Tales from an inner city school governor

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Governor training days

Recently I attended a training course entitled "Preparing for Ofsted". We are due an inspection any day now, and have quite a few governors who are new this year, so it was a good topic to study.

I read the SEF* like a good governor, and showed up to the training expecting to be lectured on knowing the school's vital statistics, its strengths and weaknesses, and our role in visiting the school, especially for link governors.

However, the exercises were all about communicating with each other - things such as telling three facts to the others, two truths and a lie - and just as I was wondering if I was in the wrong room, the trainer finally said "But what has this got to do with Ofsted?"

We were shown some more techniques which might be useful in brainstorming and problem solving, all useful stuff but I'm not sure how it will help if I am chosen to be interviewed by the inspectors! The only thing that came out of this for me is that I am better at lying than I thought...

* Note for non-governors - This is the Self-Evaluation Form, which is written by Governors and Head together. It's a living document about the schools's situation.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Dyslexia rules... KO?

A month or so ago, the press were full of stories about the validity of the term "dyslexia" and whether it actually exists.

I've just been told from a colleague in the SEN team at the LEA that we actually can't say "dyslexia" now, it's another "non-specific learning difficulty".

Surely this opens a can of worms - those with ... let's call them spelling issues ... are now lumped in with those who are slow developers or have a low IQ. I bet they dislike that very much.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

So far, so good...

I hear from parents that the new Head is going down very well, particularly how she is making herself available to them. A couple of weeks into term and everyone seems fairly happy and settled. What a relief!

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Book Review - Hackney Downs

Book review - Hackney Downs - The School That Dared to Fight (1999).

This is the tale of the last few years in the life of Hackney Downs, a boys' secondary school in one of the most deprived areas of the UK.

It's quite a depressing read, to find how at every turn the school seemed to be up against the odds, but some of the quotes (for example, letters from supportive parents) are quite heartwarming and remind the reader why the whole battle had to be fought, why the stakeholders just could not give up and die. After all, when the school finally closed it was actually improving, with the potential for a promising future.

There are some aspects which strike a chord with my own school's situation - the majority of children speaking English as a second language, and a falling role leading to accepting a high number of children who had been excluded from elsewhere (both leading to a far higher than average proportion of pupils with special needs), as well as several Heads over a relatively short time.

Other issues which affected Hackney Downs are outside of my experience, and are things I hope would never happen to my school - a devisive "Black parents and staff" group causing problems, and the LEA never stumping up for promised essential building works. Most crucially, year 7 intake was suspended for a year, ostensively to undertake building work so that the school could go co-ed, but by the time it happened the proposal to admit girls had been thrown out. The school never recovered from the crippling loss of year 7, and didn't get the financial compensation the LEA had promised. Mysterious HMI visits and being taken over by an Education Association seemed to seal Hackney Downs's fate.

Ironically, when the school eventually closed, the property could not be sold off as it was held in covenant by the LEA for use as an educational facility - making a mockery of the financial argument for its closure.

The book is co-authored by Betty Hales, who was Acting Head at the end of the school's life, but the information is presented in a factual way, and uses quotes from HMI reports, parents and exam results in order to deliver the story, so there is no feeling of bias.

From a Governor's point of view, it's an essential read. It made me aware of the things that can happen; the way that parent support must be harnessed, the fact that the LEA can work against a school as well as with it, the way that the media can work when it is hunting for a story. It has made me feel I should take more of an interest in my school - we should be pro-active, rather than waiting to see how things unfold. We should be aware of our school's issues and development, and ensure that where the LEA promises action, we hold them to it.

As it is more of a study than a story, it's quite hard to get into (I read this book before becoming a governor, and again recently, and it made much more sense this time around) but well worth the effort, as both a cautionary and heartwarming tale.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Summer holidays...

Summer holidays... peace at last! No longer are my lie-ins spoiled by the shrieks of children passing my house on their way to school. No longer do I have to stagger the dog's walk time to avoid schoolchildren (since some of them are scared of big dogs - especially the Asian boys, for some reason).

Of course, the parents among you are probably having the opposite experience!

Hope everyone is enjoying the summer.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Mixed age classes

Next year, due to falling roll, we will have some mixed age classes.

Does anyone have experience of them? Is it effective? How should it be done to be most effective - should classes be composed of the best from the younger year, and the worst from the year above, or should it be more mixed, with consideration for ethnic background, sex, and other issues?

Is it popular with parents, or will it take a lot of effort to "sell" it to them?

Any comments welcome.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Recruiting a new Head, part 3

A few days after the assessment centre day, one of the trainer / assessors came to provide feedback on the candidates. In fact we had sent only two people to the assessment day (as would have been apparent to them if they spoke to each other).

The feedback was very interesting - quite detailed, but all verbal. We were told how each candidate had performed in the tasks, particularly their "critical interview", in which they were pushed to draw on experience, so it would have been very hard to revise for this or to fake it in any way.

One candidate had extremely good feedback in all areas, so we decided to take her forward to interview, which would be held in a week's time.

We agreed on the questions we would ask, to be typed up and assigned to panel members on the day. We also decided on the activities we would ask the candidate to undertake - which were a question and answer session from a panel of children of all ages on the issues which concerned them most (to be viewed by a couple of the panel) and an unseen presentation (to be heard by all of the panel), followed by the interview itself.

Lunch was booked, and it looked sure to be a long day...

Although we only had one candidate going forward to interview, I was very clear that we still had to decide if she was good enough, and appropriate for, our school. We could still opt not to appoint anyone, and recruit again... we still had to take the interview day very seriously.

There's not a lot else I can say - the rest would be confidential as it relates to the candidate and our discussions and not the process in general - but suffice to say she acquitted herself very well. We voted to appoint her, and she accepted.

It is the current Head's leaving party today. The new Head starts in September. Here's hoping she is just what our school needs, and works well with staff, children, parents and governors alike!