Have we gone as far as we can go with measuring?

14/07/2017 16:19:16 | with 1 comments

This week the Department for Education published “Defining and collecting metrics on the quality of school governance: a feasibility study”. Although it is dated July 2017, it was written about a year ago. We at the National Governance Association were very pleased to be working with the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) on this study, the objectives of which were to:

  • establish a set of criteria which, when combined, indicate whether a governing board is effective
  • assess the quality of governance in a sample of schools of varying types by means of an External Review of Governance (ERG)
  • compare the results of the ERG and survey in order to test whether the survey accurately measured the quality of governance

For those of you who want to know the details, there is a lovely flow chart on p10. But let’s cut to the chase: is it feasible? The answer the study came to is maybe.The nine metrics developed could not be used as they were. It would take rather a lot more work to further investigate whether the surveys (completed by the head and the chair) could be brought nearer to the result of the ERGs. It is perhaps unsurprising that the metric which aligned least well with the heads’ and chairs’ views was the one called ‘cohesion’: this was the nearest we had to one which looked at behaviours: how well does the governing board work as a team? 

Commitment, especially in hard times, is perhaps not always acknowledged enough; the hard graft and persistence needed to govern well is often underplayed, and we wouldn’t want that to disappear further by the application of metrics which don’t appreciate that contribution. Human relationships are of course at the heart of governance, and without seeing those in action, it can be difficult to definitively judge the quality of governance. Can our metrics capture the art of asking the penetrating question, sometimes that simple question at the right time?

We absolutely understand why the DfE wanted to know if this could be done. None of us know how well we are doing on school governance across the country. I suspect governance is generally improving, a hunch based on the day-in-day-out contact NGA has with those governing; but then when we come across a very dysfunctional governing board, as we do sometimes, my confidence is slightly shaken. We know there’s a range of quality amongst our 21 thousand state schools, but not where the median or mode is. That was one of the reasons why, way back when, we argued for the governance score to be retained separately within leadership and management judgement by Ofsted. (There then might have to be debate about how good all inspectors would be at rating governance in the short time they have, but this is largely academic for now). 

Given the limited resources available for research and for supporting governance, if I were the minister responsible for signing off further work, I am sure I could find better ways to spend the money: suggestions on a post card please (i.e comments below). What governance research or development would be your priority?

In the next academic year, we are planning to have another go at expanding the range of measures that governing boards use to check that their schools are progressing in the right direction, not just slavishly following the official performance measures, but measuring – and thus taking note and awarding importance to – those other things that we value about the education being offered and the development of children receiving it. If you want to know more or get involved, contact shelby.roberts@nga.org.uk

Having said that, I don’t want NGA to be contributing to our society’s obsession with measurement. How often do we ask each other what works, what has impact? Of course we want to make sure our efforts are worthwhile, that pupils are flourishing, but perhaps the pendulum needs to swing back a little now to value judgements, both professional judgement and the collective wisdom which comes from having our governing boards of “twelve good people and true”.