Tag Archives: Monitoring visits

Educational events matter; what I took away from #Michaela

I attended the launch of the book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Teachers-The Michaela Way” on Saturday. People have very strong views about Michaela, about Katharine and her staff, about their teaching methods and how they run their school. Many blogs have been written about this and tweets tweeted. I won’t go into any of that but rather comment, from a governance point of view, on what the speakers had to say. I go to as many educational events as I can and try to see what I, as a governor, can get from these.

Katharine started the day off. She’s a very passionate, larger than life personality. She had a vision of how she wanted children to be taught so she set up the school to deliver her vision. As governors the most important job we have to do is appoint a head. In order to do this governors need to be clear what the board’s vision for the school is and then look for a person who can help the board in achieving it. It may help to have a strategy/away day before you start the whole process and come together as a board and think where the school is and where you would like it to be. Invite your SLT too and see if you can feed in the views of students and parents too. Jill Berry has written a very good piece in which she advises prospective candidates how to approach questions related to vision at interviews.

Another point Katharine made was that she, and her staff, do what they think is best for their students and don’t worry about Ofsted. This is the message that Ofsted give too; you know your own setting and students. Do the best for them and not what you think Ofsted wants.

Next to speak was Mike Taylor who gave his impressions of Michaela as a new teacher. My governance ‘take-aways’ from his talk were:

  • Ensure that systems are in place to support staff
  • Ensure new staff are given an opportunity to get to know the school and the systems and are offered an effective induction (this is something the Board should do for new governors too)
  • What is the behaviour like at your school? Are teachers not able to give their best because the behaviour isn’t what it should be like?

Jo Facer spoke next and talked about CPD. As governors  there are various questions we can/should ask ourselves, such as

  • Is there is an effective staff development programme?
  • Are the CPD sessions effective?
  • Do all staff benefit from these?
  • Do all staff have the opportunity to access CPD?
  • What is the link between CPD and raising standards?

Olivia Dyer spoke about didactic teaching and drill. As governors we should be evaluating any new initiative. Some teachers had mentioned that they had initially used iPads but then switched to pen and paper. As governors we should be asking questions before we sign off on a new initiative. We must also help create an environment where staff are happy to try new things but happy to also say they didn’t work with fear.

Jessica Lund spoke about workload and how that is managed at Michaela. As governors staff wellbeing should be very high on our agenda. Do we know:

  • If our staff feel they aren’t appreciated?
  • Is the workload is having a detrimental effect on their lives?
  • Do we consider the work/life balance of our head? Are we asking for too many reports which will not really add anything to our knowledge?
  • How would we know if our staff felt they were in danger of suffering burnout?

Jonathan Porter  talked about their “no excuses” behaviour policy. Whatever your behaviour policy:

  • You do need to evaluate if your policy works
  • Find out if there is any low level disruption
  • Do you know if there is any bullying?
  • If bullying is a problem, then how is it handled?
  • How are staff supported if there are concerns about the behaviour?
  • How are parents kept informed?
  • What are your exclusion rates?

The next person to speak was Joe Kirby who talked about their boot camp which is a week-long induction programme for new students and staff:

  • As governors are you aware how new students settle into your school?
  • Does the school get enough information from the previous schools?
  • What does the school do to make transition easy for students and parents?
  • Is there an induction system for new staff and governors?

Katie Ashford spoke about reading:

  • Do you know which reading strategies are used?
  • How do your students perform in phonics tests?
  • Is there a difference between the reading proficiency of boys and girls?
  • How do different groups perform as far as reading is concerned?

The last speaker was Barry Smith. Amongst other things, he spoke about the culture and ethos of the school. He told us how Michaela students behave in and out of school. As governors do you “feel” the culture when you go into school? Does your school just teach academic subjects or does it educate students in the widest sense of the word?

Are there any other questions you would ask or issues you would consider which fall into the above categories?

