Category Archives: Challenge

Robert Hill’s views on various matters to do with MATs; Part 3

Robert Hill, Visiting Professor at UCL Institute of Education, policy adviser to Prime Minister Tony Blair and other Cabinet ministers, senior research manager for the Audit Commission, management consultant and social policy researcher,  has written three guest blogs on the topic of MATs for Capita Sims. These blogs are bing posted here with Capita Simms kind permission. Below is the first blog of the series. To read the original please click here.

MATs – could do better on school improvement

The ability of MATs to raise pupil performance is ‘limited and varied’. That was the blunt conclusion of a report in February 2017 by the Education Committee of The House of Commons.

There are MATs that have a strong track record on improving schools and raising attainment – even in areas where failure had become entrenched. But taken as a whole the picture is not so rosy. The 2016 exam results showed that two thirds of MATs had Progress 8 scores that were below average across the secondary schools in their trust. MATs did better at Key Stage 2 with over half achieving above average progress in writing and maths. They were, though, below average on reading. MAT performance for disadvantaged pupils has also been limited as annual reports from the Sutton Trust have highlighted.

Variation is an issue because progress within MATs and between MATs serving similar types of pupils differs quite markedly. There is also variation over time – it is not yet consistently the case, for example, that the longer a school is part of a MAT the more certain it is to improve.

Several factors have contributed to this situation. Some MATs have been overambitious about the number of academies they could improve at any one time. Quite often MATs have assumed responsibility for schools that are amongst the hardest to improve and, they might argue, they have not had long enough to make their full impact. But the fact remains that the MAT system still has to prove itself and a lack of focus on how to undertake school improvement at scale across a group of schools hasn’t helped.

However, things are changing rapidly. A number of programmes have bubbled up that are supporting MATs to be better school improvers. The government is also in the process of commissioning research on effective practice, but here are my five top tips on what all MATs should be doing.

  1. Know your schools well. Ofsted’s annual report for 2016/17 contained the disappointing conclusion that in the MATs where it carried out focused inspections leaders did not know their schools well enough: they were not ‘challenging or monitoring their schools rigorously enough’. As a result they were slow to pick up on issues and provide support. MATs should understand the needs and challenges facing each of their schools, the performance and progress of different groups of pupils, the appropriateness of the curriculum, the quality of the teaching, the standards of behaviour, the rigour of the assessment process and the effectiveness of the leadership. Peer review, learning walks, book reviews and feedback from pupils and parents can supplement the information that should come from being able to interrogate smart and timely data systems.
  2. Know how to support your schools. Schools need different forms of support at different stages in their improvement journey. Does a MAT, for example, know how to do school turn-around? Just because a MAT is built around the performance of a high-performing school does not mean that it will necessarily have the understanding or skills to support schools in very different contexts with different problems. Conversely some MATs are very good at doing the basics and moving schools from ‘inadequate’ or ‘requiring improvement’ to ‘good’ but struggle with how to step up a gear and embed excellence across the MAT. Or they find themselves stuck in making progress with certain subjects or groups of pupils. Another challenge lies in getting the right balance between maximising internal expertise, and knowing when to draw on external help and challenge both from individual and schools outside the MAT.
  3. Develop and deploy leaders and expertise. The quality of school leaders is essential in driving school improvement. So it makes sense for MATs to be strategic about identifying their best leaders and practitioners and deploying that expertise across the trust. Of course, MATs should ensure that schools ‘losing’ a leader or specialist teacher for part or all of the week have proper arrangements in place to backfill the role. But by linking strategic deployments within and across schools to development programmes for emerging, middle and senior leaders MATs can achieve a win-win. Their best leaders can help accelerate improvement across the trust and they build up a strong pool of talent for the future.
  4. Invest in joint staff development. Support for teachers to improve their practice is a key factor in improving teaching and learning and pupil progress. At the very least MATs should be organising joint inset and twilight sessions to address gaps or weaknesses in subject knowledge or pedagogical practice. They should be empowering subject and faculty leaders to jointly plan and swap schemes of work and share effective practice. However, the big gain from being part of a MAT will come the more trusts enable classroom staff to work together in their clusters through joint lesson planning, modelling expert practice, observing each other, sharing and moderating approaches to assessment, using common models to coach improved practice and undertaking inquiry-led learning.
  5. Monitor progress and track impact.  Too many school partnerships – and MATs are not exempt from this – don’t know the value they are adding. They initiate well-intentioned programmes but are not rigorous enough in terms of looking at their impact. Adopting common assessment and data collection systems, working to a standard assessment calendar across all schools in a trust and having dashboards that enable senior and boards to easily spot outliers in performance, are the basic tools for monitoring progress. But the impact of MAT-initiated improvement services, support and interventions can also be assessed in other ways. MATs can be specific about success measures, use Hattie-style methods and feedback loops to track progress in real time, commission external reviews, build in review points and share findings across openly across the trust. Learning from what does not work – or only works on a limited basis -can be as useful as knowing what works well.

