The Strange Case of OFSTED and School GovernorsMarch 17, 2013
The following was sent in by a reader who is also a school governor. (Thanks.)
Given your recent posts about Ofsted I thought I might bring to your attention that last week there was some twittering about the role of governors in teacher observations. I will try to bring together some of the threads and some of the issues raised.
Governors are beginning to visit lessons but have not had training on what good teaching and learning looks like.
It went on to state in the section regarding governors:
They have made a few visits to lessons but have not yet had training about what makes good quality teaching and learning. This is planned for next term.
The purpose of governor visits is not to assess the quality of teaching provision or to pursue issues that relate to the day-to-day management of the school, other than as agreed with the headteacher or senior management team.
Initially the suggestion was that this appears to be a one-off rogue OFSTED inspector. It was also felt it perhaps highlighted the lack of in-depth knowledge of governance within a new free school’s governing body (predictable and evident in other Free School OFSTEDs); indeed many existing governors on Twitter felt they would be well aware that it was not within their role and would point this out quite vociferously to any inspector.
At this point, someone highlighted another case where OFSTED praised governors for being trained to observe; the actual line being:
Governors know the quality of teaching in the school because they are trained to observe and evaluate it,
OFSTED raised this with us, wanted [governors] to be in on [observations], then can understand how judgement is made
All of this seems to indicate an unwanted and worrying shift from OFSTED in their expectations of governors. Requiring governors to become involved in observations and evaluating teaching is clearly overstepping the mark. Are they really expecting people with no teaching experience to be involved in assessing classroom competency? (I know some OFSTED inspectors themselves fall into this category.) It seems some inspectors are unable to conceive that governors are be able to set in place processes for Quality Assurance without standing in the back of a classroom?
This is a very steep slippery slope, one which good governors will understand and speak out against, but one that poor governors will exploit. I am sure all teachers and governors know unsuitable people who would love to go into class and assess teachers, but that is something good governors should steer clear from. My personal experience is based on the fact I regularly help in school, the teachers know I am there to help with specifics and not observe them in class. As a result they hopefully feel comfortable with seeing me about and dont alter the way they teach, In this way I get a good overall view of the school, something that would soon change if they all knew I might be judging them at some point.
There does seem to be a shift in OFSTED’s expectation of Governors (I fully accept we are not all perfect) with Sir Michael Wilshaw leading the charge in this scope creep, unsubtly poking into governance without seeming to understand what and why governors do what they do. As if to highlight this, Wilshaw recently stated: “We expect governors to be more proactive and use the pupil premium to hold the school to account”. How can anyone use pupil premium to hold the school to account? It is this kind of a nonsensical statement that has become commonplace.
OFSTED need to clarify their expectation and confirm their position. They are plainly wrong to be placing some of these responsibilities on governors. Inspectors need to understand there must be a clear demarcation between governance and the day-to-day management of a school. Of course, the elephant in the room behind all this – and what makes all this more serious in the minds of governors – is the possibility that a governing body can be removed due to a poor OFSTED report, perhaps one which might contain criticism for governors not observing classes or not using the Pupil Premium to hold the school to account. Fear of OFSTED, and a desire to comply with any whim Sir Michael might come up with, is impacting governance as well as teaching staff.
Update 10/4/2013: There has now been some clarification about this. Details can be found here.