Some time this term your school will be sent an email which will give a site reference and password for downloading the template of your school profile.

It’s been a long time coming. Originally the brainchild of David Miliband, the profile was piloted in half a dozen LEAs in late 2004. The Education Act 2005, passed just before the general election, gave it legal status and removed the obligation on governing bodies to produce annual reports.

Schools were told that the profile would become available last September, but September came and went and most governors were probably happy enough not to see the new document as they were up to their ears with self evaluation forms and staff restructuring. November was then set for the release of the forms, but it was not until early January that a note appeared on GovernorNet saying that the profiles were being made available for schools to complete.

So it’s supposed to be goodbye governors’ annual report to parents and hello school profile (except for nursery schools, which will continue to have to issue annual reports until a profile has been designed for them). But perhaps you should not immediately forget all the skills you learned in presenting an account to parents of what you have been doing. The new document will certainly mean less work for governors as it is tighter than the annual report and the core of it is statistics provided by the DfES. But it leaves little room for individuality; valuable elements of the old annual report are not included and there is no scope for any of those bits that you might have put in the annual report just because you wanted parents to know about them.

What’s in the profile

If you have not had one already, some time this term your school will get an email saying the profile is ready. It is then accessed via a School Profile website, using the password your school already has for ordering publications on TeacherNet. You are expected to publish the completed form this term or early in the summer.

When you download the profile you will receive a series of questions with boxes for answers, the whole running to the equivalent of three or four pages of A4. Some of the boxes are already filled in for you (‘pre-populated’ in the aesthetically challenged terminology of the DfES). These contain the statistics about the school’s performance in comparison with national and local averages that are familiar from the PANDA. The document has a common format for all schools within each phase. In fact, it is nearly the same form across all schools as the differences between the primary and secondary versions are mainly limited to the references to key stages and the different exams and tests sat. Secondary schools with sixth forms also get a set of questions about their provision at this level, while special schools have an additional section on SEN provision.

The profile is designed to be produced digitally and be published on line. When complete the profile is posted on the ParentsCentre website and schools are required to tell parents that it is available and how to access it. Hard copies have to be made available for those who request them. Guidance on this and on filling in the form is given on GovernorNet. For governors used to producing lengthy annual reports, one of the document’s strongest features will be its brevity. You would have to wilfully ignore the word length recommended for each answer if the finished profile, when printed out, were to exceed four pages.

Filling it in The profile is intended to make things easier for all concerned: for headteachers because some of the information is provided to them already and they will be steeped in the rest from the SEF, for governors because there is less they have to write than in the old annual report, and for existing parents because they can access it online, and it won’t take long to read. But parents are not the only audience. There is another reason for standardisation – it makes it easier to make comparisons between schools, and the profile is thus an element in the government’s strategy to get schools to compete. When producing the report, remember that it will be read by prospective parents as well as existing ones and treat it as a part of the marketing of the school as well as a means of accountability.

This already suggests that providing the answers to the questions is not going to be a simple as you might have thought. The document is going to be there on the web for the world to see and use to judge the school, so you need to get your best writer to fill it in. The suggested maximum word length for each answer is pretty tight. For example, in answer to how you work with parents and the community you are given 125 words. You can certainly say something passable in that space, but the temptation will be to put down the obvious or the trite. Remember that all schools seek to establish good relationships with parents and the community and that all schools have some kind of consultation evening.

A common format eases comparisons but can lead to homogenisation. And it is often round the edges that schools differ. In answering all the questions, look to communicate what is really special about your own school’s approach and try to get across some enthusiasm. It’s not easy in just a few words. The pilot version of the profile started with space for governors to describe what is special about their school, but that has gone. The character and presentation of the old annual report said almost as much as the contents, but now you have to work that into answers to standard questions.

