excellence for every child every day
I thought I’d experiment with a blog to record some of the things a chair of governors gets up to. Don’t worry, it won’t be all about late night meetings, health & safety documents and the surprisingly large amount of statistics we have to get our heads around these days. There are loads of much more fun and rewarding aspects to the role and thought I’d try and explain what they are.
This week, the governors were introduced to the new Tapestry initiative by the staff in reception. Tapestry is this amazing online system Rivelin has invested-in which documents children's progress through nursery and reception using an online package. For those of you whose children have already passed through this stage of the school, I'm sorry but you've really missed out.
The monitoring of children's progress through the Early Years is done through a notoriously complex grid which records the results of assessment observations of a bewildering range of things. Until this year, teachers and teaching assistants spent hours putting together detailed and weighty paper files of information about each child featuring examples of their work and photographs, etc. Now, with Tapestry, the whole thing has moved online. Everything is recorded using iPads and parents can securely log-in to see what their children have been doing and how they're getting on. The feature that I found most interesting is that parents can upload footage and photos of their children from home, as well as comments, to add to the overall picture.
Not only does the system free-up staff time so they can do lots of useful things rather than cut-and-paste pictures and other things into old fashioned files, it also encourages parents to become involved in their children's learning. It is clear from everything we hear across the school that there is direct correlation between the level of engagement of parents and pupil outcomes. This is most evident, of course, in the amount of reading children are encouraged to do at home. So any initiative that promotes more partnerships between the school and parents has got to be a good thing. I think applications like Tapestry will become commonplace across all areas of school life in years to come and that is only to be welcomed.
You've probably seen a lot in the national news recently about school finance – both the current situation and the government's proposals to change the way cash is shared out. This is the time of the year that the governors have been focusing on next year's budget. You'll not be surprised to hear that Rivelin's finances are extremely tight – but that's not really anything new. The good news, I guess, is that we're not facing the horrible situation you'll have seen with some schools in the news that are looking at staff redundancies and making other awful decisions.
It's undoubtedly a very difficult time, though. Rivelin does not do well out of the current funding regime. This is partly (but not only) because the formula takes no account of the cost of maintaining our ageing buildings. So, as ever, we're having to make some difficult choices between providing much needed resources in the classroom or investing in windows, toilets and roofs, etc.
I hope I've not just put-off our prospective parent governors! I'm sure I haven't. Thanks so much to the three people who have come forward. The ballot papers have now gone out and it would be great if as many people as possible could echo the enthusiasm of the candidates themselves by taking part in the vote. The election closes at the end of the first week back.
Have good Easter break.
Would you like to play key part in shaping the future of Rivelin and its children? We have some vacancies on the governing board. This is a slightly shortened version of a letter which has gone out to all parents and carers:
All our parents and children are affected by the changes we are seeing in primary education at the moment - like new ways in which our children are assessed, school budgets and whether or not Rivelin should become an academy. Why not join the school's governing board and have a direct involvement as we consider all these things and much more?
Some vacancies have arisen and I wonder if you feel you can help. I’ve set out what we’re looking for in some detail here. I’d be grateful if you would respond by the end of Monday February 27.
It's a really interesting time to join Rivelin's governing board. Last year's Ofsted judgment of “good” has meant we are now moving forward without have to constantly worry about a visit from the inspectors. Rivelin has an outstanding staff of committed teachers and support staff led by a determined head with a vision about how to make the school outstanding. And, of course, you will know all about Rivelin's engaged, talented and articulate children.
I'm not suggesting there aren't problems, of course. Funding for all schools is tight and our old buildings mean that governors are constantly having to make very difficult decisions about whether to replace rotten windows, update the 1950s toilets or spend the same money directly on teaching and learning in the classroom. And, of course, all primary schools will spend the next few months and years weighing up whether or not to join an academy trust.
Bu these are problems and decisions that affect all parents and children at the school, whether they're governors or not. Why not engage with it all and help us make the right choices?
The most important vacancy is for a parent governor. This vacancy has arisen because my term as a parent governor has come to an end (which is good timing as both my children have now left the school, so I'm no longer a Rivelin parent). The governors have decided that I should stay on the governing board as what we call a co-opted governor – but I want to talk more about co-opted governors in a second.
There are five parent governors on our governing body and they are voted for by all the parents in the school. We would encourage everyone with a child in school to think about whether they would like to stand. If more than one person comes forward we will hold an election and you may be asked to write a short statement just to introduce yourself to the other parents. Please fill-in the tear off slip and return to school if you want to stand.
