As always, this year's prize- winning reports were not necessarily the prettiest or the most elegant. What marked them out was their content: relevant, readable and dealing with real issues; evidence that the governing body knew its job and was sharing with parents the way it had carried it out.
Nowhere does this seem more apparent than in the way governors account for their oversight of the curriculum. Most report that there is a curriculum committee and give an indication of its terms of reference; they may even list a few of the subjects or topics discussed. Only rarely is there any indication of what that discussion covered (or uncovered) or what the outcome was. Even rarer is any sense of governors' accountability to parents.
In contrast, the curriculum report of Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School, Islington, a first prize winner for the second year running, is commended by the judges for "sheer excellence". On the curriculum, it gets right to the point with an upbeat but no-nonsense recognition that this is a school striving to improve its performance. Headed "Changing with confidence" it makes it clear that "raising achievement" was the guiding principle for the year-long debate with staff on the curriculum offered at the school. The following excerpt shows how succinctly it spells out the changes finally agreed and their rationale; how it stresses governors' endorsement and shows them involved at the heart of decision-making and incidentally how that builds up rather than detracts from the role of the head teacher.
"All girls will now spend more time on English and mathematics while girls in years 7,8 and 9 will be given greater opportunities in information technology. . . by allowing girls more time to concentrate on subjects in keeping with ability and interests, the chances of lasting achievement, particularly in the core subjects, is dramatically improved for everybody."
"By the same token, governors welcomed the proposal to reduce the maximum number of GCSEs to eight when in previous years pupils sat as many as 11, " the report adds.
"Aside from these very welcome changes, consultation and participation across the board is strongly indicative of the leadership and direction of the school under its new headteacher. The changes are very much 'owned' by the whole school rather than imposed from above."
This inner city girls' school may have rather fewer top grades to celebrate than some other reports, but it does not simply list them as many do. It provides national and local comparisons and a commentary which demonstrates governors are monitoring the results, tells you what they think of them, praises improvements and puts the figures into context for parents: "We are pleased to see that the steady upward trend in our school's examination performance was maintained last year. We are particularly delighted with those of our girls who who passed a large number of their exams with a grade between A* and C; 12 passed 9 or more A to C grades. This shows the school's strategies for teaching, learning and assessment at the top of the ability range are successful. We equally celebrate the achievements of those girls who worked to improve their learning and raised their level of achievement considerably during their time in the school... Our school is traditionally strong in English, the humanities and the arts and once again our results in these areas are very pleasing. Our results in science and technology continue to improve and technology has produced results significantly above the borough averages . . ."
EGA governors then use this opportunity to demonstrate governors' commitment to raising expectations with a bold slogan picked out in large print:
"Our aim remains to raise achievement of all girls at Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School."
Absence figures are also seized upon to get the improvement message across: "Improving attendance is a major priority in our whole school development plan. Strategies include:
* a new EGA attendance policy
* 2.5 days of extra education welfare officer time
* extra tutor time in Years 10 and 11
* increasing girls' confidence by concentration in English, maths and IT
* working with parents through the weekly newsletter and the new
"Making ends meet" is the livelier title for what many reports would call the finance committee report. It is frank about the school's funding difficulties, and is not above asking parents for their money-making or saving ideas.
EGA's report is made up of 26 A4 litho-printed sheets glued into a binder with a transparent plastic front. It has at least one picture on every page usually pupils' art or technology with plenty of short snippets to read, all of which makes it compelling reading.