If you want to get a flavour of the day then have a look at my Storify where I’ve collated tweets by Oliver Caviglioli who’s visualisations of the speeches are just great!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Keep a close eye on the quality of teaching

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

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

4. Be brave in challenging the leadership of the school

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

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

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

Governor visits; getting it right matters.

Governors are supposed to hold the headteacher to account. They are supposed to monitor what happens in their school, what the teaching is like, are there any behavioural issues. In short, governors are expected to know about their school in some detail.

Part of this “knowing your school” comes from asking the school to provide the GB with data and scrutinising this data. Some of the data is available publicly. There is RAISEonline, the Ofsted data dashboard and the fft data dashboard. Governors are also expected to know what teaching is like and how quality of teaching relates to pay. NGA is producing a set of briefing notes which would be useful for governors to read to find out more about knowing your school.

Why should governors visit their school?
Governors can find out a lot about their school by visiting it.  The visit can be a “social visit” (for example when a governor attends a school event, such as a concert) or a “monitoring visit”. Some visits will have to be done as part of a named governor’s remit (for example SEN).

Visiting the school will also mean that governors can gather first hand knowledge about the strengths and weaknesses of their school. Ofsted is very keen that governors can demonstrate that they do not rely solely on information provided to them by the headteacher. Visits will help reassure governors that the information they receive from the school is accurate. (See my previous post where Ofsted talk about governor visits to schools).

Social visits allow governors to see the extra curricular aspects of the school.  The students, parents and staff can get to know governors and they can put faces to the names on the website.

The monitoring visits should be an integral part of the work of the GB. Governors are supposed to monitor and evaluate progress made by students. We should also have a thorough understanding of the school development plan (SDP). Governor visits will allow the GB to monitor the progress against the targets in the SDP. Some schools have governors linked to departments (for example Science, Maths etc) or specific areas, such as literacy. These governors should visit the school to monitor the areas they are responsible for.

What visits are not about
Governors must remember that they are not there to make a judgement on the quality of teaching. That is not the job of governors. Even if a governor is a teacher in another school and knows about judging quality of teaching, the visit is being undertaken as a governor and therefore a judgement on the quality of teaching must not be made.

Governors must remember that they are at school as a representative of a corporate body and not as an individual. They must not go into school with a personal agendas.

Governor Visit Protocol
Before governors go into schools the GB should draw up a protocol which would govern these visits. The protocol should be drawn up in consultation with the school staff. This would ensure that everyone involved knows why the visits are being conducted and how they would be conducted. The protocol should cover the following points.

  • The frequency of these visits
  • How will the visits be arranged (who will the governor contact in order to arrange the visit)
  • How will the governor report back (who sees the draft report, how is the final report distributed)
  • Approximate duration of the visit
  • Frequency of  visits

Do

  • Arrange the visit well in advance, giving as much notice as possible
  • Keep the Head informed. Agree the focus and purpose of the visit beforehand
  • Be punctual and try and stick to the agreed schedule as much as possible
  • Observe confidentiality
  • Try not to obstruct any classroom activities which may be taking place
  • Send your draft report to your link at the school and agree the draft before its distributed
  • Thank the students and staff at the end of the visit

Don’t

  • Go into the school without being invited
  • Walk in with a clipboard!
  • Look at books if you haven’t been invited to do so
  • Distract students or teachers in the classrooms
  • Make any judgements on the quality of teaching or marking
  • Use the phrase “lesson observation”. Instead use school/classroom visit
  • Identify individuals.

At the end of a cycle of visits the GB should consider if visits have had an impact and if they could be improved in any way. It might also be beneficial to get the staff view on this. Secondary school governors may find Wellcome Trust’s Questions for Governors to ask about science and maths useful. I know I and staff at my school have. They are a very good way of opening and facilitating discussions and also provide useful background information.

If visits are undertaken in a professional manner with the purpose clearly defined, they will help the GB discharge its monitoring duty.

Read what Clerk to Governors has to say about reporting governor visits to school.