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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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.

Evolving models of governance in public services

A recent paper written with Prof Catherine Farrell of The University of South Wales, investigated changing models of governance within four public services in England and Wales : Fire; health; policing and education.

The paper, which was given a the Policy and Politics Conference in Bristol (Sept 14-15 2015)  investigated the theories underpinning public service governance models and how far each could be said to be ‘democratic’.

What came through very strongly in the research was that Wales, in contrast to England, still focused largely on democratic modes of governance in services that were devolved : education and health. Whereas in England the marketised approach , particularly in education and health has led to adoption of very different modes of governance . For example-

The Health and Social Care Act 2012 introduced more changes in the way that the NHS is organised in England. These reforms, implemented on in April 2013 included a move to clinically led commissioning groups, (CCGs), responsible for planning and purchasing health care services for local populations and now responsible for 60% of the NHS budget. There are 121 of these groups and they have replaced the 152 Primary Care Trusts (PCTs).  The CCGs operate under ‘NHS England’ which is an independent organisation which in common with many networked governance structures, operates at ‘arm’s length’ from the government (see for example Burnham, 2001; Clarke and Newman, 1997). NHS England’s role is to provide national leadership in health, to oversee and allocate resources to the CCGs, and to commission specialist services.

In Wales , the original model of stakeholder representation is still operational, remaining relatively unchanged since the 1940s- this is also the case for education. Compared with the highly complex systems of governance in education and health in England, the stakeholder model appears relatively straightforward. Models of educational governance in England have been radically changed since the inception of the academies programme- a move that gave schools financial and curricular independence and removed many from LEA control. These schools have necessitated a very different approach to governance – an approach that largely reflects the weighty financial and other responsibilities that are now shouldered by governors.

The Trojan Horse affair in 2014 revealed just how far England had moved from the system of local accountability, based on Local Education Authority control. It also highlighted the gaping vacuum left by their demise, a factor that prompted the advent of a new innovation in local control. School commissioners , supported( and possibly but by no means probably) held to account by head teacher boards. There are to date just 8 Regional School Commissioners, whose mandate is to provide a local focus of accountability for academies in their region , unfortunately these individuals are also held to performance criteria, one of which is the opening of new academies on ‘their patch’.

The government have been slow to recognise this fundamental conflict of interest, only recently announcing their intention to look again at the role of RSCs: a forthcoming inquiry into their role and function, will no doubt reveal to what extent the system is functioning.

Investing power in a single person seems to be an increasingly common facet of public service accountability in England. Police and Crime Commissioners elected in 2012 have radically changed the whole area of police governance. Purportedly held to account by Police and Crime Panels, the system has suffered from considerably more than ‘teething problems’, as the Stevens report reflected.New proposals by the government that would enable PCCs to encompass fire and rescue services within their remit , will no doubt provoke considerable opposition by those who feel that the PCCs already wield too much power and are not in effect held to account by their PCPs due to the ‘toothless’ legislative powers that bind them. 

Prompted by an interest in exploring cross service learning, this is our first foray in looking across the public sector at governance and accountability. We will be following this up with a paper that examines the role of  public service inspection in England and Wales. We hope that this work will yield practical and theoretical insights to the complex and changing world of public service governance and democratic accountability.

You can find a full copy of the paper here

School Governor Identities Update

The school governor identities project has now been running for six months. During this time I have carried out over 50 interviews with school governors from all over the country.

The project aims to investigate the influences of various factors on school governor identity at a time of great changes to the education system in England.

The project investigates areas such as : the media influence on governors; how governors become confident in their role; what brought them into the role in the first place; what they imagine to be ‘school strategy’; how they see themselves as leaders; what governors feel about inspection and their role in it.

Some of the data will be published in a forthcoming book : Governors: Policy , politics and practices (Policy press ), I will also be writing a number of articles and blog posts over the next six months.

The survey is still running so if you ‘Picture1

haven’t had a chance to complete it you still can –

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/schoolgovernors.

