A Guide to Governor Visits to the School.
The Governing Body (GB) is the “Accountable Body” in a school – accountable to Parents, Pupils, the Local Authority (LA) and Central Government (e.g. the Department for Education) via Ofsted. It is responsible for all facets of the School: Health & Safety, Safeguarding & Wellbeing (of both Pupils and all Staff), Finance, Teaching and Learning (leading to Pupil Progress).
Governing Bodies have the following Statutory responsibilities (adapted from the definitions stated in the Governance Handbook: March 2019, Section 1. Para:1.1, Pg. 9):
- Ensuring clarity of Vision, Ethos and Strategic direction;
- Holding Executive Leaders to account for the educational performance of the School and its pupils. The effective and efficient Performance Management of Staff;
- Overseeing the Financial Performance of the School and making sure its’ money is well spent.
Ofsted Inspection assumes that Governors know the strength and weaknesses of the School, which in itself is dependant on Governors assessing Performance data presented to them by the Headteacher, Senior Leadership Team (SLT) and Middle Managers (Heads of Departments). Governors are expected to know what progress is being made towards targets set out in the School Development Plan (SDP) so that they can constructively challenge the information that they receive whilst at the same time being supportive of the School (often referred to as being a critical friend).
To achieve this, Governors should be able not only to recognise and celebrate success but to also ask relevant questions in order to further understand how the School (its’ Departments, Subject Areas etc) function (including what processes are undertaken to provide effective measurements of Performance and Pupil Learning). Visits into School are an important part of the process already referred to but Governors must remember that their role on such visits is initially to observe and inform themselves.
There are basically three types of a visit to the School:
- A Social Visit: School Plays and Concerts, Celebration Events (e.g. Certificates Evening) etc.
- An Informal Visit: By arrangement with a Senior School Leader – to see the layout of the School (who works there) and gain an understanding of how the School is organised. This is often useful for new Governors as part of their Induction.
- An Expected (and pre-arranged) Visit: Usually agreed with a member of Staff (at least of Head of Department Level) as these visits would normally be part of a Link Governor’s remit and may form part of an agreed programme of visits throughout the Academic Year.
The areas of specific Link Governor responsibilities are:
Safeguarding and Wellbeing,
SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disabilities),
Individual Subject Areas, e.g. Maths, English, Science, the Humanities etc.,
Health and Safety,
Interpretation of School Data,
Pupil Attendance, Pupil Premium.
2. A Protocol For Visits:
The following sections list examples of good practice:
(a) Always make an Appointment when planning a visit into School with the Staff member concerned at an agreeable date/time for each party. Members of Staff do not have to agree to an appointment if the proposed timing of the visit is inconvenient (e.g. during periods when the member of Staff is Teaching, when either Internal and External Examinations are scheduled to take place and especially during Ofsted Inspections etc).
(b) Make sure that the Staff member you are visiting is aware that there is a clear purpose for the visit that has been agreed. Is it linked to the School Improvement Plan and how does this determine the itinerary? Link Governors should arrange an Appointment with the designated Departmental/Area Learning Head to discuss how to proceed with the Link arrangement.
(c) Ensure that there is a clear Agenda for the visit – times, meetings and items for discussion but be prepared to be flexible.
(d) Governors should appraise themselves of any supporting information that is available within the School, e.g. Ofsted Reports, School Improvement/Development Plan, Performance data, Departmental Self-Evaluation etc., prior to the visit.
(e) Know beforehand (and advise those who don’t know) what the outcome of your visit will be: either a verbal or written Report to the Governing Body (or Sub-Committee).
(f) Dress appropriately.
(g) Be punctual. Report to the School Office, upon arrival to and departure from, the School. Always sign in/sign out and wear the appropriate identification badge.
(h) Governors should be considerate whilst in the School – being aware that people are carrying out their roles within all areas of the building(s).
(i) If a classroom observation is part of the programme for the visit (as proposed by the Staff member that you are seeing – normally the Head of Department (HOD)), decide with the HOD concerned how you will be introduced and what your role will be (if this hasn’t already been done during the pre-visit contact.
(j) Remember that your visit isn’t an Inspection (you are not qualified to make judgements on either the Quality of Teaching or the expertise of Teaching Staff members – that is the sphere of responsibility proper to the Headteacher and/or other Education professionals) and avoid taking notes whilst you are discreetly observing lessons. You are there to learn!
(k) All Governors should be prepared to talk to Staff and show any interest, however, under no circumstances should a Governor monopolise a Classroom Teacher’s time during the lesson being observed, thereby distracting him/her from their work and disrupting the learning of the Pupils. So be courteous, friendly but not critical and interact but don’t interrupt.
(l) Remember why you are there and do not lose sight of the purpose of your visit. Listen to what Staff have to say in answer to any questions that you may have and be aware of Resource issues.
NB: Governors may only enter a classroom/speak to pupils if invited to do so by a member of the Teaching Staff. Similarly, Governor access to the Staff Room is by invitation only from a member of the Teaching Staff.
(m) Discuss what you have observed with the Staff member concerned. Use the opportunity to clarify any issue you are unclear about. For example, in respect to any time spent in the Classroom during your visit – did your presence have any impact on the atmosphere in the classroom? If so, how?
(n) Refer to the purpose of the visit. Consider together with the member of Staff concerned, whether it has been achieved.
(o) Thank the Staff member for his/her time in meeting with you. Be open, honest, and positive but be prepared to take the comments of others on board.
(p) Make notes as soon as possible after your Meeting while it is still fresh in your mind.
(q) Write up your Report, circulating a draft to the Staff member(s) that you have met with (and copy in the Headteacher to your emailed Report). Always be prepared to amend your Report and aim to achieve a Report that is agreed by those involved.
(r) Circulate you agreed Report to all the Governing Body members, so that they will have the opportunity to discuss your Report at any subsequent Governing Body/Sub-Committee Meeting. Archive your Report in the Governors’ section of the School’s website.
Confidentiality should be adhered to regarding either Classroom/Non-Classroom visits. Observations should be shared with the member of Staff concerned and with the Headteacher but not with either other Staff or Parents. The approach of the Governor should be to ask for explanations of anything not understood and not to make assumptions. Reporting back to Governors, the Report should not identify individuals in a critical manner – that is not the role of a Governor.
- The “Do Nots”:
- Do not just drop in at the School uninvited.
- Do not act or carry items that suggest that your visit is an Inspection (this includes making notes and carrying a clipboard during the visit).
- Be careful about raising concerns regarding what may be School policy. If in any doubt speak about the relevant policy only with the Headteacher at the end of the visit.
- Do not be drawn in conversation into making criticisms of:
- The Governing Body.
- The Headteacher.
- Any member of Staff.
- School policy.
- Do not make promises on behalf of the Governing Body.
- Do not make judgements about the professional expertise of the Teaching Staff, either individually or collectively, as you are not qualified to do so).
- Do not arrive for the visit with any inflexible pre-conceived ideas.
David J. Evans
26th March 2020.