External Governor Review

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Here you can read the External Governance Review undertaken in October 2016.

In the conclusion of the report, the governing body is described as '...a thoughtful and committed governing board which has a good understanding of its roles and responsibilities, and has organised itself well to ensure that these are undertaken effectively.' The governors at Wrenbury are not complacent and have agreed an Action Plan (19 January 2017) to address points raised in the review to ensure that as a governing body they continue to support, challenge and drive the strategic direction of the school alongside the headteacher and deputy headteacher to secure best value, best practice and better outcomes for all.

External Review of Governance Report: Wrenbury Primary School
Review of Governance Report -Wrenbury Community Primary School
Date of Review: October 2016

1. Reviewer's Details
1.1 Andy Kent is a recently retired senior Local Authority (LA) officer, whose responsibilities included governor services, and who has many years of involvement in regional and national governor networks, including currently as chair of the National Co-ordinators of Governor Services network (NCOGS), in which capacity he is a member of the DfE advisory group on governance (AGOG). He is currently chair of a community primary school and a Church of England primary school Interim Executive Board; he is also member and trustee of a multi-academy trust. He was designated a National Leader of Governance (NLG) in April 2013, attended National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL) training for reviews of governance, and subsequently has undertaken many reviews of governance in a range of settings. He is NLG Advocate for the Greater Manchester sub region.
1.2 Contact details: andy@rmagovernance.com 07970386436

2. Context
2.1 Wrenbury is a smaller than average rural community primary school in Cheshire East, close to the border with Shropshire, with mixed age classes in both key stages. The number of pupils eligible for the pupil premium is lower than average, as is the number identified with SEND. Pupils are very largely White British, with around ten per cent overall from Traveller communities.
2.2 The school was last inspected by Ofsted in December 2015 when it was judged as overall requiring improvement, following a previous judgement of good in all areas in January 2012. Personal development, behaviour and welfare was the only area to receive a "good" judgement in this latest report. However, the report does clearly identify substantial evidence of capacity for improvement, led by the relatively newly appointed headteacher, and supported and challenged by what it describes as the "rejuvenated" governing board, noting also the "honest and transparent" relationship between them.
2.3 This external review was commissioned on the instigation of governors and the headteacher, who had identified this as part of their own self-evaluation processes in advance of the Ofsted inspection, and in discussion with the local authority. Governors welcomed the review as an opportunity to evaluate their practice and identify any further areas for improvement.

3. Process of the Review
3.1 The reviewer had an initial meeting with the chair of governors and headteacher to scope out the review, and then had one to one meetings with chair (again), vice chair, and seven other governors, as well as a person whose appointment is to be recommended at the autumn term governing board meeting. He also had a subsequent telephone conversation with the headteacher and conducted a scrutiny of relevant governing board paperwork and met a group of governors to undertake a self-review exercise based around the Twenty Key Questions for the Governing Board to ask itself, produced by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Education Governance and Leadership.

