Leading online learning: Out of crisis comes opportunity

Strategic management of online learning during Covid and beyond.

Dr Jacqueline Baxter is Associate Professor in Public Policy and Management and Director for the Centre of Innovation in Online Business and Legal Education (SCILAB). She is Principal Fellow of The Higher Education Academy, Fellow of The Academy of Social Sciences and Elected Council Member of Belmas. She has been Editor in Chief  of the Sage Journal Management in Education (MiE) for 4 years. Her current funded research projects examine the interrelationship between trust, accountability and capacity in improving learning outcomes; and the strategic management of online learning in secondary schools during and beyond Covid19. Dr Baxter is based in The department of Public Leadership and Social Enterprise at the Open University Business School. She tweets @drjacqueBaxter and her profile can be found at : http://www.open.ac.uk/people/jab899. Her latest book is: Trust, Accountability and Capacity in Education System Reform (Routledge, 2020).

Leading online learning: Out of crisis comes opportunity.

We are just entering the pilot stage of our research project which looks at how schools have strategically managed online learning during Covid, and if and how, new experiences during lockdown have created long term sustainable changes in relation to the way education is managed and delivered. One of our key research questions investigates whether changes and new ways of doing things, implemented during Covid, are going to have a long-term effect on schools’ vision of education to come.

It is undisputed, that Covid has had a massive impact on education and the way it is delivered, both in the UK and internationally. Whilst there have been a number of papers on the ways in which teachers have innovated during this time, and the impact this has had on their workload and mental health, there has been little on how school leaders and their senior teams have taken a strategic overview of online and blended learning.

This is an important are to explore for several reasons: The first relates to the introduction of a more intensive regime of online teaching, one that has been forced on schools, unusually not by government, but by circumstance. The way that this has taken place, without preparation, training, or any sort of upgrade to school infrastructure, is in itself fascinating: not only in relation to the challenges that schools have faced and how they have dealt with them, but equally, the opportunity that such change presents. Schools are used to a raft of policy innovation: changes to their practices, procedures, and to the very nature of education: Policies imposed by successive governments, each more eager than the last to prove that they can close that elusive achievement gap, that for many years has proved intractable in the face of policy innovation, and inimical to social mobility, particularly in class dominated England (Weis and Dolby, 2012). The second, is in relation to the way that schools have worked with parents and carers to ensure provision during these the most testing times (Jewitt et al., 2021).

Since the Academy Act of 2010 schools have become increasingly distant from their communities (Baxter and Cornforth, 2019). This is particularly true of Multi-Academy trusts-groups of schools managed by boards and CEOs- that research has illustrated, are often remote and out of touch with school communities (Greany and Higham, 2018). Increasingly standardised practice of teaching, pedagogy and curriculum, imposed across what have become vast multilevel organisations, has created a new educational landscape within what is often termed, ‘the system less system of English education’(Lawn, 2013). The third reason why our approach potentially rich, is in relation to the long-term sustainability of good practices brought about by the pandemic. Certainly, one of its by products, is that it has revealed the stark reality of successive financial cuts to education that have been brought about by government, particularly since 2010 (Gray and Barford, 2018): Covid has brought this into the public eye, in such a way as to make it almost impossible for government to ignore. Shortages of hardware, weaknesses in school infrastructure, and last but by no means least, the chronic shortage of food experienced by many families living on and below the breadline, have been headline news since the pandemic began.

These factors have created a unique environment (all albeit a very testing one), for school leaders and their senior teams. Stripped bare of the usual rounds of consultation before introduction of new policies and practices, school leaders and their teams have had to innovate and create, in order to provide the impetus needed to steer schools and their learners through stormy waters.

 It is said that the only real change in society emerges at times of crisis, According to the free market fundamentalist Milton freedman, ‘Only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around.’  Covid has and is, along with climate change, one of the most pressing issues of our time. It seems impossible to imagine that education can emerge from this to the ‘same old, same old.’ Our initial interviews with school leaders have started to reveal some of the new;  certainly there is evidence of huge progress even in the short time between lockdown in early 2020, and the one in which we find ourselves at present.  Echoing an ancient quote on action during crisis:  

‘ You start by doing what is necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.’ (St Francis of Assisi).

Similarly, our project will investigate the necessary, look at the innovations of the possible, and finally, point to how the seemingly impossible may profoundly change education and the way we deliver it.

Our pilot report will launch in late April, followed by our interim policy briefing in June, you can find out more about the project on our website at http://business-school.open.ac.uk/news/oubs-leads-ground-breaking-project or follow us on Twitter at: @ https://twitter.com/Covid_EduLeader

Baxter JA and Cornforth C. (2019) Governing collaborations: how boards engage with their communities in multi-academy trusts in England. Public Management Review: 1-23.

Gray M and Barford A. (2018) The depths of the cuts: the uneven geography of local government austerity. Cambridge journal of regions, economy and society 11: 541-563.

