After Trojan Horse, why paying school governors is not a catch-all solution

By Jacqueline Baxter, The Open University

The Conversation

Read on The Conversation here.

The investigations into the Trojan Horse affair, where a group of schools in Birmingham were accused of failing to protect children from extremism, has provoked a number of criticisms centred on the way schools are governed in England.

During a recent inquiry of the education select committee into extremism in schools, the head of Ofsted, Michael Wilshaw, told MPs that schools in England have relied on “amateurish governance to do a professional job”. His words provoked an angry response from the National Governors’ Association (NGA) who insisted that being a volunteer is not synonymous with amateurism. Wilshaw also suggested paying one or two governors in each governing body, a move that the NGA are also opposed to and which reflects the views of their members. In a 2013 survey only 30% of governors believed they should be paid.

The NGA’s policy manager Gillian Ashcroft told me the NGA’s view is “that one can perform a role professionally and in a business-like fashion without being paid”. She also said there was no evidence to suggest that paying governors would improve governance.

The end of excitement?

Given their heavyweight responsibilities, not least in ensuring that the money allocated to pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds is used to close the enduring gap between rich and poor pupils, governors don’t deserve to be called amateur.

They have been hit pretty hard by the changes in England’s educational landscape. Amid the excitement of creating a new system of autonomous schools while also severely cutting Local Education Authority budgets, the government seemed to assume that the old system of school governance could simply be grafted onto a new system of education. This was without any real thinking behind what this system would entail for school regulation and accountability.

The issue has been compounded by old understandings of governance mingling with a new regulatory framework which places governor performance right up there with head teachers and senior leadership teams. But the fortunes of these leaders are now inextricably intertwined with a volunteer body which was recently described by the former secretary of state for education, Michael Gove, as a bunch of “local worthies”.

Until the Trojan Horse affair, school governors had attracted surprisingly little attention in the media. Perhaps they weren’t seen as exciting enough – after all, if the government didn’t give it much thought, why would it attract media attention?

But governors have always done important work. The difference is that now they are far less supported in their role and subject to far more stringent regulation.

This is reflected by reports that schools are being stripped of their “outstanding” status by Ofsted for failing to close the gap between rich and poor pupils.

In order to do this, the pupil premium was introduced by the coalition government from an idea conceived primarily by the Liberal Democrats. It is now increasing from its current £1.875 billion to £2.5 billion in the 2014-15 financial year. In an average sized secondary school with an average number of pupils on free school meals, this translates at around £200,000 – the equivalent of five full-time teachers. It represents one of the most substantive strategies to combat the gap between rich and poor pupils, an area in which England performs poorly compared to many of its peers.

One of the key tasks for governors is to monitor how the premium is spent, as well as the more difficult task of monitoring its impact on pupil performance. Following allegations in mid-2013 that schools were misusing the premium to plug holes in budgets, Ofsted has increased its monitoring of governor performance in this area. In its most recent update, it reported that while school leaders were spending the premium more effectively, “weak leadership and governance is still an obstacle in too many schools.”

Grafting not crafting

It is often quite difficult for people outside of England to understand this form of school governance and how it has come about. An emphasis on recruiting school governors from the business sector during the early nineties – which persists today – has gone a long way to creating the idea that the most effective governors are those with a business background.

This prompted a move to link governors’ professional backgrounds with roles on the governing body: an accountant for the finance committee, an HR professional for staffing. Mirroring practices from other public sector boards, payment of an allowance could be the next step in this type of policy borrowing.

But as in the case of international policy borrowing, taking one policy and grafting it onto another context often provokes unexpected results. Already, in the processs of borrowing ideas from non-profit boards, the government has largely negated to consider the very particular context of school governance.

A recent study showed that polarised thinking about governors’ roles – conceptualising them as either willing volunteers or adept professionals – is causing tensions among inspectors and head teachers that are counterproductive to accountability.

It is therefore not surprising that Wilshaw feels it would be more productive to separate the two: paying a couple of professional governors whose day job is to keep up with the myriad legislative and policy-related documents issued to governors on a weekly basis. The same governors would presumably have greater responsibility for feeding back during inspections – a prospect that must sound pretty seductive to the inspectorate who often struggle to meet with governors at short notice.

