Is there a pressurised culture in schools, where children are seen as pupils first and individuals second? And what is the Governing Bodies role in creating a child centered ethos.

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 In The Guardian this weekend blogger,  The Secret Teacher wrote of their fears for their Grandson starting school. These fears arise from the Secret Teachers view that there is a pressurised culture in schools, where children are seen as pupils first and individuals second. This culture, the Secret Teacher believes would prevent their Grandson, who has some learning needs, achieving his potential and damaging his confidence and self-esteem.

When I read the article, I read it with confidence that within the schools where my children are and the school where I am a Governor there is an ethos and commitment that ensures every child has the education that best suits them as individuals and learners. This enables them to achieve their best potential but what is the Governing Bodies responsibility in ensuring that children are treated as children first and fulfill their individual potential?

Our children are in a system whereby their schools performance is, in part, judged by the data results of their progress and attainment. Whatever our personal view on this system, it is the one we have and the one as governors we must work within. There will always be wide ranging abilities within a school and some children will not attain the same levels as their peers or in line with national averages but as governors I believe we should ensure and be confident that our schools provide varied, individual and child centred opportunities for children to achieve their maximum potential and make the best possible progress that they can.

Governors have a responsibility to ensure the ethos of their school enables children to have learning opportunities that suit them as individuals, make their expected progress and achieve at their fullest potential. How though do Governors achieve this?

Get Involved!

For me, good governance starts with knowing your school. A governor gets so much more from visiting a school, feeling the atmosphere, spending time watching children as they learn, observing how teaching staff interact with different groups of children. When governors visit school they should have a good look around, are there positive learning statements in communal areas? (One of my favourites in my son’s school is ‘when we make mistakes we are learning’). Is there children’s work displayed around the school that demonstrates a diverse range of ability being showcased and celebrated?

How many Governors are invited to staff training sessions or INSET days where the school vision and values are reviewed and agreed? As a Governor I would expect to be invited to be included in these as I strongly believe the vision for our school needs to be a shared by our whole school community and one we all sign up to, support and strive towards. Governors cannot make effective strategic decisions that have a positive impact on children if their vision and values differ from that of the teaching staff and wider school community. Governors should also ensure when reviewing and developing the school vision children and their families’ views and opinions are heard and considered.

Monitoring

All Governing Bodies should have a clear monitoring plan in place, linked to the school development plan. Monitoring is a good way for governors to get into school and feel the atmosphere and observe the learning environments. These visits should be planned to focus on covering areas on the monitoring plan but should also pay attention to other areas such as reviewing children’s targets and check these are varied and individual, can the children tell you what their targets are and what they need to do to achieve them? Look at marking; does it meet the schools marking and feedback policy? Do children get both positive and improvement comments? Is marking feedback consistent? All these things will give governors an insight into whether children are being treated as individuals and not just as data producing pupils.

The Curriculum

The other area that governors can look at to see if their school promotes a child focused and individual approach to learning is obviously the school curriculum. Within the new curriculum to be introduced in September 2014 PSHE education remains a non-statutory subject, however section 2.5 of the National Curriculum framework document states that:

 ‘All schools should make provision for personal, social, health and economic education (PSHE), drawing on good practice.’

                                                                       http://www.pshe-association.org.uk

Governors should be prepared to ask how their school is going to continue to promote the moral, cultural, mental, spiritual and physical development of children within their school so that they are prepared for the responsibilities and experiences of their life ahead and to teach them how to be positive and valued members of their communities and promote self esteem and confidence, despite academic achievement.

On a practical level governors should ask to have a look at theme webs at the beginning of termsand look at how creatively the curriculum is being delivered, what opportunity there is for extra curricular learning and then look at theme books later on in the term to see how this has been delivered to the children. As always with any monitoring the governors role is not to make a judgment on the quality of the teachers planning or teaching but to focus on the richness and diversity of opportunity for children.

Data – love it or loathe it?

I am a big fan of practical and realistic when it comes to all things governance and I believe it is unreasonable to expect all governors to be fully data savvy. I do however think that governing bodies should invest in resources (be it training or purchasing a resource like the Fischer Family Trust Data Dashboard for Governors http://www.fft.org.uk) to assist in developing governors understanding of data and how to interpret it. Governing Bodies should also undertake a skills audit to ensure that there are governors on the governing body who are data savvy and can interpret data efficiently and ask challenging questions when reviewing data and children’s performance. In my own experience of assessing progress and attainment data, I always want to know about the child and their) story behind it and as governors it is vital we question the results the school achieves. It may be that a child hasn’t attained the same level as his or her peers or falls short of national averages but has made fantastic progress, there may have been an issue at home or they may have been unwell at the time of assessment, without knowing these contributing factors governors cannot assess whether that child has been given the best opportunities for achieving their best potential or whether indeed there is a culture where children are seen as pupils first and individuals second. Governors should be able to ask the Head Teacher or Subject Leader about the child behind the data and their school and learning experiences and expect a clear answer that can be backed up by governors monitoring.

These are just a few of my ideas as to how governors can ensure their school has a nurturing, inclusive ethos I am sure many other governors will have their own. Do feel free to join the discussion by emailing me at nicki@great-expectations-consultancy.com, on Twitter at @GEConsultancy or on LinkedIn at http://uk.linkedin.com/in/nickiwadley/

To read the Secret Teachers full article go to:http://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/series/the-secret-teacher

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