Greany T and Higham R. (2018) Hierarchy, markets and networks: analysing the’self-improving school-led system’agenda in England and the implications for schools.

Jewitt K, Baxter J and Floyd A. (2021) Literature review on the use of online and blended learning during Covid 19 and Beyond. The Open University The Open University

Lawn M. (2013) A Systemless System. Forthcoming.

Weis L and Dolby N. (2012) Social class and education: Global perspectives: Routledge.

~The Art of Quiet leadership

This post first appeared on the OpenLearn Website : https://www.open.edu/openlearn/money-business/leadership-management/quiet-leadership-post-covid-world

The last ten years have seen the rise of populist leaders, characterised by their extroverted ‘style before substance’ self-promotion approach.

Individuals such as Donald Trump; Boris Johnson and Jair Bolsonaro, promote the ideal of the pushy extroverted leader, who speaks without thinking, reacts rapidly and excitedly and changes tack frequently.

For some time now there has been a general perception that you are better off in the workplace, and as a leader, if you have extrovert tendencies: In other words, if you are ‘boastful and booming’ rather than ‘contemplative and calm’. But research on quiet more introverted styles of leadership has shown that introverts may be far better suited to today’s challenges.

Introversion Vs extroversion

The perception that extroverted individuals make better leaders, is influenced by the fact that there are more extroverts in leadership positions, combined with the fact that extroverts are much more likely to tell you how good they are. The traits of extroversion and introversion, first introduced by the famous psychologist Carl Jung, are generally characterised by garrulous outgoing and energetic behaviours in extroverts, whereas introverted characters are more likely to be calm, reflective and often prefer the written to the spoken medium.

In actual fact, according to most personality tests that set out to measure these tendencies, behaviours are more often placed on a continuum rather than being confined to one extreme or the other: Ambiversion-the ability to shift between introverted and extroverted behaviours, is very common, for example, salespeople that on one hand, need to listen deeply, on the other, talk enthusiastically about their products (Kahnweiler, 2009,p, 3). …studies found that extrovert’s positive outlook can make them more resilient to stress…

Some studies, such as one that looked at extroversion in the workplace from a multiple countries perspective, found that extroverts are more likely to rise to leadership positions due to a greater motivation to achieve external goals, such as a promotion or increased salary. These studies found that extrovert’s positive outlook can make them more resilient to stress and more likely to bounce back from failure, both recognized qualities of strong leaders (Ledesma, 2014).  

But according to Susan Cain, author of the bestselling book ‘Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that can’t stop talking’, society as a whole undervalues introverts, particularly as leaders. She argues that without introverts we wouldn’t have leadership achievements such as The Apple computer, or theory of relativity – Steve Jobs and Albert Einstein were both introverts.Graphic of introverts VS ExtrovertsCopyrighted  image IconFigure 1 Adapted from information in (Kahnweiler, 2009)

The power of the introverted quiet leader

So what do introverts bring to leadership positions and how can they overcome their key challenges?

Research shows that introverts can bring a great deal to the table in leadership positions: they are more likely to listen and process the ideas of their team; they consider ideas deeply before acting; they are humble and more likely to credit their team for ideas and performance; they express themselves and their ideas well in writing and because their motivation generally comes from within, are less likely to compromise performance in seeking rewards such as money or power.

For this reason, their judgement is less likely to be compromised through excitement or promise of rich rewards.  However, there is a downside: Many western societies, including the US, have long favoured extroverted behaviours: Psychologist, Robert McCrae created a map of the world, showing the extent to which, different countries favour introverted or extroverted qualities (McCrae & Terracciano, 2005). Asian /oriental societies erred on the side of favouring introverted qualities whilst Western cultures revealed the opposite.

However, the Western predilection to favour extroversion has resulted in many leadership courses, such as MBAs being structured to favour extroverted activities such as; talking about achievements or large group presentations. These can leave introverted students feeling they lack the qualities necessary for ‘good leadership’.

So what are introverts key challenges and how do should they overcome them?

Jennifer Kahnweiler’s studies into leadership challenges for introverts revealed six key factors which can hold introverts back from rising to leadership postiions:

  1. People exhaustion (draining of energy due to too many people contact)
  2. Fast pace (leaving little time for reflection)
  3. Interruptions (particularly difficult given our ‘always on’ world)
  4. A pressure to self-promote
  5. An emphasis on teamwork
  6. An aversion towards negative impressions (introverts’ facial expression doesn’t often reveal their emotion as readily as extroverts)

She advocates a 4 Ps Process to overcome these challenges:

Preparation

Try to prepare in advance for people heavy situations such as meetings, create your questions when you have time to think about them

Presence

Show people, you are present by showing you are interested and aware through making eye contact or asking a question

Push

Push yourself out of your comfort zone as often as possible: more pain more gain!  

