Category Archives: Challenge

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.

Disadvantage

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.

Safeguarding

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.

Governance

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.

 

Short Ofsted inspection matters; a Chair’s story

My local authority holds LA and Link Governor forums. As I am the Training Link governor, I try and attend these forums as often as I can. At this term’s forum there was a presentation by a Chair of Governors about his experience with the new, short inspection regime. This was the first short inspection in my LA so this presentation was very useful and interesting.

This school had been judged as Good in 2011. In 2013 the school was advised that it would not be inspected at least for another 12 months. In September 2015 the GB appointed a new Headteacher. On Monday 11th January 2016 the school received a call informing them that they would have a short inspection the next day. The headteacher drew up a timetable for the day. During the first hour the head met the inspector and they went through the school data. The inspector was told about student tracking, progress, results and the changes the head was putting into place. The Chair commented that everything the inspector asked the head were things we as governors should know!

While touring the school, the inspector went into a classroom and saw children learning about pets. It was “Bring your pet to school” day and the school had decided not to cancel it. There were numerous questions on safeguarding. The inspector then went into the office to check the Single Central Record. The register is kept up to date. However, the inspector made a few suggestions to bring it in line with best practice and asked the school to add a few extra columns. One question that the inspector asked was if any of the staff had worked abroad and was the school aware of anything which may have happened while the staff member was abroad. As it happened the school does have a staff member who has recently returned to the UK. The Chair told us that the inspector didn’t make the staff member responsible for the register feel as if they had let the school down. The inspector asked them to get the required information and update the record and he would come back at the end of the day. This was done and the inspector was satisfied when he re-examined the register.

The meeting with the governors took place at lunch time; four governors met the inspector. The inspector used the information he had gathered to check the governors’ understanding of progress, results and interventions. The inspector asked about one year group which is a challenging one. He wanted to know if the governors were aware of how these students are tracked, if they were making expected progress, the interventions in place and their effects. The Chair told us he keeps an “Ofsted folder” which has information which may be needed at inspections. He said he found this very useful during the inspection as he was able to refer to it when needed. The inspector wanted to know if governors were given all the information they needed. He asked if governors were aware of the work done by the SENCO, the strategies she uses and their impact. The inspector knew that writing had been the focus during the last two inspections. The governors were asked why was writing still a priority. This question was answered by the governor responsible for monitoring this area. He told the inspector that the school had introduced a new English programme and felt that they should keep focusing on writing for the time being.

The Chair told us that student progress in his school is not as good as other schools in the borough but the governors were able to 

(a) assure the inspectors that they knew this was the case and

(b) put the data into context

Governors were asked about student attendance. As this is a small school few unauthorised absences affect the data dramatically. Governors were asked what steps was the school taking to address unauthorised absences and were told that they needed to be robust in their tackling of this issue. The Chair asked if the inspector would put this in his report. The inspector said he would be commenting on attendance. The Chair told us that the governors were happy about this as the school could point to the Ofsted report when emphasising the need to attend school regularly.

Governors were asked if they knew what new initiatives had been put into place by the head and the impact these were having. The governors were asked about EYFS, if governors accessed training (the Chair had the training record with him and showed it to the inspector) and if there had been any complaints against staff. The inspector was impressed that the school, a small primary in a leafy suburb, had accessed Prevent training.

The Chair told us that judging by the questions they were asked the inspector was trying gauge if the governors and the head’s priorities and vision for the school were the same and if they questioned and challenged the head.

The school has been graded Good (the report has been made public). The Chair told us that they were satisfied with the grade as they know they are not Outstanding but will be! The Chair was happy with the new inspection regime and the inspector. He said the whole process had felt supportive and it did feel as if the inspection had started by assuming that the school continued to be Good.

The Chair ended his presentation by advising us that as governors we need to be clear about our vision for our school, accountability, safeguarding, being able to track pupil progress and financial regularity.

It was good to hear from someone who has gone through the new, short inspection and it was reassuring to hear that the experience had been a positive one.

Improving school governance: Book review

I was asked by Schools Week to review Nigel Gann’s new book “Improving School Governance” which I was very happy to do.  I gave the book five stars. My review is reproduced below. The orginal can be found here.

Book revie_Nigel

Schools are complex places, as is the process of governing them. Potential recruits to governance often find the workload and responsibility daunting, leaving many governing boards lacking the people and skills needed to fulfil their responsibilities. Any resource which can aid governors has to be welcomed. This book is just that!
The great thing about this book is that you can dip in and out of its ten chapters with ease; especially useful if you need guidance about a certain topic. The first chapter covers the fascinating history of governance, dating back to the 6th century! Such background is important as it gives context to where governance and governors find themselves today.

Ensuring the vision, ethos and the strategic direction of schools is one of the statutory duties of boards. The book describes the difference between vision and ethos, and outlines a process for defining these. Boards should look regularly at their vision to make sure it is fit for purpose.

The difference between “strategic” and “operational” is described in some detail. This is something which governors can, and do, get wrong. Governors need to concern themselves with the former and leave the latter to the Headteacher. The three elements of strategic governance are detailed, noting those areas which governors should monitor and, perhaps more importantly, those they should not. Readers also learn about characteristics of a good school visit.
Coinciding with the conversion of schools into academies, recent years have seen a move away from the stakeholder model towards a skills based recruiting regime. Both these models are compared and contrasted.

