Tag Archives: Monitoring visits

Governance matters at Festival of Education. Part 1

Picture credit: Steve Penny

One of the most awaited educational events, The Festival of Education, took place on 20th and 21st June 2019. This year was the 10th anniversary of the Festival. We were treated to two days of inspirational speakers who presented on a whole range of topics. I’m delighted that governance was represented too, for which the organisers deserve our thanks.

I was very happy that my application to hold a governance session was successful. I’m also very grateful to Dominic Herrington, National Schools Commissioner (NSC), who accepted my invitation and joined me for a chat on the first day of the festival. Below is a short account of what we discussed in the 40 minutes available to us. Where I have added post-event comments, I have done so in pink.

Dominic started by thanking governors for their time and commitment to governance of our schools. He talked a bit about his role. As NSC, Dominic, working with Regional School Commissioners (RSC) and other educational leaders and

  • Helps develops multi-academy trust (MAT) improvement strategies
  • Supports MATs so that they are sustainable and strong, via constructive assistance and challenge
  • Encourages regional teams to share best practice and learn from one another to encourage closer

I started our discussion by asking Dominic what, in his opinion, is good governance and why is it important. Dominic replied that governance has vital role in our schools, particularly due to the degree of autonomy in English education system as compared to the rest of world. We need good governance because governance performance three important functions:

  • It act as a stimulus for improvement
  • It provides an ‘Insurance’ policy for school leaders
  • It is responsible for ensuring clarity of vision and strategic direction

We discussed features of effective governance. Dominic referred to the three core functions which, when performed well, lead to effective governance. These are:

  • Overseeing the financial performance of the school and making sure its money is well spent
  • Holding the headteacher to account for the educational performance of the school and its pupils
  • Ensuring clarity of vision, ethos and strategic direction

We went on to talk about the relationship between the executive leaders and governors. Dominic said that if there is strong executive leadership then we can usually assume that governance is strong too. There is a strong correlation between effective governance and strong executive leadership. This is why Ofsted consider governance under Leadership and Management (L&M). Ineffective governance invariably leads to ineffective leadership and this is not just education sector specific. [There is discussion in governance circles if governance should be considered under L&M. I personally think that it should. We are part of the Leadership and it’s only right that when Ofsted judge L&M, they comment on the effectiveness of governance.]

As we were discussing ineffective governance, I asked Dominic about the role played by NSC and RSC when ineffective governance is identified. Dominic started by emphasising that occurrences of inadequate governance are rare and that the vast majority of schools are not failing [This was good to hear]. We do, however, have to deal swiftly and proportionally where this has been identified. Inadequate governance doesn’t take long to be identified (via Education and Skills Funding agency, RSCs, LAs or parental complaints). Dominic said that prevention is always better than cure so it is important that we identify cases where governance isn’t as good as it could be and offer support before it becomes ineffective. He said he was interested in how we can best enable system leadership. The multi-academy trust model gives school leaders the flexibility to share resources across a number of schools. Dominic said we have seen best outcomes for children being delivered where there are school leaders working across several schools to support weaker schools. We have some excellent examples of where academy sponsorship has had a transformative impact on schools. We do need to ensure that schools are matched with a sponsor who fits the school and has the capacity to raise standards.

Dominic also stressed the importance of recruiting good people and mentioned Academy Ambassadors and Inspiring Governors who can help boards find suitable people. This led us to talk about governor CPD and I asked if training should be made mandatory. Dominic agreed that his was always a hot topic. Personally, he was not very keen on making it mandatory. He said he would be worried about the quality of CPD and would rather that we work from bottom up and offer support. He mentioned that there is training available, including Department for Education funded training. [My personal thoughts on this are that GBs/trusts should make it mandatory for their members to keep up to date and commit to CPD. They should also make induction training available to all new appointees and the expectation should be that this would be done within a reasonable time after appointment.]