Practice 

Practice new behaviours such as telling stories, public speaking

Yet today’s world seems to demand extroverted qualities more than ever: leaders are expected to respond rapidly to increasingly complex scenarios; news travels faster than ever in an ‘always-on world,’ so why do we need more introverts in leadership positions?

Introverted leaders for the future

Introverted leaders have a great deal to offer in our complex and increasingly chaotic world: The creativity and staying power of introverts are vital to solving long term problems such as climate change or the increased possibility of worldwide viruses such as Covid19, which emerge due to complex social and ecological factors.

In addition, introverts recognize fellow introverts- introverts makeup 40-60% of the workforce if they are undervalued or not recognised, as is often the case if their leader is an extrovert, they are more likely to leave.

Finally, leaders cannot resolve complex problems without listening to their experts, failure to do so has been a leitmotif of populist leaders whose performance at controlling covid19 has been little short of catastrophic. Given these factors, it could well be the day of the populist extrovert is over and the time for the reflective quiet leader, is indeed upon us.  

Why this government may never regain the trust of the people

This blog first appeared on the London School of Economics, Policy and Politics blog.

Recent media reports have stated that the government is looking to regain trust from the electorate by changing its approach, following the departure of Dominic Cummings and other leading advisors. Jacqueline Baxter argues that trust in government is influenced by a number of factors and that Whitehall’s desire to ‘reset’ may be far more difficult to achieve than they anticipate.

Since the start of the pandemic, the UK Government’s decision-making has tampered with the trust of the British people on numerous occasions, including by U-turning on decisions at the last minute; giving contracts to personal contacts without recourse to due process; and those contracts subsequently failing to deliver. The U-turns may not have been so inimical were they not done after categorical statements indicating the exact opposite of previous proclamations – for example, Boris Johnson, announcing on 5 January that schools would stay open and then, 24 hours later, announcing a month-long national lockdown.

Perhaps one of the most divisive and politically puzzling moves in recent political history, was the failure to sack Dominic Cummings, following his blatant and flagrant flouting of rules in the first lockdown. Following this, the government, purportedly realising that they had lost the trust of the electorate (based on media reports, polls, and advice from ‘senior Tories’) announced their intention to ‘reset’- to win back the trust of the electorate, assuming that they could wipe the national memory and initiate a ‘tabula rasa’ style reinvention in which the public would regain trust.

Good governance and accountability not only require trust, they also promote it, particularly in establishing generalised trust – an abstract trust attitude that is directed towards people in general, including strangers. Trustworthiness of the state is the most important condition for such generalised trust as it gen­erates interpersonal trust and determines the amount of social and economic capital in a society. This, in turn, affects the state’s capacity to govern. In essence, trust is absolutely crucial to a government’s ability to govern effectively. Research into how systems function effectively and the converse highlights several factors that are key to undermining trust:

The first is corruption – real or perceived. Influential organisations such as Transparency International measure corruption by a perception index; the higher the perception of corruption within a society, the lower the trust. Put simply, citizens must have confidence that the state operates in a transparent and fair manner. The second element is the competence effect – if governments continually U-turn, or, as in the case of the British Government, issue proclamations of excellence that are then overturned by evidence indicating abject failure as in the case of the Test and Trace system, public trust is undermined. The third element is lack of accountability: in order for governance to function well, there must be effective checks and balances indicating that individuals and organisations, particularly those funded by the taxpayer, can be held accountable for their actions. As illustrated by the following examples, the government have failed spectacularly on all three counts.

Differentiating between corruption and nepotism is challenging, but both elements, particularly when they infuse societies at government level, undermine social capital and trust in government. When public positions are filled without due process, and contracts offered without having to tender, societal perceptions of corruption rise. When these public contracts are linked to private investments, perceptions of corruption and cronyism undermine trust that government is functioning effectively and with integrity. Added to this, some of these contracts in the context of the pandemic have resulted in spectacular failures, such as the Test and Trace system.

When an individual trusts another or an organisation, they take a risk that this trust will be betrayed. For example, if I pay my taxes because it is the law, I trust that everyone will do likewise: concomitantly, my trust soon diminishes if I find out that, in reality, I am one the only on in my circle that pays out. This, in turn, will lead to my lack of trust in the system of taxation, and to feelings that the system can easily be circumvented, after all – why should I pay if no one else does? This, in essence, is what happened when Cummings failed to abide by the rules set by the government. This breach of trust was all the more potent because it undermined it at both an interpersonal and system level: Cummings’s transgression became a metonym for the government’s ‘them and us’ attitude to rules. It was also a breach of procedural justice. The procedural lack of fairness of many government decisions since February 2020 has led to a lack of citizenship behaviours amongst the electorate – as Mark Warren points out, when people lose trust in government, they simply opt out. This has been noted in terms of the second lockdown, during which infections skyrocketed.

So, although the government would love to reset the collective memory of the electorate in order to win back their trust, research indicates that, once lost, trust is very difficult to regain; when trust has been breached in myriad ways, this renders it all the more so.

