20 Oct The importance of school visits
Ben Archibald is a vice-chair of governors at a primary school in Kent as well as a civil servant at the Home Office who tweets at @bmarchibald. His blog In The Thin Of It is one of the governance blogs featured in the Modern Governor mobile app and offers an insight into the role and challenges of being a school governor as well as exploring some of the more strategic and fundamental issues facing governors and the school system. Ben also blogs about the wider questions of strategy, transformation and leadership, sharing ideas and approaches from different professions. This guest post is reproduced from his blog with permission.
I have been a school governor for just over a year now and, while some of it was as I expected i.e. meetings, stats, budgets, there was an element which I hadn’t really thought about but which has been an absolute privilege and a vital part of being a good governor – visiting the school.
In my first few months as a governor I had lots to read and digest and plenty of training to attend, so the time I had allocated to being a governor alongside work, family and the rest of life was easily taken up. In fact, the sheer volume of stuff and the responsibility of being a governor started to weigh heavy and the three meetings per term started to feel too much like a burdensome box ticking exercises rather than a forum for me to examine, probe and support the school.
Being part of the community
We are lucky in our school that we have a very supportive head who wants to make our governing body part of the school community. He suggested that I come in to spend a day observing lessons, meeting staff and enjoying school dinners. As I was going through my day I felt it all starting to make sense. Those performance numbers we talked about in curriculum committee – they had actual faces. The discussion we had about the school catering supplier – that was the fuel that was keeping these remarkable and energetic little people going all day. And the teachers, who we trust to every day to deliver the vision we set for the school, were hard working, caring and talented professionals.
Informing governors’ discussions
On the face of it, this is all obvious stuff, but seeing it in your school sets the discussions you have and the decisions you make as governors in a real and invaluable context. We recognise this as a governing body and have instigated governor days each term where we all come in for the whole day to spend time in the school, get together and plan. This is in addition to the more routine monitoring visits we all conduct. These have been hugely successful in raising our profile within the school and bringing us together as a team, but most importantly the quality of discussion we have at our formal meetings has noticeably improved.
My message to governors, old and new, is to find the time to be in your school. I recognise that a lot of us work full time and have other commitments but I guarantee it will make you a better governor.
Questions for your next meeting
- How do we assess how effective our school visits are? Do we use a proforma or do individual governors report as they see fit?
- Are our visits informed by our strategic priorities, or by the operational realities of our school?
- Do staff understanding what expectations governors might have – and are they aware of the school’s strategic priorities which might provide a focus for visits?
- Where governors have no specific responsibility which might require visits, are they encouraged to volunteer and serve the school by helping out practically in ways such as reading with children?
- What, if any, strategic improvements have come about from our visits in recent years? If such improvements are difficult to identify, do we need to rethink how our programme of visits is planned?
The Gathering Evidence section of the recently reviewed book Effective School Governance covers visits to school by governors – and this section of the book is available to read within the Modern Governor mobile app.