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Commentary in context: HMCI on governance

Visitation by Kevin Dooley - licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Commentary in context: HMCI on governance

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In October Sir Michael Wilshaw – Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills – released the first of his monthly commentaries which looked at the progress made by primary schools. The introduction to this first commentary stated that these monthly releases would be “based on emerging inspection evidence, my own first-hand observations and the considered views of those working in the system”. Also in the introduction, and probably little-noticed by most, was this:

In the coming months, I will be shining the spotlight on other important issues, including governance, careers guidance and the teaching of science and modern languages in primary schools.

Late in October, towards what turned out to be the close of the focused discussion and debate (mainly on Twitter) regarding paid vs. voluntary governance, Sean Harford, Ofsted’s National Director for Education, gave a more explicit indication around some of what Sir Michael would be addressing:

That space was filled last week, when it came to pass that HMCI’s second monthly commentary was indeed on governance – and reported in the mainstream traditional media with the following headlines:

  • No place for CV-boosting governors, says Ofsted boss (BBC News)
  • School governors ‘focusing on peeling paint’ over teaching quality, head of Ofsted warns (Telegraph)
  • 500 schools failed by inspectors due to poor running by governing bodies (Independent)
  • Too many school governors not fit for purpose, chief inspector warns (Guardian)
  • Inspectors to probe ‘effectiveness of school governors’ (Daily Mail carrying Press Association report)

Obviously the interpretations of Sir Michael’s two thousand words are indicative of a newspaper’s view of the state of State education –  and might form good fodder for the chapter entitled Media representations of school governance today in a forthcoming book on the governance landscape by Jacqueline Baxter of the Open University – but the general thrust of Sir Michael’s commentary was:

  • too many governors are unprofessional in their approach;
  • paying the chair and vice-chair should be considered;
  • mandatory training should be considered;
  • the 2 or 3 “most senior” governors should have a deep knowledge of educational issues;
  • the role played by representative [stakeholder] governors needs addressing;
  • inspectors will conduct a survey into the effectiveness of governance;

As was to be expected, Emma Knights of the NGA wrote a forthright response to the Chief Inspector’s comments raising pertinent points – many of them related to Ofsted’s own often incomplete and inconsistent understanding of what good governance looks like in practice. With HMCI’s commentaries being based in part on “emerging inspection evidence” it’s worth remembering that under the current inspection regime, schools judged to be doing well are less likely to be inspected and therefore might be under-represented in the evidence used to inform HMCI’s commentaries. It also bears asking if it is reasonable to assume that observations of governance during inspections are representative of the state of governance as a whole, in the same way  if reports from doctor’s surgeries on the health of those who visit them could be accurately representative of the health of the nation – including those who were in the peak of health and never saw a doctor. Given that in his commentary Sir Michael asserts:

There are thousands of people across the country who give up their time to serve on governing boards. We know that the majority take their duties very seriously and act responsibly and in the interests of the whole-school community.

then it could seem likely that the minority (as the 500 schools cited in the commentary represent just over 2% of schools in England) will force a change for the majority, rather than the good practice of the majority being brought to bear on those who struggle to meet the standards of professional practice expected of them. You can read the response of NLG Martin Matthew’s, who has previously blogged in these parts, in the latest instalment of TES’s occasional governor’s blog or Naureen Khalid’s take on it over at the Governing Matters blog.

What does this all mean?

It seems clear that HMCI’s commentary and the associated activity from within Ofsted could signify some sort of starting gun (again) in a move to change or refocus governance (again) – evidenced by the increasing background rumble of the issue of paid governance and the regular questioning of the effectiveness of the stakeholder model by Lord Nash, Nicky Morgan and now HMCI. In case that all sounds like another round of re-constitution, and further change for change’s sake, is imminent then it’s worth reading Sean Harford’s blog on his participation in the NCOGS conference in September, which is an example of useful and fruitful two-way conversation between Ofsted and governors and his account of Ofsted’s engagement with parents.

Please answer HMCI’s call for evidence

Sir Michael announced a call for evidence (in online survey form) which would inform a forthcoming “in-depth and far-reaching survey into the effectiveness of governance in our schools” from “anyone who has views and experience to contribute”. Anyone reading this blog post will almost certainly fall into that category, so please make sure you step over the Gove-like web address (“govevidence“) and complete the survey now. If, as the NGA assert, Ofsted needs to have a better understanding of good governance, then those best placed to let it know are those committed enough to care about the future of governance so much that they carry it out – there are frequent cries from school leaders, teachers and others in the sphere of education that Ofsted needs to improve – this is your chance to inform that improvement, particularly if you have examples and accounts of good and effective governance, so if you didn’t do it a couple of sentences ago, please inform Sir Michael Wilshaw now!


Image: Visitation by Kevin Dooley – licensed under CC BY 2.0.


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