It is not just headteachers who need to be fully prepared for the new short-notice Ofsted inspections: those who have already been through the process are advising governors to do the same.
Governing bodies need to be not only completely familiar with the school's self-evaluation form (SEF), which reflects its ethos, strengths and weaknesses, but to have helped create it.
"Governors should be involved in the process and not just see it as a rubber-stamping exercise," says Gillian Windass, consultation and policies officer for the National Governors' Association.
Malcolm Parry, chair of governors for Long Eaton school in Derbyshire, made sure the governing body knew the SEF well. He also recommends having some training before the inspection. "I arranged for our deputy head to run training on the new Panda data, which was very helpful. I also attended a half-day course run by our local authority, which was very good. I would recommend governors look into what their authorities have to offer," says Mr Parry.
During the process, the inspectors like to have a short formal discussion with the chair. However, Father Nick Wilde, chair of St Laurence's Catholic primary school in Merseyside, wishes more of the governing body could be involved.
"As rightful recognition of the part they play in school, I wish the feedback session could have been given to the whole governing body," he says.
Ms Windass says the NGA has raised governor involvement with Ofsted, explaining that governors feel left out of the loop. "I am concerned that governors are not always involved in the inspection despite being held responsible for the school. This has been reported by many of our members," she says.
Martin Bradley, an inspector, says Ofsted always chooses to have the chair involved in the inspection and they are invited to the feedback session.
"However, we are reliant on schools communicating with governors. Schools could send letters to governors in addition to the letter to parents.
However, I know it is very short notice now and the chair is not always available," says Mr Bradley.
It is therefore recommended that several governors are familiar with the strategic plan and the SEF, and can represent the governing body in the chair's absence.
The meeting varies with each school. All inspectors look for evidence of governor monitoring, particularly outside meetings. Mildred Stocks, chair of All Saints Church of England aided junior school in Fleet, Hampshire, spoke to the lead inspector for about 20 minutes. "They wanted to know how we knew that the school was offering value for money, and what proof we had that the school was doing well," says Mrs Stocks.
Father Wilde thought the process went well. It took about an hour and he felt the questions were all pertinent. "The focus was about the processes that are in place, what involvement the governing body has in monitoring the school and target-setting. They looked at our relationship with the head, and how we handled performance management."
Mr Bradley says governors should identify ways in which they have contributed to school improvement. "They should demonstrate awareness of the budget and staff recruitment. They should celebrate successes, as well as identifying what needs improvement," he says.
All three of the schools mentioned were judged as outstanding by Ofsted.
But what constitutes outstanding? "Show that pupils are set challenging targets and are receiving help to reach them. Similarly, demonstrating high expectations through the performance management process for the head and staff supports this. Highlight ways in which the Every Child Matters agenda is being met within school. This could be identifying what happens at playtime or how children move about the school. As experienced lay people, governors can play a very helpful role in supporting the school," says Mr Bradley.
Mr Parry says: "Have good examples of how governors are interacting as part of the school. We also invited the lead inspector to attend our governing body meeting, which she did."
Once the inspection is completed and the feedback given there is an opportunity to respond to the report before it is made public. However, that is not the end, as the SEF should be seen as a living document and regularly reviewed and updated in the light of school development.
Useful contactsinformation:NGA - tel: 0121 616 5104 Ofsted - tel: 08456 404045Web: www.ofsted.gov.ukUseful document: A New Relationship with Schools: improving performance through school self-evaluationwww.ofsted.gov.ukpublicationsindex.cfm?fuseaction=pubs.summ aryamp;id=3862
HOW TO BE PREPARED
* Ensure all governor files detailing minutes of full governing body and committee meetings are kept up to date.
* Ensure policies are also regularly updated.
* Be fully conversant with the self-evaluation form.
* Know the school strategic plan and be able to demonstrate how this is monitored.
* Show how governors play the role of "critical friend" with good examples.
* Demonstrate how Every Child Matters works within the school.
Seek clarification during the feedback session if necessary, and do not be afraid to ask questions.