Monday, 7 November 2011

Ofsted Report: Governance in Federations

Governance in federations

All the hard federations visited by Ofsted in their survey had a single governing body supported by committees with responsibility for particular aspects of work. In the majority of cases the committees dealt with cross-federation issues. For example, the governing body of one federation of primary schools had committees that were made up of governors who all had a link role with one of the schools for monitoring and evaluation purposes.

Nine of the federations visited had separate committees overseeing the work of each school. In four cases, this was finance-driven because of the requirement to have separate budgets. In the other federations, it was to ensure that equal attention was paid to each school. Finances were strictly divided along school lines.

Governing body committee structures in the schools visited had evolved as governors learnt that the structures that they had originally put in place at the time of federation could be made more efficient. One federation, for example, found that its committee meetings were too long and focused on a wide cross-phase remit covering attainment across all key stages. Consequently, the structure had been reshaped so that there were now three committees with a primary, secondary and federation-wide focus respectively.

Governing bodies were instrumental in establishing federation arrangements successfully. In all the federations visited, governors were very clear about the purpose of federation and the reasons for embarking on this course of action.

A small, highly skilled and strategic governing body of 12 had played a key role in the development of a federation between a secondary and a primary school. The governors had confidently stepped beyond a single school model and embraced fully the notion of wider federation. The quality of succession planning and the ability to see the strategic picture of education in the local learning community were complemented by the governors’ attention to meeting the differing needs of each school. A central tenet of the federation, right from the beginning, had been that regardless of size both schools had an equal say and would be treated as equal partners. This was a real strength of the federation and one of many reasons for its success.

For some governing bodies, particularly where a successful school was federating with a weaker school, there had been a need to be very sensitive to the charge of taking over the other school. In one federation for example, nearly all members of the governing body of the weaker school had resigned as a result of the decision to federate. This was demoralising for the school in the short term, but had the effect of removing governors who had been ineffective in addressing the school’s weaknesses. Seven federations visited had solved this problem effectively by inviting all existing school governors to be part of the federation governing body. This meant that they had large governing bodies, but governors believed that all schools in the federation were represented equally.

In 17 of the 29 federations visited, inspectors found that the governing bodies were particularly effective at holding leaders to account for the work of the federation. Their attention was very well focused on improvements to achievement and provision as a result of federation. In one particularly strong federation a very experienced governing body continually challenged the highly respected headteacher who readily used the body as a critical friend. In the remaining 12 federations, however, while the governing bodies all gave leaders good support, they were less effective at systematically holding them to account. For example, in one federation, the governing body contributed to the strategic direction by drafting the school improvement plan with the headteacher at the inception of the federation. However, the rapid pace of change over the last three years, and the greater demands of governance of more than one school, had resulted in less rigour by governors in the evaluation of improvement. Governors in three federations visited reported that the major challenge for them had been learning to take a federation rather than a school perspective of strategic development. In other federations, assertions made by headteachers about the success of the federation were not sufficiently challenged by the governing body. For example, in one federation visited, claims that standards were rising were accepted by governors without any evidence being offered to support this.

One major advantage of federation governance was the improvement in the governance of weaker schools as a result of having shared arrangements. This either happened as governing bodies of the stronger school shared good practice with those in the weaker school through their amalgamation, or where governance was enhanced by the stronger governing body taking on the role of governance for the federation as a whole.

More information from Ofsted at

No comments:

Post a Comment