This year's conference, attended by around 100 governors from Hampshire schools, was titled "Secondary Governance and Accountability: Shaping the Future".
I attended hoping for the chance to talk with other governors and to hear some interesting talks that would help to trigger ideas that I could take back in my role as a parent governor. I wasn't disappointed.
First up we had the Deputy Director of Education and Inclusion, John Clarke, who talked about the relative performance of children in Hampshire schools compared to national averages. Particular focus on looking at the progression made from Key stage 2 levels through to key stage 4 attainment and how children who qualify for free school meals attain compared with those who don't.
He recommended a couple of interesting sounding books which have been added to my ever growing wish list on Amazon - the main wish being to find the time to read more of the wonderful books out there.....
Mention was made of studies that look at what actually makes a difference to helping students learn. Up at the top is ensuring that they get useful feedback. Issues of uniform were at the other end. Interesting challenge of how you best meet the needs of the children whilst convincing their parents that this is what you are doing. How to handle potential gap between what people think matters and doing what actually matters is a tricky one.
He finished with a thoughtful list of how the skills that will be needed for a "21st Century Creative Explorer" compares with those more suited to a "19th Century Clerk". I've heard it said before that one of the challenges for education is that we are preparing students to take on jobs, many of which have yet to be conceived. Makes it important that schools turn out children who can not only acquit themselves well in the exams they take but also are equipped to take their place in a fast changing world.
We broke for coffee before our next speaker John Dunford. He retired from his role as General Secretary of the Association of School and College leaders a couple of years ago. More interestingly from my perspective was his time as head teacher of Durham Johnston Comprehensive School, his tenure there having included some of my time there as a pupil. It actually turned out that he had 2 ex pupils in the audience - by a wonderful coincidence I had unwittingly ended up sitting 2 seats away from the elder sister of one of my school friends !
His wide ranging and engaging talk stressed the importance of Values, Innovation and Partnership - with school leaders and governors collaborating to drive success in their school.
The theme of freedom popped up a few times and the difference between "freedom from" and "freedom to". It is all too easy to focus on the things that you can't control, the edicts and regulations, and spend your energy wishing them away. How much better to embracing the considerable autonomy that does exist. Fundamentally, we need to take ownership of the situation we are in and focus on what can be done rather than what can't.
I particularly liked his "warp and weft" model where as well as looking at the knowledge being gained you also consider the dimensions of skills & personal qualities. How is the method being used to grow the knowledge also assisting in the development of skills and personal qualities. Something I can take back to work as well as my governor role.
Lunch was good if a slightly odd combination of salad, sandwiches and hot food. It was followed by a tasty fruit fool dessert whose description as "seasonal" did leave me wondering what would be in it given it was February. Lunch also provided the opportunity to catch up with another governor at the event who also happens to be the person I replaced as Chair of the Andover Deanery Finance Committee last year.
Our final speaker was Sue Hackman, Chief Advisor on School Standards. She also picked up on the theme of pupil progress and the gap in attainment between those getting free school meals and those who aren't. Most of her time though was given over to a lively, anecdote rich, tour of various ideas that have been tried in schools and shown to work. It was a talk delivered with real passion and rich with ideas. I particularly liked her discussion on "tracking and tacking" stressing as it did not only the importance of knowing what progress individual pupils are making but the willingness to do something about it. It's no good doing lots of data analysis to identify an underperforming group of students if you aren't prepared to do the "tacking" as well to change approach and try something else and hopefully make things better.
Overall it was a day filled with lots of thoughts and ideas and well worth the time invested to attend. If I had to summarise it down to one theme it would be the importance of aspiration and the toxic effect of preconceived notions of what someone can achieve. In the midst of all the data on "expected levels of progress" we need to take care that this doesn't become a limiting view on what heights a student could actually reach.
Now the challenge of working with my fellow governors to see what ideas we can take and apply to our own context begins....