Effective Governing Bodies Know their schools
1. Knowing their schools well was fundamental to the success of the effective governing bodies visited by Ofsted. They expected good quality information through detailed, regular reports supported by data analysis. This helped them to shape the direction for the school and hold leaders to account. Pupil progress data and information about the quality of teaching were seen as crucial when considering proposals and making strategic decisions.
2. All the schools visited provided their governors with a detailed breakdown of
information about attainment, including examination results. Minutes of governing body meetings in one secondary school, for example, recorded how these were discussed in relation to gender, special educational needs, different groups of pupils and subjects.
3. Headteachers and staff with particular areas of responsibility systematically provided information to governors in focused, detailed reports. At one special school, subject leader reports followed a common format. It included sections on: recent actions and developments; achievement and standards; personal development and well-being; the quality of provision; leadership and management; and overall effectiveness and efficiency.
In a secondary school, individual governors were linked to different aspects of the school’s work, such attendance and behaviour. These aspects had been identified as needing improvement. In addition staff absence levels were high and this was challenged by governors. Consequently, as well as receiving regular reports from the responsible member of staff, the link governor also received monthly staff and pupil attendance figures. Governors supported the employment of a number of permanent cover supervisors as one means of addressing issues. Pupils pointed out that, as a result, there were fewer supply teachers and reported that this had improved behaviour in lessons.
4. In all the schools visited, staff made presentations to governing bodies and governors, who were then able to ask questions, seek clarification and identify what further information might be required for proposals to be more robust.
In order to be kept fully up to date, the chair of the governing body at a secondary school asked to be included in the circulation of the minutes of senior leadership team meetings. The information in these minutes gave the chair a clearer perspective of school issues as they arose, the action taken, progress being made, and the impact and outcomes. The chair referred to some items from these minutes in questions at governing body meetings. This helped to give all governors a greater insight into the effectiveness of the school.
5. These effective governing bodies did not rely solely on what school leaders and members of staff told them. They sought information from external experts on issues such as the analysis of data, finance, personnel, special educational needs and school improvement. This included, for example, support from their school improvement partner on interpreting performance data. Governors used this external support to gain new perspectives on information provided by the school so that they were confident that their understanding of the school’s performance was accurate.
6. Governors also visited their schools to talk to staff and pupils and to see the school in action. They used a range of formal and informal visits, including attending school events, conducting ‘learning walks’ and visiting classrooms. Crucially, effective practice involved a shared understanding of the purpose of the visit, how it was to be conducted and how it was to be reported back to the governing body and school leaders.
Governors in a primary school adopted a policy for visits which highlighted governors’ legal responsibilities and strategic roles, the purpose of the visit, how visits should be arranged and what governors should do after the visit had been completed. This included reporting arrangements using an agreed proforma.
The governors of a special school made paired visits every term. They looked at a particular theme which was linked to the priorities identified in the school development plan, such as information and communication technology. A report was written for other governors on the outcomes of their visit. In this way, all the governors understood the progress being made and where there were barriers to overcome.
7. In eight of the 14 schools visited, governors routinely attended lessons to gather first hand information about the school at work. One secondary school, for example, had governor open days three times a year. On these days, pairs of governors visited lessons to talk to pupils and gain a better understanding of their experience of school. Importantly, protocols were explicit and made it clear to staff and governors alike that the visits were not to judge the quality of teaching, because that was the role of the headteacher and the leadership team. Rather, they provided governors with a broader understanding of the context for their work and helped inform their strategic decisions.
8. All the governing bodies worked to build productive relationships with parents. Typically, they used the views of parents, pupils and the wider community as another source of information to shape their questions and inform discussions. In one primary school, for example, the governing body designed an annual questionnaire for parents, collated responses and provided parents with feedback. In addition, the governors consulted parents and pupils on a range of issues during the year if the need arose. In another primary school, the governing body received reports from the school council and visited the school regularly to meet with pupils in Key Stage 2. In a third primary school, pupils were invited to attend governing body meetings. In one secondary school, pupils were represented on one of the governor committees, where they presented their ideas and views about the school.
9. All the governing bodies in the schools that were visited sought a range of good quality, regular information from a variety of sources to ensure that they had an accurate understanding of the school’s strengths and areas for development. This information included:
concise, focused reports from the headteacher, heads of departments and subject leaders
external reports, for example from the school improvement partner, consultants and
presentations from school staff, pupils and external experts
internal performance monitoring information
internal and external analyses of national tests using both benchmarking and comparative information
school self-evaluation reports
formal and informal visits to the school
discussions with parents, pupils and staff.
10. They used the wide range of information they had to help shape the direction of the school by ensuring that the development plan reflected the right priorities and was monitored systematically and effectively.
11. The outstanding governing bodies did not shy away from asking questions and confidently sought further information, explanation or clarification as part of their monitoring and decision-making processes. Two key factors underpinned this confident and productive questioning. First, they had a positive relationship with the headteacher and senior leaders. Second, they had an absolutely clear understanding of their different roles and responsibilities.
In one secondary school for example, governors asked four key questions when considering new initiatives and evaluating their impact:
What will be different for pupils?
What will be different for parents?
What will be different for staff?
What will be different for partners?
12. Using information to help shape the direction of the school through a cycle of planning, monitoring and evaluation was common to all the governing bodies visited.
The governing body of a secondary school received subject reports and asked questions such as:
What systems are in place to enable learning from the success of this course?
How are teachers supported outside their own specialism?
How do we know that a resource bank is the best way of supporting teachers outside their specialism?
How will this department decide on their main focus for improvement next year?
How do we know that the criteria for deciding are robust?
The Full Ofsted Report on School Governance can be found at: