Q: How does a school get from good to outstanding for governance? What are Ofsted inspectors looking for? Have they got a list of criteria for outstanding? I have looked at the Ofsted evaluation schedule, but it's a bit vague.
A: The evaluation schedule that Ofsted issues to inspectors provides broad indicators for the main areas on which inspectors have to make judgments.
You can download it from the Ofsted website, www.ofsted.gov.uk. It contains detailed descriptors for leadership and management as a whole but it's true that there are few specific references to governance.
Inspectors take account of the involvement of governors in making a judgment on the school's capacity to improve because that is predicated on the effectiveness of school self evaluation, which inspectors expect to be well-grounded in rigorous monitoring and analysis that involves governors.
In a school where governance was outstanding, I would therefore expect to see governors playing a key role in analysing how well the school is doing and where improvements are needed, rather than simply relying on school managers to provide this information.
For governance to be outstanding, I would also expect to see an already successful school or one that was improving rapidly, and where governors were playing a key role in driving that success and improvement. This might be by supporting the school's traditions and ethos or facilitating its future development or supporting the strategic vision agreed with the senior management team. However, in cases where standards, leadership andor provision are obviously in decline or disarray, then firm action by the governors might involve seeking the support of the local authority and holding the school to account.
Be aware though, that activity and involvement may not always be productive. I have certainly been in schools where governors put in a considerable amount of time but where their efforts are to some degree counter-productive because they are perceived by staff as being in conflict with them rather than providing them with constructive challenge. You need to ensure governors are acting as the school leaders' critical friend rather than their nemesis.
Selwyn has been an inspector for 15 years, working in primary and secondary schools. The views expressed here are his own. To ask him a question, contact him at email@example.com.