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Evaluation article: Know your strengths Evaluation article: Developing an ethos of high expectation Achieving an ‘Outstanding’ Grade: Focused on Excellence Evaluation article: HR and the successful school: A case study Evaluation article: Leading the way to outstanding learner progress Evaluation article: Attainment and progress: The Rochford Review Evaluation article: How to create a leadership team that drives school improvement Evaluation article: Prioritising the budget for school improvement Evaluation article: Transforming a failing school Evaluation article: Evaluating alternative and specially resourced provision Evaluation article: Taking a school-wide approach to mental health and wellbeing Evaluation article: The latest developments in education - January 2016 Evaluation article: Managing uncertainty Evaluation article: Pupil voice as an evaluation technique Evaluation article: The latest developments in education - September 2016 Evaluation article: Deconstructing Ofsted: Reflection after inspection Evaluation article: MAT expansion: Don’t let school improvement become a casualty Evaluation article: Ten rules for outstanding leaders Evaluation article: The governing body as a critical friend Evaluation article: Developing an ethos of high expectations Evaluation article: The exam post-mortem Evaluation article: Safeguarding: Everyone’s responsibility Evaluation article: How do inspectors make the judgement about overall effectiveness? The Ofsted model Evaluation article: Effective leadership builds effective teams Evaluation article: Baseline assessment and SEND Evaluation article: Making performance management count in school improvement Evaluation article: Joining or setting up a multi-academy trust Evaluation article: Case study from Carlton Bolling College: Ensuring high-quality governance Evaluation article: Using pupil voice to support school evaluation Evaluation article: What are the signs of a good school improvement service adviser? Evaluation article: Headteachers’ appraisal Evaluation article: Making CPD work harder Evaluation article: Using the Framework for governance Evaluation article: Interpreting the inspection dashboard Evaluation article: The government's Prevent guidance Evaluation article: Improving provision for the most able Evaluation article: Personal development, behaviour and welfare Evaluation article: Is there a mental health crisis in our schools? Evaluation article: Evaluating the effectiveness of assessment Evaluation article: Raising boys’ achievement Evaluation article: National standards of excellence for headteachers Evaluation article: Governors and the inspection interview Evaluation article: Monitoring and coaching through lesson observation Evaluation article: CPD: Less measurement and more development Evaluation article: Challenging 
the most able Evaluation article: Using the teachers’ standards as a framework for CPD and accountability Evaluation article: Managing behaviour outside the classroom Evaluation article: Managing pupils’ behaviour in lessons Evaluation article: Keeping Children Safe Statutory Guidance Evaluation article: Four steps to school improvement Evaluation article: Finding a way through the jungle: The essence of leadership Evaluation article: How to audit your whole-school literacy provision Evaluation article: Professional development: the growing case for evidence Evaluation article: Getting personal  with CPD Evaluation article: Making performance appraisal an objective and helpful process Evaluation article: Parent View — an update Evaluation article: Raising pupil achievement through parental engagement: a practical approach Evaluation article: Effective parental engagement

Evaluation article: Know your strengths

Can you make inspection an enriching learning process that is actually good for your school? Heather Clements of Best Practice Network offers some advice. 

Evaluation article: Developing an ethos of high expectation

In this article, Steve Burnage shares some practical strategies to enable school leaders to develop an ethos of high expectation in their schools. 

Achieving an ‘Outstanding’ Grade: Focused on Excellence

Tony Powell outlines a step-by-step approach to support schools in achieving the accolade of ‘outstanding’ as defined by Ofsted.

Evaluation article: HR and the successful school: A case study

Adrian Kneeshaw, Headteacher of Carlton Bolling College, gives a personal viewpoint of the benefits of bringing in the experts.

Evaluation article: Leading the way to outstanding learner progress

Steve Burnage discusses engaging with good practice in the leadership of teaching and learning.

Evaluation article: Attainment and progress: The Rochford Review

Tony Powell reports on the findings of the final Rochford Review.

Evaluation article: How to create a leadership team that drives school improvement

A high-performing leadership team is at the centre of any school improvement mission. But how do you go about creating an excellent SLT? Colin McLean of Best Practice Network asks…

Evaluation article: Prioritising the budget for school improvement

Adrian Kneeshaw of Carlton Bolling school gives advice on how to focus school spending on improvement planning.

Evaluation article: Transforming a failing school

Matt Bromley offers some advice on turning around an underperforming school in a short space of time while laying down the foundations for sustainable improvement.

Evaluation article: Evaluating alternative and specially resourced provision

Tony Powell explains how inspectors gather evidence and make judgements on the quality of alternative and specially resourced provision.

