Talking to an Ofsted lead inspector recently about school inspections and inspectors scrutinising the contribution of governors to school improvement, he advised considering the following generic questions in preparation for any ‘visit’:
1) What is governors’ understanding of the most recent externally validated data?
This is probably the most important aspect of any school – outcomes are their ‘bread and butter’ and governors need to know, and have some understanding of, the impact of the most recent results at the end of each key stage in their school. This is fundamental to holding leaders to account. If the results are good governors should ask does the school know why and what is it doing to ensure it is sustainable? If the results are poor governors must query what are leaders doing differently and how soon can any new initiatives be measured to ensure better results in the future?
Added to this governors also need to be aware of what is happening in other years in a school. If outcomes drop between external examination years, pupils’ progress is not going to be as strong as if results have risen year on year. Is there evidence to support what governors are checking to ensure all pupils from their starting points are making progress at their school? And do governors know if any pupils or groups of pupils are making rapid progress?
2) How are governors ensuring the disadvantaged spend is being used appropriately and are they monitoring what impact it is having on these pupils?
This is government money and it wants to know through inspection work if it is having a positive impact on pupils eligible for the fund. In some schools it can form quite a large part of a school’s budget. Who, therefore, is ensuring the fund is being spent appropriately and on the correct group of pupils? Governors share this responsibility and what are they doing to monitor and measure impact?
3) Is performance management in the school transparent, rigorous and based on pupil progress? How do governors know?
Crudely put, what is being done to ensure headteachers are not rewarding their favourites? Governors need to ensure all staff eligible for progression are considered fairly through performance management and fundamentally a member of staff’s ability to secure pupil progress. Do governors scrutinise the information presented to them sufficiently to ensure appropriate staff are considered appropriately?
4) Are governors ensuring all safeguarding measures are appropriate?
‘The golden thread’ – safeguarding needs to be integral to everything a school does on a daily basis. Governors are the last line of accountability and need to be as certain, as is humanely possible, pupils at their school are safe at all times. What measures are governors taking to carry out this duty and how often?
5) Are governors monitoring to ensure their school remains financially viable?
School budgets are always tight and understandably governors often concern themselves about spending what there is appropriately. Governors need to always ask themselves are pupils currently in the school (particularly those with money attached to them - pupil premium and those with special educational needs and/or disabilities) benefitting as much as possible from this year’s spend? They need to have credible evidence provided to them by school leaders to prove this is the case.
6) Do governors carry out a skills audit and how often?
A board of governors with a broad and varied skills base is always desirable but not always achievable. Governors who audit frequently their skills are often the most effective in carrying out their duties diligently and with an understanding of what is most important. People do not have to be in education but some understanding of ‘the language’ used (acronyms for example) is beneficial in order to know what questions to ask and as importantly understand the answers! How are governors identifying appropriate training needs and is the impact of any training being evaluated?
Further points more bespoke to a school:
Are governors aware of the school’s most recent SEF (school self-evaluation) and do they understand the reasons for each judgement and do they agree with the SEF judgements?
Do governors record their visits to demonstrate their commitment throughout the year?
When managing their inspection governors should also consider:
Evidence: as well as oral answers governors make, remember to show the inspection team the full governing body and committee meeting minutes, policies and performance management records to support any statements made by governors.
(Inspectors will cross check answers from the governors with interviews with senior leaders, other staff, pupils and parents.)
The inspection team has very little time. So one general piece of advice would be the more summary information you can put in front of inspectors, the better.
The lead inspector finally said that he always thanked governors for their part in managing a school. After all, governors are unpaid volunteers with an incredible amount of responsibility and accountability all of the time and particularly felt by them when a school is being ‘visited’!!
Don’t have an account? Register now to access training, peer-to-peer and mentor support, self-evaluation tools, useful resources and much more – all free of charge to you and your school!