The book goes into some detail about the various roles which governors perform; discussing the role of the chair and vice chair as well as that of clerks. The role descriptors are particularly helpful.
The working of governing boards is also addressed. Induction of new governors, hallmarks of good meetings, legal responsibilities of governors and the rights of governors are outlined.

A significant element of governance is obtaining and interpreting relevant information from professionals. The relationship between the Headteacher and the board is important in this process and is examined in some detail. The appointment and appraisal of Headteachers is also discussed, making it clear that effective Headteacher appraisal is effective governance. The ways in which Headteachers can help develop boards is also examined. Readers will, hopefully, understand the difference between leadership and management. I would encourage governors to read the chapter which deals with worries that Headteachers might have about governance.

Any discussion of governance would be incomplete without mentioning inspection. The birth of Ofsted, the increasing importance of governance during school inspections and external reviews of governance are discussed.
The relationship parents have with their schools and boards is an important one and is examined in some detail.
As attention on governance increases, so does the necessity for boards to evaluate their own performance and the effect they have on improving school performance. The book is useful in helping readers understand “good governance” as well as the barriers to it.
The last chapter looks at the issues which governors are facing now and which might present themselves in the future. Understanding these is important from a strategic planning point of view.
The book provides governors with vital resources such as model policies, a pre-inspection checklist and a self evaluation tool and includes an extensive bibliography. This is especially useful for governors who would like to read around the subject.
My one minor point of contention; the use of the term ‘lay governors’. I know this has been used to distinguish between “professional” educators and governors but I would have preferred not to have used “lay” as a prefix.

Governors will find the book very useful in understanding the difference between being a friend of the school and being a governor of the school.

This book is a very welcome addition to the board bookshelf.

Heads’ reports to GBs; good relationships matter

Trigger warning: This blog has been written because I felt the need to “rant”!

While browsing Twitter this morning I read a few tweets discussing  a TES article. As this was on governance I naturally clicked the link to read it. I wish I hadn’t!

The article discusses how heads can “get the best” out of their governors. The second suggestion is a good one. Governors will, I think, appreciate hearing from the staff. They will appreciate being given an opportunity to interact with staff and to ask them questions directly. Staff, too, may appreciate being given the chance to talk about what they do. This will also bring governors and staff closer to each other with each understanding what the other does.

So what, I hear you ask, is my problem with the article? Well, the problem is the first suggestion. The suggestion is that heads should include a deliberate mistake in their reports to governors “just to check they’ve been reading it“. It is this suggestion that I find unhelpful and even patronising. Let me state right at the beginning that there are governors who turn up at meetings unprepared and not having read the papers beforehand.

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This article, however, does not distinguish between those who come prepared and those who don’t. It makes a blanket generalisation which isn’t helpful. The article also states,”We try to get everything out in writing to governors with at least a week or a long weekend to read and digest the contents before the actual meeting.” There is no acknowledgement that “trying” to get the papers out on time is the problem. Legislation does not say that the school should “try” and send out papers in advance. Legislation actually requires that papers be sent out at least seven days in advance of the meeting. I find the “long weekend to read” comment funny too. Are governors not entitled to a work/life balance? Why should governors be expected to spend their weekend, long or otherwise, reading papers they should have had in advance? I’ve heard some people say that heads are busy so governors should not complain if papers are late. I’m sorry but that doesn’t wash! It’s part of the head’s job to supply the information requested by the governors and supply it at least seven days in advance of the meeting.

If a head feels that certain governors are attending meetings unprepared then I think the way to handle this is to have a quiet word with the Chair. The Chair, I hope, would have picked up this him/herself too and can deal with it in an appropriate manner. But peppering your report with  deliberate mistakes in order to try and “catch them out” will not help matters and may ruin any trust that exists between the head and the governing body. What about those governors who have read the report and then question the deliberate mistake? How would they feel when the head replies, “Ah! That’s a deliberate mistake I put in there to see if you’d spot it. Well done for reading the paper.” Secondly, just because someone spots a typo doesn’t mean they will also ask strategic question. This isn’t the way to help governors think and ask strategic questions. Thirdly, what if they do spot it but say nothing because they want to spare your blushes thinkng you’ve made a silly mistake? Or what happens if governors spot the mistakes and send the report back with red marks all over it, asking it to be re-done? That’s the governors’ and the head’s time wasted!

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Image courtesy of cooldesign at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Something to think about: In which other industry/job will you find the employee trying to catch out his/her employer by adding a mistake in the report the employer has asked for? Also ask yourself what sanctions would the employee face if this were to happen!

I’ll end by making two comments. Firstly, I hope this was an attempt at humour and not an actual serious suggestion to fellow heads. Secondly, as there are “good” governors out there, there are also excellent heads who are a joy to work with, who enjoy and welcome the challenge and support from the governors and who think that the school is best served if the staff and governors work well together. One such head is Jarlath O’ Brien whose five ways for heads to turn governors into critical friends is well worth a read.

Rant over!