____________________

About the Author

Jacqueline Baxter (@drjacquebaxter) is Associate Professor in Public Policy and Management at Open University and Director for the Centre of Innovation in Online Business and Legal Education. Her latest book is: Trust, Accountability and Capacity in Education System Reform (Routledge, 2020).

Multi Academy Trusts in England , are they really accountable ?

This article first appeared on Discover Society at :https://discoversociety.org/2018/08/01/multi-academy-trusts-in-england-are-they-really-accountable/

 

Since the 1988 Education Act changed the educational landscape in England, heralding a new era of school self-management, the changes to English education have continued at a pace that is without precedent within other developed democracies. This has led many to describe it as ‘the lab of Europe.’ One of the most profound changes to take place has been the introduction of the academies programme in which schools, formerly overseen by Local Education Authorities (LEAs), have converted (or been coerced to convert following poor performance at an Ofsted inspection) to become semi-autonomous state subsidised schools in the form of Academies.

Operational drivers, such as the need to combine in order to cost effectively buy in services once provided by LEAs, combined with research that implies that inter school collaboration contributes positively to student progress, (Chapman et al 2009; NCTL, 2013), have also resulted in the creation of Academy Chains, Multi Academy Trusts and other less formal forms of collaboration between schools. As the literature on multi-level governance in the public and third sector reveals, (Foss et al, 2010), providing effective governance and accountability for complex collaborative organizations, which may also be widely geographically dispersed, creates a number of accountability challenges for organizations and the governance of such organizations.

Accountability past and present
Until 1988 the system of Educational accountability in England was focused on the LEA combined with an inspection system known as HMI – Her Majesty’s Inspectorate. The LEA combined their monitoring role with one which included both educational and pedagogic support with supply of back office services. Specialist advisers, very often subject specific, would work with schools and teachers to improve performance. HMI carried out regular inspections of schools, both general and thematic, in order to evaluate the quality of teaching and learning.  This changed in 1992 when, prompted by John Major’s Citizen Charter, and accompanied by broader international trends premised on the rationale of public choice theory, Ofsted – The (then) Office for Standards in Education replaced the collegiality of HMI with a high stakes form of inspection and regulation. The system also introduced use of school league tables to evaluate the quality of schools. This too formed part of a broader educational trend that has become known as ‘Governing by numbers’.

A changing system
The introduction of the academies programme under the Blair administration, originally offered freedom from LEA control (both financial and curricular), for failing schools in the London region. The programme was so successful that it was extended to other schools, at first on a meritocratic basis- only successful schools could apply to convert – but following the Academies Act in 2010, the programme was intensified and schools were offered substantial financial incentives to convert. Over time this began to radically change the educational landscape as more schools were either incentivised, or in the case of failing schools, were coerced into conversion, following unfavourable judgements by Ofsted. Ofsted’s remit was increased to incorporate inspection of whole Education Authorities (LEAs), a good number of which, were found to be failing.

This also coincided with a dramatic reduction in LEA funding, justified by austerity policies, which effectively undermined their capacity to offer its former wide range of services to schools remaining under LEA control. Although, in response to widespread protest, the government subsequently did a u-turn in terms of turning the plans into legislation, (Whittaker, 2016); there is little doubt that, in practice, they have not deviated from their plans and the number of schools joining MATs continues to rise. In November 2017 there were over 20,100 state funded schools in England, of these 6100 were academies with 1668 standalone academies and 4,432 MATs. MATs may have anything from 2 to over 100 schools.

The accountability maze
Since then the system of accountability has become increasingly complex, diluted and fragmented as figure 1 illustrates.

MATs are regulated financially by the EFA (Education funding Agency), their expansion is overseen by 8 regional schools commissioners and their schools are inspected by Ofsted. However, Ofsted are not permitted to inspect MATs as a whole. This means that they cannot inspect /monitor boards at the apex of the organization- trust boards and their CEOs. In addition to this, their regions (and regional directorates) do not coincide with the RSC regions, thus, there is little joined up approach between them. This has been widely criticised by both the Education Select Committee (Parliament, 2017), and in numerous press reports, particularly in light of the increasing number of MAT failures.

The pressure on good MATs to expand is enormous. Regional Schools Commissioners are under a great deal of pressure to re-broker (find a new sponsor) for poor schools, and as LEAs are increasingly unable to cope with the many demands placed on them, schools turn to MATS for support (J.  Baxter, 2018). In addition to this, due to the complex multi-level governance structures within MATs, they are having to work very hard and creatively to ensure that they are in touch with their school communities (Baxter, 2018). A recent report by the Education Select Committee questioned the rationale behind MAT expansion in light of the numerous MAT failures that have recently been in the press (see Baxter, 2018).

