Governors must know what's going on at the chalkface, but marching into classrooms toting a clipboard is counter-productive. David Marriott has a constructive approach
THERE ARE compelling reasons for governors to get into classrooms.
Quite apart from their statutory duty to monitor their school's effectiveness, there is an army of exacting inspectors out there who will require governors to know the school's strengths and weaknesses. This inevitably means understanding what happens in the classroom.
Despite this, most governors see visits as a daunting prospect.
Teachers' classrooms are much less private places than they once were, but the unsuspecting governor wandering in with a clipboard can cause the shutters to come down fast.
If not carefully planned and agreed, visits can lead to mutual suspicion and awkwardness. But done well, they can add immeasurably to governors' understanding of their school, teachers and pupils.
A negotiated framework can avoid the common pitfalls. And, if you don't reach agreement now, it's going to be much harder later when the new performance-related pay regime transforms the teacher-governor relationship.
A couple of years ago, with my colleague Margaret Hunt, I worked with governors at a local secondary to review their policy and practice on class visits.
A simple framework, suggested by governors and negotiated with the staff, proved to be the answer. We've now used the framework widely with other schools and governors, and recently published an expanded and improved version.
It's up to schools to negotiate a policy but our framework could be a useful starting point.
Open negotiation and mutual trust are the keys to success. Agreeing a policy, using our framework, should take about two hours, and cover the following:
Purposes - What are the potential benefits to governors and teachers of classroom visits? Each group draws up separate lists, noting common ground as it emerges. Governors tend to identify more benefits than teachers. Staff usually say they dont want governors making decisions without understanding classroom reality, which means direct experience.
What it's not about - Inspection! Judging the expertise of the teacher remains a task for the head and other education professionals.
Ground rules - Consider what should always and never happen before, during and after a visit. Developing a standard task list "pro forma" for a visit can help governors decide what to focus on. For example, they might observe one group of pupils working together or compare the relative numbers of responses from boys and girls. It might also be worth discussing some "What ifs...?" to agree good practice. It's important to reach agreement on feedback after the visit: to whom, how and what?
Minimum commitment - Governors can give varying degrees of commitment to visiting. Some might feel guilty if a minimum number of visits were imposed but it can be important to publicly demonstrate the governing body's commitment. Piecemeal visits - an hour here, half an hour there - are not ideal but might allow more governors to take part.
Annual programme - Once regular visiting becomes established, ensure a reasonable distribution of visits throughout the year, and across subjects, classes, year-groups and teachers.
Monitoring and review - Should be built in from the start. The policy on how visits are monitored could be adjusted as necessary at each full governing body meeting, with staff offering their views through the head or teacher-governor. At the first meeting of each academic year the governing body could formally review the policy .
David Marriott is head of governor support at Wiltshire County Council.
For a free copy of the council's guidelines on classroom visits, send a large A4 SAE to David Marriott, co education amp; libraries department, Wiltshire County Council, Bythesea Road, Trowbridge, Wiltshire BA14 8JB. Alternatively, ring 01225 713819 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
observation, You and Your Job, Friday magazine, 29