The dream team

23rd January 2004 at 00:00
Head Phil Williams got the fantasy governing body by design. A to-die-for school building followed. Martin Whittaker reports

Name Blue Coat Church of England primary school

School type Voluntary-aided infants and junior school

Proportion of children eligible for free school meals 2 per cent

Results 2003 key stage 2 test results - 98 per cent in science, 87 per cent in maths and 84 per cent in English. Value-added measure 100.7

The Blue Coat school's accommodation would make many primary headteachers' jaws drop. Its modern, well-designed building has wide corridors, spacious and lofty classrooms, and a huge assembly hall.

Headteacher Phil Williams believes the new building, which opened in 2000, is a tribute to the governors at Blue Coat. After all, they practically built the place, he says.

When the school went over budget they helped out. As a result the school was able to double the size of the hall and add room for a playgroup, extra classrooms and a music room.

Governors oversaw the architect's plans, project-managed the building work, and helped with the interior design.

At the school's last inspection in 2001, the Office for Standards in Education praised the governors' role in planning the new building.

Inspectors said they made "an excellent contribution to the life of the school".

Mr Williams says: "I was delighted because I think the way the governors have put themselves behind this school is immense. They seem to have a bottomless commitment."

Blue Coat is a Church of England voluntary-aided primary in Wotton-under-Edge, a small Cotswolds town between Gloucester and Bristol.

The school is in a relatively prosperous area and has mainly white, middle-class pupils. Just 2 per cent are entitled to free school meals.

Ofsted said the school was effective and had many very good features. The headteacher provided good leadership and key stage 2 standards were above average.

This is Phil Williams's second headship and he has also served as a governor. When he arrived six years ago the school had a good reputation but it was let down by its poor buildings including classrooms in prefabs.

In winter, children had to go outside to get from one part of the school to another.

He was fortunate to inherit a very strong governing body. The school had been grant-maintained for much of the 1990s. "They were used to managing everything and that's where the confidence comes from," he says.

The governing body has continued to have a good mix of expertise. It has accountants, architects and surveyors, as well as teachers and a university lecturer. This is no happy accident - the school has sought people with the skills as vacancies and needs arose, says Mr Williams. "Every committee has experts relevant to their committee. We have a large proportion of parents, ex-parents and grandparents of children here.

"They're not just an association of people who come together because they fancy being governors. They are people with a vested interest in the school and in the expertise they can bring."

Unusually, the governing body at Blue Coat is oversubscribed - the last time vacancies for two parent governors came up, eight people came forward.

The head says because the governors were strong and confident, they were able to help the school raise pound;250,000 more than its pound;1.64 million budget for the new building.

The governors and the parent-teacher association formed a fund-raising committee. Extra money came from various sources, including sponsorship for the headteacher running in the London Marathon and an anonymous benefactor.

"The governing body has been very good at supporting my rather maverick approach," he says. "Its members have been used to functioning in the commercial world, and they see things differently from what can be a closeted local education authority view of things."

David Lee, chair of governors, also believes the board's strength comes from the high proportion of members who are from the commercial sector.

"I think moving from grant-maintained into voluntary-aided status has given us the ability to say we're not just a group of people who have to meet because of a statutory requirement, and everything just gets rubber-stamped through.

"I run a hotel for a living and I class myself as a business manager - I'm certainly not an educationist. And I try to avoid having time-consuming meetings. We say, 'where are the action plans, when are we getting it done by?', and then we get it done.

"I remember when I first started on the governing body, we used to read everything verbatim, and it was quite tiresome. There wasn't time for challenge or for individual flair." By applying business ethics, he feels the governing body was liberated to be creative.

The school is keen to broaden children's education. Phil Williams admits results could go up a few more percentage points, "but that sometimes can be at the cost of the individual child and we're not willing to go down that road" he said.

Governors, who often come in to help out in lessons, share this vision.

"They honestly think it's their school. Because they built it really."

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