An infant classroom filled with little people measuring, cutting paper, drawing pictures and counting blocks was, for one parent governor visiting for the first time, a scary place. Feeling like a giant, unprepared and without a focus, he was unsure of the purpose of his visit. Like the children, he was there to learn, but learn what?
To make strategic decisions and agree policies, governors need to understand how the school works. Agreeing the school budget is a major governing body responsibility. If governors are really going to monitor the impact of their decisions, then visiting the classroom is a must.
Governors monitor in different ways: reading the head's reports, listening to discussions and presentations by staff at meetings, and seeing for themselves. The Every Child Matters agenda, with its five aims, gives a framework for governor visits. Do the children enjoy their lessons? What do they achieve? Is it a safe environment and do the children feel safe at school? Are they healthy, lively and interested in what they are doing? Is the classroom appropriately equipped to support learning?
Primary teachers are well used to having volunteers helping in the classroom, but a governor visit is different, even though he or she may also visit the classroom as a volunteer to listen to reading or help with an art lesson.
Preparation is the key to a successful visit. Teacher and teaching assistant need to know and understand the purpose and focus of the visit. The governor needs to know the plan for the lesson, understanding what will happen and why.
Monitoring governing body decisions should be an enjoyable learning activity for the governor, with a follow-up discussion with the teacher and a report to the governing body. It should not be a trespass by a giant into a scary place.
Carol Woodhouse, Board of directors, National Governors' Association.