The responses so far have been fascinating , not least in the area of governor learning and development , governor web use and governor perceptions on strategy and leadership . I will be posting an update soon on these areas.

best wishes

Jacqueline Baxter – Lecturer in Public Policy and Management : The Open University Business School .

Election Countdown – British Values and the Horse that never was.

The spectre of 'British values' is infusing education policy

Jacqueline Baxter, The Open University

The Trojan Horse affair in Birmingham schools last year has left an indelible mark on the education system and the ensuing debate on the need for schools to uphold “British values” has infused parties’ proposals for education. This is despite a final report into the affair by the House of Commons education committee which concluded that apart from one incident, no evidence of extremism or radicalisation was found in any of the schools involved and there was “no evidence of a sustained plot”.

Guidelines for schools on embedding British values were introduced in November 2014 and were designed to:

Tighten up the standards on pupil welfare to improve safeguarding and on spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils to strengthen the barriers to extremism.

These guidelines were also an attempt to shore up a national identity at a time of increasing threats from fundamentalism. But the move has caused anger in religious schools such as St Benedict’s Catholic Secondary School in Bury St Edmunds, which was downgraded by the schools’ inspectorate Ofsted last year for failing to prepare students for life in modern Britain.

Conservative backlash

The whole idea of British values may have been conceived by the former Conservative secretary of state for education, Michael Gove, but feelings in his party on the issue are running high. Edward Leigh, Conservative MP for Gainsborough, recently argued in the House of Commons that Ofsted was waging a war against faith schools with the policy, citing the recent announcement to close the Christian-ethos Durham Free School.

This tension between nationalism and faith places the Conservatives in an uncomfortable position. Although the party has declared its intention to forge ahead with the expansion of its academy and free schools programmes (many of which will presumably be faith-based), it has vacillated in its support of Ofsted in a number of areas, including the policing of British values.

The Conservatives have been seemingly content to use the inspection system to drive their academy and free school programme, by enjoining schools judged to be weak to become academies, yet also reluctant to allow it to perform thorough inspections of academy chains. Recent developments have moved the inspectorate a little closer to doing this, but Ofsted still has to stop short of offering an actual judgement on the overall performance of multi-academy trusts.

Diverging views on ‘British values’

Meanwhile, UKIP has specifically mentioned British values in its proposals for education, stating: “UKIP supports the principle of free schools that are open to the whole community and uphold British values.” This infers that those schools found to be lacking in this area would not be supported. UKIP also states that parents and governors would have the power to trigger snap inspections, potentially exacerbating Ofsted’s already contentious role in this issue.

In contrast, Labour’s Tristram Hunt, writing in The Observer, described British values as a ministerial fad and announced Labour’s intention to reform and de-politicise Ofsted.

The Liberal Democrats have spoken out on a number of occasions about their concern in labelling values as specifically British. In an interview last June with The Independent, its leader Nick Clegg expressed concern that imposing British values in schools could alienate moderate Muslims. But since then the whole issue surrounding British values has not been confined to those holding Muslim beliefs but has been the subject of heated discussion within a number of other faith groups too.

The Green Party talks in terms of human values rather than British ones but firmly declares that, “no publicly funded schools shall be run by a religious organisation” and that “privately run schools run by religious organisations must reflect the inclusive nature of British society.” It also states that faith schools will not be allowed to opt out of equality and diversity legislation, nor will they be allowed to promote homophobia or transphobia on the grounds of religion.

The Greens are also proposing that Ofsted be dismantled and replaced by a local system of accountability shared between each local authority and a new National Council of Educational Excellence. Speaking to the TES in February, Green leader Natalie Bennett argued that Ofsted has become very damaging and that parachuting inspectors in every few years was not an appropriate form of accountability.

Governance issues

It is somewhat ironic that the incident that initiated the whole issue around British values and their promotion in education is not only widely viewed as a hoax, but also rooted not in extremism but in inadequate governance and oversight.