MATs have tremendous potential as agents of school improvement. They could be the means of fully realising the power and effectiveness of school-to-school collaboration. But for this to happen MATs will need to be disciplined and diligent in their approach and review and refine their improvement model as they find out what works.


Robert Hill’s views on various matters to do with MATs; Part 1

Robert Hill, Visiting Professor at UCL Institute of Education, policy adviser to Prime Minister Tony Blair and other Cabinet ministers, senior research manager for the Audit Commission, management consultant and social policy researcher,  has written three guest blogs on the topic of MATs for Capita Sims. These blogs are bing posted here with Capita Simms kind permission. Below is the first blog of the series. To read the original please click here.

As a MAT leader, how can you support successful growth?

The number of multi-academy trusts (MATs) is continuing to grow, and along with this many MATs are expanding too in order to reap the benefits associated with size. It’s clear that in order to be viable, as both economic units AND as agents of school improvement, small MATs need to grow.

Of the 2,723 academy trusts, over 1,700 comprise just one academy (either a free-standing converter or a MAT with just one school waiting, or trying, to acquire more). Over 700 MATs have five or fewer academies and just 350 are responsible for six or more schools. However, the number of academies in a MAT doesn’t tell you everything – the number of pupils is also relevant. Modelling undertaken by the National Schools Commissioner suggests that:

  • when MATs have around 1,250 pupils (or three middle-sized primary schools) a topslice of five per cent will typically enable them to fund an executive head, finance director and HR manager. Beyond these posts, schools will still need to buy-in or employ other expertise they need – including for school improvement.
  • as MATs grow towards having between 2,500 to 3,000 pupils (or one secondary school and four primaries) they can additionally pay for extra functions to be provided centrally such as ICT strategy, management and procurement, school improvement support and estates and maintenance.
  • when MATs double in size again and have 5,000+ pupils (or two secondaries and eight primary schools) their topslice could also buy executive heads for their clusters, estates, finance and HR teams, ICT network support, a range of school improvement support, marketing and PR.

However, MATs face three big challenges in trying to grow to a viable size. First it is often hard to find the right schools that fit with their vision and expertise. There is no easy answer to this, though the more MATs establish a clear strategic view of the sort of trust they want to develop and the geography they want to serve, the more this will provide the basis for a focused conversation with local authorities and the Regional School Commissioner’s office about suitable opportunities for growth.

Second, MATs are now aware that there is a risk of biting off more than they can chew in terms of making commitments to bring about school improvement. A later blog in this series will discuss this.

Third, how do MATs build the infrastructure they need to support a larger number of schools in advance of additional schools joining the trust – and having the extra income they will bring? Again there is no off-the-shelf answer but here are my five top tips.

Five top tips for building the infrastructure needed to support growth

1. Develop a plan for managing the increased scale of the MAT. An executive head or a CEO can oversee three – or if they are geographically concentrated and not too big – four or even five schools. But at some point the MAT will become too large and unwieldy to sustain this model. Learnings from both the corporate sector and existing larger MATs suggest that geographical clusters provide the appropriate scale to share resources, leaders and learning – and to exercise oversight. So MATs need to work out which functions might best be carried out at school, cluster and MAT level and how they can complement each other.

2. Set a realistic level of topslice to fund the development of the MAT’s infrastructure. Resist the temptation to reduce the amount charged to schools in order to try and make it more attractive to join your MAT. The average topslice among MATs with two or more academies is 4.6 per cent.

