- Spot the deliberate mistake
It goes without saying that if governors are going to be able to challenge a headteacher or a senior leadership team then they need to have reports for meetings in advance. But how do you ensure governors actually read them? We try to get everything out in writing to governors with at least a week or a long weekend to read and digest the contents before the actual meeting. We also include a monitoring/challenge sheet, which encourages written questions in advance. Nothing out of the ordinary there, I hear you all say, but what we do find works is to drop in the odd typo or outrageous assertion into a report just to check they’ve been reading it. For example: "So this data amazingly places us in the top 1 per cent of schools nationally."
This helps to make governors read the report, think about it and then ask the question. The competitive "Did you spot it, too?" conversation at the meeting can also be fun. However, don't forget to make sure the version in the final minuted records is accurate.
- Five-minute presentation
Before most governors meetings, we have a five-minute presentation from a "guest speaker" – ie, a member of staff, who gives a quick update on their area of responsibility. This could be a specific subject like history or art, or an aspect of the school’s work such as how we support children with English as an additional language or the state of the school’s ICT infrastructure. We then ask the speaker to stay for a further five to 10 minutes to answer any questions the governors may have.
Over time we have found that the quality and depth of the governors' questioning has improved. Having done this now for a couple of years, this process has helped our governors to develop their understanding of what’s really going on in the school. As a bonus, it also helps coordinators to summarise their thinking on their main priority areas and improve their presentation skills. They also get the chance to meet and interact with the school governors, which is a great thing. It’s very simple, quick and it really is a win-win.
Simon Spry is executive headteacher at Prince Rock Primary School and Salisbury Road Primary School in Plymouth