Governor school visits: your how-to guide

Find out what to do before, during and after your school visits, including if you're doing a remote visit. Be clear on what's expected of you with our dos and don’ts. Plus, use our example questions and template reports to take notes on your monitoring visits and learning walks.

Last reviewed on 21 March 2024See updates
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Contents
  1. Steps to take before the visit
  2. Use our visit templates 
  3. Questions to ask
  4. Dos and don'ts during the visit
  5. Reporting back to the board

Select here if you're a trustee in a multi-academy trust (MAT)

Steps to take before the visit

Schedule an appointment with relevant members of staff

The maintained schools governance guide (section 3.3.3) now explicitly states that 'individual governors do not have an automatic right to enter the school whenever they wish', so it's essential to pre-arrange all visits to your school with the appropriate person.

During the school day, staff have many demands on their time, so you'll want to be sensitive to this. Someone usually acts as the go-between when arranging visits – for example, a member of administrative staff, and they should be able to help you.

The academy trust governance guide doesn't mention school visits, but this is still good advice to follow.

Notify the headteacher and the chair

Do this before a time is agreed, even if the headteacher will not be involved in the visit. Make sure they're aware, as a matter of courtesy.

Find a mutually convenient time

Generally, governor visits are more productive when conducted during a school day, although this can be difficult if you have a full-time job. 

Read our advice on school governors' right to time off work for more information about this.

Clarify the purpose of the visit in advance

Do this with your chair, the headteacher or relevant member of staff ahead of the visit.

This could be, for example, watching a specific lesson where a new approach is being developed (although you mustn't be involved in formal lesson observation) or seeing the range of extra-curricular activities available during the lunch break.

If you do want to watch part of a lesson, you must have a very clear reason for doing so. 

Send questions in advance

If you have specific questions or things you want to look at on the visit, send these to the staff member so you can both feel more prepared.

Check whether your school has a policy

If your school has a governor school visits policy or guidance pack, these should help you understand what's expected.

If you're the chair, take a look at our chair’s guide to governor school visits. 

Use our visit templates 

We created 2 templates to reflect the most common types of school visit that you'll go on:

  • Formal monitoring visits are where you discuss the progress of the school in a particular area with the relevant staff member
  • Learning walks are where you'll go around the school with the relevant staff member to get a feel for a particular area. You're likely to talk to a range of staff members and pupils 

Use these to structure your visits, and as reminders of what to look for and what to ask. They'll also help you write up your findings to share with your board. Find out more about writing a visit report later in this article.

Download: template for a governor school monitoring visit DOCX, 519.1 KB
Download: template for a governor learning walk DOCX, 519.9 KB

Questions to ask

Use our questions in the following articles to help you come up with more specific things to ask yourself. If you're using one of our template reports above, include the questions in the report. 

Subject leaders

See our list of questions to ask subject leaders

Send your questions to the staff member in advance so that they can prepare.

Pupils

Use the questions in our article about questions to ask pupils, if you're planning to speak to pupils during your visit.

Specific subjects/topics

Find questions in these articles:

For further questions to ask, use the 'search' box at the top of this page to look for specific topics.

Dos and don'ts during the visit

Do

  • Ask open questions beginning with ‘what’, ‘how’, ‘when’, ‘how often’, ‘why’, ‘who’ and ‘where’
  • Ask to see evidence for the information you're told by staff, or ask what evidence they've used to make a judgement
  • Clarify any terms or acronyms you’re not familiar with
  • Stay observational: you’re not there to pass judgement on staff or inspect them
  • If you're going to spend time in a classroom, all parties need to be very clear about why you're there
  • Check with teachers before asking pupils questions
  • Tell staff you'll pass on any concerns they raise with the relevant people. This helps build trust and demonstrates that you're there to support them
  • Remember that you're representing the governors. Be friendly but professional, and dress appropriately, bearing in mind the standards of dress you set for teachers and pupils

Don't

  • Pass comment on classroom practice or any specific incidents that happen. You're not there to inspect the school, and it's not your role to judge teaching methods, assess the quality of teaching, or comment on the extent of learning
  • Interfere with the day-to-day running of the school. You're not school managers
  • Sit at the back of the classroom with a clipboard. This will be intimidating and make you look like an inspector. Be friendly, engaging and interactive 
  • Raise concerns in the moment. If you have concerns about anything you've seen, note them down and raise them with the chair of governors or headteacher later

The above information is based on the purpose of visits set out in the maintained schools governance guide (section 3.3.3), and advice from our experts Jackie Beard and Nicky Odgers. 

In practice: example visit format from a school

The vice-chair of governors at Kaizen Primary School in London's Newham went on a visit to monitor reading, with a particular focus on a reciprocal reading initiative that the school was trialling.

The visit lasted an hour and included:

  • A welcome from 2 of the school’s senior leaders, including a discussion of the initiative and its context (10 minutes)
  • A learning walk around 2 classrooms to see the initiative in action (15 minutes)
  • A follow-up discussion with the senior leaders (5 minutes)
  • Discussion with a teacher on his experience and thoughts on the new initiative (15 minutes)
  • A discussion with 2 pupils on their thoughts about the initiative (10 minutes)
  • A final follow-up (5 minutes)

The vice-chair found the structure of the visit allowed him to hear about the progress of the school’s initiative from multiple perspectives, highlighting how both teachers and pupils felt it was working. He also felt more confident in his knowledge of what was happening in the school.

Reporting back to the board

Check your board's expectations before reporting back. Ask your chair: 

  • What format should I report back in – in writing or in person?
  • What should the report include?
  • Who do I need to send the report to, and by when?
  • Will the report be presented at a full governing board or committee meeting?

Use our templates above to structure your report (unless this contradicts your school's policy or preferred method).  

Tips for writing the report

Our expert Nicky Odgers gave us her advice on how to write a constructive report that remains within governors' strategic remit.

Do:

  • Use neutral language at all times
  • Remain observational, and describe only what you see
  • Focus closely on the agreed reasons for the visit, and its strategic role
  • Send your report to an experienced governor for feedback, if you're new to the role
  • Send reports to the relevant staff member to check for accuracy, and as a courtesy 

Don't:

  • Make qualitative judgements, particularly about any incidents you see or when observing teaching and learning practice
  • Name any individual teachers and pupils
  • Get distracted and talk about other issues that aren't related to the focus of the visit

In practice: reports 

Barnabas Oley CofE Primary School, in the local authority of Cambridgeshire, publishes governor visit reports for various subjects, including computing; personal, social, health and economics education (PSHE); and foreign languages.

Select here to learn how to carry out a remote visit

 

Sources

Jackie Beard is a governance consultant and former national leader of governance. She also sits on an independent appeal panel for exclusions and admissions for a local authority. 

Jeremy Bird has extensive experience of primary headship. He has also worked with local authorities and published guidance for new and aspiring headteachers and senior leaders.

Bill Dennison is a national leader of governance. He is currently chair of governors of a large secondary school and a governor of a large sponsor-led secondary academy. He was previously head of the education department at a Russell Group university.

Nicky Odgers is a governance consultant and national leader of governance. She has carried out research on the strategic role of governors.

Julia Skinner is a leader of governance and a former headteacher. She has chaired boards in a multi-academy trust, a federation of special schools and numerous maintained schools.

Article Updates

19 March 2024

We've updated this article to reflect the release of the maintained schools and academy trust governance guides. 

27 July 2023

We updated this article to include a list of links to questions you can ask on school visits, covering a wide variety of topics.

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