Saturday, 22 January 2011

What does 'Outstanding School Governance mean?

Since the introduction of the new framework for inspection in September 2009, Ofsted has given much greater prominence to evaluating the effectiveness of the governing body, usually reported on in the “leadership and management” section. In fact the performance of the governing body is graded as one of the contributory factors in coming to the overall leadership and management judgement. So it may be of interest to see just what an “outstanding” governing body looks like. There is an increasing number of such governing bodies up and down the country. A selection of comments from some of their reports underlines just what qualities they exemplify.

Firstly outstanding governing bodies demonstrate the ability to both support and challenge: Governors effectively challenge as well as support the school leadership (Ofsted 2010),maintaining at all times the delicate balance between constructive criticism and help, knowing what to ask, when it is appropriate to intervene, when it preferable to listen and learn. Secondly, an outstanding governing body knows it school and its individual members are known by staff and pupils: Governors visit the school regularly to celebrate its achievements”(Ofsted 2009). Thirdly, an outstanding governing body has a clear understanding of what is happening in the school and what it is striving to achieve: The experienced governing body has a very clear insight into the school’s performance (Ofsted 2010) and, with this knowledge, is well placed to help establish a climate of continuous improvement. Fourthly, along with the headteacher and senior staff, the governing body is part of the school’s leadership team: Governors are actively involved in setting a clear direction for school improvement....

School Governors vigorously monitor the safeguarding of pupils and maintain up to date and effective systems in the school to ensure that all staff are fully aware of their responsibilities….The high expectations of the school are shared by governors.(Ofsted 2010). And finally an outstanding governing body is fully aware that a school is an integral part of the community it serves as well as being a community is in its own right. It therefore promotes community cohesion, basing what it does in this regard on a clear analysis of the school’s context and its contribution towards a cohesive society.(Ofsted 2009)

And now, for a real-life example of what this means in practice, Ian Ritchie, Chair of Governors, Norbury Hall Primary School, which received the “outstanding governance” accolade, reflects on why he thinks this was the outcome:

It is difficult to pinpoint what constitutes 'outstanding' in terms of governance and I have no first hand experience of what other schools do to achieve this. My belief, from experience over time, is that a school or governing body does not become outstanding overnight and certainly cannot do so through training alone. It is more to do with how consistently and effectively a school works day to day and from term to term. At Norbury we have an exceptional headteacher who is a very effective leader and has had a clear vision for the school since his appointment 13 years ago. I was part of the appointment panel and have worked closely with the headteacher, both as a governor and as chair for the last 10 years. We have a shared vision for Norbury Hall which is supported by a dedicated and hardworking senior management team and staff and we are fortunate in being able to recruit and retain governors who have a genuine interest in ensuring we do the very best we can for our children.

We did not have much time to prepare for the inspection due to the short notice, not more than 2 or 3 days. However, there was not a great deal of preparation to do, since, as governors, we receive detailed briefing papers from the head before every meeting so that everyone attending is prepared for the discussion on the day. I share all of the communications I receive from various sources, ie NGA, briefings with all our governors - they have a weekly update from me. I also speak to the headteacher daily either by phone or e-mail.

We have a close working relationship, built up over the past 13 years. During our inspection three governors were invited to meet the inspection team. I attended as did the vice chair and a parent governor. We talked about our various roles; the only questions we were asked directly were whether we could explain our statutory responsibilities and how well we knew our parental community. On this latter point, we know our parents very well because we work together for the children and ask for regular feedback from them via questionnaires. My belief is that being outstanding is something that is not a specific part of our agenda. In our case it happens as a result of the way we always work together as a whole school, setting ourselves high standards and having high expectations of ourselves and our pupils. We try to do everything properly and to the best of our abilities. I think it also helps if you like the people you are working with!

Taken from GOVAS (Governors Association Stockport) Website

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