Supporting governors to fulfil their role more effectively

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Ysgol Gynradd Bontnewydd developed a training programme for its governors that equipped them with the knowledge and skills needed to better fulfil their role.

Number of learners: 179
Age range: 3 - 11
Date of inspection: February 2017

Information about the school

Ysgol Gynradd Bontnewydd is situated approximately two miles from the town of Caernarfon in Gwynedd.  The school serves the village and the surrounding area, including the villages of Caeathro and Llanfaglan.  It provides education for pupils between 3 and 11 years old.  Welsh is the school’s everyday language and the main medium of learning and teaching.  English is taught formally in key stage 2.  Approximately 75% of pupils come from Welsh-speaking homes, and very few pupils are from ethnic minority backgrounds.  Children are admitted to the school on a full-time basis during the term in which they celebrate their fourth birthday.  There are 179 pupils on roll, including 21 in the nursery class, and they are divided into seven mixed-age classes.

Approximately 3% of pupils are eligible for free school meals, which is significantly lower than the national average.  Twenty per cent (20%) of pupils are on the school’s additional learning needs register.  These figures are lower than the percentages for Wales.  Six pupils have a statement of special educational needs.  A special educational needs unit is situated on the school grounds, and pupils from the unit integrate with the mainstream for specific periods during the week. 

The headteacher and deputy headteacher were appointed in September 2009.

Context and background to sector-leading practice

The role of the governing body was judged to be excellent during the school inspection in February 2017.  The school’s journey to attain this standard has been gradual over a period of time.

Following the appointment of a new management team in 2009, a need was identified to develop a new framework to support the governing body to enable them to fulfil their functions more effectively.  The vision that was delivered by the headteacher was based on the principles of joint ownership, joint working and high-level participation.  It became apparent that there was a need to provide training in several areas for staff and members of the governing body, and that the capacity of the management team would need to be increased to include all of the school’s teachers in the training team.

The whole process was based on the principle of ‘learning together’ at all levels – between pupils; pupils and staff; staff and the governing body – by using mentoring methods as the main medium of training.

A training programme was devised to be completed over a period of three years.  The aim was to equip governors with the knowledge and skills necessary for them to be able to better fulfil their role as critical friends.  The school focused on providing training on data analysis, self-evaluation and producing priorities for improvement.

A description of the nature of the strategy or activity

An operational programme was devised, which included a year of detailed focus on developing staff’s skills in data analysis, self-evaluation and planning for improvement.  By the second year of the plan, the school’s training capacity had developed significantly.  A decision was made to develop specific aspects of training each term over a period of two years.  During the autumn term, the main focus of training was data analysis.  During the spring terms, priority was given to training on self-evaluation, followed by improvement planning during the summer terms.

Each governor had a curricular responsibility at the beginning, for a period of two years, and each worked in a pair with the subject or area co-ordinator.  Each pair co-operated to analyse data in their specific area and collate the main messages in a brief report.  An analytical tool was provided with a writing frame.  The co-ordinators’ responsibility was to share the analysis with the remainder of the teaching staff in a staff meeting, and the governors’ responsibility was to share the analysis with the rest of the governing body.  These reports, in addition to the headteacher’s more detailed analysis, formed the annual report on standards.  By the second year of operation, the governors’ analyses had been refined to include specific lines to be followed, for example the relationship between the attendance rates of boys in Year 2 and achievement at Outcome 6 in the Foundation Phase.

As a result, the confidence of co-ordinators and governors has increased significantly and they are now able to analyse data completely independently and present detailed reports to feed into the annual report on standards.

During the spring term, one governor and one co-ordinator join together in individual learning think tanks.  During these meetings, governors are given an opportunity to ask about developments within the subjects, and co-ordinators are given an opportunity to share the results of their priorities for action.  These meetings include scrutinising schemes of work, relating the requirements of the literacy and numeracy frameworks to the subject, and an opportunity to undertake learning walks, including observing teachers and learners as they work.  Governors and co-ordinators value the opportunity to work together, and governors have noted in particular the value of the exercise not only in deepening their knowledge of standards within their subject, but also in seeing the overall standards of learning and teaching on the classroom floor; the school’s assessment methods in practice; learners’ participation in learning; the support that is given to learners with additional learning needs and levels of inclusion within the school.

As a result of these activities, learning think tanks are a key part of the school’s self-evaluation calendar, and ensure that the governors have full input in the process.
Within their pairs, governors and co-ordinators also scrutinise learners’ work.  These sessions include training on learners’ achievement and progress over time, in addition to training on robust self-evaluation principles, including specific mentoring when writing incisive and quantitative self-evaluation reports.  Governors praise this working method, as it helps them to relate the standards on the classroom floor to performance data.

In order to ensure that governors’ knowledge was not limited to one subject, several ‘speed dating’ sessions were conducted.  The purpose of these sessions was to give governors an opportunity to gain a great deal of general knowledge across a range of areas in a short period of time.  These sessions were facilitated by the school’s staff, and short, individual face-to-face think tanks were conducted to present information or answer queries.  As the previous training process had been so successful, the questions were probing and governors succeeded in expanding their knowledge across a number of important areas.

Over the last three years, all of these practices have become established and have matured.  As a result, the governing body has succeeded in fulfilling its role as a critical friend with much more confidence, understanding and insight.  The governing body has developed to become innovative and it now plans its developing programme with increased ownership.  New governors are inducted quickly to these processes in small group sessions.  The school takes pride in the quality of co-operation between staff and governors; stakeholders’ ownership in developing the school’s strategic direction; and high-level participation in order to ensure improvement.

What effect has this work had on provision and learners’ standards?

These developments have ensured that agreed strategic priorities derive from information from first-hand evaluation evidence.  The governing body has a long-term vision of what needs to be developed within the school.  They are very aware of the challenges that the school faces and that informs performance data.  They are very aware of where there is excellence within the school and the areas that need to be developed further.  This has led to producing a robust school action plan with a focus on learners’ needs.  The governing body ensures that the school’s time and resources are used appropriately in order to raise standards and ensure pupils’ wellbeing.

The process of developing joint ownership staff and governor mentoring has realised the vision of ensuring a high level of stakeholder participation, and the learning journey continues.

How have you shared your good practice?

The school has shared good practice with a number of schools in the county through the GwE ‘Challenge and Support Programme’.  This process of sharing and leading included mentoring groups of headteachers over a period of time, so that they could emulate this practice in their own schools.