I attended the launch of the book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Teachers-The Michaela Way” on Saturday. People have very strong views about Michaela, about Katharine and her staff, about their teaching methods and how they run their school. Many blogs have been written about this and tweets tweeted. I won’t go into any of that but rather comment, from a governance point of view, on what the speakers had to say. I go to as many educational events as I can and try to see what I, as a governor, can get from these.
Katharine started the day off. She’s a very passionate, larger than life personality. She had a vision of how she wanted children to be taught so she set up the school to deliver her vision. As governors the most important job we have to do is appoint a head. In order to do this governors need to be clear what the board’s vision for the school is and then look for a person who can help the board in achieving it. It may help to have a strategy/away day before you start the whole process and come together as a board and think where the school is and where you would like it to be. Invite your SLT too and see if you can feed in the views of students and parents too. Jill Berry has written a very good piece in which she advises prospective candidates how to approach questions related to vision at interviews.
Another point Katharine made was that she, and her staff, do what they think is best for their students and don’t worry about Ofsted. This is the message that Ofsted give too; you know your own setting and students. Do the best for them and not what you think Ofsted wants.
Next to speak was Mike Taylor who gave his impressions of Michaela as a new teacher. My governance ‘take-aways’ from his talk were:
- Ensure that systems are in place to support staff
- Ensure new staff are given an opportunity to get to know the school and the systems and are offered an effective induction (this is something the Board should do for new governors too)
- What is the behaviour like at your school? Are teachers not able to give their best because the behaviour isn’t what it should be like?
Jo Facer spoke next and talked about CPD. As governors there are various questions we can/should ask ourselves, such as
- Is there is an effective staff development programme?
- Are the CPD sessions effective?
- Do all staff benefit from these?
- Do all staff have the opportunity to access CPD?
- What is the link between CPD and raising standards?
Olivia Dyer spoke about didactic teaching and drill. As governors we should be evaluating any new initiative. Some teachers had mentioned that they had initially used iPads but then switched to pen and paper. As governors we should be asking questions before we sign off on a new initiative. We must also help create an environment where staff are happy to try new things but happy to also say they didn’t work with fear.
Jessica Lund spoke about workload and how that is managed at Michaela. As governors staff wellbeing should be very high on our agenda. Do we know:
- If our staff feel they aren’t appreciated?
- Is the workload is having a detrimental effect on their lives?
- Do we consider the work/life balance of our head? Are we asking for too many reports which will not really add anything to our knowledge?
- How would we know if our staff felt they were in danger of suffering burnout?
Jonathan Porter talked about their “no excuses” behaviour policy. Whatever your behaviour policy:
- You do need to evaluate if your policy works
- Find out if there is any low level disruption
- Do you know if there is any bullying?
- If bullying is a problem, then how is it handled?
- How are staff supported if there are concerns about the behaviour?
- How are parents kept informed?
- What are your exclusion rates?
The next person to speak was Joe Kirby who talked about their boot camp which is a week-long induction programme for new students and staff:
- As governors are you aware how new students settle into your school?
- Does the school get enough information from the previous schools?
- What does the school do to make transition easy for students and parents?
- Is there an induction system for new staff and governors?
Katie Ashford spoke about reading:
- Do you know which reading strategies are used?
- How do your students perform in phonics tests?
- Is there a difference between the reading proficiency of boys and girls?
- How do different groups perform as far as reading is concerned?
The last speaker was Barry Smith. Amongst other things, he spoke about the culture and ethos of the school. He told us how Michaela students behave in and out of school. As governors do you “feel” the culture when you go into school? Does your school just teach academic subjects or does it educate students in the widest sense of the word?
Are there any other questions you would ask or issues you would consider which fall into the above categories?
If you want to get a flavour of the day then have a look at my Storify where I’ve collated tweets by Oliver Caviglioli who’s visualisations of the speeches are just great!