Governance matters in Ofsted’s Annual Report 2016

The Annual Report of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills 2015/16 was published today. Below are extracts from the report which relate to governance.

A common set of values

Over the last couple of years, there has been a focus on a number of state-funded schools in Birmingham at the centre of the so-called ‘Trojan horse’ episode. In 2014, Ofsted found that there had been a concerted campaign by some people to impose a narrow faith based ideology on these schools and to alter their character and ethos. Since then the schools in question have undergone changes of leadership and governance and are now generally improving.

Capacity to deliver higher standards

Worryingly, schools are also reporting that they are finding it difficult to recruit headteachers. Two fifths of governors say they find it hard to recruit to senior staff posts.

70. Not everybody is content about the move away from national curriculum levels. Where a small proportion of governors reacted positively to the change, responses from our call for evidence on governance  showed that these were in the minority. Governors were clearly confused about the reason for the change and made the point that challenge was difficult when the yardsticks are internal rather than linked to a national system. The most common views given were either that the loss of levels was a step backwards, or that it had not been properly explained to them. The common perception was that the change made it difficult to understand school systems, how progress was measured and whether progress was good enough.

77. While the overall picture in maintained secondary schools is an improving one, with an increase of 12 percentage points since 2011, there has been a considerable fall in the quality of non-association independent schools serving secondary aged pupils since 2014. In 2014, the independent school standards were amended and strengthened. Since 2015, these independent schools have been inspected against the common inspection framework, which holds them to account in similar ways to maintained schools for the quality of their work. In 2015/16, 28 independent schools for secondary aged pupils declined from good or outstanding to less than good. Sixteen of these were faith schools. Common features in declining schools62 were poor leadership, management and governance. Because of poor monitoring of safeguarding practices and the quality of teaching, weaknesses were able to develop without intervention being taken. A failure to stay up to date with current requirements was frequently an issue. For many of the faith schools that declined, there were also concerns about the narrowness of the curriculum.


100. Governing bodies play an important role in challenging senior leaders on the achievement of disadvantaged pupils. In our report on governance, ‘Improving governance’,we reported that over half of the 2,600 responses to our call-for-evidence identified a commitment and knowledge of the local community as an essential aspect of good governance. For those schools in deprived areas, improving governance involved working hard to understand the particular issues in the community and finding innovative ways in which to address disadvantage.

101. Actions taken by some of the survey schools to improve their understanding of and engagement with the community included:

  •  an audit of skills that included a ‘knowing the local community’measure
  • the recruitment of people who work in the local community who could relate information from school to families and vice versa
  • the recruitment of governors from small local firms and local religious organisations
  • encouraging parent governors to share information both from the community and to the community, and to contribute to higher aspirations.

Post-16 education and training

131. We inspected 82 general FE colleges in 2015/16. Most of the colleges that were previously good remained good following short inspection, but a large majority of those that previously required improvement or were inadequate did not become good. All of the colleges judged inadequate this year were characterised by systemic weaknesses in leadership and/or governance. Strengthening leadership capacity within the sector remains a priority.

Study programmes at level 2 and below

Case study relating to the discussion of

143. Long-term outcomes for students who do not reach level 2 are poor

At Derwen College, governors, the chief executive and senior managers have established a culture of very high expectations for all students. Staff reinforce very high standards across the college, at work and in the residences. Students at this independent specialist, residential college for young people who have learning difficulties and/or disabilities greatly enjoy their learning, their work experience and the social aspects of college life. Almost all make excellent progress in the development of their personal and vocational skills, and are very well prepared for life in modern Britain.

The challenges for post-16 education

167. General FE colleges have the potential to have the greatest impact in bridging this divide. Yet there are concerns that there is not enough leadership capacity within the FE sector to enable the improvement. This year, the effectiveness of leadership and management was judged to be good or outstanding in only 52% of general FE colleges. Of the 82 general FE colleges inspected in 2015/16, 28 (34%) were judged to require improvement and a further 12 (15%) were judged inadequate for overall effectiveness. Almost half of these colleges have performed poorly for many years. All of the inadequate colleges were characterised by systemic weaknesses in leadership or governance.

Special Schools

190. It is not surprising that the characteristics of highly effective special schools, whether independent or maintained, do not differ much from those for mainstream schools. Behind this are the aspiration, vision and quality of leadership and management at all levels, including governance. Outstanding special schools have leaders who are tenacious in their aim for high standards in teaching and learning. They are rigorous in how they check on the impact of the schools’ work on the progress and well-being of every pupil.