Evaluation article: Taking a school-wide approach to mental health and wellbeing

With concerns about mental health rising, what can schools do to help their pupils? Suzanne O’Connell outlines the advice available from the National Children’s Bureau and how it might be…

Evaluation article: The latest developments in education - January 2016

Suzanne O’Connell provides a look at what’s currently being discussed, debated and determined in the world of education.

Evaluation article: Managing uncertainty

If you are struggling with a sense of uncertainty, be reassured: you are not alone. 2016 has been a year of upheaval, with the promise of big changes on the…

Evaluation article: Pupil voice as an evaluation technique

Tony Powell provides guidance on how to use discussion with pupils as a tool for self-evaluation.

Evaluation article: The latest developments in education - September 2016

Suzanne O’Connell provides a look at what’s currently being discussed, debated and determined in the world of education.

Evaluation article: Deconstructing Ofsted: Reflection after inspection

Tony Powell looks at how to use the feedback from your inspection in school improvement planning.

Evaluation article: MAT expansion: Don’t let school improvement become a casualty

How can an expanding multi-academy trust ensure that school improvement doesn’t become a casualty of change? Colin McLean of Best Practice Network looks at the issue and offers some guidance.

Evaluation article: Ten rules for outstanding leaders

Adrian Kneeshaw looks at how leadership is important to the success of the school, and how to lead effectively.

Evaluation article: The governing body as a critical friend

In his second article on the headteacher and governor relationship, Tony Powell defines what is meant by a ‘critical friend’.

Evaluation article: Developing an ethos of high expectations

Steve Burnage shares some practical strategies to enable school leaders to develop an ethos of high expectations in their schools.

Evaluation article: The exam post-mortem

Matt Bromley considers how schools can learn from exam performance data and build this into school improvement.

Evaluation article: Safeguarding: Everyone’s responsibility

With new safeguarding guidance released, it’s time to check your arrangements and update your staff.

Evaluation article: How do inspectors make the judgement about overall effectiveness? The Ofsted model

This article outlines the Ofsted methodology for determining whether a school is ‘outstanding’, ‘good’, ‘requires improvement’ or ‘inadequate’.

Evaluation article: Effective leadership builds effective teams

Steve Burnage offers advice on motivating staff, getting the best from them and building effective teams.

Evaluation article: Baseline assessment and SEND

Suzanne O’Connell looks at a report on baseline assessment in primary schools and it’s affect on identifying children with SEND.

Evaluation article: Making performance management count in school improvement

What do you need to do to make performance management a watertight process that makes a real contribution to school improvement? Keith Wright has some suggestions.

Evaluation article: Joining or setting up a multi-academy trust

Tony Stephens, of the Co-operative Academies Trust, looks at what is the best type of multi-academy trust for a school to join or establish.

Evaluation article: Case study from Carlton Bolling College: Ensuring high-quality governance

Adrian Kneeshaw, Headteacher of Carlton Bolling, gives a personal take on renewing a failing governing body having designed and built one from scratch.

Evaluation article: Using pupil voice to support school evaluation

David Birch explains how capturing the views of students can sharpen school self-evaluation and have a positive impact on your school improvement strategies.

Evaluation article: What are the signs of a good school improvement service adviser?

Frank Norris offers advice on how to choose the most appropriate school improvement partner to work with your school.

Evaluation article: Headteachers’ appraisal

David Birch outlines best practice in the management of the headteacher appraisal process and offers advice for headteachers on how to make the most of appraisal in their own professional development.

Evaluation article: Making CPD work harder

Professional development is a crucial factor in school improvement and improving pupil outcomes, but it could work harder, says Keith Wright.

Evaluation article: Using the Framework for governance

Tony Powell looks at how the Framework for governance can be used to clarify the strategic direction of your school.

Evaluation article: Interpreting the inspection dashboard

There is a new inspection dashboard to go with Ofsted's new Common inspection framework. Tony Powell explains how it can be used.

Evaluation article: The government's Prevent guidance

Suzanne O'Connell considers the guidance available regarding Prevent and school leaders' responsibilities.

Evaluation article: Improving provision for the most able

Ofsted reports are making it clear. The DfE wants to see secondary schools challenging their most able students. In this article, Suzanne O’Connell summarises the criticisms and recommendations from ‘The…

Evaluation article: Personal development, behaviour and welfare

Tony Powell looks at the new key area ‘personal development, behaviour and welfare’ under the new Ofsted inspection framework.

Evaluation article: Is there a mental health crisis in our schools?