Debates around incorporation of the policing of British values into the inspection schedule, Ofsted’s heavy-handed approach in policing them and the conflation of the whole idea of British values with the fight against extremism, are not going to disappear overnight. Nor are the accusations that what began as a failure of governance in 21 Birmingham schools has since been used to downgrade and close many others.

In considering any future policies on accountability and oversight, the next government will have to think very carefully about what is to be done with the spectre of British values or wake up with a severe post-election hangover from the last administration’s policies.

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

Parents at Durham Free School are paying a high price for the ideology of school choice

Parents at Durham Free School are paying a high price for the ideology of school choice

By Jacqueline Baxter, The Open University

The Durham Free School is to have its government funding removed in a snap decision made by Nicky Morgan, the secretary of state for education. The move comes after a damning Ofsted report which found the school inadequate in all four categories, and raises some key questions about faith-based schools, parental choice and the future of the free school project in England.

Set up in 2012 and based around a Christian ethos, Durham Free School had been struggling since November 2014 when Ofsted declared it inadequate in all areas. The regulator stated that the school’s leaders, including its governors, placed too much emphasis on religious credentials when recruiting key staff, and not enough on excellent candidates with good leadership and teaching skills. They also declared that the leaders were failing to prepare students for life in modern Britain and that some students held discriminatory views of other people who have different beliefs or values from themselves.

This is a far cry from where the school began. Its first head, Peter Cantley, speaking in an interview with the Northern Echo in December 2012, declared it would: “bring extra investment to the area and increase parental choice “ and would categorically not draw funding from nearby schools. He went on to describe it as having the potential to: “empower local communities, responding to their educational aspirations.”

Politically inconvenient?

The decision to close the school was taken very quickly, with Morgan speaking in parliament just an hour after the school had received a letter warning it had two weeks to notification of an intention to terminate its government funding.

The abrupt closure of the Durham Free School is already being seen by some parents as a politically motivated move that dismisses the needs of parents and pupils. One parent at the school told me:

I can only conclude that the bad publicity that has been generated of late regarding this school is causing embarrassment to the government at a time when they are considering the future governance of the UK following the elections, and will seek to dismiss this as a failed school in order to save the others and save their face. Education should NEVER be used for political gain by any party member in this manner, but because of this I have to find a new school place for my daughter.

The school’s headteacher has said he will appeal against the government’s decision.

It was far from easy to set up the school in the first place. Press reports dating back to 2012 give some indication of the levels of resistance that the school faced before finally opening its doors. Its critics, among them, a senior education officer at Durham County Council, voiced concerns that there was no need for another secondary school in the city. Dave Ford, then head of achievement services at Durham County Council voiced considerable concerns over what he described as, “the fragmentation of funding.” Funding, that in the opinions of those opposing establishment of the new school, would have been better spent on existing schools.

No sticking plaster

Free school leaders meet Nicky Morgan and David Cameron in October .
Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

The idea of borrowing policies from one country and applying them like a sticking plaster to another is very common in education. In the case of free schools, the English policy was largely developed from the Swedish free school model, with little heed paid to problems revealed by research.

One such study carried out by the Institute of Education’s Susanne Wiborg concluded that in Sweden – one of the world’s most egalitarian societies – free schools increased segregation and impeded social cohesion. Back in 2010, she posed a number of questions aimed at those intending to adopt the Swedish free school model, including whether more school choice is desirable: “if free schools do not reconcile high academic standards and social integration?”

Choice and challenges

Sweeping changes to the education system have brought new school freedoms designed to offer more choice to parents combined with diminishing levels of local accountability. The speed and scope of these changes are without precedent and have led to grave concerns about the quality of education and the capacity of the new system to reduce unacceptable levels of educational inequity: a problem which has dogged the English system for some time now.

In the period since the introduction of the free schools policy there have been substantial challenges for education – not least the political conflation of education and the battle against extremist teaching. This began with the the “Trojan Horse” affair in Birmingham schools and continued with allegations of links to extremism in Tower Hamlets in London.

These events, set against a background of growing national and international unrest, have resulted in changes to education and school inspection policy that look to combat the rise of extremism. The resultant focus on the policing of British values from pre-school level upwards has brought a whole new dimension to the meaning of school freedom and parental choice.

