It's the governors' turn

22nd March 2013 at 00:00

In an era of ever-greater accountability, autonomy and complexity of school organisation, the role played by the governing board is crucial in determining institutional success.

That is why Ofsted is now reporting on governance in greater depth. Every Section 5 inspection report includes a separate paragraph on the quality of governance, because good oversight is as much a characteristic of the best schools as a visionary head and strong leadership team.

We know that effective governors focus on the quality of teaching, the progress and achievement of their students, and the culture that supports this. The best governing boards get the balance right between support and challenge. And they ask the right questions.

Poor governance, by contrast, too often focuses on the marginal, easier-to-fix issues. It is either too accepting of the status quo or too unsupportive of the head who is trying to make a difference.

Every school governing body should be on top of the most important issues. That is why I believe we need a more professional approach, especially in our most challenging schools that often serve the most deprived communities. If we are serious about raising standards in schools with a legacy of underperformance, we shouldn't rule out the notion of a small number of paid governors with the necessary expertise working alongside volunteer and community members. Just as importantly, we need to urge employers - public and private - to encourage their best people to get involved in governance.

We also need the right training structures to ensure that governors can perform their function effectively. Good people who want to make a difference but are not experts on the management of schools need professional development and training that, at present, is only patchily provided by financially constrained local authorities.

And, finally, governors must have access to information and data so that they can ask the right questions and make the right decisions. That is why Ofsted last week launched the School Data Dashboard, a new online tool for governors that presents school performance data in an easy-to-understand format.

Governors will now have clear benchmarks of the school's key performance indicators to compare against similar schools with the same intake profile. So this dashboard raises the stakes, and I make no apology for that. As well as raising expectations of governance, however, we are doing much more to help.

A quarter of all schools in the first two months of this academic year received a specific recommendation on governance. More schools are now required to receive an external review of governance.

Her Majesty's Inspectorate is meeting governors at each "requires improvement" monitoring visit to ensure that they understand the issues in the school and what they need to do to help it improve. And we recently ran our first Getting to Good seminars and training sessions for governors and headteachers in schools judged to need improvement.

Our ambition should be to ensure that the best practice becomes more universal.

Sir Michael Wilshaw is Her Majesty's Chief Inspector.

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