Governor Stephen Adamson.
Photo by Simon Finlay

School governors braced for greater responsibilities in new Ofsted regime

Monday, November 12, 2012
6.30 AM

A new inspection regime means volunteer school governors must brace themselves for a greater share of the responsibility for improving educational standards, a conference was told.

About 100 members of the Norfolk Governors’ Network arrived at County Hall in Norwich on Saturday for their annual general meeting, and to discuss recent changes in the way school inspections are structured.

They were told that a new Ofsted framework introduced in September included an expectation that all schools must achieve a rating of “good” or better, and an increased focus on the “effectiveness of governance”.

Terry Cook, head of educational achievement, improvement, leadership and governance at Norfolk County Council – himself a lead Ofsted inspector – told delegates what was required under the new regime.

He said inspectors would want to know the extent to which governors hold their head-teachers to account for improving the quality of teaching and pupils’ achievement, and how they monitor performance management systems, create value-for-money and make most effective use of Pupil Premium payments.

The governors attending said they were prepared for the challenges ahead, but raised questions as to how the extra burdens would affect volunteers balancing school duties with full-time jobs.

Mr Cook said: “Governance has assumed a higher profile. The key point is how governors are creating the optimum opportunities for pupils. In other words, what difference are the governors making to the effectiveness of the school?

“The difference between schools with ‘serious weaknesses’ and those in ‘special measures’ is their capacity to address those shortcomings – and one of the key measures of whether a school has the capacity to improve is the effectiveness of its governance.”

Retired civil engineer John Sansby is a governor at Suffield Park Infants School in Cromer.

He said: “I think maybe it is the pace of the change that causes problems.

“We work quite hard as governors and we could actually do it full time and still not have enough hours in the week, and that is an issue. Frankly, anyone with a full-time job will struggle to do anything other than come to meetings.

“We have to constantly work so hard to keep on top of everything, but let me say this: It is one of the most rewarding things you could ever do. It is challenging and hard work, but I would encourage anyone to get involved.”

Tim Rowe, a governor of Spixworth Infants School, said: “Obviously things have to change and evolve to make sure we are getting the best outcome for the schools. That is why we are here. But I think the changes need to be fair, without putting on so much pressure that it becomes burdensome on the head-teachers.

“No-one can be left in any doubt as to the importance of the governing board, and there is a lot of food for thought. The bottom line is that if the school governors are seen as not performing, then they will be called to account. I don’t think any governor should take their role lightly.”

Stephen Adamson, chairman of the Norfolk Governors’ Network, said: “It has been a time of enormous change and there is no sign of it slowing down. But I don’t think we should be frightened of all that change.

“I am sure we all feel change is happening too fast and new things are coming in before the old ones have had the chance to be embedded, but I believe governors are in a position of great strength to achieve what they want to achieve, and to be entrusted with ensuring our schools are of a high standard. The down-side of that is that we will get looked at much more closely by Ofsted to make sure we are doing our job. But then, if you become a governor then you must expect to take on those responsibilities.

“I think if people really want to become governors it is because they really want to have an effect on children’s education, so they will rise to the challenge.”