Part of this “knowing your school” comes from asking the school to provide the GB with data and scrutinising this data. Some of the data is available publicly. There is RAISEonline, the Ofsted data dashboard and the fft data dashboard. Governors are also expected to know what teaching is like and how quality of teaching relates to pay. NGA is producing a set of briefing notes which would be useful for governors to read to find out more about knowing your school.
Why should governors visit their school?
Governors can find out a lot about their school by visiting it. The visit can be a “social visit” (for example when a governor attends a school event, such as a concert) or a “monitoring visit”. Some visits will have to be done as part of a named governor’s remit (for example SEN).
Visiting the school will also mean that governors can gather first hand knowledge about the strengths and weaknesses of their school. Ofsted is very keen that governors can demonstrate that they do not rely solely on information provided to them by the headteacher. Visits will help reassure governors that the information they receive from the school is accurate. (See my previous post where Ofsted talk about governor visits to schools).
Social visits allow governors to see the extra curricular aspects of the school. The students, parents and staff can get to know governors and they can put faces to the names on the website.
The monitoring visits should be an integral part of the work of the GB. Governors are supposed to monitor and evaluate progress made by students. We should also have a thorough understanding of the school development plan (SDP). Governor visits will allow the GB to monitor the progress against the targets in the SDP. Some schools have governors linked to departments (for example Science, Maths etc) or specific areas, such as literacy. These governors should visit the school to monitor the areas they are responsible for.
What visits are not about
Governors must remember that they are not there to make a judgement on the quality of teaching. That is not the job of governors. Even if a governor is a teacher in another school and knows about judging quality of teaching, the visit is being undertaken as a governor and therefore a judgement on the quality of teaching must not be made.
Governors must remember that they are at school as a representative of a corporate body and not as an individual. They must not go into school with a personal agendas.
Governor Visit Protocol
Before governors go into schools the GB should draw up a protocol which would govern these visits. The protocol should be drawn up in consultation with the school staff. This would ensure that everyone involved knows why the visits are being conducted and how they would be conducted. The protocol should cover the following points.
- The frequency of these visits
- How will the visits be arranged (who will the governor contact in order to arrange the visit)
- How will the governor report back (who sees the draft report, how is the final report distributed)
- Approximate duration of the visit
- Frequency of visits
- Do ensure that visits are linked to the school’s strategic priorities.
- Arrange the visit well in advance, giving as much notice as possible
- Keep the Head informed. Agree the focus and purpose of the visit beforehand
- Be punctual and try and stick to the agreed schedule as much as possible
- Observe confidentiality
- Try not to obstruct any classroom activities which may be taking place
- Send your draft report to your link at the school and agree the draft before its distributed
- Thank the students and staff at the end of the visit
- Go into the school without being invited
- Walk in with a clipboard! If you are taking notes, then check that staff are happy for you to do so and make it clear that you are doing so for feedback purposes and that you are not recording judgements on the quality of their teaching.
- Look at books if you haven’t been invited to do so
- Distract students or teachers in the classrooms
- Make any judgements on the quality of teaching or marking
- Use the phrase “lesson observation”. Instead use school/classroom visit
- Identify individuals.
At the end of a cycle of visits the GB should consider if visits have had an impact and if they could be improved in any way. It might also be beneficial to get the staff view on this. Secondary school governors may find Wellcome Trust’s Questions for Governors to ask about science and maths useful. I know I and staff at my school have. They are a very good way of opening and facilitating discussions and also provide useful background information.
If visits are undertaken in a professional manner with the purpose clearly defined, they will help the GB discharge its monitoring duty.