Blog#1 September 2018

The first Governor meeting of the year was certainly busy!

We re-elected our Chair (Roy Bexon) and Vice-Chair (Stuart Perkins) – and I’ve promised to get some photos for our website so you know who we all are without us having to wear special badges/hats/signposts. I’ll do that on Governor day (November 22) when we’ll all be in school for some or all of the day: information gathering, looking at books, having fun, helping and getting to know teachers and children alike a little better.

We were grateful that Matt Sambrook (Head of Exeter House and Chief Executive of the Somerset Road Education Trust) was able to take time to come and meet us. He explained the background about the Trust, its vision for the future, and addressed some of the questions we had. His passion for children’s learning, his dedication to the highest standards in education, and his commitment to the schools at the top of the hill shone through. Some of the questions require more information to be fully answered, but it is great to be able to have conversation and to build working relationships.

Despite the tight agenda, we, of course, talked about the back gate. We recognise that this has proved to be a deeply divisive issue. No-one wants to see this community fractured and angry. The school works in partnership with parents always with the aim of improving lives for the extraordinary children who go to St Mark’s. However, safeguarding rests, ultimately, with one person, the lead safeguarding officer – Mr Flemington.

All governors had an opportunity to read the more detailed explanation that was shared last week with parents. These decisions do not rest with the Governors, but, after listening, we believe that every decision made was made carefully and in the best interests of children. We will again look at use of the front entrance, traffic and safety on our Governor day. We appeal to all users of the site to be very careful.

Communication is also an issue here. There was an email written and issued to all parents in July. Sadly, through a failure in the system, and not through a fault in the sender, the email did not distribute. This failing was not discovered until late in August. We are sorry about that. Governors challenged communication strategies. We understand that writing any earlier to alert the community that there was a safeguarding concern with the back gate could have increased risk to children.

We talked about last year’s SAT results; and reiterated that an increase from 41% to 77% of children achieving expected standards across all the test areas is a fantastic achievement from everyone involved. Leaders, teachers, children, parents all: thank you. We have ambitious targets for next year. Targets or not, we have 361 amazing reasons to continue in our efforts to improve.

Lots to look forward to, and we’re looking forward to the year ahead.

Governor meeting blog

We had our last Governor Committee meeting of this school year on 4th July.

We appreciated the new Chair of the Somerset Road Education Trust, Mike Newton taking time to come and visit us. It was good to meet him, and it will be interesting to learn more about the Trust’s vision and plans in to next year.

Data analysis was rigorous – thanks to the new system from Amy Scammell, Deputy HeadTeacher. Mike Thain (a Governor since after OfSTED and Head of Maths at St Edmunds) would like to feedback his observation: “The way you’re using data is really encouraging. The data is being used as a starting point to identify where students are doing well or falling behind. This is how it should be used as they are children not numbers.”

The most recent data are showing hopeful signs of consistent improvement in pupil progress and attainment. The new assessment tools are a significant improvement in terms of how easy they are to use and also how useful they are. We’d like to take this opportunity, publicly, to thank Amy and the whole school team for their hard work in developing and embedding these tools.

There are still questions to ask, however, and we are not even close to complacency here. We will continue to ask questions. After SATs data become available (very soon), we will know more.

In the meantime, can I include a quote from the report from our Challenge and Support Partner (CASP) from Wiltshire County Council: “The CASP accompanied the HT on a brief learning walk to evidence impact of actions taken this year. The pupils were engaged, learning environments were inviting, and the quality of teaching and learning has tangibly improved.

“The CASP was pleased to say that the school has good capacity to continue to improve, supported by improved outcomes in all areas and by leadership support from the Trust CEO and Trust leadership. The school has demonstrated evidence for a ‘Green’ evaluation overall.

We’re hoping to put together a celebration of this year at St Mark’s to share with all.

It’s been a while

It’s been a while since I’ve updated the blog. This doesn’t mean we haven’t been busy though.

