Friday 19 July 2019

Leaving the Chair

On the side of the road that wends its way from Westbury to West Lavington stands an old milestone in the village of Edington. Blink and you'll miss it. The black words on the white metal plate read, "LONDON 97 MILES". Handy things, milestones. They mark the progress you have made towards your desired destination.

I reached a personal milestone in my role as a governor last Tuesday evening when I chaired the meeting of the Full Governing Board for the final time and handed over the reins to my colleague, Brian Ralph. We've been co-chairing for a while, but after six years in the Chair the time had come for me to step down. Brian will now serve as sole Chair and I wish him all the best.

Matravers has come a long way over those six years. Our students sport blazers, shirts and ties rather than polo shirts and sweatshirts. The school site has benefited from substantial investment. Most notably in terms of the new maths, science and design block. Student numbers have increased. Attendance is now at least in line with national average figures. Results have improved massively. Against national trends the gap between disadvantaged students and others has virtually disappeared. (See below from the FFT Dashboard). The governors' vision of Matravers being a 'world-class centre of teaching and learning' is well on the way to being realised.
Both my children attended the school and I became a parent governor in January 2012. Cue steep learning curve. I was appointed as Chair in July 2013. Cue an even steeper learning curve. Dr Riding became our Headteacher in September of that year. The achievements outlined above are the result of his strong leadership, also the incredible commitment of our talented staff, the hard work of our exceptional students and the support of their parents.

The Board of Governors played its part by setting the strategic direction of the school and monitoring progress towards our goals. Matravers has seen big changes over the last six years. But the school has maintained its essence, offering a broad and diverse arts-rich curriculum. The stunning annual performances are testament to that. Not to mention the amazing array of extracurricular clubs and showcase events. As ever, we aim to be highly aspirational, yet deeply inclusive.

We've been able to safeguard the vibrant ethos and core values of Matravers because of something that didn't happen in my time as Chair. Unlike many schools we did not care to join a Multi Academy Trust. In MATs key decisions are made by the trust board, not at the level of the individual academy. We remain a Local Authority Foundation School that is governed by stakeholders drawn from our own community. If you are passionate about ensuring the young people of the Westbury area have the best possible education, why not consider becoming a governor? See here for info on vacancies. 

It's been a privilege to have served as Chair and then Co-Chair of the board. I plan to continue as a governor, doing my bit from the 'backbenches'. I pay tribute past and present members of our 'active, sophisticated and engaged Governing Body' (in the words of an External Review of Governance). Thanks also to our Clerk for keeping us in order.

Just like that milestone in Edington the end of my time as Chair serves as a little marker that shows how far Matravers has come in its journey towards being a truly 'world-class' school at the heart of our region. 

Wednesday 1 May 2019

Matravers School - Governor Vacancy

"The Governing Body presented as active, sophisticated and engaged. Its grasp of statutory activities was very good, and it was evident that there was expertise and commitment. There was both documentary and anecdotal evidence that the Governing Body was operating in a determined and comprehensive way; in the reviewer’s experience considerably more effectively than many other schools." (External Review of Governance, March 2019) 
There is currently a vacancy for a co-opted governor to serve on the Board of Governors of Matravers School. Co-opted governors can be anyone with relevant skills, including parents of children at the school, and local authority or school employees, as well as other members of the community.

We also have a vacancy for a parent governor (and another coming up in October). Parent governors are elected by and from other parents and are vital to our governing board. You do not have to be an expert on education to be a school governor, your role would be as a typical parent bringing a parent's perspective to the running of the governing board and the school. We value the experience that all governors bring to the role. The procedure for recruiting parent governors is slightly more complex than for co-opted governors, and a longer timeframe will apply.

Why become a Governor?

Becoming a school governor involves taking on one of the most important and valuable roles in education – the strategic leadership of a school. Governors are one of the biggest groups of volunteers in the country. As a member of the Governing Board you would support the school in providing the best possible education for its pupils, as governors and the Headteacher set the school’s strategic priorities and policies together (although the Head is responsible for day-to-day leadership and management).

These are exciting times for Matravers School. We have been on a journey of transformation over the last 6 years, and results for 2018 were in the top 8% of schools nationally when compared with students with starting points similar to those at Matravers. It is our intention to ensure this upward trend continues. During these past few years, governors have played an important role working with the Headteacher to set the vision for the school, and supporting him in working towards it. We now have ambitious plans for improvements to the school premises, including a new maths and science block due to be completed towards the end of 2019.

Who might apply:

Guy Davies and Brian Ralph, Co-chairs of the Board of Governors, would like to invite parents/carers, and people from the local community who may be able to bring valuable skills to the school, to consider putting themselves forward for the vacancy.

