‘Unless we have headteachers who take on the difficult challenges of schools performance and adopt a no excuses culture, we are never going to make the improvements we need.’ Sir Michael Wilshaw, HMCI, February 2012.
The extract below from an Ofsted report, Getting to Good (pub. 20th September 2012) sets out Ofsted’s expectations of how schools “requiring improvement” (previously “satisfactory”) could approach the journey to a judgement of ”Good”. There are some paragraphs devoted specifically to Governance (paragraphs 18 & 19) which are reproduced further below. (You may also be interested in a commentary by Laura McInerney, in which she compares the content of the report to one published in 2008, “Sustaining improvement: the journey from special measures”
Summary: Determined and resolute leadership from the headteacher is crucial to improving schools that require improvement. Those headteachers with a successful track record of leading schools from being judged ‘satisfactory’ to becoming good or better, share some common leadership characteristics. They are absolutely clear that improving teaching and learning is at the heart of what needs to be done, they communicate their high expectations of staff and pupils effectively, and they lead by example, modelling the behaviour they want from their staff.
These heads refuse to be distracted from their core purpose of school improvement and take decisive steps to ensure that their vision is not compromised by weak teaching or poor leadership within the school. No excuse for mediocrity is acceptable. They will accept nothing less than good behaviour from all pupils. They are not afraid to hold challenging conversations which often lead to staff leaving schools. Typically these headteachers take a more didactic approach while they first build the leadership capacity of senior and middle leaders within their school, including governors.
Often headteachers charged with improving schools previously judged satisfactory had inherited systems that were not fit for purpose. Too often the curriculum was a ‘one size fits all’ model which did not meet the needs of all the pupils. Performance management procedures frequently lacked impact. Where schools have remained stubbornly satisfactory it is fundamentally because the actions taken by leaders have insufficient impact on driving up the quality of teaching.
Headteachers in improving schools know that to build capacity and sustain improvement they need robust management systems to hold staff to account for their leadership and teaching. For example, they use close measuring and tracking of pupils’ progress and monitoring and evaluation procedures that are sharply focused on their priorities for improvement.
These heads also build up the effectiveness of their own governing bodies, often from a position of relative weakness so they become equipped to hold the school’s leaders to account and influence the strategic development of the school. Building up capacity and shared ambition in this way means headteachers can move away from a strongly didactic approach when the school has the capacity to sustain and build on its improvement. The staff in the schools visited in this survey had a ‘can do’ approach and genuinely shared responsibility for improvement; no one is making excuses for poor pupil outcomes any more.
Getting started: raising expectations
Headteachers demonstrated professional courage by giving difficult messages unequivocally; they implemented non-negotiable actions early on… All the headteachers identified non-negotiable behaviour that they expected from staff in order to promote consistency.
Communicating the vision
- It was primarily the headteachers who drove improvement in the schools visited in this survey. Of the 12 schools visited, 11 had appointed a new headteacher no more than two years prior to the previous inspection where the school was judged satisfactory. There were some strong shared themes in their vision for improving their schools. They:
- insisted that all pupils could achieve highly regardless of background
- established a non-negotiable requirement for good teaching; satisfactory teaching was not good enough
- accepted nothing less than good behaviour from pupils
- expected teachers and leaders to improve their work and to be responsible for their own development
- changed the curriculum so that it met the needs of all pupils.
Strengthening the environment for improvement
2. Headteachers established an effective senior leadership team with the right skills and attitude to drive improvement. In seven of the schools visited this resulted in senior staff leaving the school and being replaced.
3. They issued explicit guidelines on what constitutes good teaching and learning. In the early stages inadequate teaching was identified and headteachers were rigorous in eradicating it. This often resulted in the weakest teachers leaving. However, in all the schools visited there were teachers whose practice had previously been weak who had risen to the challenge and were now teaching good or better lessons.
“In one school visited, the first priority was to rapidly improve the quality of teaching and learning because of the very low attainment of pupils when they left the school. The school is situated in one of the 10% most deprived boroughs in the country. Little was expected of pupils from the school community. The headteacher quickly established with staff and governors that this was totally unacceptable. The governing body were enthused by her vision for the school, but needed training and support to fulfil their role. The biggest challenge was for the teaching staff and school leaders. non-negotiable expectations of teaching and learning was established. Leadership at all levels was inconsistent at the time so it was necessary to take a didactic approach. Teachers found it uncomfortable, but it had the desired impact of rapidly improving the pupils’ education. Monitoring and evaluation procedures were relentless in ensuring that all staff complied consistently with the requirements to improve learning. Performance management procedures were rapidly strengthened so that staff were rigorously held to account for their work. For some this was unwelcome and following challenging conversations they left the school.”
