The Chief Inspector of Schools frequently criticises schools for failing to carry out effective monitoring. In his latest annual report he says: "The monitoring and evaluation of school policies and procedures is poor in one-third of schools." He has also previously observed that "nearly all governing bodies need further expertise in order to help to raise standards".
The purpose of monitoring is to identify strengths and weaknesses so that the school can improve the quality of education. Without effective monitoring governing bodies cannot be sure that standards in the school are satisfactory, that their policies are being followed or that the school is being managed effectively and efficiently.
Monitoring should be a continuous activity. It is an integral part of the management cycle: a school reviews its work, plans what it wants to do and how it proposes to do it, carries out those plans, monitors progress on them and then carries out an evaluation to check that it achieved its original objectives.
To ensure the highest possible standards, governors either need to undertake this monitoring themselves or ensure that the staff do so effectively.
But governors are unpaid volunteers and often have difficulty in finding time to carry out all their duties. Many teachers, furthermore, dislike the idea of monitoring because they feel it challenges their professional autonomy. So how can a governing body monitor the work of a secondary school within limited time constraints and in such a way that staff feel supported?
First, a policy or code of practice is required. The governing body should discuss the issue of monitoring openly, consulting with teacher governors and the headteacher. In their policy the governing body should establish its right to monitor the work of the school, describe the benefits to be gained from monitoring and set out an agreed approach.
Of course, governors cannot monitor adherence to agreed school policies and procedures if both are unclear. All policies and procedures must, therefore, be clearly set out, disseminated and regularly reviewed.
Governors can overcome their lack of time by ensuring that the headteacher's reports to the governing body, or its committees, are sufficiently detailed, focus on raising standards and include information about:
* The curriculum: plans, costings and changes;
* Pupil matters: successes, school council etc;
* Parents: parents teachers' association, any work to improve partnership with parents;
* Community: community education and service and local community issues which impinge on the school;
* Financial matters and regular budgetary updates;
* Personnel and staffing matters;
* Relationships with external agencies: details of any involvement with agencies, relationships with local education authority, Funding Agency for Schools etc;
* Staff development: programme and expenditure;
* Buildings and accommodation: repairs and maintenance, expenditure, health and safety etc.
To help to raise standards headteacher's reports to governors should also include a regular review of such performance indicators as:
* Pupils' ability at intake on standardised tests;
* Pupil results (national curriculum tests, GCSE, A-level and vocational courses);
* Attendance and punctuality;
* Exclusions: numbers and reasons;
* Extra-curricular activities: range and take up;
* Pupil destinations and staying on rate.
The reports on these should, wherever possible, be broken down by year group and should give separate details of the performance of boys, girls and ethnic minority pupils.
In order to raise standards governing bodies need to agree specific targets for examination performance.
There may soon be an obligation upon all schools to do so. When assessing examination performance, rather than compare one year's results with another, it would be best to take the school's intake into account and then judge what the school has added to pupils' knowledge, skills and understanding - the value-added approach.
A secondary school can subscribe to one of the national systems such as ALIS (A-level Indicator System) or YELLIS (Year 11 Indicator System) which take into account a pupil's starting point and then analyses examination performance in the light of the pupils' prior attainment.
The work of the school can also be monitored more closely if benchmarking is used. Benchmarking puts the expenditure, provision or the performance of a school into a wider context. Governors should seek from their local authority (or the Funding Agency for Schools in the case of grant-maintained schools) comparative information which enables them to compare their school with other similar schools. Governors can then identify and review alternative approaches to expenditure, or make a better assessment of their own school's performance.
Governors can easily feel distanced from the work of a school. Monitoring can bridge the gap. Monitoring is not easy. It requires commitment and sensitivity, but it if is carried out constructively it can help to raise standards, enhance the role of governors and promote the partnership between the school and its governing body.
Martin Titchmarsh is headteacher of the Nobel School Stevenage
Visiting your school
* Getting to know your school helps you to raise standards and gain insight into the problems faced by staff.
* Governors making a visit are delegates of the governing body and should report back to the full governing body.
* Make governors' visits part of a general programme.
* They should be focused, have a clear objective and be carried out in a sensitive manner.
* Make the task of monitoring more manageable by examining a small number of aspects of the work of the school. For example, the key areas set out in the school development plan or the OFSTED action plan.
Some of the questions governors might ask include:
* Is the work differentiated for more or less able pupils?
* Are all pupils challenged and involved?
* Are expectations high?
* Are there good quality resources?
* Are pupils sufficiently skilled in reading, writing, listening, talking and numeracy?
* Are they motivated?
* Do they co-operate?
* Are they interested in the subject and enjoying their work?
* Does the teacher's work seem well planned and prepared?
* Has it clear and appropriate goals both for the group as a whole and for individuals?
* Is there a variety of teaching styles and learning activities?
* Is the content and teaching style matched to pupils needs?
* Is good work displayed?
* Is the teaching environment conducive to good teaching and learning?