They would especially welcome applications from people who have experience of leadership and management in the public or private sectors for the co-opted vacancy. Prior involvement in school governance would be an advantage, but not essential as induction and training will be provided.

The successful candidate will share the Board’s vision for Matravers to be a "world-class centre for teaching and learning at the heart of our region, the secondary school of choice for young people in the area. "Applicants must be IT literate, be confident in the use of email and have a basic understanding of Microsoft Office 365 as all our documents are stored in a collaborative working environment on our governor SharePoint site. (Training in the use of MS Office 365 can be provided if required)

Governors are expected to commit themselves to the role and this will require them to attend two Tuesday evening meetings a term (six terms per year) for formal governor meetings. In addition, they will be expected to attend some training events throughout the year relevant to their role on the Board. There are also occasional daytime visits to the school (to be attended if possible) to enable governors to ‘see the school in action’ as well as to support occasional governor related panels and working groups. You would also need to find time for reading documents in preparation for meetings, and other communications and circulars.

Applicants would be expected to complete an application form and skills audit, and if appointed – to undergo a referencing process and DBS check. This is necessary to comply with the school’s safeguarding obligations.

How to find out more:

To find out more about being a governor at this school, please refer to the further information provided on the school’s website. Alternatively, you may prefer to contact the clerk, Mrs Jessica Yeatman, who will be happy to arrange for an existing governor to talk to you. She can be emailed at, or you can leave a message at the school.

If you would like to put yourself forward for either role, please complete and return the application form by the 24th May 2019. Forms are available on the Matravers website, or can be obtained from the school’s reception desk.

(Updated 02/05/2019)

Friday 5 April 2019

Governor response to Ofsted Part II: On governance

I did not expect to have to write a public response to Ofsted following their visit in October 2018. We had no reason for serious disagreement with the outcome of previous inspections. Including when we were judged 'Requires Improvememnt' in 2013. This time it's different. In Part 1 we looked at performance data. Now for Part II, in which the primary focus is on governance. 

Aside from pupil outcomes the HMI Mr. Smith asked governors what other strategic priorities we had set for the school. Attendance was given as an example. Historically pupil attendance had been below national and persistent absence above national. The 2017/18 figures showed a reversal of that trend, with attendance above national and persistent absence below. The HMI treated this claim with some scepticism, demanding to know the reason for what he took to be a sudden turnaround. We explained that this was not a sudden turnaround at all, but the result of consistent strategies for raising pupil attendance over time, as acknowledged in the 2015 Ofsted report.  

As Governor involvement in ensuring Safeguarding and Child Protection had not been raised by Mr. Smith, we brought it up and explained how procedures are followed.  

We were not given an opportunity to show how the Board of Governors expect the school to maintain a broad and balanced curriculum and ensure value for money, or mention our strategic priorities for site development. More detail was provided in the follow-up note to the HMI. Contrary to what is stated in the Inspection Report, governors did not claim that we had been involved in “helping leaders to manage complex projects, such as the new build currently taking shape.” You won't find us in donkey jackets and hard hats supervising construction of the new maths and science block. 

Based on previous experience of Ofsted inspections, we expected the HMI to be probing, yet open minded and fair in his discussions with members of the Board of Governors. Those present in the meeting with Mr. Smith found him overly adversarial in approach, to the point of rudeness. He seemed to be trying to find evidence to fit a pre-determined negative view of the school. Perceived weaknesses were magnified. Strengths were minimised or dismissed. Following the meeting with Mr. Smith I rang the National Governance Association’s helpline to ask for guidance on what we should do when an inspector seemed not to be acting in line with the Ofsted framework. They advised that we should make our concerns known to the HMI during the inspection, which we did in the form of note addressed to Mr. Smith.  

When Mr. Smith announced the outcome of the inspection in the feedback meeting, he opined that governors had accepted an overly generous self-evaluation of the school that was not in keeping with reality. He said we had failed to challenge a claim in a Headteacher’s report (Term 6 2017/18) that pupil outcomes overall were ‘outstanding’. It would have been difficult for us to challenge any such claim, because none was made. In his feedback the HMI accused the school of failing to improve outcomes for disadvantaged students. This seemed especially unfair, given that the 2017 ‘Pupil Premium' results were adversely affected by a single 'outlier' who moved out of county and then took no exams. Plus, that the 2018 attainment gap was minimal, with disadvantaged progress above national. See Part I