The pressure of accountability emanates from a number of sources: from the high stakes inspection system that considers schools within MATs in a fragmented way; Regional Schools Commissioners, keen to add failing schools to MAT portfolios and from the Education Funding Agency, who monitor MAT finances. Unfortunately, the unrelenting pressures on MATs to prove that their model is the best one, is a key pressure within the highly marketized system of English education. And leading to lack of collaboration between MATs, as one MAT CEO put it: ‘MATs don’t share, they compete against each other.’

Managing and governing collaborative organizations is no mean feat, as the literature on collaborative advantage illustrates (see for example, Vangen, Hayes, & Cornforth, 2015). Even when all of the collaborating organizations are keen for it to work, the challenges of factors such as: the creation of a coherent organizational identity; ensuring that the tension between conformity and autonomy of organizations within the group is well managed, and, ensuring that internal as well as external accountability is clear and productive- i.e. that it works towards the organizational mission and not against it; are demanding of the most able management and leadership teams.

The English system of education after 30 years of government tinkering, is in a very difficult place. Support and accountability systems provided by the LEA are in many cases either gone or so deprived of funding, due to cuts and academy conversions that they have little or no capacity to support or provide local accountability. Ofsted, for so many years the schools’ ‘watchdog’, no longer has the capacity or the skills to inspect these new structures. The vast cash injection it would take in order to train up inspectors to oversee MAT boards with budgets of millions, is unlikely to be forthcoming under present government policy.

Where do we go from here?
So where do we go from here? Well a good place to start would be to join up the existing accountability mechanisms so that Ofsted’s educational expertise , the EFA’s financial oversight and Regional Commissioner’s growing local knowledge , could provide a 360 picture of, not only what is going on in MATs but equally, provide some sense of impending and serious failings.

Any such system should also have some way of measuring exactly how and to what extent these large organizations are serving the communities in which they are situated. Only then could the public be reassured that we have anything remotely resembling a democratic system of Education in England.

References:
Baxter, J. (2018). Engaging with local communities: the challenge of board engagement with school communities in multi- academy trusts. Under review.
Baxter, J. (2018). MAT Accountability : Challenges and Opportunities for Inspectors and school Leaders. . Keynote speech presented at the ‘Raising Standards through MAT inspection’ Conference ,19th June. London, Holborn .
Chapman, C., Collins, A., Sammons, P., Armstrong, P., & Muijs, D. (2009). The impact of federations on student outcomes.
Foss, N. J., Husted, K., & Michailova, S. (2010). Governing knowledge sharing in organizations: Levels of analysis, governance mechanisms, and research directions. Journal of Management Studies, 47(3), 455-482.
NCTL. (2013). Governance in Multi Academy Trusts. London: National College for Teaching and Leadership.
Parliament, U. (2017). Multi-Academy Trusts: Seventh Report of Sesssion 2016-17. In H. o. C. E. Committee (Ed.). London: House of Commons .
Vangen, S., Hayes, J. P., & Cornforth, C. (2015). Governing cross-sector, inter-organizational collaborations. Public Management Review, 17(9), 1237-1260.

 

Jacqueline Baxter is Senior Lecturer /Associate Professor in Public Policy and Management , based in The Department of Public Leadership and Social Enterprise at the Open University Business school. Her research interests lie in the area of public service governance, accountability and trust. This article is part of a current funded project. She is Editor in Chief for the Sage publication Management in Education, and tweets at @drjacquebaxter. The author gratefully acknowledges funding received by The British Academy Lever Hulme Trust grant number SG161312

School Governing : policy, politics and practices

School governance FC

 

What impact have the unprecedented and rapid changes to the structure of education in England had on
school governors and policy makers? And what effect has the intensifying media and regulatory focus had
on the volunteers who take on the job?

Jacqueline Baxter takes the 2014 ‘Trojan Horse’ scandal, in which it was alleged that governors at 25 Birmingham schools were involved in the ‘Islamisation’ of secular state schools, as a focus point to examine the pressures and challenges in the current system. Informed by her twenty years’ experience as a school governor, she considers both media analysis and policy as well as the implications for the future of a
democratic system of education in England.

“Brings new insight into how and why governors are
positioned within society and how shifting attitudes to the
purpose of school have shaped the future of governance.”

Ian
Usher, ModernGovernor.com

“Expertly explores the key issues surrounding modern school governance. A stimulating and informative
read for anyone interested in school governance and leadership.”

Ellie Cotgrave, National Governors’
Association
March 2016

“A succinct, and fascinating, document on the many
challenges we have faced as ‘Hidden Givers’ over the last
few years.”

Jane Owens, National Leader of Governance,
Wirral

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Crafting strategy : school boards, systems or command and control approach?

Strategic leadership: board members in areas of high deprivation ‘deliverololgy or systems approach?’

Department of Public Leadership and Social Enterprise, The Open University Business School, England, UK)

Rapid and intense changes to the English education system, particularly since 2010 have created a quasi-market operating environment for schools. Research into other areas of the public services reveals that the ability of boards to create externally facing effective strategy, is vital for their survival and ongoing improvement, yet in education we know little about how school boards and the 300,000 volunteer board members within them understand, create and develop strategic direction for their schools or how important it is to school survival and improvement in the current climate. This blog post focuses on a paper to be presented at the American Educational Research Association Conference 2016- Washington DC and which examines exactly these questions.

