SCHOOL GOVERNANCE IN A CHANGING POLICY ENVIRONMENT

POLICY IMPERATIVES AND THE IMPLICATIONS FOR SCHOOL GOVERNANCE

School governance in transition -traditional governance model beleaguered, according to a report

Comment

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.

CFBT Report

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