The governors do not believe that 'Requires Improvement' was a fair or accurate reflection of the school. The judgement has had a potentially demoralising effect on our staff and students and has potentially damaged the standing of the school in the community. Apart from an expensive legal process, the only means of redress for schools who are unhappy with Ofsted judgements is the inspectorate’s complaints procedure. It is very seldom that Ofsted will overturn the judgement of their own inspection teams. Openness, transparency and fairness would be better served if appeals were handled by a body external to Ofsted.  As yet the inspectorate has not responed to our Freedom of Information request that the 'evidence base' of the inspection be released to us. Ofsted likes to style itself as a champion of  'muscular liberalism'. But the inspectorate's commitment to liberal democratic values seems to be lacking when it comes to its own operations. 'The 7 principles of public life' drawn up by Lord Nolan include 'Accountability' and 'Openness', here.  

Be that as it may, the Board of Governors remain determined that weaknesses in the school will be addressed and areas of strength improved upon still further. As recommended in the Ofsted report we commissioned an External Review of Governance. These formal reviews are undertaken by specially trained National Leaders of Governance at a cost to the school of over £1,000. Their aim is to ensure that weaknesses in the governing board are identified and addressed. The resulting report concluded,
The Governing Body presented as active, sophisticated and engaged. Its grasp of statutory activities was very good, and it was evident that there was expertise and commitment. There was both documentary and anecdotal evidence that the Governing Body was operating in a determined and comprehensive way; in the reviewer’s experience considerably more effectively than many other schools. Indeed, it proved to be difficult to identify any significant areas of underperformance and, by comparison to other Reviews conducted, it was a matter of some bafflement as to how the GB was criticised in such a way [by Ofsted].
One week after inspecting Matravers School, HMI Steve Smith led the inspection of a Bristol Academy. The Academy was downgraded from Good to Requires Improvement. Due to concerns identified in Ofsted’s ‘quality assurance process Mr. Smith’s inspection was deemed 'incomplete'. Additional HMIs were sent in to ‘secure the evidence base’ before the report was published. Hearing that doesn't exactly fill you with confidence. 


Ofsted seems to judge schools in towns like Westbury rather harshly. In a recent speech the chief inspector, Amanda Speilman said there is “no doubt” that schools in white working class communities have a “harder job to do than others”. She admitted,  “We can’t pretend that Ofsted judgements are not lower in certain areas – many of them with a high proportion of white working class children." Context matters. As pointed out in Part 1, Westbury has a higher percentage of disadvantaged pupils than schools in Warminster and Trowbridge. We do not use that as an excuse for underachievement, however. It gives us all the more reason to give our students the best possible start in life. The excellent progress made by disadvantaged pupils detailed in Part 1 is proof enough of that. It's a pity that Ofsted has made a difficult job even harder by their RI judgement. But 'resilience' is one of our core values. We will bounce back and crack on with making our ambitious Vision for the school a reality:
"Our Vision is for Matravers School to be a world-class centre for teaching and learning at the heart of our region, the secondary school of choice for young people."
"Achieving this involves ensuring that every Matravers student exceeds expectations in all aspects of their education. We will enable our students to gain the highest possible qualifications and equip them with the knowledge, skills and values they need to face life with confidence."
School leaders and staff relentlessly work to achieve this vision for the sake of our students. Nothing but the best will do for the young people of Westbury and beyond.

Guy Davies 
Co-Chair of the Board of Governors  

Friday 29 March 2019

Governor response to Ofsted Part I: On data

We were judged Requires Improvement by Ofsted. I was a member of the group of governors that met with the Lead Inspector. It was a fair cop. We were an RI school and couldn’t quibble with the judgement. An external review of governance was ordered. We implemented the resulting Action Plan in full. That was back in 2013. Ofsted visited the school again in 2015. This time I was chair of governors. Matravers was rated Good for the first time in its history. Many outstanding features were highlighted in the report. Governance was held up as an area of strength. Not so when the inspectors came to call in 2018. The school was downgraded to RI and the governors were criticised in the report. In this instance we believe Ofsted got it wrong. 

Governors have not publicly responded to the October 2018 Ofsted report, as the school was in the process of appealing against the Requires Improvement judgement. The appeal has now been considered. The inspectorate has upheld the judgement. We continue to dispute that the school Requires Improvement when measured against Ofsted’s own inspection criteria. This is a statement on behalf of the Board of Governors detailing why we believe that the inspection and its outcome were flawed. The time has come in the words of the old journalistic adage to ‘tell the truth and shame the devil’.  

