The school year 2018/19 was a momentous year in the life of St Matthew’s school and I wanted to share with you some of the governors’ reflections on the past year, including how we as governors have tried to make an impact and some thoughts about the year ahead.
The core duties given to us by the Department for Education are to:
To fulfil these duties governors must evaluate the role they have played within the life of the school and their impact on school development. Below I have outlined some of the things governors have been working on last year and will be continuing to do this year so that you have a better understanding of what we do.
Vision and ethos
Our school ethos is very much rooted in our Christian values. These underpin every aspect of school life from the way everyone treats each other and shows care, kindness and respect, to ensuring we give our best in all we do. Governors and school leaders have this year been reflecting on our school’s vision, which should flow from this Christian ethos. Formerly it was “The highest academic standards in a caring Christian environment” Although we still agreed with every word in this vision, we felt it was time to refresh this and widen it out to cover all aspects of school life. After discussion with pupils at school and church councils, and with parents at parent forum, we have chosen a verse from the Bible which we agreed encapsulates the attitudes and behaviour we aim to nurture in all our pupils:
"Whatever you do, do it with all your heart". Colossians 3:23
If we can encourage pupils to do everything with all their hearts, they will be pupils who work hard and try their best in class, thereby achieving the best progress they can, but who also show love, kindness and respect to all those around them. Our ambition is to encourage all St Matthew’s pupils to have this at the heart of all they do. It is a vision which we want to see flowing through every area of school life. We will be looking for evidence of this when we visit the school.
Governors are responsible for setting the strategic direction of the school, along with the headteacher, who is also a governor. One of the most important strategic decisions that governors have to make in this regard is appointing the headteacher. Now that we are part of the St Edmundsbury and Ipswich Diocesan MAT, we share that duty with them. Although the trust has the final say on headship appointments, they were keen to understand our priorities and to work with us to appoint a headteacher who would be able to deliver on our vision and ambitions for the school.
We were delighted to appoint Mr Gates to the post to build on the strengths of our school and he is already working with governors on a new school development plan identifying strategic priorities and a plan of action to achieve them. We are very confident indeed that he will take the school from strength to strength.
Following the appointment of Mr Gates governors made some decisions regarding the structure of the leadership team. We now have one deputy and have appointed three phase leaders. We hope that this will distribute leadership more widely and develop the strengths and talents of our staff. We will be monitoring this during this year.
I cannot write about last year without mentioning Mrs Todd. As you all know, at the end of last year, we said good bye to Mrs Todd who had led the school so brilliantly for 10 years. Her quiet determination to create an inclusive and caring environment where all could thrive was truly inspirational. Her vision for inclusivity lies at the heart of our school and will continue to do so.
Another momentous strategic decision taken by the governors in 2018/29 was to join the St Edmundsbury and Ipswich Diocesan MAT. We joined on March 1st 2019. The journey had not been without its obstacles, so we were delighted to finally join, following full consultation with staff and parents. As I have said before, the governors agreed that being part of this trust was the most effective way to preserve and strengthen our Christian ethos, and the opportunities for collaborating and sharing strengths with other schools are already bearing fruit.
School Development Plan
Governors have worked with the Senior Leadership Team in identifying the priorities and monitoring of the School Development Plan. Priorities are identified from pupil performance data, school self-evaluation and Ofsted priorities.
The plan sets out the steps necessary to achieve its objectives so that the school can be held to account. Governors monitor each element of the plan, and visit the school to see it in action, then reporting on impact and the progress they have seen to the governing body. Reporting on the school development plan is on the agenda of governing body meetings every term so that we can discuss where we are up to and if anything needs to change.
Pupil progress and attainment
Governors also discuss pupil progress and look at how groups of pupils are performing and ask challenging questions around any areas of the school’s work which is causing concern. We receive reports both from the senior leadership team and from external sources such as Analyse School Performance and the schools’ standards and excellence officer. We compare our pupils’ performance to national figures. We don’t just look at results from tests. For example, governors are currently concerned about attendance and punctuality and its impact on pupil progress and attainment. Questions are regularly asked about this until we see an improvement, or an action plan is in place to bring about improvements.
We are particularly interested in how pupils eligible for the pupil premium and those with SEND are doing and keep a close eye on this data. The SEND Governor has met with the SENDCo on a number of occasions to look closely at provision for children with Special Educational Needs. The SEND governor then reports back to the Governing Body.
Governors are there to shine a light so that any areas of concern remain at the forefront of everyone’s mind. In this way we hold senior leaders to account and the impact is improved outcomes for children.
Curriculum and quality of education
The curriculum is a strength at St Matthew’s – broad, balanced and designed with the needs of our children at the centre. Governors monitor the areas of focus on the school development plan. Last year we were particularly looking at science, this year there will be a focus on maths. Reading and phonics are an ongoing priority.
Wellbeing and staff development
Staff wellbeing is part of the school’s vision and ethos – Christian love and care for all. It is also a priority for the MAT and a staff survey was carried out in July 2019. We will be following up on the results and a wellbeing working party will be devising an action plan to improve staff wellbeing. We are very fortunate to have an experienced, stable and happy staff at St Matthew’s but this will remain an area for governor monitoring this year.
We have also been delighted that we have been able to offer a wide range of CPD opportunities so that staff can develop and flourish in their practice; some of this has been funded by the Ipswich Opportunity Area. Many of our middle and senior leaders are completing leadership qualifications.
The Chair of Governors or Vice Chair meet with the Head Teacher regularly, the wellbeing of the headteacher is part of the purpose of the meetings.
Governors do not carry out performance management of staff, this is the responsibility of the school leadership team, however we ensure that targets given to staff reflect the school development plans. Governors do however undertake the performance review of the head teacher in partnership with the MAT and ensure that it reflects the priorities of the school development plan.
Behaviour and attitudes to learning
Governors monitor behaviour and attitudes as part of their monitoring visits. We see at first- hand how consistently polite and well behaved they are. We have had comments from visitors and members of the public about our pupils’ behaviour. For example, a visiting speaker in assembly, who visits many schools regularly, said that the pupils at St Matthew’s were among the best behaved he had ever seen. On the recent visit to Kidzania, Mrs Todd received a phone call from another visitor who had felt compelled to call the school and congratulate her on how well behaved the pupils were.
Governing body development and training
Governors regularly undertake training and development to understand changes in the educational landscape, new ways of working and to refresh their skills. The chair is a member of the National Governance Association and attends their conferences on a regular basis. All governors receive a copy of the Knowledge from Local Authority (LA) each term, which is discussed in meetings. An individual skills review takes place annually to ensure we have a balanced governing body and skills in all areas.
We have recently recruited two new parent governors which has added strength to our governing body.
Governors have half termly reports on the budget at the resources committee. We ask questions on areas of variance from the original budget and scrutinise spending decisions. All decisions are made from the starting point of impact on the children and in line with the strategic priorities identified on the school development plan.
Looking ahead to 2019/20
Our priorities for 2019/20 include
We will continue to work hard to ensure that our children thrive in a safe, vibrant and exciting learning community.