We also have vacancies for more co-opted governors on the governing board. These are people invited to join by the board itself who are considered to have certain skills or experience we feel would benefit the school.
Do you know anyone in the community who fits that bill? Or, it may be that you are a parent who would prefer to join us on that basis rather than as an elected representative. Examples of relevant useful skills would be if you had a background in budget management, or safeguarding, or human resources - or, of course, if you have a background in education in some relevant capacity.
Come and Talk:
If you're interested in any of this please feel free to contact me to arrange a chat. You can get a message to me through the school office or if you email firstname.lastname@example.org and mark your message for my attention.
Some Legal Stuff:
Don't worry. Becoming a school governor does not make you personally liable for financial decisions the board makes, or anything like. I know this is something people worry about. There are, however, some legal restrictions around things like bankruptcy, not working for the school above a certain number of hours if you’re a parent governor and past criminal convictions. Please ask if you need further information about this.
Can I just take this opportunity to wish everyone associated with Rivelin a very Merry Christmas from all the governors?
We've had a really interesting term as a governing board - especially focusing on what the school is doing to make sure all children are reading to their full potential. We've been impressed with the school's new reading strategy and all the efforts that are being made by the staff. But we've also become even more aware of how a child's reading achievements are so closely linked linked to how much they read and are read-to at home. A lot of effort is being made by the teachers to build good relationships with parents and carers to emphasise this point. And, of course, most families at Rivelin know this all-too-well and make books a key part of home life. But I hope Santa brings some good reads in his sack and we can continue to encourage Rivelin children not just to read well but to love reading too.
Have a lovely festive and time and I look forward to seeing everyone in 2017.
I finally made it to Friday Celebration Assembly this morning - the first time I've managed to get in this term. I really would encourage anyone with an interest in Rivelin to come along from time-to-time - even if your child isn't getting an award - just to soak up the atmosphere and share in the celebrations. As well as being able to congratulate all the children who are given awards for their achievements during the week, you also find out a lot about what's happening in school and feel a part of what's going on.
Today we learned about everything from how the Y6s were a credit to Rivelin while having an amazing time on the Winmarleigh residential trip through to how one Y5 pupil amazed staff with her sophisticated grasp of the complex ethical issues surrounding child labour around the world. There was what seemed like a record-breaking number of children winning their pen licences for outstanding handwriting and the hall erupted again for the appearance of the Multiplication Mule with special awards for those excelling in their times tables. The best thing about the Friday assembly is seeing how the children are genuinely excited about all the awards, how they all clearly work hard to try and get them and (perhaps most important) how they all seem to enjoy each other's successes.
It was also good to see so many parents applauding all the achievements in the hall. I counted more than 40 this week, which is brilliant. And it wasn't just parents. I hope I don't upset anyone if I say some of those in the seats at the back looked more like grandparents than parents, which is also a brilliant sign. There's still room for more, though, if you fancy coming along.
As I was leaving school this morning the staff and pupils were getting reading to mark Armistice Day at 11am. Schools are under scrutiny these days to make sure they instil British Values into their children. But, in my experience, schools like Rivelin never need outside encouragement to make sure these important national moments are properly marked and understood by the pupils.
The full governing board has met for the first time this term. Although the first meeting of a new school year always involves lots of important administrative stuff (like electing the chair and agreeing the governors' code of conduct, etc.) it's also a chance to make sure we're all up-to-speed with developments in the school and set the strategy for the year.
As you may have noticed, a special focus this term at Rivelin is on reading. The governors spent a lot of time at the full governors meeting discussing Rivelin's new reading strategy with Mrs Powell and her team and we've also had an extra meeting devoted to looking at the strategies the teaching staff are employing to take reading standards to ever higher levels. The aim, of course, is to make sure all children are reading to their potential and no children are left behind. The governors were pleased that so many parents came to the special curriculum evening which focused on helping parents understand how reading is taught in school and how they can help at home. And, next month, the governors are devoting one of their regular "governors in school days" to looking at reading strategies.
Mrs Powell was also able to update the governors on lots of other aspects of school life. In particular, it seems the new teachers who have started this term are already proving to be a great asset. The governors also talked a lot about some issues around the school building - from the central heating through to trying to make sure Rivelin is even safer for the children. As I've said before, this is always a challenge with such an ageing set of buildings and a limited budget which we always want to spend directly on teaching and learning if we possibly can.