A panel of five governors was invited to meet with the Lead Inspector, Mr. Steve Smith (Her Majesty’s Inspector - HMI). In previous inspections the inspector allowed governors to outline how they had fulfilled their core functions. Mr. Smith adopted a different stance. In the 30 minute meeting the HMI seemed only to be interested in the historic 2017 performance data as set out in the Inspection Data Summary Report (IDSR). The validated version of which was published back in January 2018.  

Governors were surprised at this approach. We understood from the Ofsted Inspection Framework that more recent pupil outcomes should take precedence over historic data. When governors attempted to demonstrate progression from the 2017 to 2018 results, their efforts were brushed aside, as the 2018 data had not yet validated by the Department for Education. Mr. Smith would not therefore accept that outcomes had improved in a number of areas.  

The HMI seemed reluctant to believe that governors were given access to national data, although we explained that all members of the board are given personal log in access to Analyse School Performance, and with it the IDSR. The Training Audit provided for the inspectors in the Governors’ Ofsted evidence folder showed that members of the board had received training in understanding secondary school data.   

The Lead Inspector expected governors to be able to recall some of the details of the IDSR (a 42 page report) from memory. When we could not, Mr. Smith seemed to take it as evidence that aspects of the data were not being drawn to the attention of governors by the Headteacher, which was not the case. The Lead Inspector disputed that the ‘Class of 2017’ were below national on entry and that their outcomes were defined as ‘on national’ according to ASP/IDSR. We agreed that A level results had not been as good as expected, but we did not think this was limited to girls as he alleged. IDSR stated that pupil numbers were too small for such lines of enquiry to be generated. In a follow-up note to Mr. Smith we were able to substantiate our claims by drawing attention to the appropriate pages on ASP and IDSR.  

Mr. Smith did not accept the claim of the Contextual Value Added version of the 2017 Fischer Family Trust Data Dashboard that the school’s Key Stage 4 outcomes were in the top 5% for pupils with a similar starting point and context nationally. Again, governors were surprised at this, as the DfE’s Governance Handbook (January 2017) and the National Governance Association recommend that governors be aware of the FFT dashboard, with the NGA laying special emphasis on the importance of understanding contextual data. The inspector seemed to be of the view that placing pupil outcomes in context amounted to limiting expectations for our students. We insisted that this was not the case and pointed out that in 2018 the attainment gap between disadvantaged and other pupils had virtually closed. We also explained that our Alternative Provision students vastly outperformed those in Pupil Referral Units across England. (Wiltshire has no PRUs).   

The 2018 IDSR, published in February 2019 demonstrates that the progress of disadvantaged students was an area of huge success for the school, not an aspect that requires improvement. Overall, the progress of disadvantaged students at Matravers was above that of other non-disadvantaged pupils nationally. That is also the case for the Maths, Open and Science elements of Progress 8. In the English, Ebacc, Languages and Humanities elements, progress for our disadvantaged students was potentially in the top 10% of schools nationally. When it comes to Key Stage 4 exam results for 2018, the Attainment 8 figure for our disadvantaged students was 42.2, compared with a whole school figure of 44.8 (above national average). That against a background where there is a huge gap in attainment between disadvantaged students and others in Wiltshire schools. The county-wide Attainment 8 figure for disadvantaged students was 33.5 

The HMI claimed that schools in the neighbouring towns of Trowbridge and Warminster had a similar context to that of Matravers, yet their outcomes were better. Governors countered that this was not the case. In 2017 our attainment figures were in line with, if, not better than John of Gaunt School and Clarendon Academy in Trowbridge, while below those of Kingdown School in Warminster. An internal analysis of local schools’ KS4 results for 2018 had been supplied to governors by the Headteacher so we could benchmark our performance against that of our near neighbours. According to the data provided, the Matravers Attainment 8 and 4+ and 5+ English and Maths figures had pulled away from the Trowbridge schools and were either above or virtually in line with those of Kingdown. This analysis was not accepted by Mr. Smith, although it is borne out by the DfE’s ‘Compare School Performance’ figures (Table 1). In fact, Westbury has a higher percentage of SEND and Disadvantaged pupils than our neighbouring towns (Table 2).  

Table 1 ‘Compare School Performance 2018 
Attainment 8 
Grade 5+ Eng & Math 
John of Gaunt 

Table 2 May 2018 Census  
Area Board 
Any SEND % 
Disadvantaged % 
Any SEND & Disadv % 

The results detailed above are a tribute to our dedicated staff and exceptional students. It is no good Ofsted saying that their inspection judgements are not all about performance data. Mr. Smith was interested in little else when he spoke to governors. The 2017 data, at least.  

In Part II I will discuss other matters in relation to governance and the inspection judgement. 

Guy Davies 
Co-Chair of the Board of Governors