I was interested in getting Dominic’s opinion on whether MAT governance was complex. Dominic’s view was that it is not; rather it can be an opportunity as Local Governing Bodies and Trust Boards give us the option of different forms of governance. Dominic emphasised that most MATs are local MATs formed of six or less schools. He did stress the importance of Schemes of Delegation (SoD). Dominic said that SoD need to be clear and these must be explained to everyone. The lines of accountability need to be clearly defined too. We need to ensure that people understand their respective roles. [This is an important point. Good, clearly defined SoD, which are understood by all, are crucial. National Governance Association (NGA) has done some work on this which should help trustees who are reviewing their SoD.]

I was also interested in hearing Dominic’s opinions on how to increase governance literacy across the sector. Dominic started by saying that being a governor is a noble contribution to our communities. He said that governance has a higher profile now than it did five years ago when it was hardly talked about. We need to continue raising the profile of governance and encourage teachers, headteachers, retired teachers, and people from other sectors to join governing bodies. We should talk up governance which is why he was happy to come to the Festival and discuss governance with us. [I think that it is important that we talk up governance and do what we can to raise awareness of what governance is and its importance. Attending and presenting governance sessions at various events in one of the ways we can raise awareness. Taking part in twitter chats and blogging is another. Julia Skinner has been trying to get more of us blogging. If you are a blogger and write about governance, please do let Julia know and she may review your blog for Schools Week.]

Dominic is a governor too and my next question was related to this. I asked him if he was a governor on a governing body (GB) where governance wasn’t as effective as it could be, then what options were open to him. In other words, how could individual governors challenge an ineffective GB? Dominic said that the best course would be to try and find an ally in the GB, perhaps the chair and discuss concerns with them. If that doesn’t work then get in touch with the LA, RSC, etc. Dominic hoped that if ever a governor was faced with this situation, they wouldn’t give up and leave but try and change the GB practice so it does become effective.

The session also included questions from twitter and the floor.

  • In reply to a question about parent governors, Dominic said he was very keen on GBs having parent governors. He is one! At the same time he also emphasised the need to have a diverse board.
  • Asked why the Headteachers Boards are called that and why are there no places for governors on it, Dominic replied that the system allowed for co-option of someone with governance experience and he had co-opted members in the South East. The system is evolving and may change in the future.
  • The next question was about the options open to an academy committee (local governance) if they are unhappy with the MAT. Dominic said that he hoped that it could be solved at the local level but if the situation can’t be resolved then they should contact their RSC. He also made the point that this is not very usual and he had had dealt with only a few cases in his time as RSC.
  • The CEO of a MAT referenced research from NGA and asked if the time being put into governance by chairs was sustainable. Dominic said that some people put in a lot of time because they enjoy the role. The system is still young and developing and further down the line chairs may not need to put in as much time as they do now (MATs are growing slowly now. MATs are joining other MATs which is less demanding than setting up a new MAT).
  • A governor made the point that she worries that she can’t get into school and spend as much time there as she would like. Dominic replied that spending time in school isn’t the only way a governor adds value to their GB. Dominic said he cannot spend time in his school either. He adds value via other contributions. [This is an important point. A good board works as a team. Not everyone has to do everything and every contribution is valuable irrespective of the nature of the contribution.]
  • There was a question about mixed MATs/church schools. Dominic said that Church of England has been running schools for years and have a significant place in the educational landscape. Dominic reported that he had not come across any real issues with mixed MATs as yet.
  • In response to another question Dominic said that there are no plans at the present time to inspect MAT boards.

I am grateful to Dominic for taking time out of his busy schedule to come and talk to governors. I’m also grateful to everyone who attended the session. Dates for the 2020 Festival of Education have been announced (18th -10th June 2020). The organisers are offering a 40% launch discount and there is a special rate for governors (£45 for a day ticket, £59 for both days). I will be attending the Festival and hopefully will see many of you there.