We still have a couple of vacancies on the governing board. At the moment, we're trying to find some independent voices - people who aren't current parents, former parents or member of staff. These groups, especially parents, are already very well represented on the board and we think it is important that some members can come to issues from a slightly more detached perspective. If you know anyone in the community who is interested in coming forward and getting involved with the school, please let me or Mrs Wraith or Mrs Powell know.
I just wanted to welcome everyone back at the start of the new school year – especially those families joining us for the first time in reception and the new faces among the staff.
It’s strange for me as I start my first year at Rivelin for nearly a decade without any children at the school. But I’ve been to see Mrs Powell and her team and there does seem to be a great atmosphere around the classrooms with everyone looking forward to the year ahead.
Perhaps the most obvious development over the summer has been the total replacement of the toilets in the KS1 building. This has been needed for a long time and we’re just pleased that we managed to find the money to sort it out. It’s amazing how different it looks. I’m sure the children (and the staff) will find the new facilities a much more pleasant experience!
As the new year develops, the governors are keen to hear from everyone involved at Rivelin about how they feel about school. It’s not my role to sort out individual problems associated with specific children or families but, if you want to talk with me about more general issues involving the school, please get in touch with Mrs Wraith in the office or email using the main school address, marking it for my attention.
I just wanted to end the 2015/16 school year with a big thank you to all the staff at Rivelin. We seem to finish every year by saying how busy it has been but this one must surely have beaten all records. With an Ofsted inspection in December and so many changes to cope with relating to how pupils are assessed – some of which are still very controversial – it’s amazing everyone has emerged still managing the occasional smile.
But the governors met on Wednesday to wrap-up the year and concluded it has been one which has seen Rivelin move on significantly. I’ve said a lot about the Ofsted judgement already but it really is an important landmark for the school. While the governors accept that formal assessment of children by tests and other means are not the only way a school should be judged, they are very important – not only for individual children and their progress but also in terms of determining how the school is performing. Fortunately – and to the credit of all the staff – the initial results appear to show our children have done really well, from the Early Years right through to our children in Y6.
Rivelin has managed to do this in a very tricky financial climate. Money is inevitably tight at the moment but our budget is balanced and, while we have plenty of ideas for what we would do with increased funding, there are no immediate concerns about staffing levels, etc. I am always talking about the challenges posed to us by Rivelin’s magnificent yet creaking buildings and how we could easily spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on updates and repairs if we had the cash. But we are doing what we can within these tight financial constraints and the governors are delighted that we have been able to green-light the replacement of the KS1 toilets during the summer holidays. This is something that has been needed for many years and the younger children will hopefully find a big improvement in this vital facility next term.
So I hope everyone has an enjoyable summer and that we get some suitable weather before too long. Good luck to all the children in Y6 as they move to their secondary schools. It’s a bit of a sad moment for me as today’s the last day for my youngest, so I’ll not have any children at Rivelin in September. Nevertheless, I will still be around next year so if anyone wants to get in touch please talk to Mrs Wraith in the office.
Thank you to the parents who came to our annual meeting last week. To be frank, the turn out was very low - but this is quite normal. We are realistic about how many parents want to spend a sunny June evening in school talking about Rivelin’s strategic direction! For those who wanted to talk but could not make the meeting, please get in touch with Mrs Wraith in the office who can put you in touch with me.
I made the point to the parents at the meetings that this academic year has seen some very significant developments – some of which remain unresolved. In very broad terms these have been:
:: We finally got the Ofsted visit we had been waiting for and it went very well. Rivelin is now a “good” school for the first time since Ofsted was set up and this will have a range of positive impacts in the coming months and years.
:: The question about whether Rivelin will become an academy in the next few years is still up in air. The government retreated from its position that it would force all schools to become academies by 2020 but it is still committed to encouraging this situation. There are no immediate plans for Rivelin to make a decision on this at the moment but we are watching the ever-changing situation very carefully.
:: There are still a lot of outstanding questions about how children’s attainment and progress are assessed and reported to parents – as, also, how schools are to be judged on these assessments. Some of this relates to the new SATS and we will know a lot more about this when the government publishes the results of these and explains how these results will be used. Mrs Powell and her team are also working hard to develop a better system to report the progress of all children following the government’s decision to abandon national curriculum levels.