3. Sort out your approach on autonomy and standardisation. Some MATs aim to cede as much autonomy to their schools as possible – it’s seen as a ‘reward’ for a school making improvement. Other MATs operate fairly tight centralised models. But autonomy and standardisation should not be seen as polar opposites. It may well be right for some systems and procedures to apply to all schools – whether because of legal necessity (in areas such as HR and safeguarding); financial or operational efficiency (ICT, procurement, performance and financial management) or because it aids the development of a common language about learning and school improvement. In these cases MATs will either immediately or over time be wise to adopt systems that automatically collect and enable data to be analysed in multiple ways – i.e. at pupil group, subject, school or MAT level.

But if everything is standardised then the opportunity to learn from difference or for a school to express its identity is limited. Deciding what goes in which column is, therefore, important. And so is the process for agreeing this. MATs should be aiming to align their practice by co-constructing with their school leaders and local governing bodies the answers to these issues.

4. Review arrangements for leadership and governance. Arrangements for MATs to involve and consult with school leaders and local governing bodies in a small trust may be relatively informal. CEOs and boards should think ahead to how they will operate when their MAT is double its existing size. MATs might need to consider restructuring their board, reviewing the local governance model, establishing a forum for liaising with chairs of governors, holding more structured executive team meetings with school principals, formalising how middle leaders across the trust work with each other, and using intranets, websites and apps to communicate with pupils, parents and staff.

5. Appoint a chief operating officer (COO), or director of finance with a broad remit, as early as possible in the life of the MAT to lead the work on developing the MAT’s infrastructure. Funding may be an issue but the expectation should be that a COO will rapidly earn back their salary from the savings they make in rationalising the operations of the trust. The next blog in this series will look at financial management across academies and MATs.



Staff wellbeing matters. Part 2

In my previous blog I reproduced a post by Kevin McLaughlin who wrote very movingly about his experience. The issue of staff wellbeing is one that we, as governors, should keep very high on our agendas. After reading Kevin’s post I started to think of some questions we should be asking ourselves/our heads. The questions which I came up with are as below. In this post when I refer to staff I mean anyone who is working in schools, be they teaching or non-teaching staff members.


  1. Does your board foster a culture where everyone feels they can seek support without feeling that their position may be threatened?
  2. What would you say if I asked you about the culture of mutual trust, respect, transparency, and recognition in your school? This all feeds into wellbeing.
  3. Have you thought about doing anonymous staff surveys with questions on wellbeing, work/life balance and workload with results reported to the board?
  4. Do you question if you notice a high staff turnover?
  5. Do you do exit interviews? These may give you valuable information about the culture in the school and how staff are feeling.
  6. Do you get data about staff sickness and days off? Can you identify any trends?
  7. Do you know what support is put into place once staff return to work after illness?
  8. Do you have a wellbeing policy/governor? Do they report back to the board? How are their reports used to change/modify your practice?
  9. Are you aware of your duty of care as employers?
  10. Do you regularly review what you are doing to look after the head’s wellbeing? This is important for two reasons. Firstly because as governors we would want to ensure that we are looking after and supporting our heads. Secondly, a stressed head may result in rest of the staff becoming stressed too.
  11. Are staff are happy to talk to you and do they believe you have their interests at heart?
  12. Are you sure that the initiatives you/the school have introduced to address wellbeing are more than just a gesture/tick in the box?
  13. How do you prioritise raising awareness of Mental Health issues?


  1. Have you thought about adding something in your SDP about teacher workload?
  2. Do you ask about the effect on teacher workload when new initiatives/policy amendments are brought to the board?
  3. Do you ask school leaders to justify new initiatives they bring to you for approval?
  4. Do you ask what is being dropped to accommodate new initiatives?
  5. Are members of SLT/teachers with additional responsibilities given sufficient non-contact time/working at home days to facilitate their leadership & management responsibilities?
  6. Do you make sure you ask for information well in advance of when it’s needed? It can help to draft agendas for the whole year, in consultation with the head, so that the head and school know in advance what information is required at what time of the year. This will help with managing staff workload.
  7. Is there a communication policy? This should deal with communication between staff, between governors and staff and between parents and staff.
  8. Do you set an example yourself as a governor by ensuring that everyone, including your clerk, knows that you may be emailing at a time when it’s convenient to you but you do not expect an immediate reply?
  9. Do you think about the reports/data you are asking the school to provide? Are they necessary? Are you duplicating? Can you get the same information but with less data/ fewer reports?
  10. What would your clerk say if I asked them how your practice affected their workload? Do you, for example, send out the papers you need to on time? Do you respond to the clerk’s requests on time?