Governors and curriculum matters

On 11th June 2019 governors (Jo Penn, Jane Owens,  Fee Stagg and I) attended “Curriculum Thinking: Three Masterclasses which had presentations from Mary Myatt, Tom Sherrington and John Tomsett. I would like to thank Mary, Tom and John for inviting us. As we self-fund most of our CPD, this generous invitation was greatly appreciated. I am going to write about those parts of the day which I think will be of interest to governors.

The first presentation was by the wonderful Mary. She started by saying that wrong priorities and focusing on SATs had resulted in a narrow curriculum. I would urge governors to ask questions around the curriculum offer. Are you sure your school is offering broad and balanced curriculum? All children deserve to be taught a rich, broad and balanced curriculum and governors can ensure this by asking questions of our school leaders. As governors are you certain that the school has high expectations for all the students? How do you know this?

Mary went on to talk about high challenge and low threat. She said that we don’t mind being challenged or put under pressure as long as there are no threats and we aren’t made to look stupid. We are a challenge seeking species. She also stressed the need to separate the person from their work and making a judgement on the work and not on the person. This was in relation to students and their teachers but I think this relates to our work too. Our role as governors is to hold the school leaders to account. Do ask challenging questions but frame them in such a way that the senior leaders don’t feel threatened. If they do feel threatened then the chances are you may not get the information you want and need as they may be scared to give it to you. Don’t forget that we are supposed to challenge and support and act as critical friends where being a friend is very important too. Mary also talked about data collection and the uselessness of populating endless spreadsheets. As governors, we need to be very aware of this too. Are we asking for too much data and hence adding to teacher workload? Is the data we’ve asked for/are getting actually useful?

Mary was followed by Tom Sherrington. He started by saying that the curriculum defines your school. This is very important from governance point of view. Our first core function is to ensure clarity of vision and ethos. Do we know if our curriculum matches the vision we have of our school? Does our curriculum ties in with the ethos of our school? Some of the other questions Tom wants school leaders to ask while looking at the curriculum are the questions we should be asking in our governing body meetings too. Questions such as:

  • Do we understand the context of our school?
  • Is the curriculum a good fit for our context? Tom gave examples of teaching about Islam in Spain, Benjamin Zephaniah which would show that thought has been put into what to teach and why
  • What do we want our school to do that we can be proud of?
  • This is especially for primary school governors. How do our school leaders/we support our teachers who may not be subject specialists to get the support they need to design and develop the curriculum?
  • Does the curriculum allow excellence to develop?
  • What does a broad and balanced curriculum mean in practice?
  • Do you as governors understand why the number of options a student is allowed take is what it is? (More options mean there is greater breadth, fewer means there is greater depth)
  • Are the Ebaac and Progress 8 choices for the benefit of the school or the student?

The last speaker of the day was John Tomsett. He too made the point that our core purpose, our vision and our values should shape our curriculum. John quoted Christine Counsell.

As governors are we sure our curriculum helps our disadvantaged pupils to “gain the powers of the powerful”? Some more questions posed by John which governors can adapt.

John then showed us an extract from his school’s Ofsted report.

The curriculum reflects leaders’ integrity, because it is designed to match pupils’ needs and aspirations regardless of performance table measures

Do we as governors, have the confidence that this is true of our school also? This links back to what Tom had said about asking ourselves if the Ebaac/Progress 8 choices for the school or the pupils.

The day ended with a panel session with Mary, Tom and John taking questions from the audience. Someone wanted to know how to manage the curriculum in a school where there is a high degree of pupil movement. Mary mentioned MOD schools and that it may be an idea to have links with them. This is a question governors (who should know if their school falls into this category) can ask of their leaders. Jo asked who owns the curriculum and what is the role of governors in this? Tom said that it should belong to the stakeholders. John talked about the importance of governors hearing directly from subject leads and being prepared to ask critical questions. Governors absolutely have a role to play here. This is why I am grateful to Mary, Tom and John for inviting us. It was a great opportunity to hear from three people who have done so much work on curriculum design and development and hopefully this blog would have given you a flavor of the day and given you some questions to ponder on and to ask of your school leaders.