192 Perseid School is a happy and inspirational place. Pupils are keen to get off the buses when they arrive because they enjoy coming to school. External partners and other professionals recognise that leaders and governors are committed to ensuring that the school remains a centre of excellence that others can learn from. This has led to the school becoming the hub of a teaching school alliance and a valued training provider within the local area. Leaders and governors are continually looking for ways to make further improvements. They constantly evaluate how their actions are making a difference and draw on the advice of other professionals to confirm their findings. They will not compromise on the high standards of care and education provided throughout the school. For example, governors insisted that the local authority conduct a full review of health and care services to ensure that the diverse needs of the growing number of pupils attending the school could continue to be met. Consequently, all pupils continue to receive high-quality support to allow them to make outstanding progress. Parents say that they appreciate the support and the wrap-around care that is provided by all staff at the school. They miss it during the holidays because the school plays such a significant role in the lives of their children.

193. In good and outstanding special schools inspected this year, governors provided robust challenge and support. They held leaders to account rigorously for pupils’ progress and well-being. They were clearly focused on the responsibilities of the school to secure the highest outcomes for each young person in both their academic and personal development. Often, their governors included parents and experts from within education, social care and health who thoroughly understood the potential barriers that a disability or need might present to learning. They asked highly pertinent questions as to how well the school is doing, querying how specific interventions are working. For example, in a school specialising in providing for pupils with social and emotional challenges, they checked on how effective the schools’ behaviour management approach was and whether incidents had reduced over time. Where pupils’ primary needs were linked to communication and language difficulties, they checked carefully on pupils’ progress in these areas. They ensured that pupils had any additional technological aids and other resources they needed swiftly and staff had the training to use them.

A letter to Meadowgate School:

‘You have made significant improvements to the already outstanding quality of education provided in the school since the last inspection. This is because you are determined that each pupil shall achieve the greatest possible academic and personal success, and benefit from the highest standard of care and support. This commitment is shared by other leaders, including governors, and all staff. You and many of your colleagues have completed high-level research into techniques that best enable pupils to learn and make rapid progress.’

Learning and skills in prisons and young offender institutions

214. Governors are still not doing enough to ensure that education, training or work reduce re-offending and rehabilitates prisoners. In 13 out of 20 prisons, inspectors found governors did not provide enough activity places to ensure that all prisoners had good access to education, work or vocational training throughout the week. Prisoners waited too long before activities were available to them.

220. Of the 33 prison and young offender institution inspections of the National Careers Service provision, around two thirds provided good support for prisoners to understand their education, training and employment options on release. However, many prisons, governors and Offenders’ Learning and Skills Service managers did not work closely enough with the National Careers Service and local employers to ensure that learning and work activities linked closely enough to resettlement plans on release. There were too few opportunities for prisoners nearing the end of their sentence to gain direct work experience in the community.


222. The vast majority of early years providers, schools and FE and skills providers take their safeguarding responsibilities very seriously and take action to keep pupils safe and well. However, there are exceptions. This year, 2% of maintained schools and 3% of providers in FE and skills were found to have safeguarding arrangements that were not effective. The proportion of independent schools where safeguarding arrangements were not effective was much higher, at 15%. Whether in the state-funded or independent sector, these weaknesses were the result of poor governance, leadership and management. Leaders failed to check whether their staff were actually complying with instructions and applying guidance as to how to keep children safe.

Safeguarding children and young people in schools and FE and skills providers

233. Weaknesses in any aspect of safeguarding bring with them serious concerns about the effectiveness of leaders, managers, governors or proprietors. The common thread in all provision where safeguarding was ineffective was a lack of rigorous oversight. This included leaders not regularly checking that they are fulfilling all of their responsibilities. Having policies is not enough. They must be put into practice, reviewed and evaluated.

237. In many of the independent schools where safeguarding was not effective, staff, leaders, governors and proprietors were not adequately trained in safeguarding or leaders were not checking that staff understood and were following up in practice the training they had received. Occasionally, individual members of staff had not received any training at all. Training alone is not enough. It cannot be assumed that it will automatically lead to a change in staff behaviour and practice.

