Reports that glow
And the job of the annual report is to tell parents and others how the governors have done that in the past year.
Any governing body's report which does is eligible for a 1995 TES Annual Report Award and could win its school Pounds 1,000 (see announcement below right).
Established four years ago to seek out and publicise the best annual reports, entries suggest that governors are taking more seriously the idea that they should explain the decisions they take on behalf of those with a stake in the school.
The judges are not looking for glossy, expensive products but signs that governing bodies have something important to share with parents about their child's school, and a genuine wish to share it.
Joan Sallis, The TES Agenda columnist who plays a leading part in assessing entries for the award, says the judges look for:
* evidence that the governors have been active and responsible and that they consider it important to be accountable to parents and to include them in their thinking;
* an unmistakeable sense that it is the governors' report, reflecting their perception of the school and their role in it;
* a willingness to look forward to what is coming up as well as backwards to what has happened and to share plans and problems;
* simple, effective communication, inclusive language without jargon and presentation that is inviting;
* planning for school improvement.
The legal requirements are best used as a checklist, not a blueprint. They do not forbid you to be friendly and informal or to include the issues you think are important.
Not everyone is a natural author but good, plain English is all that is called for, not decorous prose or waffle. It helps if you set out to write as people speak. A good test of readability is to try reading it out loud.
Reports that make you feel involved are more personal. They use "you" and "we" and active rather than passive language: "We spent Pounds 1,000 onI" rather than "Pounds 1,000 was spent onI" The most inviting ones use headlines and sub-headlines to break up pages of text and boxes to create emphasis and variety. A relevant picture or piece of artwork on every page is not a bad target and when several governors have contributed signed articles it shows the governing body is a collection of people, not a faceless bureaucracy.
But no amount of packaging makes up for a lack of content. The basics each year include:
* who are we?
* where do we come from?
* what do we do?
* how do we do it?
* how can we be contacted?
* how can parents find out more?
* how do they make themselves heard?
Then there are the decisions taken and, just as important, those about to be taken. Sensible governors will use their report to practice answering the questions the Office for Standards in Education (OFSTED) inspectors will be asking all governing bodies: * how have you ensured value for money?
* how have you monitored standards in the school?
* how do you check that choices and decisions are fairly made?
You have to provide details of school spending, but what were your priorities in deciding the budget?
Why, for instance, did you spend as a much as you did on teachers and not more, say, on books or support staff?
How did you consider the results achieved by pupils and how confident are you they are as good as they should be?
Governors are not inspectors; they are not normally equipped to make such judgments about classroom standards themselves but they should be regularly posing such questions to those who are if they are really watching over pupils' interests.
In the end, only a good governing body can produce a good annual report.
But governors who ask themselves all the time (not just when it comes to writing the report) how they are going to justify every action - or inaction - to the parents may well find it helps to improve the effectiveness of their governing body and their school, as well as their annual report.
WHAT MUST BE INCLUDED
* Date, time, place and agenda of annual meeting
* names, status and terms of office of all governors
* name and address of chair and clerk
* next parent-governor elections
* action on resolutions at last annual meeting
* how governors spent school's money
* spending on governors' travel and meals
* changes to special educational needs policy
* effectiveness of that policy
* how money was allocated to pupils with special needs
* school's national curriculum assessment results
* public examination results in secondary school
* destinations of secondary school leavers
* attempts to strengthen community links
* information on pupil absences
* dates of terms for next year
* summary of changes to school prospectus
* result of annual discussion on grant-maintained status