They’ll take your hand
And dance right beside you
Just so your soul
Never dances alone
Sometimes, this job can feel like a daunting, never-ending staircase, with the list of accumulating new tasks expanding on an hourly basis. Sometimes, it seems to much. Fortunately, a number of events have occurred lately that have reminded me of something I already know: we have much control and power over what happens in our schools. We set the climate. We set the culture. This post aims to give a brief overview of what a Chair of Governors can do to ensure that an Ofsted inspection goes well. The views I present here may not be popular or in fashion.
Before I start, I revisited this post from six years ago. Even after nine Inspections in a 14 year career, they have been, and remain to be, a positive, affirming experience. Yes, it is often an intense period of personal professional learning but, from experience time after time, it’s always been a positive and I have always found the process focused on learning and young people. As I can only write form personal experience I would like to acknowledge and thank the tireless and vital work of Sean Harford and his team: from my perspective Oftsed are making schools better. I certainly have learned to focus carefully on what matters.
As an example of the inspectorate helping to focus on what matters, I’m very proud of the following statement:
The team rightly focused on the breath of the curriculum and help recognise the brilliant work of the Headteacher and her team.
Secondly, those nine inspections have always galvanised the school and team. Indeed, the process is also beneficial as the school’s improvement plan is written for us too! I recently was treated to a River Matthews gig and the song wriggling through my mind, and quoted above, rung true during the last inspection: the team pulled together and I was left inspired by the school’s leadership, my fellow governors, the staff and the pupils. I would also like to acknowledge the amazing work by both the local authority and diocese advisors. Finally, I’d like to thank my own Headteacher, Kristian Still and trustees who supported me to be in attendance for the full two days.
The experience from a Chair’s perspective was very different to that of a teacher, middle leader and senior leader. What follows is some advice to governing bodies that will ensure that governance is effective. Make no mistake, governors are a key part of the inspection process because they are a crucial part of the school accountability system. I have two guiding mantras in life:
- We do it for the young people and learning, no one else.
- Deal with facts, not faff.
This is a long term game and these recommendations should be part of the everyday routine, rather than a tick box exercise, because they make a difference to the lives of young people. Some overlap and are presented in no particular order. I also made sure that there was some sugary treats in the staffroom during the inspection.
1. Zoom out, don’t focus in
The role of the governing body is clear: it is to hold the leadership team to account. To do this, we must be presented with clear, concise data and information. It is tempting, especially for those governors who may have children in the school, to focus on the individual cases. This would be a mistake. What are the main patterns? Where are the gaps? Which groups of young people are doing well? How much is being spent? What impact has there been?
Work closely with the leadership team to ensure that the information given is:
- focused on accountability measures
Make no mistake, timely information shared in advance of meetings means that questions and conversations focus on what they need to. Ultimately, ask yourself how well you know the school.
Reports presented to the governing body should be analytical and not descriptive. We care about the difference that is being made to young people and staff.
2. Facts, not faff: get an action plan
In September, when I became Chair, I put together an action plan that was aligned to the school development plan. This allows each committee and the work of governors to focus on the main priorities that will improve the school. It also helps each committee to share a common agenda and supports the chairs of each committee to keep discussions focused. Ultimately, work toward a model where detailed discussions are help at committee level and full governing body meets focus on the overview and key points.
Prioritise the policies – focus on the statutory ones and delegate others to the leadership team.
3. Invest in the professional development of the Clerk.
Our Clerk is amazing. Not only do they ensure that statutory items are on the agenda and that business flows, she is essential to the sustainability of the governing body and keeps all of our documents in a virtual office. She has also helped to streamline meetings (more facts, less faff) by tweaking procedures and providing an ‘exploded’ Chair’s agenda with key points.
For example, I never knew that the governing body has to delegate power to approve educational visits every year. It has to be minuted and covered.
The CPD of governors is vital too. I work with a brilliant bunch with a huge range of skills Conduct an audit each year. Our Clerk them matches training opportunities according to need, taking an overview of skills and experience.
4. Ask the difficult questions
As we zoom out and see patterns, and compare the school nationally and against accountability measures it’s vital that the difficult questions are asked.
- How are those that failed the phonic screening two years ago doing now?
- How do you know that PP funding is making an impact?
- What isn’t working? What have we stopped doing?
Ensure that key documents are circulated at least 7 days in advance and that questions get back to leaders with enough time for them to prepare answers and additional information. As a school leader, I know the stress and extra workload that last minute requests from the governing body can add to the school day.
Checking what the governing body is accountable for is important. For example, do you know how the sports premium is being spent and is it making an impact? We invite Middle Leaders to meetings so that they can present their particular aspect of work.
Don’t shy away from the financial conversations either. If you;re not confident, get training.
5. Be informed. Have a monitoring schedule that is aligned to the SIP
Governors are not there to assess the quality of teaching and learning but we should triangulate information to see if it’s happening on the ground. These monitoring visits should be aligned to the school improvement priorities and statutory duties. For example:
- The ethos of collective worship.
- The impact of maths vocabulary on the confidence of young people.
- Behaviour at play time
- Single Central Record Check
Again, this deals with facts, not faff. Well designed monitoring proformas guide us through the process and we record factual information, not judgement. A summary of these is presented for each governor meeting, with the appropriate points discussed. For example, an inspection of the school from a health and safety perspective conducted with the business manager, will be reported in the finance and resources meeting.
6. Be involved in setting the SIP
Ask questions, get involved, share drafts and talk. Remember, the leadership team should develop this but governors must understand the priorities. Why were they chosen? What impact is expected?
7. Know the Ofsted criteria and what you’re accountable for
Spend some meetings undertaking developmental activities. A good question for governors is ‘how do you know that your school is ‘Good?’. Everyone should be able to answer that question and be aware of the key development areas. We may not like the grading system, but it is what is in place and what we are accountable to.
8. Check what is in the public domain about your school
If there isn’t a Governor responsible for checking the website, ensure that there is one. Make sure that you find and engage with the public information, such as the DfE Performance Tables. The EEF Families of School database is also another great tool to see how your school is doing against similar ones. Remember, it’s not good enough to be the best in the town / local authority – look at how the school compares nationally.
9. Name the governor responsible
Effective action plans name individuals rather than say ‘governors.’ Who is the safeguarding governor and who will check that monitoring is done?
10. Work with the Headteacher
It sounds obvious, but it’s important to develop a strong working relationship with the Headteacher. Set up a fortnightly catch-up and be proactive. I try to recognise the staff as much as possible, and know that giving up my own time is often more valuable than sending a card or giving a donation for food. Remember that the governing body doesn’t run the school, the Head and leadership team are the professionals, but we should make them accountable.
There are many aspects of the role that I am still learning and it is one that I love. It provides motivation, fire in the belly and music for the soul. The role of Chair of Governors is a privileged one – I serve the school community and do so by ensuring that they are accountable. What have I missed?
Lyrics – Sunshine