Work/life balance

  1. What would your head/SLT say if you asked them if they can tell you how many extra hours are teachers putting in and why?
  2. Are your meetings held at mutually convenient times for governors and staff (including the caretakers who will be locking up the school if meetings are held in the evenings) who attend?
  3. Do your meetings run to time?
  4. Do you place items for which the responsible/presenting member of staff who doesn’t need to stay for the whole meeting, at the top of the agenda?
  5. How do you/your school leaders deal with requests to go part time?

Are there any other questions we should be asking or issues we should be thinking of? Please add these in the comments and I will incorporate them.

Further reading:

1. Workload and wellbeing by David Jones.

2. Leading on staff mental health by Patrick Ottley-O’Connor

3. The self-evident truths of staff wellbeing by Robin Macpherson

What governors think of the NAHT motion matters

Today scrolling through Twitter I came across the following tweet.

This was the NAHT debating a motion asking Ofsted to REDUCE emphasis on inspecting governance as part of Leadership and Management. I asked for comments from other governors. Almost all were surprised at this. We couldn’t understand the reasoning behind the motion. There were some light hearted comments such as “Isn’t it lovely that they are concerned about extra pressure on us. They are only looking out for us.” Another comment, in similar vein, was from me. I said that reading this gave me the impression that somewhere a conversation like the one below had taken place which led to the motion.

GB to Head, “Could you include x,y,z in your report, please?”

Head to GB,”Don’t worry about that. I’ve got it under control.”

GB to Head, “No, we really do need it. For one thing it’s our job. For another, we are due an Ofsted and we want to ensure we know our stuff.”

Head to GB, “Ah, Ofsted! Don’t worry about that. We’ll get them not to hold you to account. We’ll tell them you’ve got too much work to do.”

Other governors had also read the Schools Week tweet which led to more discussions. Numerous serious points were made in response to my question and question/comments by others. I’ve summarised discussions from different threads on Twitter and Facebook below.

  • This may indicate that heads don’t really understand governance
  • The role and responsibility has changed since I’ve been a governor. The workload means it’s like a job now
  • There are some heads who get frustrated by their governors and we must acknowledge this. On the other hand there are also heads who try and run the school as their personal fiefdom and try and exclude the GB. We have a duty to be as professional as we can and heads need to understand and respect what governance is and what we do
  • Not a straight forward debate. Looking at the framework, it is a part time job
  • Collaboration is key
  • Power grab?
  • We are volunteers which means that if the workload gets too much we can leave. “But I’m a volunteer” should not be used as an excuse
  • Unfortunate that those who may have had a poor experience of governance assume it’s typical in every institution
  • Are they are considering our health and wellbeing?
  • We have gone from “cup of tea, sticky bun and agree with the head” to a very different model. Some governors and heads have kept up and some haven’t
  • Getting paid may be a better route than downplaying the role in Ofsted inspections. But if you pay peanuts, you’ll get monkeys!
  • Some governing bodies create an unnecessary workload for themselves and do not distribute workload effectively.
  • Training of governors is an issue
  • Motion was proposed and passed at the conference. The reason for it needs to be heard
  • If governance goes wrong then everything will
  • Schools need good governance and governance needs to be accountable
  • Really disappointed to see this motion
  • Governance is essential in any organisation
  • My role as chair is far more stressful than my job (I’m saying this tongue-in-cheek)
  • If this happened, where is the incentive to fix bad governance? One role of god governance is to hold heads to account. How would that happen?
  • Perhaps they don’t want to be held to account
  • I feel passionately that strong governance remains
  • Personally I would prefer separate judgement for governance
  • I don’t agree the governance should be a separate judgement. We are part of leadership and management and this emphasises that
  • GBs are accountable in law. Reduce work load by discouraging unneeded hoop jumping? Yes. Make GBs less accountable? Absolutely not!
  • Train governors to understand role. That will help in reducing workload
  • I can see two sides to this. The possible impact of poor governance on a head and the inability of a head to control good governance
  • Ofsted don’t have the expertise to measure governance accurately
  • Inspectors shouldn’t be judging without full understanding
  • Can have good school leaders let down by poor governance. Opposite also happens
  • In some schools senior leaders have little or no contact with governors. Not great for headship preparation
  • Many heads do not do governance training and do not understand the role
  • In one GB meeting the head brought so many staff that they outnumbered the governors
  • Part of the issue is the paucity of governance subject content in many NPQH courses. Starting with a low knowledge base does not help

