One of the oft-repeated requests to NGA consultants is for guidance on what the headteacher’s report should look like. So much so that we have considered putting together a template. But at the end of the day, like so much to do with governance, reducing the key reporting document for any governing board to a template would not do justice to any headteacher, governor or board.
When we carry out external reviews of governance, an aspect of our framework includes looking at the documents that the governing board requests and receives. We know from this scrutiny that headteacher reports differ wildly in content and form. Some are three pages long, some 30, others 60+. Many still cover operational matters in extensive detail; some list things such as visitors to the school and topics covered in assemblies; some report on sporting achievements and music and drama performances. Many report on standards, though often in a random manner which makes it hard to see if children are on track, let alone to spot trends. Very few report on progress being made towards delivering the agreed strategy for school improvement.
When a governing board agrees its vision, the priorities identified for achieving that vision constitute the strategy. For example, it would be unusual for a school’s vision not to include the ambition for its pupils to achieve more, both in terms of attainment and progress.
Ideally, some headline targets for reaching this ambition will have been set, and progress towards achieving these targets should form the cornerstone of the head’s termly report, along with supporting data to evidence the judgements being made on progress. This should be repeated for the limited number of key priorities which form the strategy. Because the priorities will have taken account of the context in which the school is operating, any changes to the context (e.g. numbers on roll or unexpected staff changes) need to be reported as this may mean some timely adjustment to the strategy and supporting plans.
Any strategy will need to be resourced, so the head’s report needs to include details of the agreed budget. It is important to know whether actual expenditure matches the budget plan, and if forecasts for day to day running expenses are accurate, as well as if costs for specific improvements or interventions are adequate. Likewise, knowing that the staffing structure is working well, with happy staff who are getting better at their jobs, and who are driving up performance, is crucial for sustained school improvement.
There will be a range of other issues that heads will need to report on. These may concern compliance with key policies such as safeguarding and issues around premises, health and safety. The amount of detail needs to be agreed, but termly reports of, for example, incidents of bullying are pretty meaningless unless they are contextualised with trends for, say, the last three years.
We know that governors are generally quite comfortable dealing with these aspects of governance – ensuring compliance is more straightforward than tracking progress on the key priorities – but these aspects should not take up too much time, and many can be reported on a pro-forma basis, perhaps appended to the main report. The advantage of pro-forma reporting is that governors get used to seeing information in a consistent format which makes it easy to spot key issues and trends.
So where does the operational school improvement plan fit in? This plan goes into the detail of how these headline targets will be met. It may include new planning systems, more detailed assessment, specific programmes for children who are falling behind and focused CPD for staff – all of which should have a responsible person, a time for delivery, and expected outcomes. But because it is an operational plan, the detail is beyond the scope of governance. Once there is a school strategy in place with SMART targets (see Governing Matters Nov/Dec 2014, p.38), there will no longer be a need for the governing board to see the full operational plan, often termed the SIP, SDP or SIDP.