Where next?

The free schools policy is hanging in the balance, as University of Birmingham doctoral researcher Rebecca Morris has pointed out in a commentary on the future of free schools.

It would seem that, in the case of Durham Free School, its students are paying a very high price for the so-called luxury of parental choice in a market where schools can apparently be there one moment and gone the next.

The seductive market ideology persists, couched in the primacy of supposed parental choice. When schools fail, we blame everyone: the teachers, the governors, the management, the inspectors. The real culprit – the ideological spectre of the market – is forgotten in all of the media frenzy and political posturing that follows.

The Conversation

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

School Inspection

 

For the past two years I have been working on the ESRC funded programme : Governing by Inspection . The project, led by Professor Jenny Ozga of Oxford University,  This three-year research project, funded by the ESRC and the Swedish Research Council (Vetenskapsrådet) compares the use of school inspection as a form of governing of education in the three systems of Sweden, Scotland and England, in the context of current changes in inspection practices in Europe (see : http://www.education.ox.ac.uk/governing-by-inspection/). The project has involved a number of publications (see my publications page) and latterly a book , due to be published by Routledge in September 2014: Governing by Inspection (Grek,S and Lindgren,J, 2014) London. Routledge.  You can find more information on our conference presentations on my Conferences page.

My forthcoming conferences include a presentation at :

The changing face of school inspections; theories and practices

Invited European inspection symposium 3-4 June, 2014

http://www.ips.gu.se/english/isi-tl/

Venue: Department of Education and Special Education, University of Gothenburg, Sweden
Visiting Address: Pedagogen A, Västra Hamngatan 25, Gothenburg
Conference fee: No conference fee will be charged. Travel and subsistence expenses are covered by participants.


The European School Inspection research consortium is delighted to invite you to a symposium in Gothenburg in June 2014 to share new research and practitioner evidence, enhance our understanding of (the impact of) school inspection and discuss ways in which inspection can be enhanced.

The symposium will centre stage a number of high profile studies on different inspection models across Europe, and help us learn about the mechanisms of impact of these models.

This symposium will present for discussion the major findings of a large comparative EU-study from a wide range of European countries. In particular, the role of key inspection methodologies which positively impact on schools will be considered. In addition the symposium will include inputs from important stakeholders working in the inspection field across Europe (e.g. the Standing International Conference on Inspectorates of Education, SICI), bringing together researchers and practitioners to exchange research evidence and identify good practice.

The Symposium will focus on the following themes:

  • Models for analysing the impact and effectiveness of school inspection
  • Emerging trends, policies and procedures in European Inspection
  • Key inspection methodologies which are effective in driving change
  • The role of school self evaluation in the inspection processes
  • The danger of unintended, negative consequences of inspection
  • The impact of national context on the development of inspection policies

 

Education Policy and The Media 

 

As part of my work into education policy and the media, I will be presenting the paper below at The European Education Research Conference in Porto 2014 ; details of the paper are as follows:

ID: 1932
23. Policy Studies and Politics of Education

Topics: NW 23: The politics of policy making in education
Keywords: media, inspection, policy, academies

Inspection by Media: the role and function of the media on education and inspection policy in England