The mental health of children and young people is at the top of the agenda at the moment. Increased anxiety, self-harm and eating disorders are bringing some schools to crisis…

Evaluation article: Evaluating the effectiveness of assessment

Tony Powell interprets government guidance on assessment to help schools support self-evaluation.

Evaluation article: Raising boys’ achievement

John Viner looks at research into boys’ underachievement and reviews some successful strategies.

Evaluation article: National standards of excellence for headteachers

Tony Powell looks at the revised national standards for headteachers and how they should be used by schools.

Evaluation article: Governors and the inspection interview

Tony Powell discusses how to prepare governors in advance for an inspection interview.

Evaluation article: Monitoring and coaching through lesson observation

John Viner explores ways to develop a culture of continual improvement in teaching through lesson observation.

Evaluation article: CPD: Less measurement and more development

How can schools translate CPD into genuine improvement for staff? Keith Wright asked leaders to share their views, and discovered an emerging consensus about which approaches work best.

Evaluation article: Challenging 
the most able

Tony Powell looks at how to identify the most able pupils, and the key factors that enable the brightest pupils to achieve.

Evaluation article: Using the teachers’ standards as a framework for CPD and accountability

Tony Powell looks at how the teachers’ standards can be used to evaluate performance and support improvement.

Evaluation article: Managing behaviour outside the classroom

Since January 2014 there has been increased emphasis on the behaviour of pupils. In this article, Jim Donnelly offers advice on managing behaviour around the school.

Evaluation article: Managing pupils’ behaviour in lessons

David Birch offers advice on effective classroom management and argues that effective practice relies on a combination of the consistent application of agreed policy and the development of awareness and…

Evaluation article: Keeping Children Safe Statutory Guidance

This is statutory guidance, which means that schools and colleges (including academies and free schools) must have regard to it. It contains what schools should do and what they must…

Evaluation article: Four steps to school improvement

School improvement is a complex recipe that takes time to perfect. Keith Wright looks at some of the key barriers to school improvement and suggests strategies and systems to overcome…

Evaluation article: Finding a way through the jungle: The essence of leadership

Louise Wingrove gives practical advice on how to become a leader your team will want to follow.

Evaluation article: How to audit your whole-school literacy provision

Given that whole-school literacy is central to raising standards of achievement in schools and that it is a key focus for Ofsted, David Birch outlines some of the actions schools…

Evaluation article: Professional development: the growing case for evidence

Teachers are good at gathering evidence of pupil progress, but many find it difficult to do the same with regard to their own professional development.  Keith Wright looks at the…

Evaluation article: Getting personal with CPD

Less than a fifth of teachers in England’s schools think their continuing profession development (CPD) is any good, according to a recent survey. One of the keys to unlocking the…

Evaluation article: Making performance appraisal an objective and helpful process

Performance appraisal is crucial to school improvement, but many schools are still without a rigorous and transparent way of carrying it out, says Keith Wright. Here, he analyses the challenges…

Evaluation article: Parent View — an update

Jenny Townsend looks at the importance of Parent View in achieving an outstanding rating in inspection, and how comments from parents are used by Ofsted.

Evaluation article: Raising pupil achievement through parental engagement: a practical approach

Jenny Townsend explores how parental engagement can contribute to school improvement and in particular the role this can play in raising pupil achievement levels.

Evaluation article: Effective parental engagement

Ofsted’s Parent View means that parents have a direct influence on the decision to inspect. Jenny Townsend examines why this matters to schools.

Evaluation article: The governing body as a critical friend

Published: Tuesday, 20 September 2016

In his second article on the headteacher and governor relationship, Tony Powell defines what is meant by a ‘critical friend’.

Summary

  • Governors and headteachers should be working towards the same goal and be mutually supportive.
  • Governors should act as a sounding board and offer a critique that encourages and enables the headteacher to improve educational provision and raise standards. 
  • The mission statement should identify the distinctive characteristics and purposes of the school and define the long-term aims for all stakeholders. 
  • The NGA recommends that governing bodies should adopt a code of conduct that sets out the expectations placed on governors.

Our education system is undergoing rapid and fundamental change. This is particularly so in the expectations of governing bodies and their role in different leadership and management structures, such as academies and free schools, and the proliferation of groupings of schools, such as academies and multi-academy trusts (MATs). At the time of writing, the Secretary of State has withdrawn the policy of coercing all schools to become academies, while retaining it as a government priority. 

Little wonder that governors are confused as to the proper working relationship between themselves and headteachers/senior leaders. Should they be trusting (and gullible) or constantly suspicious? There is lots of external guidance; probably the best is provided by The National Governors’ Association (NGA) in two of their publications:

  • A Framework for Governance: A flexible guide to strategic planning 
  • What governing boards should expect from school leaders and what school leaders should expect from governing boards.

