Smile for the candid camera

The quantity of objective information available to governors about their schools has increased recently. It was always a suspect pleasure to know just one school intimately as a governor (or as a pupil or teacher). Now we have to step outside and see how our school compares with others. This is an essential perspective for improvement and for target setting but it can be painful.

Most of this objective information is provided by the helpful PANDA (Performance AND Assessment) booklet produced annually by the Office for Standards in Education. The information is in the form of tables, charts and text, comparing your school with national averages. For example, the page entitled "Basic characteristics of your school" shows, in a table, the number on your school roll for the past four years, the percentage of pupils eligible for free school meals and other such facts, each listed beside the national average.

Below the table, in bold, is the same information written in text form, for example, "Your school is much bigger than other schools of the same type. " (Such information came as a surprise to me, for one.) Additional information surveys the electoral wards around your school, using the latest census. It gives you the OFSTED inspectors' "composite" judgments on your school, compared to their views on all schools. It sets out the school's key stage results and puts these into the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority's benchmark tables which attempt to compare schools nationally, like for like - "like" in the sense of measuring deprivation by percentage of children eligible for free school meals and by numbers of children who speak English as an additional language. An "annex" to the PANDA elaborates and explains the national data and the terms used.

PANDAs are a new breed, the first having arrived in school last March, but they seem a vigorous species likely to produce a long line of descendants. They are the offspring of computers, stemming from databases regularly updated by Ofsted and the DFEE from Form 7s (yearly lists of children on roll), exam statistics, inspections and the census.

One headteacher asked if he could have the money spent on his PANDA to do a better job of describing his school. He was silenced when told that each PANDA cost only Pounds 3 to reproduce - and as such must be a contender for some efficiency award. The next brood will be with us in January 1999.

PICSIs (Pre-Inspection Context and School Indicators), on the other hand,are tools for Ofsted inspectors, not specifically for governors. They are put together before an inspection, from the same sources as PANDAs, to give the inspectors an early picture of the school. Then they are discussed with the headteacher and compared to the Ofsted "Head's form".

If an inspection is in the autumn term, then the PICSI may be more up to date than the last PANDA. They have, of course, been around for a lot longer than PANDAs. Perhaps PICSIs are really PANDA parents.

As is the case with most governors, I find myself with too much responsibility and too little know-ledge. Getting to know these PANDAs a little better each year will give me the balance to know my PICSIs.

Elizabeth al Qadhi is an associate of the Institute of School and College Governors and chair of governors of Granard school, Putney, south London

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