Guest blog: Governor to Governor: How to help your school improve

In this article, taken from a white paper produced by Capita SIMS, experienced governors share their best practice tips on how to use a school’s data to help drive improvement.

As a school governor, you need to show your school a degree of tough love. Rosie Simmonds, Headteacher and Governor at Leverington Primary Academy, succinctly sums up the situation when she says: “You need to be a school’s critical friend and that means asking difficult questions to help drive improvement.”

But how can you be sure you’re asking the right questions? How can you be sure you’re able to engage fully in discussions about your school’s performance? And what should you be looking for in your school’s data?

These tips, taken from interviews with very experienced governors, will help.

1. Make sure your information is up-to-date

Close analysis of school data is crucial for governors but if the information is not ‘in-year’ it can be very hard to effect change.

“My advice is to work with current data,” says Paul Hughes, Chair of Governors at Greentrees Primary. “Current data allows us to ask further questions about what we can do to support the children more proactively.”

Rosie Simmonds agrees: “Governors need to ask for data from the latest teacher assessments and not an end of year assessment, which by the time it is processed, is too late to do anything about.”

2. Find the story behind the headline when it comes to achievement

Overall progress might be going up, but what’s the individual situation in each subject?

To delve deeper, Christine Homer, DRET Appointed Governor at Humberston Academy recommends taking the time to ask all the questions you need to fully interrogate the data. “Governors need to understand what the measures are – what an average point score is and what is expected of that year group. If governors don’t know how the levels are measured or what the figures stand for, how will they know if it is a good or a bad score?”

A good check that you have the information you need is to think about what would happen if Ofsted visited today, says Kevin Tranter, Governor at Colmers School & Sixth Form College. “Would we know where the areas for improvement need to be and would we be able to break down the progress of different groups, such as Pupil Premium girls in a particular class?”

3. Keep a close eye on the quality of teaching

Accurate assessment is essential for performance related pay increases, career development and, of course, children’s development. The key thing here is not to look at things in isolation, says Christine Homer. “Look at what the teachers are doing, what the kids are doing and the results that come out in tests every six weeks so you can judge the impact the teachers are having.”

Kevin Tranter adds: “Data should be collected together about those teachers who are perceived to be good, outstanding or requiring improvement along with the lessons observed. This helps governors ask questions about support for teachers and make informed decisions if teachers have applied to go through a threshold for a pay rise.”

4. Be brave in challenging the leadership of the school

To get an outstanding judgement, you will need to prove that your school is well run so take time to understand data, perhaps having someone on hand to explain it to you. “We do ask questions of the data we are given, not only at the meetings but before and after too,” explains Christine. “We have had some very challenging meetings where we have sent headteachers away because we haven’t been satisfied with the answers and I would advise other governors to be confident in challenging their heads.”

In short, says Kevin, data is the governor’s friend. “Take time to understand it as it allows you to create the challenge.”

If you’d like to read more tips from governors, download the white paper.

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