But the idea does raise considerable issues – not least in terms of their recruitment and funding. School budgets are already creaking under the prospect of the extension of austerity measures until 2018. Paying governors for their services, as well as mandatory training, would be highly contentious if it looked to be taking from schools’ teaching and learning budgets.

Looking back over the Trojan Horse affair, it is difficult to see how paying governors would have prevented the issue. Paying just one or two on each board – including the chair – may well have the regulatory advantages mentioned earlier, but it would also create a hierarchy within the governing body, which in the longer term could be equally, if not more, counter-productive.

A hierarchy that would undoubtedly change the whole character of school governing and may well erode the goodwill that has for so long supported, sustained and nourished the foundations of education in England.

The Conversation

Jacqueline Baxter does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

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

Advertisements

School governors how we got here and where we go from here

The recent crisis in English Education, nicknamed Trojangate by bloggers and tweeters,(Phipps, 2014), has brought to light some of the acute issues facing school governance in England today. The affair prompted by a letter which is now thought to be a hoax, has prompted an unprecedented level of school inspections, carried out to investigate the alleged infiltration of hard line Muslim ideology into the curriculum of 25 Birmingham Schools an infiltration which was alleged to have taken place largely due to mismanagement of school governors. As a result, five of the schools were placed in special measures, the lowest school inspection category available, with a further nine schools re-categorised to ‘requires improvement’. The scandal, amongst other factors has brought to light issues with the whole issue of school governor operations and their role in overseeing in what is essentially a new education system in England (Baxter, 2014a).

Although The Trojan Horse Affair has placed school governance firmly in the eye of the media, the whole area has been under scrutiny for some time now. Recent parliamentary enquiries, reports by the English Inspectorate of Education, Ofsted (The Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills), have all questioned how a system which has grown organically over the past hundred years, is to be monitored and governed given the many and varied changes to English school structures that began under New Labour and have continued to gain pace under the present Coalition Government from 2010 (Ofsted, 2011; Parliament, 2013b, 2013c).
In order to understand what the current challenges are, it is important to understand how the system of education governance has evolved. Particularly as it is a system which is in many ways unique to England, evolving as it has in response to both educational and political imperatives that are particular to that country (Lawton, 1978; Sallis, 1988b)
School governance actually dates back some 600 years, and were first introduced to ensure financial probity as Joan Sallis describes here:
They [governors] ‘ were charged to scrutinise teaching and progress in school of the scholars and the quality of the food provided for the same…and shall correct or reform anything needing correction or reform.’(Sallis, 1988b:100)
Two major enquiries: The Clarendon Commission in 1861 and the Taunton Commission in 1864, centring on public schools and grammar schools respectively uncovered that many of these schools had drifted from their original purposes and proposed that a new form of accountability be created: the governing body. The proposals were formalised in the form of two Acts, the Public Schools Act and the Endowed Schools Act (Parliament, 1868a, 1868b). Of these reports The Clarendon report went furthest in describing the duties of governing body and head teacher. Outlining the way in which the curriculum was structured the report pointed to the way in which governors were expected to influence:
‘What should be taught, and what importance should be given to each subject are therefore questions for the Governing Body; how to teach is a question for the head master.(Commission, 1864)
The shape and format of governing bodies continued to evolve until the 1944 Education Act laid down the partnership between central and local government and set out in some detail, the roles and responsibilities of governors and the division of responsibilities between the LEA and individual school bodies (Parliament, 1944). The act changed the shape and form of governing boards, increasing their powers and specifically articulating their modus operandi in sections 17 -21. But although the 1944 act demanded that all schools should possess a governing body, in terms of governing schools the act was seen by some to lack substance, as Sallis outlines,
‘The Act’s provisions on school governance were an attempt to graft firmly onto the state system of education a model which has been devised for the public schools and in which the Victorian figure of the ‘local worthy’ loomed large.[…] perhaps was inevitable that managers and governors either became meaningless appendages of the schools or mere tools of providing authority.’(Sallis; 1988:110).
After that the most substantial changes in the form and shape of school governance emerged during the early sixties. Prompted by the changing system of education the parental element of school governing gained pace, spurred on by the rise of parent groups .The National Association of Managers and Governors established in 1970 was established in order to reform outdated systems of school governance established by the 1944 Act. But the pace of change would have been far slower had it not been for the radical and transformative work done in the City of Sheffield in the late sixties. This was largely due to innovative Labour policy initiatives prompted by an extended period out of office. When Labour returned to power in 1970 it returned with a pledge to,
‘Work for a more participatory style of local democracy, with encouragements to tenant’s associations, consultation with these and other non-political support groups and community based individual governing boards for all schools.’ (Sallis:114).
Considerable changes in Sheffield resulted in a far larger more participatory articulation of school governance. Numbers of governors rose dramatically and the impact of the reforms gave rise to the Taylor Inquiry, which instigated the Taylor Report (1977), arguably one of the most influential reforms on school governance since the 1944 Act .
It was felt that although the 1944 Act had articulated certain understandings of governance, that it did not go far enough and had become outdated. The Taylor Report recommended that five main interests should be represented on governing bodies: the LEA, parents, teachers, older pupils and the local community. In addition it recommended that all LEAs provide training and development for governors. The report was well received, not least due to the fact that in sentiment it reflected the far greater focus on participation in education in terms of home support for children and a greater role for the community in supporting local schools. The report focused on the local element of governance in a number of ways, but one of the principal elements of this was the need for. ‘Governors not to be accountable to their transient clientele, but rather act as guardians of the school’s distinctive place in the local system and as participants of a healthy local system’ (Ibid:10). The report was shortly followed by The Education Act 1980 which allowed any governor to stand for Chair (not just LEA governors). The 1986 Education Act (NCC, 2001) concentrated its efforts on partnership between central and local government ensuring the end of the dominance of governing bodies by LEA representatives, strengthening the role of governors reporting to parents and highlighting the role of individual schools. Although this Act seems almost to have been forgotten in the wake of the 1988 Act; for governors it was an important one in terms of highlighting their role in linking school with community: a facet all but negated in the later act. The return of the Conservative Party to power in 1987 combined with the teachers dispute which took place from 1985 -6 , created a great deal of dissatisfaction with the perceived power of the teaching profession, creating a need to control and regulate to a far greater extent than previously.
Following the 1988 Education Reform Act (Parliament., 1988) there was increasing emphasis on school self-management. The principal impact of The Act on governance was the introduction of Local Management of Schools (LMS). This effectively devolved all responsibility for the budget and the management of school staff into the hands of governors. Some governing bodies opted to take this further, by adopting Grant Maintained status becoming the employers of staff with an extended decision making function. This resulted in a far greater impetus for schools to engage governors from the business community an element described in Thody’s 1994 study on school governors which describes, ‘An advice book for business community governors that, ‘schools need to run like companies with the governing bodies being boards of directors and the headteachers the managing directors (Thody, 1994:22).
The three challenges of a changing system

