POLICY IMPERATIVES AND THE IMPLICATIONS FOR SCHOOL GOVERNANCE
School governance in transition -traditional governance model beleaguered, according to a report
The Governments current schools agenda is focused on the need for partnerships and collaboration, both with other schools, including in the independent sector, and colleges, and with a range of other agencies and services that provide for the well-being and welfare of children and their families. Since September 2007 schools have been under a duty by the Education and Inspections Act 2006 ‘to promote community cohesion’. And there is a major push to encourage schools to deliver extended services.
But what are the implications of all this for schools governance?
The short answer is that the governance landscape here is changing rapidly and is in a state of flux. The traditional model of school governance is seemingly under threat. New demands are being made on governors because of the ambitious political agenda, fuelled by an increasing numbers of directives that require action from governing bodies which can struggle to keep pace, particularly so given the voluntary nature of their jobs. And with new collaborative arrangements being encouraged to enhance joined up service delivery there appears to be increasing pressure to ‘professionalise’ the role of governors. Some see these developments as essential for progress. Others as an attack on local accountability and the traditional stakeholder model of school governance.
Schools should be community hubs, the government believes, seamlessly delivering a range of extended services to help deliver this cohesion with a joined up , holistic approach to addressing social and educational challenges delivering its equity agenda .These extended services can include childcare, adult education, parenting support programmes, community- based health and social care services, multi-agency support teams and after-school activities.’ Because all the services and curricular opportunities required by these policies cannot, self-evidently, be provided by each institution alone, they need to be offered in consortium arrangements. But this is clearly leading to fundamental changes in local education and governance
There has been growing recognition in government that these changes necessitate not only new frameworks of professional leadership but also governance. Indeed, the Government has provided legislative frameworks and guidance to support schools in developing forms of governance appropriate for this new system leadership, including, for example, education improvement partnerships, federations and clusters of schools. A delayed white paper on schools governance is awaiting publication
However a new report ‘Towards a new governance of schools in the remaking of civil society’ published by CfBT Education Trust and researched by Stewart Ranson and Colin Crouch of the Institute of Education and the Institute of Governance and Public Management, at the University of Warwick, suggests that insufficient attention has been paid by policymakers to the governance of these new school partnership arrangements.
Governors, it is claimed, are becoming pawns in the battle to impose political agendas. The report says that the position of the governing body is in danger of changing profoundly through a variety of pressures, from the advent of academies and trust schools and from this drive for schools to co-operate with one another.
What the report found, in the light of examinng three case studies in detail , was that the traditional stakeholder model of school governance, with its roots firmly in local democratic accountability, is now , in practice, “beleaguered “.
Governing bodies are more dominated now by professionals who might appear better placed to understand and apply detailed policy requirements. Added to this is the growing list of centrally driven policy directives from central government that must be delivered in schools in rlation for instance to the standards agenda.These new demands and the complex challenges that go with them are leading to the development of alternative, but , in effect, less “democratic”, forms of school governance, the report states.
The reports analysis of school governance, apart from confirming the importance of school governance and the importance of governors direct links to local communities, demonstrates a distinctive trajectory of change in the growth of partnership governance, the expansion of professional power at the expense of elected volunteers, and the corporatising of school ownership, as new Trust and academy schools have become the vehicles for new forms of ownership of schools. The authors suggest there has been a lack of sufficiently systematic thinking about how governance can work in this new evolving , more complex policy environment, and that governance arrangements need to be re-thought in a ‘multi-layered’ way, with new models of working at each of three ‘layers’: neighbourhood, locality and local authority.
Stakeholders have got to decide whether these new developments are a good thing and whether this trajectory is sound. In opting for smaller, more professional governing bodies isn’t one breaking a vital bottom up link with localities and parents, so important for local accountability and cohesion?
The Tories too have also got to establish whether they approve of these developments and if not what they would wish to change. Their new free schools initiative, liberalizing the supply side, although broadly welcomed by many stakeholders will present new challenges for governance while the autonomy of these schools, critics suggest, has the potential to conflict with other policy aims such as promoting community cohesion , and delivering joined up Children’s services, unless, that is, robust safeguards are put in place.