Monday, 23 May 2011

Ofsted Effective Governance: Working efficiently

Working efficiently (Part 4 of the Ofsted Effective Governance series)

24. In all the schools visited two factors were key to ensuring that the governing bodies worked systematically and effectively to meet their statutory duties. These were the role of the clerk to the governing body and the delegation of work, for example to a number of core committees.

25. The role of the clerk to the governing body was pivotal to the smooth operation of the
governing body. As well as fulfilling administrative duties, clerks were a source of guidance and advice for the governing body. Skilful clerks in the schools visited ensured that governors’ time was used efficiently and effectively by:

 regularly keeping governors up to date with any changes in legislation or requirements

 circulating minutes and papers for meetings in good time so that governors were well prepared for discussions and questions

 acting as a source of advice and support for governors, particularly new ones

 providing a link between the governing body and the local authority governor services

 disseminating information from other sources such as the Department for Education

 ensuring that action points from meetings were recorded and followed up

 arranging visits and meetings, and notifying governors of relevant school events

 preparing a plan or timeline of governor activities throughout the year and helping the chair to ensure that this schedule was reflected in the agenda for meetings.

26. A clear job description for the clerk supported their effectiveness. It ensured that the role, responsibilities and lines of accountability were understood. This was particularly useful where the clerk had another role in the school, for example as the headteacher’s personal assistant. Typically, clerks also received regular training and briefings from local authority governor support services.

27. Strong teamwork between the headteacher, the chair of the governing body and the clerk was crucial to efficient working. Positive, open relationships, trust, integrity and absolute clarity about their complementary but different roles underpinned this teamwork in all the schools visited. The leadership and management skills of the chair, with the support of the clerk, enabled meetings to run efficiently, stay focused on the agenda and allowed all governors to contribute. As a result, governors, particularly those who were new, felt that their views were valued equally.

28. The delegation of work to committees, with clear terms of reference and clarity of purpose, was crucial to ensuring that the work of the governing body was managed well, matched to the needs of the school and distributed to involve all governors appropriately. For example, in a primary and a special school visited, committees were aligned to the school’s key priorities in its development plan and reduced in number to just two.

29. Committees were typically seen as the ‘engine room of governance’ where in-depth discussions, challenging questions and thorough debate of proposals took place. The skills and knowledge of the chair of a committee were crucial to their success. For example, in one special school, the chair of one of the committees had considerable previous experience of school governance before taking on the role.

30. All the governing bodies had a systematic approach to monitoring and evaluating the progress being made towards meeting targets. Typically, the review of the school development plan was a standing agenda item either for committees, the full governing body or both. Headteacher and staff reports included information about progress with the plan. The information was concise and made readily accessible to governors, for example through a traffic light system of coding. Governors were not only provided with graphs, charts and commentary but were also given an analysis of what the information meant and what questions it raised, and proposals about the next steps to ensure that progress was maintained.

31. Importantly, effective reporting by committees to the full governing body meant that time was not spent unnecessarily reiterating what had already been discussed. One secondary school stated that as a result no governing body meeting lasted more than an hour and a half, and some were concluded in an hour.

The Full Ofsted Report on School Governance can be found at:

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