As well as a discussion around these key issues for Rivelin, we also talked about a range of other matters, including Rivelin’s budget, pre-school provision, the ever-present challenge of our old buildings, exciting plans to rebuild the toilets in KS1, the growing success of the new PTA and communication between teachers and working parents.
As I say, please get in touch if anyone has any questions about the governors’ views on these matters or anything else.
Big changes appear to be on the horizon for Rivelin, as with all of the thousands of other schools still under the umbrella of local councils.
You will no doubt have seen the announcement from the government that all schools will have to convert to being an academy by 2020. It’s probably understating it to say that this has caused a fair amount of national debate and concern. With all the controversy surrounding this plan, there’s always a possibility the government’s policy might change but Rivelin’s governors believe that we have to plan on the basis that this will go-ahead and we have already met to consider what it might mean for the school.
I think the most important thing to stress at the moment is that we are not going to make any snap decisions. If the government’s plan works through as they say it will, Rivelin will almost certainly have to become part of a larger trust of schools within the next few years. This could mean joining an existing organisation or joining with other schools in Sheffield to form a new trust. There are huge numbers of questions that remain to be answered about how this will happen and what it means for each school – children, staff and parents.
As I say, there is no decision to make at the moment but the governors are looking at all the options and making sure Rivelin is at the heart of the ongoing discussions. This is potentially a huge change for the school in the near future but we are determined to make sure it does not overshadow all the good work that is going on at Rivelin at the moment. So many things are moving in the right direction at the school, we are determined not to get distracted by the academy issue while, at the same time, keeping on top of a fast changing situation.
We are at a very early stage of this process. However, if anyone has any concerns or just wanted to talk through what implications it may or may not have for Rivelin please feel free to get in touch. As ever, please contact me through Mrs Wraith in the school office or email email@example.com.
A belated Happy New Year to everyone connected with Rivelin. I just wanted to update everyone with what the governors have been doing since Christmas.
Much of our planning has focused on our response to the Ofsted report published just before the Christmas break. The fact Rivelin has now been judged to be “good” is very important for us and, in many ways, it feels like a new era unfolding.
The school has been under a lot of scrutiny for the last few years while it has been classed as “requires improvement”. This has meant that just about everything that the governors and Mrs Powell have done has always been with an eye on the next inspection and what is referred to as the “Ofsted framework”. Now we’ve reached this milestone there’s a feeling that we can plan for the future now without having this inspection constantly hanging over us.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m certainly not saying that what Ofsted want from the school and what we want from the school are different. And the very last thing we’re going to be is complacent. But it is refreshing to be able to plan for the next few years without having this shadow looming at every turn.
The question we’ve been asking, of course, is how realistic is it for the school to move to the top step in the Ofsted rankings and be classed as “outstanding”. What is clear from our meetings with the inspectors is that they were very impressed with the school and so many aspects of what we do is close to being “outstanding” in their terms. The bottom line, though, is how much progress our children make – as evidenced by SATS and other measures. No matter how brilliant the teachers are, or the curriculum is, or the behaviour is …… if these progress measures aren’t “outstanding”, then the school can’t be judged as “outstanding”.
The problem with this at the moment, is that measuring “progress” is clouded in mystery at the moment. As we’ve explained before, the government has abandoned national curriculum levels (the grades like 2b and 5c your children used to get) and they’ve also changed the way the Y6 SATS are run and graded. As a result of this ALL schools are in the dark at the moment about exactly how “progress” of children is going to be measured in the future.
Please be assured that, the governors keeping the changing situation very much under scrutiny. We are also sure that Mrs Powell and her team are being anything but complacent in their relentless focus on continuing to improve children’s outcomes.
As I said in the Friday letter, if anyone want to talk to me about anything in the Ofsted report, I’m more than happy to arrange a meeting. Please talk to Mrs Wraith in the office.
Stop press: Ofsted says Rivelin is "good".
We weren't expecting the report to be published before Christmas so what a great surprise for everyone on the day we break up.
The governors want to thank the staff for all their hard work to achieve this judgement. I think it's the first time Rivelin has ever been graded good by Ofsted.
We'll have much more to say about the Ofsted inspection and where we go from here after the Christmas break. If you get a moment, please have a read of the report itself - it's on the school website.
Have a Merry Christmas!
Ofsted came to Rivelin last week.
