In my role as a parent governor at Henry Beaufort school I spent today at the Marwell Hotel listening to talks and discussing issues related to "Stronger governance - improving pupil outcomes".
This was the first such conference that I had attended so I didn't really know what to expect - I have to say I was very pleased with the day and will certainly be looking to attend in future years.
There were some great talks and a fantastic opportunity to meet and talk with governors from other schools across Hampshire.
Sue Hackman was the first speaker of the day. She is the Chief adviser on School Standards at the Department of Children Schools and Families and used the"Your child, your school, our future" whitepaper as a framework to talk to us about a whole range of issues mainly related to analysing performance. This could have been a very dry subject but she did a fantastic job of articulating the importance and meaning of various metrics available to schools. In particular she spent some time looking at the kind of reports that the RAISE online system can generate. These can, for example, help a secondary school to identify whether pupils are achieving the results that their performance in primary school suggests they could. There was also quite a bit of discussion around "the middle rump", those pupils who aren't in the top or bottom groups. It is easy to focus on helping those at the bottom and working to stretch those at the top - both good things to do - and end up making some of those in the middle group feel resentful that they don't warrant any special attention. Whilst you could argue the whole system is set up for them they may, all the same, not be feeling it.
After a break for coffee, and the chance for a chat with a governor from another Winchester School, we had 2 workshops. The first "Setting Targets in Secondary Schools" followed on nicely from Sue's presentation and looked in a bit more detail at some of the figures for Hampshire and what sort of progress is expected as you move through from Key stage 2 - 4. As part of this we also looked in some more detail at the area of the comparative attainment levels of Children in Care and some of the work being done in Hampshire in this area.
The second workshop looked at School Improvement Plans and in particular what some of the barriers/challenges faced by governing bodies are as they seek to be supportive of the school and a "critical friend".
After lunch we turned to look at Local Children's Partnerships. John Clarke took us through an overview of the idea - basically setting up a partnership between all the schools/colleges in an area and other bodies such as district councils, local NHS, police, social care etc. This partnership would take responsibility for all of the children on its patch and work to improve their outcomes. As part of his presentation he mentioned a book called "The Spirit Level" by Wilkinson and Pickett which he said drew a conclusion that increasing inequality of wealth in a country correlated with a decrease in an "index of health and social problems". I need to add that to my "must read some day" list to see what's behind the claim - the graph certainly raised a few questions in my mind - always a bit suspicious of charts whose scale is marked "low"...."high", where the data aligns neatly on the plot and which rely on an "index" whose constituent elements don't all seem to be independent (I would have thought for example that including obesity and life expectancy might end up double counting).
Moving on from the conceptual idea we then heard about the East Hampshire Education Improvement Partnership and the impressive real life examples of what they have been doing. No measures of success presented, I suspect because it's early days yet, but very encouraging to see the levels of cooperation they have created and what that has enabled them to do.
The conference was drawn to a close and, once we had completed our survey forms, we were allowed to head home.
I felt it was a day well spent - tasty apple crumble and custard for lunch certainly helped :-)
Certainly feel better equipped to take part in the discussion on RAISE Online and FFT data we have lined up on tomorrow night's Full Governing Body meeting.
Plus I got to meet some new people - including Fiona Grindey who, following today's event, has set up the "Hampshire Governors" facebook group.