Release date: 20/03/2020

The role that good governance plays in ensuring schools deliver a high standard of education is not consistently being recognised by Ofsted, with simplistic reports and instances of rushed inspections leading to a decrease in visibility of governance in an otherwise well-received process, a report from the National Governance Association (NGA) exploring how governance is recognised in the new education inspection framework concludes.

While those governing have a largely favourable view of the aims and focus of the new framework, numerous boards who shared their experience with NGA reported that their inspection was rushed with inspectors expected to cover a huge amount of work in a short space of time. As a result, governance is increasingly sidelined within the inspection process and subsequent report. A notable number of respondents also highlighted how the ‘deep dive’ nature of the inspection meant that some sections of staff in their school felt the inspection process had no bearing on their own department, and so could not be viewed as a school wide judgement.

In changing the format of the inspection report to meet the perceived needs of parents, an official public record of substantial feedback which can be used by those governing and executive leaders for school improvement is no longer available. Flexibility afforded to inspectors to mention governance in reports “if appropriate” has also led to a sharp reduction in meaningful references. Compared to reports under the previous framework, the new format does not contain a consistent or distinctive overview of governance that sets out what is working well and what needs to be improved. Over a third (34%) of reports scrutinised did not mention any of the terms ‘governance’/‘governor’/‘trustee’ at all. Where mentions were given in the remaining 66%, these largely conflated governance with executive leadership; referred to one specific governor/ trustee in relation to one area rather than the effectiveness of the whole board; and offered no indication of whether governance was strong or weak.

NGA is calling on Ofsted to review the format of reports to either return to a discrete paragraph on the quality of governance or alternatively produce a separate report for those with oversight of the school.

Attendance at the feedback meeting is now the main way in which governors/trustees gain a full picture of the findings to help them deliver oversight of the school. 83% of those who said that they attended the meeting found it valuable in understanding the improvements that should be made and to identify where inspectors gathered evidence that supported their judgements. Although most respondents stated that they already knew much of what they were told about the school’s strengths and areas for improvement, 79% were satisfied with the feedback meeting. Just 7% of respondents said the meeting was recorded by an independent clerk with 35% saying notes were taken by a member of staff who may act as clerk and 23% by a governor/trustee. Governing boards are reminded that the feedback meeting can be clerked and that there is no reason why the clerk should not also be involved in the earlier substantive meeting with the inspector.

Almost half (48%) of boards feeding back to NGA said that the inspection had not helped them at all in terms of improving governance, with just 17% saying it had helped to a great extent. In terms of overall usefulness, 63% said that the inspection had helped the board to understand the strengths of the school and 23% respondents said it had helped them to understand the school’s weaknesses. 72% said the inspection had to some extent helped their school develop an improvement plan.

NGA’s report also details how inspectors examined that the three core functions of governance were being carried out and how this information was relayed in the reports. It explores how governance was linked by inspectors to areas including internal data, staff workload and wellbeing and the curriculum too.

The report’s findings and recommendations are drawn from feedback submitted to NGA by 132 governing boards and an analysis of 844 Ofsted reports released between September 2019 and January 2020.

Sam Henson, director of policy and information at the National Governance Association comments: “On the whole the new framework has been positively received by those governing, but its potential in recognising the role of  governance and contributing to its improvement is limited by a lack of consistency and usefulness – both in the inspection process and report. Despite reassurances that changes to the inspection report would not reduce emphasis on governance, our evidence points to the contrary. Since the launch of our Visible Governance campaign, which has been warmly welcomed by the governance community, we are concerned that the new EIF has rendered governance less visible with the new process, albeit unintentionally. This can be rectified, and we are grateful to have a constructive and ongoing dialogue with Ofsted about how improvements which will benefit those governing and other stakeholders can be made. NGA has been keen to stress the key role governing boards need to play both in ensuring a broad and balanced curriculum and the inspection process itself.”

Read 'A view from the board: Ofsted’s new Education Inspection Framework'

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