As governors, the first you will know of an impending Office for Standards in Education inspection will be a telephone call from the headteacher to the chair along the lines of: "We've had the brown envelope!"
By then - only weeks from the arrival of the inspection team - it is too late to do much about the fundamentals of the school's effectiveness. After all, if there were quick, late fixes there would, presumably, be no failing schools.
That does not mean, though, that there is nothing to do but run round in circles shouting "Don't panic!" What is important is to use the time remaining to ensure that the work you have already done is shown in the best possible light.
First, chairs - with heads - should make sure that governors are involved during the run-up to inspection - a time when head and staff will be preoccupied with their own preparations. The inspection team, after all, is going to want to meet governors and ask some questions. You will also be heavily involved in the aftermath, when any problems have to be addressed.
During those busy weeks, the chair and head should keep in touch, talking about progress, and supporting each other through paperwork - making sure that policy documents, for example, are up-to-date and available.
There ought to be time, too, to have at least one meeting of the whole governing body devoted to the inspection. Given normal turnover, some governors will not have been through the process, and will need to be told basic things about why and how it is done.
Equally importantly, these meetings will be part of a whole-school "let's remind ourselves" effort. This is a process by which, quite simply, people are reminded about things that they already know. If that sounds absurd, here is an example. Governor: "She asked me what we did about monitoring the effectiveness of the special educational needs policy, and I really couldn't think of anything."
Head: "Last half-term the SEN co-ordinator came to the meeting and gave a report on the progress of children on the SEN register. And you asked lots of questions" Governor: "Oh, I knew that. I just didn't think that's what she meant by monitoring!"
The point is that it is very easy for governors - and staff, parents and pupils - to sell themselves and their schools short either because they go weak at the knees when the registered inspector starts asking questions, or because they simply have not mentally coded their various tasks and roles under neat headings such as "monitoring", "joint initiatives with partner schools", "community links," and so on (see right for some examples).
The registered inspector who leads the team will usually want a meeting with the chair and other governors, and with the chair and head. But exactly how the contact is made depends partly on the way the inspection team works. If it is a "short" (two-day) inspection, the team may not want to spend any of it on governor interviews, in which case they will ask for a meeting before the inspection starts.
Again recognising the voluntary, lay nature of governing bodies, most inspectors will run their governor meetings in an informal style. This is not always as good an idea as it sounds. It can end up seeming a bit awkward and patronising, and direct, focused and unambiguous questions may be easier to answer.
The key thing is not to be overawed. If you do not understand the question, then say so.
Don't criticise others - it reflects only on you. And don't take out on your inspection team any negative feelings you have about the process. Aggressive or grudging behaviour cannot possibly help your school.
Do remember that the focus of inspection is on teaching and learning. Show in all you say to inspectors that you have the same priority.
Take the initiative - "I hope you'll find time to see the way the whiteboard is used in numeracy lessons" - and do your homework. If you want to say that the school is improving, then show that you have a grasp of some of the figures that demonstrate this - exam results, for example.
When the inspectors call, governors should be able to produce evidence of progress on key issues including:
* The school's main achievements (academic, social, community, premises - anything else you agree on) since the last inspection.
* The major difficulties you now face (staffing, budget, building falling down, drop in pupil numbers).
* How you monitor and evaluate the school's work.
* How well you know the school's strengths and weaknesses.
* What sort of committee structure you use, and how committees relate to the main governing body.
* How you keep contact with parents.
* How you handle performance management and professional development.
* Whether and how you are active in creating andmonitoring the school development plan.
* How, in some detail, you monitor and manage the budget.
* Whether governors visit the school in lesson time, and how the visits relate to your overall monitoring.
* What training governors have had and why.
* Whether teachers attend your meetings to report on their subjects.
* How effective and positive is the relationship between the governors and the staff of the school.
* Whether you understand and carry out your various legal responsibilities.
* Whether and why you feel that the school offers good value for money.