Inspections are always stressful times as their outcomes can have a wide-ranging impact on a school. We were last inspected in September 2013 and had been expecting a return visit within two years. So, waiting until December 2015 has been a nail-biting experience. Now it’s all over, I think the over-riding feeling around school is one of relief that the inspectors have finally come and it’s all over.
For the last few inspections before this one, Rivelin has been judged to be what used to be called “satisfactory” and is now called “requires improvement”. The school has made so much progress in recent years we have been convinced it should now be judged to be “good”. The staff pulled out all the stops to make sure the inspectors saw the school at its best but we will have to wait a few weeks (after Christmas, I’m afraid) for them to publish their findings.
Compared with the staff, the governors played quite a minor role in the inspection - in terms of time and effort. Of course, the inspectors had access to the mountains of documentation we produce every year – minutes and reports, etc. But a small group of us also met with one of the inspectors to discuss what we do, how we see the school’s progress and anything else Ofsted feel they want to know. Four of us met the inspectors this time and I actually quite enjoyed having the opportunity to tell him about what’s been happening at Rivelin.
It was good for everyone that the Ofsted team didn’t turn up this week. The school would still have carried on with all the Christmas events (in fact they were here for one of the performances) but it would inevitably have made it a far less relaxed and more disrupted few days around school.
So now we’re going to enjoy Christmas and look forward to 2016. Once we get the Ofsted report we can share our reaction to their findings and continue to plan for the future.
Merry Christmas everyone.
It was great to be able to go to the Friday morning “celebration assembly” today, especially as it was Children in Need day and everyone was transformed into superheroes ranging from The Hulk through to a large number of Disney Princesses. Like most parents, I find it difficult to go to every Friday assembly due to that pesky little annoyance of having to go to work. But I think all those who can get there find out a lot about what’s going on in school and enjoy helping celebrate the children’s achievements.
The assembly capped off a busy week. On Wednesday, I joined two other governors to spend a day in school looking at how the Assertive Mentoring initiative is working in school. I’m not sure how much parents have taken on board about Assertive Mentoring. It’s the package the school has bought-into that brings together a range of different aspects of teaching and strategies for improving outcomes for children. The parts of it you’ve probably heard of most are the Big Maths and Grammar Hammer sessions the children take part in on Mondays and Fridays. And the whole thing comes together with mentoring meetings, where children meet with staff to discuss every aspect of their progress – from their maths to their SPAG to their behaviour - before they produce their colour-coded termly reports.
So, for our day in school we concentrated the people who really matter – the children, of course. Mrs Powell arranged for us to meet with groups from Y1 right up to Y6 to tell us what they think about Assertive Mentoring and they certainly did just that. They told us about their maths and their reading and their mentoring meetings. They also told us about dressing up like hot dogs, their teacher’s perfume, their favourite snacks and why they prefer literacy lessons to talking to governors (which is encouraging, I suppose).
All-in-all it was a very useful day as well an opportunity to talk to Mrs Powell and her team in depth about a range of related issues and have a good look around some of the recent updating work that has gone on around the building.
I don’t know whose idea it was to hold a meeting of the governors’ Standards Committee on the same day as our Governors In School Day (mine, probably) but it certainly made for a full-on day. Fortunately, it was a really useful meeting, focusing on children’s progress, and chair Lisa Hood did a brilliant job of keep it to a manageable hour-and-a-half.
Tonight saw the first try of new initiative in school – an evening devoted to helping parents and carers understand how their children are taught maths in school. And, what a turnout! I think there must have been upwards of 100 grown-ups who braved pretty poor weather to sit in classrooms and learn about what is expected of children in different year groups and how different types of maths is taught. Unless you’re a really young parent, you will undoubtedly have wondered what “chunking” is and how long division appears to have changed quite a bit since you were at school.
From what I saw, the evening worked really well – helped by a pizza and drinks in dining hall at the end. I’m sure it will be repeated before too long, probably looking at a different subject. So thanks to everyone who came and please continue to support these types of initiative.
As governors, we decided to use this evening as one of regular attempts to be available to parents and carers who want to ask us any questions. Last term we held a formal meeting and invited people to come along if they wanted to discuss anything, We decided to try a less formal setting this term as part of the maths evening. Thanks to those people who did come and chat to me and any of the other governors who were there. I had some interesting conversations about the parking situation on Morley Street, the new assessment system which has replaced national curriculum levels and, of course, what people thought about the maths initiative.