At the last governor meeting, we had a brilliant training session with Mr Rist (getting the most before he leaves us). He showed us how to get more out of a ‘book look’ – helping us to get more-effective at monitoring the ambitious targets set since OfSTED’s visit.

We followed up on three selected statements from the previous headteacher’s report – to check that there is evidence to support statements that had been made. We feel that it is important to show that we are monitoring progress, and not accepting statements about progress without corroborating evidence.

We also received the report from our review of Governance, which should be available through the OFSTED section of this website. We found the process very useful, in that it helped us to focus on our next steps, and also very encouraging. It does seem that the changes we had been making (before and after OfSTED’s visit) are appropriate and already showing some evidence of meeting requirements to improve.

We welcomed two new governors – Mike Thain and Paul McLean

We also attended the ‘six-months on’ information session for parents. There were some great questions from the floor. A good opportunity for conversation. [More on this separately.]

Since then, we have also had a working group meeting on next year’s budget. I had been expecting a budget cut. When the figures came in, there is a very small increase in the money we expect to receive from the Department for Education. However, the increase does not meet the ever-growing costs we all are familiar with. Austerity continues to bite and these are not easy times for schools anywhere.

Training and Governor Review

Last week was a busy week for governors!

We had a great evening of shared training with governors from Exeter House and Wyndham Park on Tuesday (17th). We were learning about ‘challenge’; talking about asking the right questions.

It was a very useful evening, time well spent. With one of the many beneficial aspects being the opportunity to spend time working alongside fellow governors from fellow schools. Hope we can do more along the same lines. And thanks to David Marriott for leading the training.

And on Friday morning (20th), we had our review of governance (as stipulated by OfSTED). It would be wrong to say much before we have the written report to share. But we wanted to reassure parents that this review has indeed happened as planned. I think we can also say that we are very grateful to Michele Blain, a National Leader of Governance, for her time and expertise.

It was an intense morning, but generally very encouraging. We do believe that the changes we have made this academic year are taking us in the right direction. We are still learning, of course we are. And some of the changes we’ve made are still too recent to be fully imbedded. But the feedback has reinforced our commitment.

More to follow when we get the report.

Governor blog Local Governing Committee LGC#4 (21 March 2018)

Governors met a week later than initially planned (due to illness) and, because of the change of date, we were a smaller group than usual. But that doesn’t mean that we weren’t tackling some big topics.

Governors have a duty to challenge school leaders – and to seek evidence to support statements made. In line with this, we have asked the Head Teacher to provide evidence for three of the statements made in the regular report. It would clearly be ‘overkill’ to challenge every statement – we get an awful lot of information in this report. But it is good practice to seek evidence on key statements. We agreed that, in future, we will pick three statements in advance of the meeting so that we can challenge the evidence even more effectively, as a group.

As Stuart reported in an earlier blog, we have all had the opportunity for an in-depth session with Deputy Head Teacher, Amy Scammell, on the data that track progress in key skills for every child across the school. The level of detail is amazing and, just like financial reporting, it takes some time to become familiar with the spreadsheets. But it’s well worth putting that time in. In response to OfSTED, we know we need that tight grip on data. And we have been preparing a report on those data that we hope to share with all parents soon.

A working group of Governors also met outside this meeting to do an in-depth financial monitoring session. This year, we have had to authorise some additional expenditure since setting the budget. The school does have reserves that we are planning to spend – and spending reserves over a certain level on the children in the school is a good thing! But we are keeping a close eye on things – and we are very lucky with the care and attention that Mrs King gives in this area.

We are going to do more work to track, record and report our own activities as individuals, and as a committee. We have some shared training coming up with Wyndham Park governors and Exeter House governors, which we’re looking forward to. And, shortly after Easter, we also have our review of governance. An external expert is coming in to look at what we are doing and help us to improve.

We also learned that I might not be the best person to be time keeper!