Earwig is delighted to have the eminent Dr Matthew Pearson as our latest guest blogger, writing about life as a school governor and the responsibilities that come with the position …

“The governing body of a school has always been a crucial part of how a school operates. The governors set the strategic direction of the school, they hold the headteacher to account and also keep an eye on the financial health of the school (NGA 2015). This is a lot of responsibility for a band of unpaid volunteers, yet strong governance is vital if a school is to move forward.

When I first became a governor of a primary school in Bolton over three years ago, two things struck me immediately. The first was the amount of the data the governing body are given to work with. As schools have become more accountable to OfSTED, the amount of data they generate to monitor performance has increased exponentially, and a governing body needs to engage with this data and discern a strategic direction from all of the detail and complexity. The second thing to strike me was how acronym rich education is, which is a very polite way of saying that education creates industrial quantities of jargon.  I had worked in education albeit higher and further education, for decades, but even I had a period of adjustment as I sorted out the INAs from the PPAs. Budding governors need to make sense of all these terms if they are to perform their roles properly.

But what ultimately matters most in any school is not the data, or the acronyms, or the jargon; what matters most is the experience of the children.  Governors are there to help the school do the best it possibly can to educate its children and help them achieve their full potential.  Any governor who does not take this task seriously should not be on the governing body.  To improve the experience of the children, the governors need to engage with the teaching and learning in the school, to see what is happening on a typical Tuesday morning in the school. Our governing body holds learning walks where we move through the school observing lessons, small group teaching and one-to-one work, and these sessions are very valuable for putting all of the data into a context.  You get to see what is happening on the classroom floor and this makes discussions in governing body meetings so much richer and full of context.

But governors are very busy people.  Governors are increasingly selected for the skills they bring to the governing body; skills such as finance, IT, facilities management or HR skills. For much of their time the governors are doing the jobs which give them these skills, so the time they have to visit the school is necessarily limited.

During a recent governor meeting, the Deputy Head gave us an overview of Earwig Academic Timelines which the school had adopted a few months earlier. It was soon clear that this was a game-changing tool for the governing body although the school’s reason for adoption had been about recording academic achievement rather than helping the governors do their jobs.  As the Deputy Head showed us the timelines we saw right into the classrooms and into some of the key moments of learning from the last few months. And this data was online meaning we could view it from our computers, it was password protected so it was secure and governors could look at the school timeline, or at subject or even class timeline according to our individual priorities and responsibilities in the school.

We live our lives mediated by technology, and often we take it for granted. Those genuine ‘wow’ moments when we see a technology revolutionizing how we work are not so common now, but seeing Earwig at the governing body meeting was one of those wow moments.  Earwig Academic Timelines will have a major positive impact on my governing body and how it operates as we get beyond the data, past the acronyms and look into a window on the school.”

Dr Matthew Pearson is a governor at a primary school in Bolton and an Education Consultant working across a range of Capital Programmes including BSF, Academies, Further Education and Higher Education. He has specialist interest in the adoption of interactive technology for teaching and associated professional development and change management issues. He has 13,000 followers on twitter


 The National Governor Association (2015) A Framework for Governance: A flexible guide to strategic planning [online] Available: http://www.nga.org.uk/getattachment/1af9e9b3-e599-409a-8b19-e067c671b0ce/FINAL-Framework-for-Governance.pdf.aspx, date accessed 20th March 2015.

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