Impact, impact, impact

posted in: Purple Governance | 6

There was an interesting discussion on UKGovChat (@UKGovchat) last week about what difference we make as governors. It was called ‘Making a Difference‘.

The discussion was an interesting one as it is sometimes hard to have solid evidence of our impact. Indeed there has been a debate on Twitter lately about splitting a judgement on governance from that of  the Leadership and Management judgement one on an Ofsted report. There was a fair amount of debate on that suggestion! The inspection framework says :

The contribution of governors to the school’s performance is evaluated as part of the judgement on the effectiveness of leadership and management. As with the meetings between inspectors and pupils, parents and staff, meetings with those responsible for governance should take place without the headteacher or senior staff.

As a National Leader of Governance (NLG) I am sometimes called upon to do a Review of Governance at a school where governance has not quite reached the Ofsted expectations. These External Reviews of Governance (ERGs) are suggested by Ofsted as a way of moving the governing board to a better position. There may be some great practice but there are evidently some barriers there which prevent Ofsted from seeing what the board does really well.

I have often found common themes in my reviews. . I have spoken previously about relationships. The relationship between the Head and the Chair is crucial. There is a good document produced by the NAHT and the NGA,, that I often recommend, which shows clear expectations around behaviours. The document can be found via this link

Clerking is also vital in recording  that challenge and support. What do your minutes say about your Board?  Over reliance of the Board on information provided by the Head is also another key area. Where are your purposeful visits? Has anything changed as a result of your visit?

As an NLG I find it can take a while before impact is apparent. We NLGs work with the Board looking at practice and evidence and assist in producing an action plan.

Let me give you an example :

January 2014 – Judgement ‘Inadequate’

Governance is weak because they do not hold leaders and managers to account with sufficient rigour.

February 2014

Governors have benefited from the input of a National Leader in Governance who has conducted an external review, as recommended at the previous inspection. This review identified areas of weakness and actions have been outlined to remedy any failings.

October 2014

The governing body has responded to the increased demands made upon them with confidence, enthusiasm and commitment. Governors are now much more knowledgeable and challenge school leaders to take urgent action to sort out areas of weakness, such as mathematics. Members of the governing body come into school more frequently and are utterly ‘on the ball’ when it comes to holding staff to account. Since the previous monitoring inspection, governors have conducted a gap analysis to find out how the governing body itself could be improved. The new members of the team have complementary skills that have helped to strengthen further this astute and loyal governing body

March 2015

The governing body has developed a profound understanding of the school’s work and has grown immeasurably in its confidence in holding the school to account. Governors have developed an effective link to departments and continue to attend breakfast meetings at school to challenge subject leaders about their performance. The governing body, led astutely, humanely and expertly by the Chair, has a very clear understanding of the school’s strengths and areas for further development. The governing body is an honest, loyal and dedicated group of individuals that serves the school very well as an increasingly knowledgeable and effective ‘critical friend’.

June 2015 – Judgement ‘Good’

Governors have welcomed the lead provided by the new headteacher and have developed well since the previous inspection. They have been inspired to take a far more active role in the running of the school and have contributed well to its improvement. – Governors are self-critical and have commissioned an audit of their skills. They have appointed new governors to fill any gaps in their areas of expertise. As a result, they have a sound basis on which to challenge the school to improve further.

I am not going to say that this sea change has been solely due to my input as an NLG but it was a contributory factor. The review meeting went well and I returned to do a Performance and Impact Review some months later.  This school clearly embraced the changes needed after the initial Ofsted report.

What can we learn from this for our own Boards? Do we do enough to measure our impact? Where would we find the evidence? Do we evaluate what we are doing?

Happy to have your thoughts.


6 Responses

  1. Naureen Khalid

    Thank you, Jane for this. Very interesting. The biggest take away from this for me is that perhaps at times we need someone else to assess us and look at how we are doing. Being involved in the board matters day in and day out we may miss the trees for the woods. Having someone cast an independent, external eye on our work is very useful. Maybe we should all think of doing something similar. Either ask an NLG for help or perhaps link up with another GB. You can view their practice and they can view yours and maybe both will benefit.

    • JaneOwens

      Thank you for the response Naureen. We must remember our core purpose I think and we must continually evaluate what we do as a board to support and challenge. At the end of each school year I do ask my governors to think about their contribution to the school. Have we done enough? Have we taken relevant training? Are we on the right committees? Have we engaged with our local governor association and shared stories? What CPD do we need next year? As an NLG with a lot of experience supporting school boards and chairs I would have to agree, would I not, that an external view is helpful. Not just when Ofsted calls and finds us wanting but as a Health Check. We bring to the table a view from outside education generally. ‘Over reliance on the headteacher for information’ can be a common theme in Ofsted reports. Where are our purposeful visits? ‘We have always done it like this’ is perhaps not acceptable. Many governors never see another school. There has to be some mileage in allowing governors to see other boards at work. I have modelled chairing for some boards. Clerking is crucial in showing that challenge and support in minutes of meetings. Good heads expect to be challenged. We all benefit from sharing. I always bring something to my own schools from schools that I visit. We need more of that in my view.

  2. Paul Driscoll

    I’m really bothered by the ‘impact’ word. Assessing impact to me implies measurement relative to doing nothing, or some other control condition, which we never do – because we can’t. This absence of a control condition pervades many aspects of edulife: a prime example is impact of pupil premium funding. The ‘impact’ could be assessed by reference to a previous year, but in my experience there are just too many changing variables: changing students, staff, government policy foci, etc for a useful measurement to be made. We all claim to make an impact, but backing that up in a scientifically rigourous way seems impossible.

    • JaneOwens

      Thanks for the comment Paul. I do not disagree with you but we are asked often to show some impact of what we do or why we are there. What has changed because of us and what difference has it made to our children and young people? Indeed, would anyone notice if we were not there!

  3. JaneOwens

    Thank you for sharing your Blog with a kind reference to my article. One thing does stand out, although many are worthy of comment, and that is the reference to ‘Minutes’. You can tell a lot from minutes of meetings. Do our minutes truly reflect the discussions held during meetings? I feel another blog coming on!

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