Compliance is only the beginning

Friday 21 October 2016

The new ISI inspection regime started from January 2017; as you know, it is more compliance-based than before. As a result of the earlier pilots, reports should be significantly shorter, with the content focused on what is required to substantiate any regulatory non-compliance so that schools can put right any identified shortcomings. 

Those schools that meet the requirements will be able to pat themselves on the back for a successful inspection. Or should they?

Compliance means meeting pre-set standards. But is that really enough for any thoughtful governing body?

Imagine this: the pupils at your school are putting on a play. They have all learnt their lines perfectly. But none of them has thought about the characters they are playing and how they might develop them throughout the play -- and so fail to convey any sense of drama to the audience. How would you rate their performance? Perfectly fine because they all knew their lines? Or disappointing because the performance was dull and lackadaisical, and learning their lines is a minimum requirement?

It is the same for school governance. Governors need to do more than learn their lines in compliance. They have to consider what being a governor means and how they can bring vigour and energy to their role in order to help the school become the best it can be. And, after an inspection, wouldn't you rather the inspectors left singing your praises?

Governors exist to hold the school leadership to account to ensure that pupils get the best education and life experiences possible, to prepare them for tackling the rest of their lives. That is no mean feat and a huge responsibility. Clearing compliance hurdles is merely the start, however. Why not aim to become the best governing body possible? Anything else smacks of complacency. Pat on the back? Slap on the wrist more like.

The best educated go on to become the most productive citizens and contribute to the economy and more broadly to society. They make fewer demands on the growing social services and health service budgets. In the independent sector, they also become the political and business leaders (not to mention the disproportionately high number of gold medallists at the Olympics).

But is your governing body actively helping them, or are your pupils achieving this despite your best efforts?

I was once a governor and appreciate how onerous the role has become (if it doesn’t feel onerous, are you doing all you can to support the school?). But it is worth pausing for thought. How can we/you be better?

Here are a few questions to address:

  •          Has the school’s governing documents/trust deed or memorandum and articles been reviewed?
  •          Is the composition of the sub-committees reviewed annually?
  •          Have the governors carried out an audit of governors’ skills? Are there any gaps in knowledge/experience?
  •          Is there a clear job spec for the chair and clerk to the governors?
  •          Have arrangements been put in place for succession of the chair/vice-chair/chairs of committees/clerk?
  •          Has the school got terms of reference for each of its committees?
  •          Have all governing body and sub-committee minutes been signed off?
  •          Have the governors reviewed, identified and attended appropriate training courses to meet requirements (both statutory and regulatory) and to keep up-to-date?
  •          Are all new governors formally inducted?
  •          Has the governing body approved a school improvement/development plan?
  •          Are statutory matters passed to governors at least one week before a meeting to discuss them?
  •          Do all governors visit the school during the normal school day?
  •          Does the school institute parental contracts? Is the contract up-to-date and legally approved?
  •          Have provisions been made for complaints by parents?
  •          Have all governors and members of staff completed pecuniary interest/conflict of interest forms?
  •          Is there a process for conflicted governors to step back in meetings, with this duly recorded?
  •          Has an insurance policy for governors’ liabilities been taken out?
  •          Is there a policy on governors’ allowances?
  •          Are governors aware of their term of office and retirement dates?
  •          Is there a formal process for recruitment of governors?
  •          Is the single central register up-to-date?