The debate wasn’t live streamed and the only other tweet I saw was one saying that the motion had been carried. So, we don’t know the context to the motion or how the debate went. Governors would like to know more about what was behind the motion but want to make it clear that we do not wish for reduced accountability or reduced emphasis on governance within the leadership and management judgement. If the motion had called for induction for new governors and CPD we too would have been behind the motion. 

SEND Governor matters

I was invited to the launch of the Driver Youth Trust report, Through the Looking Glass. There were interesting presentations followed by a panel discussion. During the panel discussion StarlightMcKinzie asked a very important question, “Shouldn’t all governors be governors of SEND?” The short answer is yes. All governors should be clear that their role is looking after the interests of ALL the children and hence they are all governors of SEND too. However, many governing bodies do have a designated SEND governor. The Department for Education’s SEND Code of Practice states

6.3 There should be a member of the governing body or a sub-committee with specific oversight of the school’s arrangements for SEN and disability. School leaders should regularly review how expertise and resources used to address SEN can be used to build the quality of whole-school provision as part of their approach to school improvement.

Legally there is no requirement for a particular governor to take on the role of SEND governor. What must happen is oversight, review and monitoring of the SEND provision. The governing body (GB) decides how best to do this. Many GBs decide to appoint a SEND governor who then reports back to the GB. This, in my view, is a good way to function. The advantages of having a named SEND governor are

  • One named person takes the lead and ownership and then reports back to the whole GB
  • There are many areas which the GB needs to monitor and for all of these areas school visits will form an integral part of the monitoring. Having named governors for these areas means that the
    • Work load is divided and few governors do not end up doing all the tasks. As governors are volunteers this is essential so that their time is utilised effectively
    • Having one governor “look after” SEND means that one governor is then “accountable” for monitoring. This ensures that SEND doesn’t get neglected because everyone assumed someone else would do it
  • The SEND governor would, as part of the monitoring visits, meet with the SENDCo. One named governor performing the role of SEND governor means that the SENDCo can develop a professional relationship with that person. This would be difficult if different governors came into school to have conversations with the SENDCo
  • Because these monitoring visits would be arranged between two people, the SEND governor and the SENDCo, it would be easier for them to schedule regular visits as only two diaries need to be consulted. Different people coming in to meet the SENDCo would be more difficult to arrange than just one governor visiting. Having more than one person coming in may also increase the workload of the SENDCo as different people may want to focus on different things and also lead to duplication
  • Governors should attend training which would help them to function effectively. Having one named governor taking on the role of SEND governor means that there are more chances of this governor attending relevant training/briefing.
  • Different governors bring different skills to the boardroom. The GB may be lucky enough to have someone with a good understanding of SEND issues or someone who is interested enough to attend training/briefings/read research so as to become well informed of SEND issues. Giving this governor the role of SEND governor means that the GB is utilising the skills available to it effectively

Though having one named governor is, in my opinion, a good way to monitor and evaluate the SEND provision, the GB must ensure that ALL governors are aware of the issues and take responsibility for the SEND children. This is done by ensuring there is regular reporting by the governor and SENDCo and that SEND is a regular item on the agenda. At the end of the day although having one named governor is an efficient way of performing the role, the GB is a corporate body and the responsibility is a corporate responsibility.

Some other points to consider:

  • It may be better not to take on this role in the school your child attends if you are the parent of a SEND child
  • The SEND governor should have frequent meetings with the SENDCo (perhaps termly so that the GB has reports to consider at every meeting).
  • It would also help if the SEND governor could also meet with the pastoral team in order to get acquainted with the complete picture of the support available to SEND children

Are there any other points which should be added to the above?