Jacqueline-Aundree Baxter

The Open University UK, United Kingdom

Presenting Author: Baxter, Jacqueline-Aundree

The role of the media on international education policy has been recognised for some time now (Anderson, 2007); not least in terms of the often powerful impact it exerts not only on education policy but on public service policy more generally (Wallace, 1994,Hall, 1997). Education inspection is now employed by a number of countries both within and outside of Europe, to govern complex education systems (Grek, Lawn, Ozga, & Segerholm, 2013). InEngland in common with other OECD countries (see Rönnberg et al, 2012), school inspection is the focus of a great deal of media attention, particularly since the inception of the current inspectorate, Ofsted, in 1992. Since The Conservative /Liberal coalition took power in 2010, the media has increasingly been used to criticise the extent to which the inspectorate is being used to fulfil the government’s education agenda; raising questions about the extent to which its judgements can be said to be impartial (Baxter, Rönnberg, & Ozga, forthcoming). This paper draws on media discourse theory (Negrine,2013) to employ a case study approach to examine the ways in which The Academies Act 2010 (Parliament, 2010) and the policy advocated by the act is linked to media coverage of inspection. The legislation develops a policy which began under the previous Labour Administration, and is aims to encourage the further development of an education system in which state schools assume financial and curricular autonomy. Sampling from 3 national newspapers: The Times, The Guardian and The Independent, the study analyses 200 articles on inspection which make indirect and direct reference to the act. Using a framework for media analysis (Baxter et al forthcoming) , the paper explores how media coverage of inspection within the period 2010 to 2013 is framed in terms of the act .(Negrine, 2013) .The research questions examine: how the media shape their coverage in order to appeal to the public; what news values are employed in order to colour and condition stories in ways that make them acceptable and persuasive to the public; and finally : how news stories are cognitively framed in order to create links between education policy and public understandings. The paper concludes that in linking inspection to this policy, the media potentially exert considerable influence upon the ways in which this policy is understood and received by the public.

Methodology, Methods, Research Instruments or Sources Used
The study draws upon 100 news articles from 3 National Newspapers published within the time period 2009-present, which make reference to both inspection and academies. Using a framework for media analysis (Baxter et al forthcoming) the project examines a) What news values are employed to colour and conditions stories in ways that make them acceptable and persuasive to the public b) How are these news stories cognitively framed in order to create links between education policy and public understandings of inspection and academies c)To what extent the three newspapers both justify and criticise this policy via their reports on inspection d)What implications do media crafting and presentations of stories on inspection and the academies project have for the future of education policy in this area ?

Conclusions, Expected Outcomes or Findings
The findings are expected to reveal :  a) What news values are employed to colour and conditions stories in ways that make them acceptable and persuasive to the public b) How are these news stories cognitively framed in order to create links between education policy and public understandings of inspection and academies c)To what extent the three newspapers both justify and criticise this policy via their reports on inspection d)What implications do media crafting and presentations of stories on inspection and the academies project have for the future of education policy in this area ?

References
Anderson, G. L. (2007). Media’s impact on educational policies and practices: Political spectacle and social control. Peabody Journal of Education, 82(1), 103-120.
Baxter, J., Rönnberg, L., & Ozga, J. (forthcoming). Inspection in the Media. In S. Grek & J. Lindengren (Eds.), Governing by Inspection: Embodied Regulation. London: Symposium Books
Hall, S. (1997). Representation: Cultural representations and signifying practices (Vol. 2): SAGE Publications Limited.
Ozga, J., Baxter, J., Clarke, J., Grek, S., & Lawn, M. (2013). The Politics of Educational Change: Governance and School Inspection in England and Scotland Swiss Journal of Sociology, 39(2), 37-55.
Negrine, R. (2013). Politics and the mass media in Britain: Routledge.
Parliament. (2010). The Academies Act 2010.  London: HMSO Retrieved from http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2010/32/pdfs/ukpga_20100032_en.pdf.
Rönnberg, L., Lindgren, J., & Segerholm, C. (2012). In the public eye: Swedish school inspection and local newspapers: exploring the audit–media relationship. Journal of Education Policy, 28(2), 178-197.
Wallace, M. (1994). The contribution of the mass media to the education policy process. International Journal of Educational reform, 4(2), 124-130.
Wallace, M. (1996). Guided by an Unseen Hand: The Mass Media and Education Policy. In K. Watson, S. Modgil & C. Modgil (Eds.), Educational dilemmas:Debate and Diversity: Vol.3.Power and Responsibility in Education (Vol. 3, pp. 147). London: Cassell.

The Roles and Identities of School Governors in areas of High Socio Economic Deprivation 

My work into the roles and identities of school governors looks at the changing face of school governing in England and Wales – specifically those working in areas of high socio economic deprivation.

