Taking a lead on teaching, learning and assessment — the role of governors

A half-day workshop with more than 40 FE college governors, principals and clerks has resulted in a new report from the 157 Group and Ofsted. Andy Gannon discusses its key findings and recommendations.

Today, we published The Leadership of Teaching, Learning and Assessment by Governors. The report is the latest in a series which we hope has contributed greatly to the thinking and practice of leaders within FE colleges, mindful as they are more and more of their core business.

We have explored the tenets of great teaching, the elements of practice that contribute to great pedagogic leadership, approaches to the professional development of staff and the aspects of a culture which encourages good practice. In all these documents, our audience has been teachers themselves, and senior leaders.

But the role of governors has been receiving greater emphasis of late — and the important part that these volunteers play both in setting the tone in which excellent teaching can take place and in scrutinising how successfully it is happening is ripe for some attention.

The important part that governors play both in setting the tone in which excellent teaching can take place and in scrutinising how successfully it is happening is ripe for some attention

So, the germ of an idea was born when we spoke late last year to colleagues at Ofsted. How would it be, we suggested, if, along the lines of previous work we had done, we gathered 40 or so governors from our member colleges and others together in a room, and thrashed out what the key issues were?

Such an approach has been successful before — for our 2012 Great Teaching and Learning report, we combined the wisdom of more than 70 people into one report — a true example of practitioners generating the thinking and the helpful tips that may enable others to succeed.

With Ofsted in agreement, we set about the task.

It is a widely-held belief that governors are perhaps more comfortable dealing with finance and buildings than they are with the sometimes messy and unpredictable business of teaching — as such it may be either surprising or, perhaps, unsurprising that many bit our hands off to seize the opportunity of discussing practice with others across the whole of the UK.

Set against the backdrop of the Common Inspection Framework, with its revised expectations of governors, but acknowledging that the governance of teaching, learning and assessment is too important to be done just because Ofsted wants it done, the results of the workshop offer some great insights into the very human nature of the challenges governors face.

The resulting report does contain some very practical hints — about how to organise learning walks, how to engage governors in a meaningful quality cycle, and how to structure meetings so that they do not become overtaken by other issues.

It is accompanied by a resource bank, with materials kindly shared by six of the colleges who participated — on the 157 Group website.

But more than anything, the report talks about the kind of governing body that you need to be in order to get to grips with issues of teaching, learning and assessment.

It talks about how the relationships between senior leaders and governors must be clear.

It talks about how the governing body itself should spend time developing its core view of outstanding teaching, learning and assessment and its confidence to make judgments.

And it talks about developing an active approach to meetings, where performance is challenged supportively, but where governors are encouraged not simply to accept what they are told.

One thing is clear — that ‘one-size-fits-all’ does not apply here.

The governors we worked with were clear they had to establish their own definition of what expectations of teaching, learning and assessment should be in their college, and then find ways of understanding their own practice and making that chime with the college’s quality cycle.

But the vital importance of governors’ doing this work is clear — both for Ofsted and for their learners. We hope this report will help them to do it with a little more confidence.

Andy Gannon, director of policy, PR and research, 157 Group

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