Today’s school governor is faced with a number of issues, not least of these, the ways in which the education landscape has changed and evolved over the past 20 years. The Academies project, a flagship policy instigated by the New Labour Government under Tony Blair was set up to improve failing schools by offering them financial and a certain degree of curricular independence (Ball, 2009). In 2010 the project was intensified and widened by the Academies Act 2010 (Parliament, 2010).Under the new regulations, outstanding schools too could opt for academy conversion. Since the Conservative Liberal Coalition Government came to power, the Act has been used to progress a neo-liberal belief in the efficiency of the market by using the powers of Ofsted and The Secretary of State for Education- Michael Gove to force academisation on failing schools (Gorard, 2009).Governors in these schools- over 4000 at the last count (DFE, 2014). Within these schools there is currently no middle tier of accountability between volunteer school governors and Gove. The second key issue facing governors is the increasing incursion of groups of schools, either chains or federations which operate very different governance structures to single schools. In some cases governors may be responsible for a number of schools, supported by local governing groups who have consultative but no decision making powers- this has raised questions over what it really means to be a school governor (see for example Baxter & Wise, 2013; Chapman et al 2010). The third major challenge for school governance arises from the increased regulatory emphasis placed upon it by the English School Inspectorate, Ofsted (The Office for Standards in Education, children, families and skills).

School governing grew organically but in the government’s haste to create a new education system it seems to have been assumed that the governance system could be cut and pasted on without any problems. Trojan Horse if anything positive has come out of it, has proved that this is clearly not the case.

For further information see the full article at :
https://www.academia.edu/7701386/School_Governor_regulation_in_Englands_changing_education_landscape_Is_it_a_case_of_MADSchool_Governor_regulation_in_Englands_changing_education_landscape_Is_it_a_case_of_MAD