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Ofsted's take on effective governance

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What does effective governance look like? We regularly answer questions from our members looking to delve deeper into this question. For example, on our school governor website, we’ve looked at how governors can support and yet challenge the headteacher, while for school leaders, we’ve looked at how headteachers and governors divide up responsibilities.

To better understand Ofsted’s take on this, I went to a conference in July aimed primarily at governors in London schools judged ‘requires improvement’ or ‘inadequate’. At the event, an HMI identified five lessons from recent inspections. In struggling schools, governors:

  1. Have low expectations of pupils
  2. Rely too much on the headteacher for information
  3. Do not visit the school
  4. Are not involved with development planning
  5. Have a limited understanding of data and the school’s quality

The ‘critical friend’ role was a theme throughout the day, but so, for some delegates, was the need to build confidence and knowledge to effectively challenge senior leaders. Ofsted's report on learning from schools with the very best governance may help. It argues that effective governing bodies strike the right balance between supporting leaders and providing constructive challenge. Good governors, meanwhile, ask pertinent question based on knowledge, information and understanding of the school.

The presentations from Ofsted’s perspective were interesting and informative, but I also learnt a lot from talking to delegates. Governors from some schools said that their school’s inspection report noted a mismatch between its self-evaluation and inspectors’ findings. So there’s a clear role for governors to challenge the evaluation made by senior leaders, and to really get to grips with the school’s strengths and weaknesses. Members of our school governor service may find our article on governors’ role in self-evaluation very useful for ideas on how to do this.

I came away from the conference with a real sense that governors in London schools are working very hard to live up to Ofsted’s high expectations. The jump from ‘requires improvement’ to ‘good’ may seem daunting, but with the right approach and the right support governors can help schools bridge that gap.

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