Remaining accountable Most obviously lacking from the list of questions is information about the governing body itself (which was compulsory in the annual report) and the work of the governing body (which was not compulsory but was generally fully covered). As the only fact about the membership of the governing body that now has by law to be published is the chairman’s name, which must appear in the prospectus, it is quite possible for parents and others not to be given a smidgeon of information about who the rest of the governors are, unless they actively go and seek the information.

Although the school profile has been widely welcomed as relieving governing bodies of some of the work involved in producing the annual report, many governors have expressed concern that it reduces the accountability of governing bodies to their schools’ parents, especially as it comes in tandem with the removal of the requirement to hold an annual parents’ meeting. This, paradoxically, comes at the same time as government seeks to give parents more power to hold their schools accountable and after it has been shown that the more parents are involved in their child’s education, the better the child achieves.

Governing bodies are therefore advised to consider how else they make parents aware of who they are, their vital responsibilities for the leadership of the school, and what they are doing to discharge those responsibilities. You can’t rely on the school profile to do this for you in the same way as you could the annual report. But accountability is not just an add-on to governing body responsibilities – it is the foundation on which the whole structure of school governance is built.

So while the profile might save a bit of work, a conscientious governing body will be looking at other ways of communicating with parents. You could produce termly newsletters – and if you already do, one of these a year could be extended to profile the governing body and describe key policy decisions. You don’t have to wait for government legislation to set up a parents’ council. Failing that, you could ask for a regular spot in PSA meetings. You may already have a governors’ noticeboard – is this situated prominently in the school’s entrance and is it kept up to date with information about what you are doing? Lastly, if you are still tempted just to leave it at the school profile, consider whether you yourself would be happy with only receiving a standardised form.

Stephen Adamson is vice chair of the National Governors’ Association and editor of the School Governors’ Yearbook.

Additions to the prospectus

Various items that had to be included in the annual report now have instead to be put into the prospectus. Mostly these relate to the provision for children with disabilities: – Arrangements for the admission of pupils with disabilities. – How the school prevents disabled pupils being treated less favourably than other pupils. – Facilities to assist access to the school by pupils with disabilities. – The accessibility plan (required under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995) covering future policies for increasing access to the school by pupils with disabilities.

– How the governing body is implementing its policy on pupils with special educational needs and any changes to the policy during the past year.

Contents of the profile

Details of the school What have our successes been this year? Write in an account of the school’s achievements. What are we trying to improve? Highlight the main developments you are working towards; admit the school’s weaknesses and say what you are doing about them. How much progress do pupils make between 7 and 11/11 and 16? Already filled in, showing whether value added is average, above or below average, or well above or below average. How well do our pupils achieve? (at age 11/in year 11 and at age 14) Supplied bar chart with SATs or GCSE results. How have our results changed over time? Describe the trends in your results, including any special groups. How are we making sure that every child gets teaching to meet their individual needs? (secondary)/How are we making sure we are meeting the learning needs of individual pupils? (primary) Describe how you supply personalised learning and say what you do for special groups, such as the gifted and talented, children with SEN or ethnic minorities. How do we make sure our pupils are healthy, safe and well supported? Give information on your policies and practice on pupil behaviour, bullying, truancy and safety. How are we working with parents and the community? Describe what information is provided to parents and when, community links, and extended services. What activities are available to pupils? List extra curricular activities and say what sport and PE are provided. What have pupils told us about the school and what have we done as a result? How you consult pupils and react to their responses. How do we make sure all pupils attend their lessons and behave well? (secondary schools only) Measures to reduce authorised and unauthorised absences and deal with poor behaviour. How do your absence rates compare with other schools? Chart already filled in. What do our pupils do after leaving this school/after year 11? Destinations, including efforts to secure smooth transition to secondary schools. Ofsted’s view of our school Summary of report and the grades given. What have we done in response to Ofsted? You don’t have to produce an action plan (unless put in special measures) but you should be working on identified weaknesses. More information

Not a catch-all for you to get other things off your chest, but details of who to contact for information on policies.