A Question of Balance

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Yesterday I attended the NGA South West Regional meeting and enjoyed the company of many governor colleagues. This post is inspired by a discussion at that meeting.

We were discussing, as a group, the issue of monitoring standards within our schools, specifically this past summers KS2 National Test results. Political opinion aside, the room was sadly unanimous in its experience of a time of fraught, anxiety amongst teaching staff, pupils and their families. This led us to discuss the complex role of the governing body in balancing their responsibility in holding the school to account on performance and outcomes and taking care of the wellbeing of school staff and pupils.

Ofsted and the DfE places governors firmly in the leadership and management team of a school, our work is inspected and judged alongside other senior leaders. For me, this makes us an integral part of that team. We share and work towards the same vision and champion the same ethos but we also hold the rest of that team to account – and don’t misunderstand me, we absolutely should. For me though, this is where the question of balance comes in and how we achieve that balance.

All too often, the standards and outcomes we are holding our senior leader colleagues to account for are implemented following much heavily reported controversy, anxious anticipation and often without a great deal of notice or guidance. This is hardly the best of starts. Colleagues at the event yesterday had many shared experiences of the high level of media interest in last years National Tests almost causing a hysteria within schools and amongst parent groups. Not only were teaching staff having to support, prepare and develop children to have the ability and resilience to undertake the tests they also had to manage the responses and expectations of parents. There was a feeling of an unacceptable pressure on pupils and also our teaching staff and senior leaders, with a confusion as to where that pressure came from – governors? parents? the media? Ofsted? the DfE? all of us? There was also sad tales of teachers feeling they failed their pupils and their school and worrying if they would have a job post results time.

I am an experienced governor and spend my working day advising governors and clerks, I know my role and understand my responsibilities clearly. I think our role in holding the school to account for the educational outcomes of students is vital and something we should never shy away from. However, I do also think we need to balance this with a consideration and care for the people delivering those outcomes. We need to support them by sharing clear messages around outcomes with our stakeholders, ensuring that outcomes are shared in context with national and comparable local outcomes. We should share the plans in place for development towards improving outcomes and helping to explain the process of tests and why our children sit them and the work that has gone in to help prepare them. We should be asking how pupils are prepared for the tests, what messages are being given and expectations communicated. We should make effort to understand the work implemented to prepare pupils for the tests. Pupil conferencing can monitor wether this is being achieved successfully. Some may say that this is operational, I say that it is part of our role in supporting our schools, by lending our voice we lend our support. I am not saying we do this instead of the school but in partnership with our senior leadership team. That doesn’t diminish our role in holding the school to account but we should do that in the right way, in the right place.

Our expectations as governors should always be great but also consistent, we should not contribute to the pressure by changing our expectations and standards at different points of the year. Closely linked governor monitoring to the school development plan helps this, it keeps our focus on outcomes overall and assists in monitoring the progression to achieving the outcomes set.

Whilst the inspiration for this post was this years National Test, I believe the recommendations I share ring true for any school and for any time of additional pressure to expectation.

N.B. I experienced this time as a parent and as a governor and I cannot praise highly enough the Year 6 teacher and Head Teacher from my son’s school – they demonstrated care and sensitivity throughout and the children were clear that their achievements amounted to more than the results of a snapshot of a moment in time. My son went into the tests with a resilience and maturity that I was proud of and thankful for.

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