Tweets from the day have been collated here.

Staff wellbeing surveys matter: Guest Post

Bruce Greig is an entrepreneur and school governor. He served as Chair of Governors through two Ofsted inspections and worked with four headteachers. He set up School Staff Surveys after discovering how enlightening an anonymous staff survey can be and decided to make it easy for every school to run them. Below is a guest post written by Bruce on the topic of staff surveys.

I’ve been a school governor since 2011. A long while ago we asked our headteacher to run a staff wellbeing survey. We had heard mutterings of discontent from some staff, but others seemed very happy. Sometimes governors’ work is like the blind men appraising an elephant: you only see little glimpses of what’s really going on.

That survey we ran turned out to be transformational. It started a gradual, but dramatic, improvement in our the school staff culture.

Culture is very hard for governors to assess. Staff are often on their “best behaviour” during a learning walk or other governor visit. You don’t necessarily get a sense of how staff interact, and how they feel, when governors are not around.

We now do the same survey every year, and I think that every school should do this. In fact, I became so taken with the idea I set up a little side business just doing staff wellbeing surveys for schools: School Staff Surveys.

Here are some of my favourite questions (there are 69 questions in all, adapted from the world-renowed UK Civil Service People Survey).

Simple questions, but telling. And you can’t really ask a staff member this face-to-face (or, if you did, you can’t be sure of getting an honest answer). Of course, this survey question won’t tell you for sure whether or not your head is doing a good job, but it will help inform you. Staff might answer “Agree” because they just love the fact that the head lets them hide away in their classroom untroubled by observation or feedback. Or they might “Disagree” because they dislike a head who is actually doing a great job.

So the survey digs a little deeper into this, with questions like:

You can see that these more probing questions would help governors understand in more detail how the school is being led and managed.

Developing staff

As governors, we are well aware that recruiting staff is difficult: distracting, time-consuming and hard work. So it is much better if schools can do everything they can to develop and grow their existing staff. How’s that going? This question gives you an steer:

Staff might agree to this because they think to themselves “yes, I could go on those courses if I got round to asking”. Does your school actually have the processes in place to ensure that that development actually happens, and is it worthwhile? This more specific question gets to the crux of that:

And if you are able to develop and grow your staff, you should then get a resounding Strongly Agree to this question:

Feedback and appraisal

Since the introduction of performance related pay for teachers in 2014, it has been absolutely crucial that schools get their appraisal process right. Back in 2013, the last TALIS survey showed that around half of all teachers in England felt that feedback and appraisal was just a box-ticking exercise. If that shows up in the next TALIS survey, a lot of schools will be sitting on a tinderbox of potential grievances.

You are unlikely to hear from a teacher face-to-face that they think their appraisal is a waste of time. But if they do quietly think that, you could have a big problem on your hands – if their pay has been determined each year by a process they think is inadequate.

A regular wellbeing survey can look at this issue with questions like:

It isn’t just about how teachers view their own appraisal. It is just as important that staff feel others are managed well too, especially if they think other staff are not doing a good job. A question like this addresses that:

Teamwork

There are few things more toxic for a school staff culture than a staff member who doesn’t muck in. Won’t share resources, makes no effort to help out colleagues. I have heard of a school where a teacher appeared super professional and dedicated in her interactions with governors, but completely wrecked the school’s team culture in her interactions with staff. Literally leaving other teachers in tears. Had it not been for other staff speaking up, governors would have had no idea of the effect this teacher was having on the rest of the small team.

Being fair and respectful

Now we are getting into more sensitive territory. You’d hope that, if staff were not being treated fairly, or were suffering harassment, they would speak up. But I’ve learned that teachers are very reluctant to speak out about anything which might rock the boat (compared to my experience of other modern workplaces). If they keep their heads down, they have a very secure job. If they rock the boat, they fear that they might attract the dreaded career-ending “capability procedure”.