Research tells us that across the public sector board approaches to strategy are linked to notions of public value and are extremely influential in determining the shape and form of organisations and how they respond to service users, yet in terms of English education the role of strategy is underexplored.

Command and Control or deliverology?

It is certainly true that in the English quasi-marketised system of education, increasing emphasis is being placed on board members’ ability to set, monitor and evaluate strategic direction, not only in terms of school capabilities, but perhaps equally as importantly, in terms of the shape and form of schools within the context of the wider system. Research has shown that in areas of high deprivation, school boards are particularly cognizant of the need to serve their communities, but what is not known is how they articulate this need in terms of strategy: how they draw on particular sources of information to craft strategic direction as an evolving and learning process (Baxter 2016a, Baxter and Hult 2016).

Command and control approaches to strategy, made popular by the Audit Commission and Blair’s Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit, placed a great deal of emphasis on targets, performance management and delivery outputs in order to effect public service improvement (Campbell-Smith 2008). Since then researchers and organisations that do not believe that this set of ideas creates real improvement in public services have been exploring other routes – particularly in relation to strategy (Alimo-Metcalfe and Alban-Metcalfe 2004). One such set of ideas is articulated under the broad banner ‘systems thinking’ and draws on theories that vision strategy in terms of a whole system approach.

How do school board members understand strategy?

Examining how school board members articulate their understandings of strategy in this study draws on a sample from multi-academy trusts in areas of high socio economic deprivation. Exploring how governors approaches to strategy fit within existing models the study looks at whether these approaches are discursively underpinned by command and control or systems thinking (Seddon 2008, Graham 1999). As the findings reveal, many board members although they aspire to a systems approach, feel ill equipped to operationalise this in their handling of strategy. This appears to be founded in the belief that either they lack the knowledge necessary for this work, or they are more comfortable with monitoring and evaluating strategy that is developed by the head and senior leadership team. Governors, for the most part did have a deep and committed relationship with communities in which their schools were located. Yet in spite of this, still appeared to lack confidence in terms of translating this knowledge into setting the strategic direction of the school (Baxter 2016b).

Looking for ways to integrate community needs into strategy

The considerable evidence that board members were working towards translating this knowledge into strategically relevant data was illustrated by the ways in which they were looking to new ways to engage with parents; using focus groups and community groups to inform their knowledge and provide tangible evidence to inform strategy. It also revealed that although in many cases they appear keen to learn about their work in relation to the wider system, they were conditioned to thinking in command and control ways about their particular remit. This is an important insight for future board development and implies that there is a need for development that places boards and their members in the wider political and socio-cultural contexts of their work. Investigation of sub themes arising as part of the coding process, revealed training events to be largely focused on particular areas of monitoring work, for example: budgets, safeguarding, counter extremism, behavior rather than focusing on ‘the bigger picture’ in relation to the situation of their schools within the wider system

This is supported by governor interpretations of what strategy is: even governors that appeared comfortable with strategy within their own professional lives often appeared at sea when interpreting this in terms of a public service/schools context.

Analysis of documentation relating to inspection processes was instrumental in identifying expectations of board understandings of strategy. These documents were peppered with command and control terminology which concomitantly appeared in board member narratives. Again this points to the need for inspection processes to reflect a systems approach, if indeed this is the way that both government and inspectorate wish to see the system develop and improve, as evidence from policy documents, press releases and media reports suggest they do.

In spite of a plethora of research investigating board approaches to strategy in the private and not-for profit sector, there is little in terms of education. This may well be due to the speed at which the current wave of marketization has occurred: According to the DfE since 2010 4, 000 academies opened in England – almost 20 times as many as there were in May 2010, when all 203 academies were sponsored secondary schools of these 87% of academies support other schools in some way (DfE 2014). It is clear from this case study that this area is becoming increasingly important as one for research if the notion of a self-improving education system is ever to maximise its potential and come fully to fruition.

 

References

Alimo-Metcalfe, Beverly, and John Alban-Metcalfe. 2004. “Leadership in public sector organisations.”  Leadership in Organizations 174.

Baxter, J. 2016a. School governing : politics, policy and practice. Bristol: Policy Press.

Baxter, J. . 2016b. “Strategic leadership: board members in areas of high deprivation ‘deliverololgy or systems approach?’.” AERA _ The American Educational Research Association Conference 2016, Washington DC, 080416.

Baxter, J. , and A. Hult. 2016. “School inspectors in Sweden and England: the impact of changing policy on practices. .” In School inspectors: operational challendges in National Policy Contexts edited by Baxter.J. London: Springer. .

Campbell-Smith, Duncan. 2008. Follow the Money: A History of the Audit Commission: Penguin UK.