Principles and personal attributes which individuals bring to the board matter

Governance is coming under increasing scrutiny and rightly so. Every school deserves to have a good governing body and a governing body can only be as effective as the people serving on it. Below are some of the attributes that people serving on trust boards and local governing bodies (LGBs) should have.

Seven principles of public life; Nolan Principles

It is essential that school leaders (be they trustees, heads, SLT, people serving on LGBs) live by the seven Nolan Principles of Public Life.

  • Selflessness

    People serving on public bodies should act only in the interest of the public. In the case of people involved in governance they should ensure that they serve the interest of the school, students and the school community.

  • Integrity

    They must not place themselves under obligation to anyone who may influence them. They must act in the interest of the school and not take decisions in order to gain personal benefit.

  • Objectivity

    They must act fairly, without bias, not discriminate, and must base decisions on evidence.

  • Accountable

    They must understand that they are accountable for the decisions they take. Trustees and people serving on LGBs in MATs should understand that the trust board is the accountable body.

  • Openness

    They should act in an open and transparent manner. They should not withhold information from the public unless there are sound and lawful reasons to do so.

  • Honesty

    Honesty and truthfulness are essential characteristics for anyone involved in governance.

  • Leadership

    They should lead by example and challenge poor behaviour.

Seven “C”s from the Competency Framework for Governance

The recently published Competency Framework for Governance lists the following attributes which those involved in governance should have.

  • Committed

    They should be committed to doing the best that they can. They need to be committed to their development. The need to commit time and energy to the role. This will involve attending meetings well prepared and carrying out that they’ve been asked to do.

  • Confident

    They need to be confident enough to act independently, have courageous conversations and take part in discussions by expressing their opinions.

  • Curious

    They should be able to ask questions and be analytical.

  • Challenging

    They should not accept data at face value. They should be able to ask challenging questions in order to bring about school improvement.

  • Collaborative

    They should be able to work in a collaborative manner with the rest of the members of the governance team, head, senior teachers, parents, students and community.

  • Critical

    They should understand their role of a critical friend. They should be endeavour to improve their own performance as well as the performance of the whole team

  • Creative

    They should be able to be creative while solving problems, try new approaches and be innovative thinkers.

Other attributes

  • Provide challenge and support

    They should understand what is meant by support as well as challenge and be prepared to provide both. Many people find the challenge bit of the job hard, but that is the most important bit! Many people think that the word challenge means you have to be confrontational. That is not the case. Challenge just means asking the right questions to get all the information you need to perform your job.

  • Pull their own weight

    Governance is a huge and complex undertaking. Every member of the board should do his/her fair share of the work. The right governor will volunteer to do some of the tasks that have to be done. This may be monitoring visits, learning walks, attending school events and taking up a specific role (such as the SEN Governor).

  • Understand difference between strategic and operational

    They should understand the difference between being strategic and operational. The right governor is one who can be described as “eyes on, hands off” or “strategically engaged, operationally disengaged”.

  • Team player
    The governing body is a corporate body and each and every member needs to understand this. Governors should understand that

    (a) They cannot do anything they have not be delegated to do
    (b) Once a decision has been made, then that is the corporate decision and governors need to abide by it. They are allowed to express their opinion (and should!) during the discussion stage. Once a decision is reached, even if that wasn’t their preferred option, they have to abide by it and carry it through.

  • Not afraid to speak up

    They should be able to speak their mind. They should be able to bring up a difficult topic during a meeting and only during a meeting! This goes hand in hand with the point (b) I made above. If they feel strongly about something they should be able to speak up at the meeting. If the other members don’t agree then they should accept it and not carry on the conversation outside the boardroom.

  • Manage conflicts of interest

    They should be able to recognise and manage conflict of interests. There will be times when there will be conflicts of interests. The right governor is one who can recognise when these situations arise and knows what to do when this happens.

  • Understand duties

    They should understand and fulfil their statutory duties. They should understand their responsibilities under equality legislation. Academy Trustees should understand that they have duties under the Company Law and Charity Law.

The above is by no means an exhaustive list. I’m sure you can add more to the list so please do because for good governance getting the right people around the table matters. It is also important to remember that it’s not necessary that everyone will have these skills when they join. As long as you are willing to learn and develop these skills, you will be an effective governor.

I’ve made a Powerpoint presentation based on the above.

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.