Your survey should include a couple of basic questions on this, like:

But also explicitly ask about discrimination:

And harassment:

Now then if you get a “yes” to either of these questions, the school can’t necessarily take any action. The survey is anonymous. The respondent might wish to remain anonymous. But your head, or CoG, could at least say to staff that the survey has shown that someone feels they have not been treated right and make sure everyone knows how to address their grievance safely if they want to.

There are another 40 questions in the survey that I run. There are plenty of ways that schools can run a survey like this. The UK Civil Service People Survey questions are in the public domain – you can put them into a Google Form or into Survey Monkey for free. One step up from that is a simple paid-for version like mine (School Staff Surveys), which takes the time and effort out of doing it all yourself. Or there are other providers like the Education Support Partnership who will administer a survey for you and follow it up with consulting and advice to help you address the issues it raises.

 

Major incidents matter; some questions for governors to consider/ask

A few months ago I attended a workshop on helping protect against and preparing for a terrorist attack. After the events in Manchester and London I thought it may help other governors if I shared the notes I had made at the workshop. These are my notes and should be read as just that. Do contact your local police for any specific advice you may need. During the workshop we discussed scenarios and came up with various questions we should be asking ourselves in order to prepare for any eventuality. These questions are an aid to start thinking of how prepared we are and what else we may need to do. There are no right or wrong answers as the answers to these questions will depend on your setting.

Classification of Levels of threat:

  • Critical: Attack expected immediately (issued for a short period of time as it’s difficult to maintain over a long period)
  • Severe: Attack is highly likely
  • Substantial: Strong possibility of an attack
  • Moderate: Attack possible but not likely
  • Low: Attack unlikely

Threats we face:

  • Mass casualty attacks.
  • There will probably be no warnings
  • Crowded places are more likely to be targeted
  • Attack may be through person or vehicle borne devises
  • Methods are constantly evolving

Places attractive to terrorists:

These are places where they can blend in, places where they can predict procedures, public places. Schools are all of the above. We need to assess where we are most vulnerable. We need to be able to prevent people coming in, protect the items we work with being used (like chemicals in our labs) and prevent our reputation being our greatest risk.

Scenario: There’s been an attack in the town centre. What will you do?

  • How will you know there has been an attack in your town centre? Can you share information quickly with other local schools? Is there a television in the school which is on all the time and tuned to a news channel? Police will have other priorities and informing schools will not be at the top of their list.
  • What is our responsibility to students/staff who may be out of school? Can we check if they are ok? Do we have the capability to do this?
  • What will we tell parents who may call the school having heard of the incident?
    Have a holding statement ready, something along the lines of: “Yes, we are aware that an incident has taken place. We are in the process of assessing the situation and will put updates on the website”.
  • Put information on the website.
  • Put a pre-recorded message on the phone, something along the lines of: “Yes we know about the incident. We are taking steps to ensure that our students and staff are safe. Please look at the website for further updates.”
  • Consider lockdown. Are we able to lockdown our establishment? Primary schools may be able to do this more easily than secondary ones. If we do have a lockdown then will students who are off site be able to return?
  • How will you inform staff who are in different classes/places?
    One attendee told us about a new system in her school. There are speakers in every room. There is a central button which is pressed and the announcement is made through the speakers. The message is a pre-recorded one. In her school the message is, “Will all staff please respond to a Code Blue”. The staff have practised this and know how to respond. Another option is to use a klaxon. Newer fire alarm systems have different broadcasts which can be used
  • Whose responsibility is to put out the message? Is it head alone? What training have the staff received?
  • How will staff communicate the message to the students in the class?
  • Do you have a media person whose responsibility it would be to respond to the media?
  • Consider having a “Decision Log” which would record all the steps taken. This may be of great importance, especially if decisions are challenged at a later date.
  • Remember mobile phones may go down. Landlines usually hold
  • Responsibilities which used to fall to the LA now fall to the Board of Trustees, so make arrangements to inform them. They may even deal with the media for you.