4. Summary of Findings
4.1 The governing board reconstituted in June 2014, with places for eight co-opted governors from a total of thirteen governors overall. At the time of the review there were two co-opted vacancies, with one of these due to be filled during the autumn term by an identified individual who participated in this review. There are three committees: leadership and management, teaching and learning, and personal development and wellbeing, with terms of reference in place for each. Additionally, a working group has been established to consider options for structured partnership and collaboration in the light of government policy promoting multi academy trusts.
4.2 The leadership of the board changed prior to the Ofsted inspection, when the former and longstanding chair indicated a wish to step down; at the time of the review he remained a member of the governing board but did not participate in the review. The new chair of governors, a highly experienced primary headteacher in Cheshire East, had joined the governing board at the beginning of the 2014-15 school year, upon her retirement. Many years previously she had been headteacher at Wrenbury. One of the first key tasks for her and the governing board was to appoint a new headteacher, with the process itself assisting several governors in recognising for the first time many of the performance concerns subsequently identified by Ofsted. This meant that in most cases governors anticipated the judgement, and, as the report noted, are well placed to respond to the recommendations.
4.3 The chair of governors is providing exceptionally effective leadership of the governing board, which has included the recruitment of several new members, drawing both on local knowledge and via SGOSS (Governors for Schools). This recruitment was informed by a skills survey, and identification of skills gaps, included a meeting with headteacher and chair, and the taking up of references prior to appointment. Although there is no formal succession plan currently in place, the vice chair is experienced and informed, especially on financial matters, and several governors demonstrate strong scrutiny skills, relevant professional knowledge (for example around special educational needs and disability) and commitment to the role. They would be well-equipped to take on the role of chair if needed.
4.4 Governors take their own development seriously. They are well informed about training opportunities available to them through the LA service level agreement offer, which includes face to face and on line training, as well as "gold" membership of the National Governors' Association (NGA). The governors spoken to have a good understanding of their core roles in most cases, and could evidence ways in which they are fulfilling these, with others clearly keen to learn.
4.5 The governing board has ensured it has published relevant statutorily required information about its membership, interests and attendance on the school website. Additionally, there are brief profiles on each governor and a termly summary update from the chair sent to all parents, one aspect of a genuine policy of stakeholder engagement, which also includes listening and responding to pupil voice.
4.6 The governing board is well informed about the school, receiving information from sources in addition to the headteacher, including from the external school improvement partner, externally published data including RAISEonline, their own visits, and in the case of one or two governors at least, via their own research and access to other reputable sources of information, for example, "The Key". Critically, there is capacity within the governing board to interrogate this data, and whilst the link governor role was described by the chair as still developing, some written reports of findings and issues are presented to committees, thus supporting effective monitoring. Many of the governors spoken to visit the school on a regular basis and visits have a clear and agreed focus. They are supported in their work by an agreed visits policy, and by a charter setting out expectations of each other and the headteacher.
4.7 The working relationship between the chair and the headteacher is a professionally challenging and constructive one. They meet regularly, and communicate otherwise as and when required. The headteacher also describes governing board and committee meetings as often challenging and sometimes "draining", but that "that is at should be", and she finds it supportive in its focus and intent.
4.8 Governors are actively involved in the school's strategic planning, including contributing, along with other key stakeholder groups, to the drawing up of the school development plan, which then becomes a basis for governing board monitoring through the year. They are proud of the school, its inclusive nature, and its importance to the local community. They have overseen significant staff recruitment, including the appointment of a deputy headteacher who was about to take up her post at the time of the review, and are rightly sensitive to the need to allow time for the new team to develop, recognising also the benefit the enhanced school leadership capacity will bring.
4.9 The governing board is well supported by an effective, professional clerk from the LA governor service. One of the changes brought by the new chair was to get governing board approval to purchase the enhanced LA service so the clerk services all committees. She has successfully completed the National Clerks' Development Programme. Meeting agendas are drawn up by chair and the headteacher, supported by the clerk, and in liaison with committee chairs. Several governors commented on the benefits to the running of the governing board in having a professional clerk in place.
4.10 The governing board is aware of the educational environment including the government's ambition for a fully academised system. Governors are also acutely aware of the financial challenge a small school faces as finances tighten nationally, with the impact of higher pension and national insurance contributions alone estimated to mean a ten per cent overall reduction in funding by 2020. The impact of this, some formula funding reductions, and a small loss in numbers mean the headteacher and the governing board recognise sustaining current class organisation beyond this school year may not be possible. There is also acknowledgement of the benefits professionally collaboration can bring, and the school is a longstanding member of the local schools' cluster. The governing board working group has been set up to consider options but at the time of the review, although only in the very early stages of discussion, some of the "non- negotiables" identified in the minutes of the group indicate just how profound the challenge is.

5. Conclusions and Recommendations
5.1 This is a thoughtful and committed governing board which has a good understanding of its roles and responsibilities, and has organised itself well to ensure that these are undertaken effectively. The chair has taken the lead, with the headteacher, in transforming the culture to one that another governor accurately described as being of "high challenge and high support", but in this she is very well supported by many capable colleagues. Governors are very committed to the school and to ensuring the best possible outcomes for all children within it. The future strategic direction and most appropriate partners and structures for the school is something that does require extensive thought and due diligence, but is something the governing board is encouraged to confront and be ready to identify the best options. They may find the NGA/ASCL/Browne Jacobson guidance helpful in so doing: http://www.nga.org.uk/Guidance/School-structures-and-constitution/Forming-or-joining-a-group-of-schools.aspx.
5.2 To improve its excellent practice even further the governing board may wish to consider the following:
5.2.1 More formal succession planning to ensure that leadership potential is identified and developed;
5.2.2 Formalising governor accountability by undertaking a 360 degree review of the chair (using a tool such as this one developed by the NGA and annual one to one meetings between the chair and other governors, to ensure all governors are also held to account for their contribution;
5.2.3 Ensuring that committee chairs take direct responsibility for the work of their committee, including agenda setting, in conjunction with the headteacher and clerk;
5.2.4 Embedding regular self-evaluation into the annual cycle of governing board meetings to ensure its high standards are maintained;
5.2.5 Developing a common role description and reporting format and an agreed timetable for all identified link roles;
5.2.6 Agreeing a reporting format that allows for the governing board to receive and scrutinise an overview of the delivery, progression and pupil progress of all aspects of the curriculum, including all foundation subjects and other themes (e.g. British Values; Sports and Pupil Premium etc)

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