Laurence Pollock discovers how Birmingham is using video training to get governors involved in setting pupil targets.
"IT'S opened my eyes, it will open a lot of governors' eyes," said Monica Coke, chair at Montgomery primary school in Birmingham.
She was showing her enthusiasm for her education authority's new training video aimed at helping governors to participate in target-setting for pupils.
Coke attended a recent "premiere" of Performance data - Making a Difference when it was shown to a sample of governors. She explains: "Some were saying 'that doesn't happen in our school' and 'what is the PANDA?' ("perfomance and assessment" benchmarking information) and 'what is the autumn package?' (annual pack of league table and other information, that contains the PANDA)."
These reactions seem to vindicate Birmingham's decision to invest pound;10,000 in the film and send a free copy to every chair of governors. Its use of video for training may set a trend.
Significantly the authority has chosen one of the newest and most vital areas of school management to boost governor skills. Two years ago the Government made target-setting a legal duty.
The half-hour film was directed by Paul Davies of local production company Television Junction. Davies, himself a school governor, has previous experience in developing educational material. Presented by Midlands broadcaster Anne Nankivell, it takes the viewer behind the scenes at two of the city's schools - St Francis's C of E primary and Swanshurst girls' comprehensive.
Classroom vignettes are interspersed with governors talking about their role in accessing information and helping to set targets. The long view is set by Nargis Rashid, adviser for governor training in Birmingham. The film is sophisticated without being flashy.
Birmingham's governor training unit decided the film would be the best way to get governors more involved with target-
"Target-setting is one of the key ways for governors to take up their roles of monitoring and to carry out their strategic role," says Phil Astle, schools support manager. "For some it is daunting. They think it is outside their experience or they have the data but do not find it accessible. We want to move away from schools just receiving targets and rubber-stamping them."
Ms Rashid said the video was an attempt to help busy governors who were attending an incrasing number of meetings.
It was also a recognition that material on the PANDA or the autumn package, for instance, could be quite heavy going (even for teaching staff).
"Most governors prefer training in their schools and the video can be shown there or even taken to individual homes.
"They can sit down and the video will unpack the information in the PANDA reports - show them what sort of data they should be looking at, how to compare it to similar schools using benchmarking and check previous key-stage attainment."
She stressed, however, that the "unpacking" was not meant to put governors at odds with heads over the running of the school.
"Partnership is a key thing. We would not expect governors to go around demanding information. We want the head to present the information.
"In the past it has been hard for people to tackle the issue of asking the headteacher about performance and heads often have not had time to present the
material in a way that would be accessible."
The training has been a hit with Rod Bamford. A parent-governor at King Edward's, Aston, he was not a great believer in video, but says the professional presentation appealed to him. Some training, he complains, is "very lecture-ish, very paper-based". He says: "You have to cut across the borders and reach all types of governor. This is a great idea with potential for growth - the school budget would be another good topic."
The video gives a strong unrehearsed "fly on the wall" impression of how the featured schools operate. Monica Coke was impressed by some classroom scenes.
"The teacher sat down with the pupils to talk about their individual performance and why they were assessing them at that stage. That was excellent."
Every governor who watches the video will naturally make comparisons with their own school. It will help them step
outside the culture of their own governance to see a broader picture. They will also pick up essential tools to use in making a difference to their pupils' performance.
Above all, they can do this without devoting an evening to studying yet another briefing paper or consultation document. For many governors that will be heaven.
The video costs pound;50 (cheques pay-
able to BASS Publications) from BASS Publications, Martineau Centre, Balden Road, Harborne, Birmingham B32 2EH. Tel. 0121 303 8081 (fax 0121 303 8100).