Martin Matthews is a very experienced Chair of Governors at a large maintained community primary school in Oldham, Greater Manchester. It was formed when an infant and junior school merged in 2011.
Martin describes the school as ‘mixed’, “We have a variety of communities who come to our school ranging from the quite affluent to the quite poor. There’s a big mixture of children and parents but we all seem to get along together.”
The school was last inspected in 2015 and was graded ‘good’. However Ofsted has since published a new, very different, inspection framework.
Martin, how did you find the inspection under the new Ofsted framework?
The first thing I’d say is that it was the most humane and pleasant inspection I’ve ever been through. There was no glaring at us, no ‘them and us’. It was very robust and very professional but at a human level. There was no ‘we’re checking up on this’.
Instead of feeling like you were being grilled, it was more like an extended conversation. The questions we were asked were the starting point but there was a lot of unpacking beyond that. If the conversation ranged into something else or one of the governors put something forward from his or her point of view, say as a volunteer that hears children read or a parent in KS1, then the conversation went in that direction.
Almost as if there wasn’t a right or wrong answer?
No there definitely wasn’t. There were clearly things that were expected because that’s the way it should be but beyond that it was up to where the conversation went. The key thing the Inspector kept asking us was, ‘Can you give us an example of that?’
That question, “Can you give me an example of what you as governors have done?”, was probably the most common set of words that were said in the whole interview.
Did you feel as a board that you were able to answer those questions?Yes – it seems that it’s all about knowing your school and knowing how you’ve arrived at that point. So if you know your school – and by that I don’t mean the statistics, she wasn’t interested in internal data – you are able to give concrete examples of what is actually going on and what has gone on previously.
For instance, she asked us about Headteacher wellbeing. I told her that when we do a Headteacher Performance Management that we already have a strand within the SEF (Self Evaluation Form) which covers all staff wellbeing and records what we do, but it is also something we ask about every year as part of the Headteacher’s appraisal process.
If a board is underperforming how would this be identified in the new framework?
It would about knowing your school. For example, if there was an issue with the data for writing in Key Stage 2, governors would be asked, “How do you know what’s being done about this?”
If you didn’t have external sources of information such as a School Improvement Partner or a Local Authority report or an External Advisor as well as the information that the head gives you, then you wouldn’t be able to triangulate the data. Just saying,“ the Headteacher tells us”, wouldn’t cut it. I would say it’s definitely as rigorous as the previous style of inspection but in a different way.
In the various Ofsted reports I’ve seen so far, the mention of governance is quite minimal but the level of feedback we got was very good and certainly as thorough as it was with the previous framework. However it doesn’t translate into what’s written in the published report because of the length of the report and the style which Ofsted is using. As such it’s very important to have someone who can take notes at the feedback meeting so you can be sure to get all of that information and work on it afterwards.
You can read the Ofsted report for Martin’s school here.
What training have governors done and what training can they access?
What are your school priorities?
How do you as a GB ensure the priorities are moved forward?
How do you ensure staff wellbeing?
What do you hope Y6 have achieved by the time they leave?
How do you meet the equalities act?
How do you ensure safeguarding is met?
How do you ensure HT wellbeing?Just some of the questions governors were asked