Dave, as newly-elected chair of governors, is fully aware that a vital role of governors is to monitor and challenge the school’s performance. However, to date, the governing body has tended to receive reports from the head teacher with very little questioning. At the full governing body meetings there is such a packed agenda that there is little time to explore the details of what has been presented. Although there is a teaching and learning committee which meets in advance of the termly full governing body meeting, this too has largely failed to dig very deeply. It was clear from the last Ofsted inspection that there is work to be done on raising achievement so Dave is acutely aware that governors need to be more fully conversant with what is actually happening. He knows too that there are very few of his fellow governors who understand the data presented or the terminology used and that several arrive at meetings not having read the papers circulated in advance. How can he improve things?
There are several ways forward for Dave. He needs first of all to talk to each member of the governing body individually in order to ascertain each one’s level of knowledge about data and external validation (eg. SATs, GCSEs, as appropriate to the phase). This could be a phone conversation with each of them or a face to face discussion. Following this he can decide whether or not it would be useful to run a training session on the interpretation of data for those who need it. It may also be useful to appoint a dedicated governor to become linked to the member of staff who has overall responsibility for data in the school.
Next he needs to talk with the chair of the teaching and learning committee and the head teacher to explore ways of ensuring that the committee operates in an inclusive and participative way. Once the governors on this committee are up to speed with what is being said about school performance and what kinds of performance-related scrutiny question to ask, the rest of the governors may well be encouraged to follow suit at the full governing body meeting. It is also important for governors to have hands-on involvement in the creation, annual updating and monitoring of the school development/improvement plan which could initially be a task for the teaching and learning committee, to be brought subsequently for ratification to the full governing body.
A key agenda item at the full governing body meeting should always be a discussion of performance. There may well be a need for “agenda management” of these meetings by the chair. Agendas are usually packed and items are not always prioritised. Although the local authority helpfully produces a suggested agenda, the agenda should be owned by the governing body and tailored to their particular requirements. What would improve the situation and raise awareness of the centrality of performance to governors’ responsibilities would be to ensure that any item discussed at length be discussed in the context of “how does this improve attainment and how are we monitoring its impact?”
Finally, he needs to impress on governors, in as tactful a way as possible, the importance of coming to meetings fully prepared. Papers do go out well in advance and it is really essential to have read them and to have any questions ready.