Scenario: After the incident in the town centre a car drives into school, hits a wall and explodes. What will you do in this situation?

  • COSH: Are your chemicals in danger of exploding?
  • Are there casualties? If these are taken to the hospital then will a staff member go with them?
  • Make 999 call. There should be one person whose responsibility it is to make the call. He/she then comes back and reports that the call has been made. Tell them which services you need. Make sure you give as much information as you can. For example: A car has driven into school and exploded. There is a burst water mains and electric cables are down. Building is probably unstable. The main access in blocked but you can come in through the alternate route which is xxx. There is a fire in the science block which is located xxx (they won’t know where your science block was).
  • Don’t put your safety at risk. It’s human nature to go to help. Don’t become a victim and help others only if it’s safe for you to do so. Assess the scene. Remember SAD CHALETS:
    Survey, Assess, Disseminate-Casualties, Hazards, Access, Location, Emergency Services (required), Type of incident, Safety
  • It may take 10-15 minutes for the police to arrive as they will be dealing with the incident in the town centre. Ambulance will take longer to arrive
  • If possible give a map of the site to the emergency services when they arrive
  • This is a major incident. Are your first aid boxes enough to deal with this situation? Consider having few “Major Incident First Aid Kits” on the site.
  • If you are the person who is surveying the site then deputise someone else to ring 999 and ask him/her to come back and tell you that the call has been made
  • What if your chain of command has been taken out/is unable to respond? Who takes over?
  • 90-95% of injuries in a blast are due to flying glass.
  • Effects of blast
    • Blast wave
    • Fire wall
    • Brisance (shattering)
    • Primary fragments
    • Secondary fragments
    • Ground shock
  • Look at what type of glass there is in your building. Laminated glass holds and reduces casualties
  • If you are planning an invacuation area (where you would go in a lockdown), then it may be an idea to get a blast engineer to evaluate the area and asses suitability

Scenario: Automatic weapons

  • Intel says an attack with automatic weapons in unlikely in the UK.
  • More likely is an attack with a bladed weapon or a single shot weapon
  • Things to consider:
    • What cover is available to you (a) from view (b) from fire? Steel work is obviously better as cover from fire but you will have to do what you can with what you have (“when you’ve got no choice, then that’s your choice”).
    • Government advice is to Run, Hide, Tell
    • Assess your school
      • Can you run with 30 students?
      • Is there a good place to hide?
      • Can your access controls keep people out?
      • When police arrive, follow their orders/instructions immediately. Don’t give them reason to suspect that you are one of the “bad guys”

Other points to consider:

  • Do you have an emergency plan which deals with the above?
  • Are all staff aware of the plan? Have they had training/drill?
  • Do you have a prepared holding statement?
  • Do you have a designated person to contact the emergency services?
  • Do you have a designated person who will deal with the media?
  • Have you thought about how to deal with staff/students who may be off site if you have a lockdown?
  • Do you have means of contacting every classroom and every place on your site where you may have staff and students?
  • How/what will you tell the students?
  • If you have casualties who have to be taken to the hospital then will a staff member go with them?
  • Are your first aid boxes enough to deal with this situation?
  • What if your chain of command has been taken out/is unable to respond? Who takes over?
  • What cover is available to you (a) from view (b) from fire?
  • Do you have a major incidents kit, Hi vis jackets for chain of command?
  • Is there a map of the school for emergency services that includes where equipment is contained?

Further reading:

Two guides produced by the National Counter Terrorism Security Office (NaCTSO) and London First are worth reading. These are ‘Secure in the knowledge’ and ‘Expecting the unexpected’. Both are downloadable free of charge

Expecting the unexpected:

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/61089/expecting-the-unexpected.pdf

Secure i the knowledge:

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/62327/secure-in-the-knowledge.pdf

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.