Graham, P. 1999. “Critical Systems Theory: A Political Economy of Language, Thought and Technology.”  Communication Research 26 (4):482-507.

Seddon, J. 2008. Systems Thinking in the Public Sector. Axminster: Triarchy Press.

 

 

The Government ‘Vision’ for Education : where are we now ?

The government’s vision for education is difficult to swallow – here’s why

Jacqueline Baxter, The Open University

If you were in any doubt about how complex and opaque the education system in England has become, a new report by MPs has outlined it in no uncertain terms. The report by the House of Commons education select committee into Regional Schools Commissioners (RSCs) raises a number of concerns about the role and function of the people charged with overseeing the growing number of academy schools in England.

The report questions the role and function of England’s eight RSCs and the whole area of democratic accountability in education, particularly in light of proposals to expand the academies programme contained in the Education and Adoption bill making its way through parliament. Combined with reports that over 500,000 primary school children are now being taught in super-size classes and that we are facing a chronic shortage of teachers, the whole area of the government’s strategic planning in education is called into question.

A sticking plaster approach

As parliament’s public accounts committee pointed out in January 2015: “The DfE [Department for Education] presides over a complex and confused system of external oversight.” This confused system is made up of state schools that continue to be maintained by Local Education Authorities (LEAs), as well as academies and free schools, which are free from LEA control.

RSCs were introduced as “a pragmatic approach to academy oversight”, a sticking plaster over what has become such a convoluted form of accountability that not even those working in schools can understand it – not to mention parents. According to PTA UK, a charity that helps parent-teacher associations, just one in ten parents know what role RSCs play in their child’s education, leading to confusion when it comes to deciding where and who should address any problems.

Effective strategic planning is recognised as one of the cornerstones of effective public services, as a number of research projects have highlighted.

Yet as the boundaries between public and private become increasingly blurred, this planning becomes ever more complex. Reforms of the English school system that have intensified since 2010 have produced a hybrid system of accountability in which numerous bodies compete and collaborate to provide educational governance. These reforms have also led to a serious planning deficit in terms of school places.

This lack of strategic foresight is all the more concerning given that none of these issues have come out of the blue. Researchers have been predicting a teacher shortage for some time now, and the number of children entering reception classes has been rising in relation to population over a number of years.

The ability to plan locally has been severely compromised by the undermining of resource and statutory powers of local authorities, not least in the areas of school planning. This led the Local Government Association (LGA) to urge the government to expand academy schools to meet demand for school places, or else to give back powers to councils to open new state-maintained schools, something they currently are not permitted to do.

Patchy solutions to big issues

The government response to the places shortfall has largely been to advocate the opening of new free schools. The prime minister, David Cameron speaking in March 2015, committed his party to providing another 270,000 school places in free schools, if re-elected, by 2020.

Since 2010, free schools have taken a disproportionate amount of funding compared to state-maintained schools. But they have also compounded the places problem by opening in areas where there is already a surplus of places.

Crammed in.
Smiltena/www.shutterstock.com

And even when they do open in areas of need, they often don’t immediately operate at full capacity, but admit just one year group and build up to a full complement of pupils over a number of years.

A survey by the LGA published in August 2014 found councils had spent more than £1 billion in attempting to make up the shortfall. This was based on data which revealed that 66 of the 152 council areas with responsibility for schools would have more primary-age pupils than places for them in 2016-17, rising to 85 areas in 2017-18 and 94 areas in 2018-19.

The government response to the accountability gap – which has already led to issues such as the Trojan Horse affair in Birmingham – has been to implement the system of regional commissioners. But as the education committee’s new report points out, the flaws inherent within the reach and remit of the role are wide-ranging, affecting crucial areas of safeguarding, inspection, school improvement, democratic accountability and variation in standards between regions. The committee also points out that conflicts of interest need to be addressed far more cohesively, along with the thorny issue of who exactly holds these increasingly powerful individuals to account.

An uncertain future

The Education and Adoption bill stands to place further pressure on what education scholar Martin Lawn describes as a “systemless system” of education. This is one in which strategic planning is almost impossible given the number and overlapping remit of organisations involved in the governance of English education.

Jon Coles, chief executive of academy chain United Learning, giving evidence to the select committee, suggested that the whole area of education needed a “back to basics” approach, stating:

I think we are reaching a point where we need a new settlement. We have not had a settlement that has been national, clear and comprehensive since the 1944 [Education] Act … there has been a progressive erosion of some people’s roles, development of new roles, changes to the key functions of key actors in the system the landscape has changed hugely I think we just need to have a fresh look.

The government assures us that it does have a vision for education: “A world class education system in which all schools are academised.

Yet it is becoming harder and harder to buy into this “vision” when viewed through the prism of the issues that currently beset education in England. No doubt the parents of those pupils being taught in a portacabin by the fifth supply teacher in as many weeks, and who have little idea as to where to address complaints, may have problems buying into that “vision” too.