 

 

Governing their future: the roles and identities of federation school governors in areas of social deprivation Project Summary.

Duration:

2 Years.

 

 

 

The project, based at The Open University UK looks to investigate the roles and identities of volunteer governors working in areas of relatively high socio economic deprivation, (1% above the average Free School Meals indicator) and whose schools form part of a federation. School governors are under considerable pressure to perform within an environment in which, increasingly they find themselves governing autonomous schools (academies or free schools), with no support from Local Education Authorities. A recent Parliamentary enquiry into the role of volunteer school governors (Parliament, 2013a, 2013b, 2013c), found that not only were governors confused about their role, but they were also being asked to undertake far greater responsibilities than they have ever, in the history of school governing, been asked to take.(Sallis, 1988). In addition to this, they are, under the 2012 Inspection Framework, facing increasingly stringent levels of regulation and failure to reach the necessary standards has profound consequences for both schools and governors (Baxter, 2013, 2014). But it is not only the shifting notions of accountability that place great pressure on governors: new forms of schools such as federations and academy chains, mean that governors often find themselves responsible for more than one school.(Baxter & Wise, 2013). This too has implications for the ways in which they carry out their role and also how they are placed in relation to the community/communities which they serve.

Governor recruitment has always been challenging, particularly for schools located within areas of high socio economic deprivation (Francis, 2011; Mortimore & Whitty, 2000) and this project builds on the previous work of the PI into school governing and inspection and investigates how governors feel about their roles and function. Specifically the objectives of the study are to:

1

  1. Increase understanding of the ways in which the governor role is located in the wider context of educational governance.
    2. Identify factors contributing to and preventing positive governor group and individual working identities, motivation and job satisfaction in areas of socio economic deprivation
    3.Recommend areas for targeted intervention and development, particularly in the area of identity/role performance and individual and group efficacy.
    4. Identify particular challenges in the governing of federations.

Methodology.

The project draws upon interviews with governors and head teachers from three federations based in the North East of England. All three federations have !%+ more than the national average of pupils on free school meals. The interviews will each last one hour. The study also draws on quantitative data which is being supplied by Ten Governor Support. The data draws on 41k governor questions on aspects of governing. The Analysis will link the responses across all schools in England with above average on the FSM indicator with the qualitative interviews in order to respond to the research questions.

My work into school governors is also linked to the work of  Visiting Research Fellow Dr Karine Vignault from The Centre hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal . She is looking  at practices involving Patients Ressources  in the governance of health organizations as a new site of citizenship. In order to:  1) to identify the ways in which PR are currently defined and produced as subjects of public action, with a particular emphasis on the network of relationships in which they are embedded and which they contribute to create; 2) to foreground the effectiveness of these assemblages in terms of the power relations that they enable, notably through the mobilization of notion of expertise.

The research will be conducted via an ethnography of the Centre hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal (CHUM), an important university hospital centre which is currently experimenting with ways of including PR in its governance (especially in quality management committees), in order to ascertain: What are the conceptions of the  Patients Ressources that are circulating? What are the representative claims at play in discourses and practices involving Patients Ressources? How does the dilemma between authenticity and expertise operate in/through the recruitment and training of PR? How do emotions come into play?

(Patients Ressources (PR) in French; are recruited and trained to voluntarily support other patients through their trajectory of care and/or to participate in the governance of health organizations. )

 

 

 

The Business of inspection

The Business of inspection

I was interested to read an article in The Guardian online today about the confusion that teachers feel about inspection and what is expected by inspectors when they visit: http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2013/jun/17/teaching-inspections-ofsted-transparency. In it the writer, an ex teacher bemoaned the confusion caused by changing of the inspection schedules and their attendant expectations re teaching:

‘Back in the mid-2000s, the criteria for achieving an outstanding lesson were lengthy but specific. Included were things such as: using technology, varying activities, developing positive relationships. The array of requirements was overwhelming. Sometimes the job of teaching involved being a ringmaster of an elaborate circus of activities. Concerns then arose that this frenetic effort was not translating into outcomes. Ofsted therefore split the criteria, offering a grade for teaching and one for student learning. But this led to its own problems. Schools told teachers they must prove student learning was continually happening. In some classrooms, teachers were pressurised into having students mark their work every 20 minutes to show how they were progressing.