If a headteacher is abusing his or her authority or is incompetent, the governing body has a duty to act decisively to protect staff and pupils. However, this is rare and the relationship frequently advocated, but not often defined, is that of ‘critical friend’. This article attempts to set out a commonsense way of retaining the ‘friend’ as well as the ‘critical’ so that governors and headteachers can work together towards their shared aims of improving educational provision for the children in their school community. 

Defining ‘critical friend’

There are many connotations to the word ‘friend’, but there is a common understanding that the term means to be on the same side, to be well disposed towards each other and not hostile. So, governors and the headteacher as ‘friends’ are working towards the same ends and are mutually supportive. It should follow that the critical aspect is about acting as a sounding board and offering a critique that encourages and enables the headteacher to improve educational provision and raise standards, rather than simply offering negative comments. 

Headteachers and governing bodies should spend time defining the context for their relationship and their mutual aims so that they have the confidence to act as mutual ‘critical friends’. Outlined below is one way they could do this.

Mission statement

If the school’s mission statement identifies the distinctive characteristics and purposes of the school, it defines the long-term aims for all stakeholders. It is worth spending time creating a shared mission statement and reviewing it regularly so that it serves as the strategic direction of the school for senior leaders and governors. For example, if the mission statement is: ‘Excellence in the heart of the community’, what sort of questions should governors ask when discussing policies?  To be meaningful, the mission statement should impact on the life of the school, and it is worth asking for examples of this. 

Code of conduct

The NGA recommends that each governing board should adopt a code of conduct. The code would set out the expectations placed on governors and include a commitment to the seven principles of public life as set out by Lord Nolan. Such a code would make it clear to all governors and senior leaders what their responsibilities are and give a moral context for carrying them out.

The NGA model code defines the core functions of the governing body as follows.

Establishing the strategic direction, by:

  • setting the vision, values and objectives for the school
  • agreeing the school improvement strategy with priorities and targets
  • meeting statutory duties.

Ensuring accountability, by:

  • appointing the headteacher
  • monitoring progress towards targets
  • performance managing the headteacher 
  • engaging with stakeholders
  • contributing to school self-evaluation.

Ensuring financial probity, by:

  • setting the budget
  • monitoring spending against the budget
  • ensuring that value for money is obtained
  • ensuring that risks to the organisation are managed.

Policies

The mission statement defines the strategic direction and the code of conduct provides the moral context. A policy is a set course of action. No governor can be in the school every minute of the day, so policies are expectations of what will happen in a given circumstance. Any school will have a wide range of policies covering all aspects of its work and it will be impossible for any governor to be familiar with them all. Being a critical friend means making it clear that governors expect policies to be followed.

Self-evaluation and school improvement cycle

The self-evaluation and school improvement cycle should be matched to the constitution and procedures of the governing body and the yearly timetable for meetings. The aim should be to ensure that governors receive all the information they need to carry out their responsibilities as set out in the code of conduct. The Clerk to the Governors should use the cycle to map out the various agendas across the year.

For example, if a headteacher wished to hide poor results he or she could do so by failing to present data to the governing body. The self-evaluation cycle should list the dates for all internal and external data sets and transfer them to meeting agendas so they cannot be ‘overlooked’. Governors should also have a plan for how data will be presented. See the checklist in the toolkit for and example based on the Ofsted handbook. 

School Improvement Plan (SIP)

The priorities in the SIP should be agreed between the governing body and the headteacher. It is at this level that governors act as a critical friend. Ask simple questions, such as: ‘Why is this a priority?’, ‘How will it raise standards?’, ‘How will it improve pupils’ learning?’

Self-evaluation statement (SES)

All governors should know and understand the school’s analysis of its strengths and weaknesses in the SES. Presentations of the various sections should be built into the self-evaluation and school improvement cycle and grades formally agreed. 

Appraisal

The ‘appointed’ governors carry out the headteacher’s performance management and, while the focus is on setting and reviewing progress against objectives, governors also take an overall view of the headteacher’s leadership. The best way to act as a critical friend is to integrate appraisal into self-evaluation and school improvement so that the headteacher has an incentive to ensure that governors are kept fully informed.

Further information

Toolkit

Use the following item in the Toolkit to put the ideas in the article into practice:

About the author

Tony Powell is an experienced Additional Inspector and LA adviser. He writes extensively on education management, but his main work is in supporting schools to develop systems for self-evaluation, school improvement and continuing professional development. Tony can be contacted at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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