The Conversation

Jacqueline Baxter, Lecturer in Public Policy and Management , The Open University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Ode to 2015

An ode to 2015.
By jacquelinebphotografie.

Goodbye 15 it’s time to go
So take a bow and don’t be slow,
You started well, all credit due,
And there’ve been highs (though they were few).

So as the chimes ring out tonight
Please just bow out without a fight
As Jools on his piano plays, let’s raise a glass to better days.
To clearer paths amid the haze.

Of war, and fighting, floods and pain
Terrorism and personal gain,
Corrupt regimes and ideologues,
Sensationalist press and media dogs.

And let’s look back on two one five,
Be thankful we came out alive,
And raise a glass to two one six,
To peace and health, a better mix.

……………………………..

Where are all of the women on public service boards ?

Source: Where are all of the women on public service boards ?

Where are all of the women on public service boards ?

More women on company boards, but what about the public sector?

Jacqueline Baxter, The Open University

There are now no all-male boards in FTSE 100 companies, marking a watershed in women’s representation, according to the launch of the Female FTSE Board Report 2015. Since the Davies Report set a target of 25% of women serving on boards of FTSE 100 companies four years ago, women’s representation has almost doubled.

But the successes of the FTSE 100 are not mirrored in the public sector. Despite a number of government interventions since 2010, representation of women, ethnic minorities and those with disabilities remains challenging to say the least.

In health, although women account for 77% of the NHS workforce they hold only 37% of board positions. A mere 30% reach the position of chair, compared to 70% of men.

In policing, the picture is even bleaker: the system of elected Police and Crime Commissioners (PCC) introduced in 2012 was driven by the need for greater transparency and public accountability. But the elections resulted in only six women PCCS compared with 35 men.

Combined with a total lack of representation of ethnic minorities this led to the system being described as a “monoculture”. And it makes the current government plans to extend the remit of PCCs to include all emergency services concerning, to say the least.

In spite of the fact that there are around 22,000 schools in England, governed by an estimated 300,000 volunteer governors, we have no idea how representative these boards are. No statistics have ever been kept.

Since September 1, 2015, schools have been required to post certain information regarding their governing body on their websites. The Department for Education is currently looking at ways that this can be made easier, but there is no indication of how this will be monitored or whether diversity data would be gathered at any point.

The government’s current emphasis on recruiting people with “business skills” as school governors runs the risk of creating exactly the same issues around diversity as have occurred in corporate public boards – the very same issue that the FTSE 100 project sought to eradicate.

In higher education the outlook appears to be more positive with a fifth of the boards of governing bodies in the UK possessing a 40-60% split between men and women members. Out of 166 higher education institutions in the UK, women make up 37% of all governing body members. But only 12% of chairs of these boards are women.

Quotas or no quotas?

The FTSE report is impressive, not least because it demonstrates what can be achieved without the introduction of quotas. But it also indicates that achieving diversity on boards doesn’t come without hard work and collaboration.

Lack of supply of qualified female candidates is often quoted as a reason for the lack of diversity on public sector boards. An important part of the FTSE 100 experience lay in encouraging and supporting the pipeline of women as potential leaders. It carries the additional benefit of encouraging women to fulfil their potential on merit rather than relying on quotas to do the job.

The substantial body of research into quotas – largely relating to their use in political appointments – has shown that although they act immediately, they also have the potential to reinforce the status quo. This is because they recruit a “particular type of candidate”, which then provides too much “group think”.

“Group think” is recognised by psychologists as being a strong desire for harmony or conformity within a group which can result in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making. In the worst case scenario, members go to extraordinary lengths to minimise conflict by suppressing dissenting viewpoints and isolating themselves from “outside influences”. In the case of boards, the phenomenon is found far more frequently in those that lack diversity in their membership.

Research suggests that there are also problems in the appointment process: organisations often employ a narrow definition of experience, essentially seeking candidates with prior board or executive experience. This restricts the access of qualified female candidates, whose backgrounds might not fit this narrow profile.

Interpersonal dynamics are often found to play a part, largely in terms of recruiters’ preference for similar candidates and narrow perceptions of who fits and who doesn’t. Social capital and relationships have also been found to be critical and organisations such as Women on Boards have been set up to provide formal and informal support through referencing and sponsorship.

Good for business.
Monkey Business Images/www.shutterstock.com

The benefits of a diverse board

There is little doubt that diversity on boards is a good thing. A recent report by McKinsey argued that advancing womens’equality could add US$12 trillion to global growth.

Other evidence shows that companies with mixed boards outperform those with all male ones. There is also substantial evidence to support the fact that women also bring particular skills to the table.

So with the evidence that women on boards increase performance, it’s time the public sector woke up to the benefits of female representation and made a concerted effort to emulate their FTSE counterparts.

The Conversation

Jacqueline Baxter, Lecturer in Public Policy and Management , The Open University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.