A central plank of educational reforms since the mid-1980s has been parents' rights to know how schools are run. Governors need to see their reporting responsibilities as one strand of what is, for most schools, a complex web of communications. The challenge is to develop effective reporting mechanisms to parents which are not seen as a bolt-on chore, but as integral to everything they do.
This is why the annual report to parents is so important. Legally, the governing body must prepare and publish an annual report whose purpose is to explain how the governing body has put into practice its plans for the school since the last report.
The annual report is a public (and subsequently, historic) record of the governors' accountability. It demonstrates how clearly focused and committed governors have been, in partnership with the staff, in running the school and ensuring the effective use of resources.
The list below outlines the legal requirements. However, don't fall into the trap of including everything in that particular order in your report, and remember that you are encouraged to include any other interesting information of your own.
The trick is to get the style and the tone right. Too many annual reports are carbon copies of the school prospectus. Too many rely on inputs from the headteacher. Too many get bogged down by the legal requirements, producing a stodgy read.
Early annual reports included such gems as: "Activity this year involving local industry has been limited"; and "There have been no grave epidemics".
Do you really want to say "The teachers labour in vain, their commitment and dedication go for nothing, when opposed by the indifference and carelessness of parents"? This betrays a professional hand.
Give the report a governor voice. Get your writer(s) to ask: To whom are we accountable? What are the reading habits of this audience? What do they need to know about governor activity since the last report? How are we going to get them to know it?
While the annual report is largely a backward-looking management record of your achievements, it also provides the chance to gauge parental opinion, say, on homework policy, and to canvas commitment to plans ahead - for example, altering the length of the school day.
Readable reports pay attention to design and layout; blow their own trumpets (no one else will do it for you); celebrate achievements; give a sense of governor involvement; explain staffing issues (parents like to know how the retired caretaker is doing, where the promoted teacher went to); explain what happens in the classroom and indicate how governors monitor quality and progress.
Such reports are evidence of a committed and effective governing body.
* All governors' annual reports must contain: Information on the annual parents' meeting; information about the governors; term dates; progress on school action plan; action taken to strengthen links with the community; a full financial statement; statement on ballot for grant-maintained status; statement on school security; how sporting aims have been met and sporting achievements; information on special educational needs policy; arrangements for the admission of disabled pupils; steps taken to prevent disabled pupils from being treated less favourably than other pupils; facilities provided to assist access to the school by disabled pupils; professional development undertaken by teaching staff; national curriculum assessment results - school and national; rates of authorised and unauthorised absence; changes in the school prospectus since last published.
* In addition, secondary schools must provide: Public examination results and school-leavers' destinations.
Up-to-date details of the legal requirements for governors' annual reports are in DFEE Circulars 1196 and 1296 available free from: DFEE Publications Centre,PO Box 6927, London E3 3NZ Tel: 0171 510 0150 Fax: 0171 510 0196.
A-Z of annual reports to parents
Ask parents what they want the report to cover Be brief: use short, direct sentences and paragraphs Concentrate on substance, not glossiness Don't allow legislative requirements to swamp your style Edit carefully Face contentious issues openly Grab the reader from the first sentence
Highlight important decisions taken by governors Involve parents in future developments Judge carefully how much financial detail to report Keep an eye on your style: will busy parents read it?
Let parents know who you are and what you do Make this an opportunity to celebrate your achievements Never let the Headteacher write the report for you Outdo OFSTED: tell parents how you monitor progress Promote increasing parental involvement Question LEA decisions if you don't like their school impact Relish this chance to show school as a lively learning community Select children's illustrations to illustrate the report Try to look forward as well as back Use this opportunity to show how exciting it is to be a governor Value the whole school community in the report Write about the curriculum and any school improvements X'cise all jargon from your report Your actions should be accounted for Zealously promote the annual parents' meeting