May 21, 2015

Ten ways to improve your headteacher's report

checklist2It seems at the moment that everywhere I go I get asked for good examples of headteachers’ reports. Sadly – sorry headteachers – I see more bad examples than good. Here are some of the things that I think are wrong and suggestions for improving the practice in your school.

#1 remember what it’s for

It’s not a statutory requirement that there’s a termly report to governors from the headteacher. That surprises heads and governors sometimes. We’re so used to having it that we don’t always sit back and ask the question: “what’s the point of it?”. The 2002 Education Act says: “The head teacher of a maintained school shall provide the governing body …  with such reports … as the governing body … may require (either on a regular basis or from time to time) for the purposes of the exercise of any of their functions.” That’s it. It’s to help the governing body exercise its functions. You might want to ask yourself – does yours do that?

#2 keep it snappy

The longest headteacher’s report I’ve ever had the misfortune to come across was in excess of 100 pages. It took the headteacher all term to write it. It was his pride and joy. I wonder how many of his governors read it. I wonder how many of them appreciated the depth and detail that it went in to. I wonder how much important information got lost in the middle somewhere. Ofsted’s School Governance: Learning from the Best says that one of the common factors in the outstanding governing bodies identified was “concise, focused reports from the headteacher” – how concise and focused is yours?

#3 use an appropriate font

I can’t remember how many headteachers’ report I’ve seen that were written in comic sans. If you don’t think that matters you might want to have a look at one of the many websites dedicated to why it does. Such as this one: http://www.comicsanscriminal.com/ which gives three occasions when it’s ok to use it: when your audience is under 11 years old, when you’re designing a comic and when your audience is dyslexic and has stated that they prefer comic sans. I know the first 2 don’t apply and I’m guessing the 3rd is unlikely. It might feel unimportant, but it’s not.

#4 give the photos a miss

I know that the role of governor is all about the children. Honestly, I never forget that. I visit my schools. I know what the children look like. I love looking at their photos on the website and in newsletters. But the headteacher’s report is the chief executive’s report to the board, and somehow the photos don’t quite give it the right feel. Really.

#5 help governors understand their role

Governors are getting more and more criticism at the moment. Lord Nash tells us we’re not amateurs, we’re unpaid professionals who need to hold the paid professionals to account. Ask yourself whether the way your headteacher’s report is written and the content of it helps them to understand that and to act in a professional manner.

#6 keep the most important thing the most important thing

I sometimes read a headteacher’s report from beginning to end and find myself wondering what it was actually about. Sometimes they seem like a random assortment of facts in no particular order. Think to yourself: what is the most important thing governors should be focusing on at the moment? What are the essential things they need to know about that issue? How does what’s in the report relate to what we’ve said our school development priorities are?

#7 keep it strategic

Governors often get criticised for being too operational, but that’s hardly a surprise if the headteacher’s report is full of operational detail. My particular pet hate – and I see this a lot – “Visitors to school over the last term”. Why? Why would I want to know this? Unless it’s Ofsted, and I’m fairly sure I’d have known about that. Don’t criticise me for asking why the plumber’s been in if I’ve been told about it in the headteacher’s report.

#8 never, ever, ever mention the school uniform or the parking outside the school

Ok, I admit it. This is the same point as #7, but you’d be surprised how much governing body time I see wasted on these two subjects alone.

#9 remember whose report it is

The term “headteacher’s report” isn’t that helpful in my view. It implies it’s in the ownership of the head, but all it means is ‘the report written by the headteacher’. The Governors’ Handbook says: “Governing bodies, not headteachers, should determine the scope and format of headteachers’ termly reports. This will mean that they receive the information they need in a format that enables them to stay focused on their core strategic functions and not get distracted or overwhelmed by information of secondary importance.”. Thanks DfE – I couldn’t have put it better myself. You might want to read more about this in my blog post: “Whose report is it anyway?”.

#10 don’t repeat yourself

You’ve already included the first ten pages of data in a report to curriculum committee? Take it out then. The headteacher’s report doesn’t need to be a summary of everything the governing body has ever discussed or might ever want to. None of us wants to be having the same conversation at this week’s full governors’ meeting that we had at the committee meeting a few weeks ago, just because some governors weren’t there. That’s the point of committees, to discuss things in more detail in a smaller group. If you’d rather talk about things in the full governors’ meeting then think about abolishing your committees.

Conclusion

The headteacher’s report to the governing body isn’t a legal requirement but it can be really useful when it’s succinct, focused and supporting the governing body fulfil its strategic role. And if you’ve read through this and thought – ‘I already do all of this’ – please send me a copy, I’d love to use it as an example of good practice.

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