By the start of 2012, when Sir Michael Wilshaw took over at Ofsted, teachers breathed a sigh of relief as he promised to simplify the criteria and said inspectors had “no preferred teaching style“. Yet the era of “anything goes” felt short-lived. With detailed criteria gone, school leaders try to “guess” the right approach….’

For the last 2 years I have been working alongside colleagues from The Open University, The University of Edinburgh, Oxford University, the University of Mid Sweden and Umea University on an ESRC project called: Governing by inspection: http://jozga.co.uk/GBI/. Working on the project has been a fascinating journey into the workings of the inspection and the ways in which it is used to govern systems of education during particularly turbulent times (Ozga, Baxter, Clarke, Grek, & Lawn, 2013) The article above caught my eye for two reasons: firstly due to the sense of confusion about what the agency expects of teachers and secondly because of this in relation to the new inspection Framework (Ofsted, 2012). Successive reports into the role and purpose of Ofsted pointed to the agency’s so called tick box approach to inspection;(Parliament, 2011). The previous framework had some 28 judgements and sub-judgements which in the new framework have been reduced to just four. This in theory should make life easier all round, but the challenges of ensuring consistency of approach, a core element in any public service inspection regime (see Boyne, Day, & Walker, 2002), have traditionally been a bone of contention with both public and profession.

The system has been in existence for 20 years and as Abrams so rightly stated ,’ Try asking serious questions about the contemporary world and see if you can do without historical answers, (Abrams,1982: 1). But the history of the agency is not confined purely to its own procedures and evolution but equally to the massive industry which has grown up around it. Books offering guidance as to ‘The Perfect Ofsted Inspection’ or the Perfect Ofsed lesson (Beere, 2011; Beere, 2012), offer myriad suggestions as to how to proceed during an inspection. Training courses advertise how to convey their school in the best light during an inspection and recently governors too have been targeted by the multi-million pound industry which rides on the back of inspection. That is not to say that such material is not constructive: some of the courses I attended both as a teacher and later as a researcher were often well run and very informative, offering practical tips and hints on many aspects of teaching and learning. But in general it was the Ofsted label that sold them; it was the thought of being able to get a 1 that got most of the participants through the door.

Ofsted is more than an inspection agency, it’s a brand, and one that is instantly recognisable to some 42% of the English population (Baxter, 2013; Baxter & Clarke, 2013), that is without considering its international reach. You only have to trot around your locale to see that now famous sign ‘Ofsted Outsanding,’. But at what cost to its primary purpose as ‘The parent’s friend’ as John Major put it in his speech to the Centre for Policy Studies (Major, 1991) ? Has the brand overtaken the machine ?

Much of the strength of an Ofsed Inspection Framework lies in the ways in which it is interpreted: by both professionals and lay people and while there is confusion around whether the perfect lesson is the same as the perfect Ofsted lesson its purpose as an instrument by which to govern education may well be compromised.

Baxter, J. (2013). What Counts as sucess in education in England, shifting criteria. Forthcoming

Baxter, J., & Clarke, J. (2013). Farewell to the Tickbox Inspector ?Ofsted and the changing regime of school inspection in England. Forthcoming Oxford Review of Education 39(5).

Beere, J. (2011). The Perfect Ofsted Inspection London: Crown House

Beere, J. (2012). The Perfect Ofsted Lesson

Boyne, G., Day, P., & Walker, R. (2002). The evaluation of public service inspection: A theoretical framework. Urban Studies, 39(7), 1197.

Major, J. (1991). Education: all our futures Paper presented at the Centre for Policy Studies London.

Ofsted. (2012). The Framework for School inspection 2012

Ozga, J., Baxter, J., Clarke, J., Grek, S., & Lawn, M. (2013). The Politics of Educational Change: Governance and School Inspection in England and Scotland Swiss Journal of Sociology, 39(2), 37-55.