4. Headteachers and senior leaders led by example. They demonstrated how they wanted inappropriate behaviour dealt with and raised expectations among pupils of how to behave.
5. The physical environment was improved. In six schools visited improving the environment for learning for teachers and pupils had reinforced for staff that although they were in a very challenging situation, they were valued.
6. In all the schools visited the headteacher changed the way staff and governors worked to ensure greater focus on the school’s core purpose of improving teaching and learning and raising standards. In five schools the nature of staff meetings was changed so that they focused on developing teaching, where previously they had dealt with routine management issues. Headteachers also found ways of devolving the management of other issues such as finances so that they had more time to focus on the leadership of teaching and learning.
7 The leaders of these schools were not afraid to hold challenging conversations to ensure that high expectations were not compromised by weaknesses in the performance and the attitude of staff. In all cases this approach led to changes in attitudes across the whole school over time.
See also: Sustaining improvement: the journey from special measures (070221), Ofsted, 2008; www.ofsted.gov.uk/resources/070221.
18. In seven schools visited governance had previously been weak because governing bodies did not hold school leaders to account or effectively monitor the work of the school. They had been content to take the word of the headteacher at face value, or had not been sufficiently well trained to know the questions they should be asking. As one headteacher reported, ‘In the early stages I had to model the questions that the governors could ask. Following my headteacher’s report I would say, ‘‘Now you might want to question me about this.’’ I would then give them questions that they should ask.’
19. In 11 of the 12 schools visited the headteacher reported that governors are now much better trained to ask challenging questions; in five schools they were described as being at the helm of strategic development. In all schools visited the governing body actively took part in monitoring and evaluation activities. They all took full responsibility for procedures such as recruitment, staff capability and finance so that the headteacher was able to spend more time on leading teaching and learning. At the last inspection governance was judged good in 10 schools and outstanding in two schools. The following were common steps taken to strengthen governance.
- Headteachers, supported by local authorities ensured that all governors were fully committed to the role. In some cases this led to individual governors deciding to resign.
- Governors embarked on structured training programmes, often provided by the local authority, to strengthen their role.
- Partnerships between governing bodies from different schools were established to share good practice.
- Governing bodies worked alongside headteachers on school improvement. Usually they were allocated specific aspects of school improvement to check and report on.
“In 2008 the governing body in this primary school needed to improve its monitoring and challenge of this school. Since then governors have been actively recruited for their specific and relevant skills. Members of the governing body are linked to cohorts of pupils and follow them through the school. Every governor visits the school regularly to observe lessons. In this way governors have a deep understanding of the performance of individual year groups and their challenges. For example, as a result of a series of visits to the Early Years Foundation Stage, funds were made available to improve outdoor provision. Governors’ roles are reviewed annually which ensures that members of the governing body add to their skill set and give a fresh eye to a new responsibility. Governors have been trained in the use of assessment tracking data to ensure they can ask challenging questions of school performance.”
“In a secondary school, the governing body presents an excellent model of governance, having previously been inadequate. The chair of governors describes that judgement as a ‘wake-up call’. One important step taken was to strengthen the leadership of the governing body. The local authority co-opted a highly experienced school governor who led by example and taught other governors what their role was and how business should be conducted. The chair of governors and headteacher modelled for governors the questions they should be asking to hold the school to account for its work. Governors also benefited from training and support from the local authority that equipped them with the knowledge and skills to carry out the role effectively.
Now governors have very high expectations of themselves. They are linked closely to departments and direct and plan which leaders will report to them on improvements to teaching and learning. School leaders have quickly learnt that these meetings are demanding and that they must come well prepared with the evidence to back up any assertions about school improvement. Middle leaders appreciate how much governance has strengthened. They welcome governors’ greater visibility around the school and the effective challenge and support they offer.”
Read the full report here: http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/resources/getting-good-how-headteachers-achieve-success