Promoting British values and protecting pupils from the risk of extremism

262. After a period of intense focus on Birmingham from Ofsted and other agencies in relation to extremism, there have been some improvements. Two of the schools that were at the heart of the Trojan horse concerns (Nansen Primary School and Rockwood Academy, previously Park View Academy) are no longer in special measures and were judged good. We found strengths in leadership and management, including governance. Inspectors continue to consider carefully how effectively leaders and managers promote fundamental British values and keep pupils safe from the risks of extremism and radicalisation when inspecting all types of schools, including independent schools.

Capacity in the school system

270. England’s schools system continues to grow in diversity. Regardless of whether a school is an academy, an independent school or maintained by the local authority, the quality of the school depends on attracting and retaining the best teachers and leaders. The ability of a school to maintain its performance or to improve depends on the effectiveness of the oversight and challenge the school receives. This means that highly skilled governors, high-performing multi-academy trusts and active sponsors are more important than ever.

Leadership capacity

291. A recent survey of over 5,000 governors by the National Governors Association and the Times Educational Supplement found that over a third of respondents had reported difficulties when recruiting a headteacher. There was little difference in the views of governors of primary schools and secondary schools about the difficulties of headteacher recruitment. Over two fifths of governors said that they had found it difficult to recruit to senior staff posts.

293. In June 2016, inspectors visited seven strong-performing MATs to gather evidence about the characteristics of effective trust leadership and governance. Each of the seven MAT chief executives spoken to during these visits said they had clear strategies for identifying and growing leaders within their constituent schools. They identified potential leaders early on in their careers and were quick to provide opportunities for them to develop their leadership skills. Structured coaching and mentoring from experienced headteachers was often the norm. Some MATs provided their potential leaders with regular opportunities to shadow senior staff. They also encouraged leaders to take up secondments at other academies within the chain, when the time was right, to allow emerging skills to be applied in context and the confidence of new leaders to grow.


297. Governors play an important role in improving schools. As changes within the education system place more power in the hands of governing boards, their importance will continue to grow. Governing bodies are responsible for:

  • setting the school’s vision, ethos and strategic direction
  • holding the headteacher to account for the performance of the pupils, teachers and school
  •  ensuring financial integrity.

298. At the root of much school failure is weak governance. In the 2015/16 academic year, inspectors recommended an external review of governance in 295 schools, which is a third of all the schools judged to require improvement or to be inadequate this year.

299. This year, we carried out a survey report to look at the effectiveness of governance. Inspectors visited 24 recently improved schools in some of the poorest areas of the country. Neither the types of school, nor the structure of governance, were the reasons for the original weaknesses in governance. In order to improve, they needed to become more self-aware. Two thirds of the survey schools had not engaged in any self-evaluation of governance prior to being found to be less than good.

300. All of the boards needed to develop the professional knowledge, understanding and insight within the Board. However, over 1,600 responses to our call-for-evidence from governors told us that it is difficult to access high quality professional support and training. National Leaders of Governance and Professional Clerks are in particularly short supply. Boards also told us that they are finding it difficult to appoint people who possess the required expertise for the role and who are willing to take on the responsibility and be accountable . Around three quarters of respondents to the call for evidence reported that recruitment and retention were significant challenges for the sector.

301. In independent schools, there is no requirement for there to be a governing body. There is still a need for them to demonstrate sound governance, as for maintained schools. For some schools, this means that they have established a group of directors or advisers or a small group of named governors who are charged to oversee the leadership of the school and hold it accountable. In other schools, it is the proprietor or the proprietorial body that fulfils this role.

302. In all independent schools inspected this year where the school was inadequate, and in many of the schools that were judged requires improvement, governance was weak. Systems for holding leaders to account were underdeveloped. Those responsible for governance had had little training. They did not fully understand their responsibilities for holding school leaders to account, including ensuring that they continue to meet the independent school regulations.

Multi-academy trusts

309. This year, inspectors also visited seven of the strongest performing MATs to better understand what is working well.186 These visits showed the difference that effective MATs can make to the lives of pupils. Inspectors found executive leadership, with a proven track record of turning around failing schools. Leaders had a clarity of vision and the urgency to reach higher standards, particularly for disadvantaged pupils. There were clear, delegated frameworks of governance and intelligent use of assessment information so potential problems could be anticipated.

NOTE: Keep an eye out for Ofsted’s report on governance “Improving governance: governance arrangements in complex and challenging circumstances” which is due to be published mid December.



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