Whose Report is it Anyway? The Purpose of the Head Teacher's Report to the Governing Body

We had an interesting discussion about head teacher’s reports on #ukgovchat last week. But there’s only so much you can say in 140 characters. I wanted to take this opportunity to expand a bit on some of my suggestions, which seemed to surprise a few people at the time.

I remember delivering some clerks’ training a few years ago and one of the clerks saying ‘sometimes I have to remind governors that this is the HEAD TEACHER’S report’. The implication was plain. Governors should shut up and let the head get on with it. I think that clerk was very wrong and I want to explain why.

First of all let’s remember there’s no statutory requirement to have a head teacher’s report at all. Honestly. I know we all probably have them, and there are lots of good reasons for that, but it’s not mandatory. It’s not that the law doesn’t have anything to say on the matter, it just doesn’t specify that we have to have an agenda item on every governing body meeting that considers a written report from the head teacher. And don’t get me wrong – I’m not advocating verbal reports.

The law says two things that I think are relevant here. The Guide to the Law says “To assist the governing body in carrying out its functions, the head teacher has a duty to provide the governing body with such reports in connection with the exercise of his or her functions as the governing body requires.” p16, para 22). Such reports as the governing body requires. Not such reports as the head teacher decides to give. The implication is fairly clear here. This isn’t the head teacher’s report, not in the sense that clerk meant it. The responsibility lies with the governing body to make it clear to heads what they need at that point in time to help them in carrying out their functions (not with individual governors you notice, but with the governing body). How many of us ever really have that discussion? We should be building it in to our self-evaluation discussions and reflecting regularly on whether what we’re doing, including the reports we’re receiving, is fit for purpose in the school’s current context.

The other thing the law says is that “the clerk shall give written notice of the meeting, a copy of the agenda for the meeting and any reports or other papers to be considered at the meeting at least seven clear days in advance” (Regulation 11, School Governance Procedures (England) Regulations 2003). Hence the requirement for whatever the head teacher provides for governors to be in written form and provided in advance.

The suggestion I made to #ukgovchat that seemed to cause some surprise was that the head teacher might not provide a single written report which has its own agenda item, but that the governing body should determine the agenda according to the school’s current priorities and the head teacher might contribute various reports covering the different items on the agenda.

I can’t take credit for this idea. It was suggested on some training I attended recently (thanks @philhand52). But the more I think it over the more I like it.

The danger of what is common current practice is that the head teacher’s report dictates what governors are discussing at their meetings, ie the head teacher decides what governors are discussing at their meetings. That might be fine, but that depends on how focused the report is. Sometimes reports include all sorts of information that’s not relevant to the school’s strategic priorities (visitors to schools, forthcoming events, sports team success, a report on world book day…).

Governors often do need/want to know these things but they shouldn’t be the focus of governing body discussions. The problem is we all know we’re supposed to be asking the head teacher challenging questions, but faced with this plethora of information where do we start? And how does the chair manage that agenda item, making sure that we keep to time, and remain strategic in discussions? This is where it’s easy to get side tracked: Why is re-laying the staff room carpet taking so long? Why did the local rugby team come into school? Why are we having the Christmas production in the evening this year? Whereas what we want to know is: How has the pupil premium money been spent? What impact has it had? What effect are the intervention strategies around boys’ writing having?

One suggestion would be have the ‘for information only’ items in a newsletter or an appendix, that isn’t discussed during the meeting and keep the report itself focused around the main priorities (thanks @clerktogovernor for that one). I’ve seen reports recently that structure around the areas of the Ofsted framework and summarise the school’s self-evaluation against each area. That’s not the only way of doing things but it might help us be more strategically focused in our discussions. Or splitting the reports needed into different agenda items. This takes more planning and preparation, and more discussions with the head, but surely these are all good things?

The important thing is not to be stuck in the rut of ‘what we’ve always done’, but to keep adapting to meet the school and governing body’s current needs. And some head teachers will find this liberating. I’ve seen head teachers’ reports that exceeded 80 pages and took the head all term to write. The report was then almost the entire focus of discussion at the termly meeting.

Governors, let’s keep in mind the reports are supposed to ‘assist the governing body in carrying out its functions’ and talk to our head teachers about how they can best do that. And head teachers, think about how your reports can help your governors keep their strategic focus and question you in a meaningful way.

And for suggestions on what kind of structure and content that might include, have a look at the great suggestions from the #ukgovchat discussion. Thanks everyone, it was a great discussion!

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