Parliament. (2011). The role and performance of Ofsted London: The House of Commons Education Committee.

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Governing their future: musings on the life and times of school governing in England

According to the NGA (National Governors Association) an increasing number of school governors are very confused about their role in today’s education system (source NGA).

At one time the role was very clear: you only have to read Joan Sallis’ excellent history of school governance to trace the fascinating evolution of this very singular role. Brought in to ensure financial probity of schools that were funded by philanthropists or the church, the role of the governor took on a life of its own, moving through phases during which the emphasis shifted from democratic representation to a more business orientated model of governing. During this time the role of the parent became increasingly highlighted (See Andrew Wilkins’- #Andewilkins’great work on parents as school governors). And yet, today in spite of the fact that they are one of the biggest volunteer forces in England with a job description which more closely resembles that of a company director than an unpaid volunteer, there is evidence to suggest that they are increasingly wondering what exactly they are there to do.

In my own experience this has always been the case. I started off as governor in a tiny village primary school: ‘Go on join us on governors; we need people like you,’ cajoled a well-established governor who also happened to be VP of the local FE college (my son was 5 he’d been at school barely three weeks- talk about grab them early). People like me, I wondered: and what sort of person is that? And it still remains a pertinent question today: what qualities do we want in this position that is so pivotal to the success or failure of a school that poor governance has been cited by both Ofsted and in a good deal of US research as one of the key reasons for school closure?

I was cajoled…. and remained a governor for 17 years, moving through the system as my three children moved up. I enjoyed the role; it was good to feel part of the school; to be on first name terms with the teachers and head and to gain a unique perspective on the backroom ops of a school. But right through the system I always felt that seed of doubt: was I doing this right? What were we achieving as governors? There was training- good training available but it’s a funny old position being a governor: often recruited for your professional skills yet applying them in a very different context from the day job…being a parent governor yet resisting the urge to bring tales from the school gate into the board room and certainly never daring to venture the fact that whilst the general focus of the meeting that evening is on the great exam results, your little Jonny came home in tears after Miss X failed to intervene in a bullying situation.

During my time as a governor I saw people cope with the role in several different ways: some gained a sense of purpose by doing their day job in school : HR adviser out of school HR adviser on governors; some drew their sense of purpose by feeling like teacher watchdogs: keeping an eye on the staff …just in case they should get out of hand if they were not there to pounce on any misdemeanour. And some drew their governor identities from a sense of doing what was right for the school- steering it through the choppy waters of the latest set of initiatives and the 100 page+ Governor Guide to the Law. Of course there were those that were on governors purely for a front seat at the school concert; but over the years as the workload burgeoned, that type melted away. I can’t say that I met a single governor that didn’t have the children/student interest at heart; but the articulation of this varied enormously from governor to governor.

Governors of today are having to adapt to myriad changes as new school autonomies, in very many cases, leave them directly responsible to the Secretary of State. During these times of change it is more important than ever that they feel secure and certain of their roles and governor identities: that they feel that they are doing a good job for their schools and pupils. But as the pressure and workload on them increases what type of folk will still be drawn to this role? As governing bodies conform increasingly to business models, introducing performance management and other tools of the trade; how will the governor feel then? More importantly, if governors begin to leave in their droves what will the government do to replace this 300, 000 strong volunteer force ?

In 2012 I attended my final governor meeting. After 17 years it was time for a break; time to reflect on my time as a governor and use that experience to ground my research. Do I miss it? Yes sometimes – I miss being that cog in the wheel, I miss the highs of school life and the camaraderie of pulling together as a team when times got tough. When I left I received a note from the chair ‘thank you for your contributions during your time as governor, ‘I still ponder over that….what exactly were those contributions in the end ? Did we change things or were we just rubber stampers? Did others sit around the table feeling at sea or was it just me?

Teaching assistants: out with the bathwater ?

There are an awful lot of TAs out there and according to the latest reports the government is looking to take the advice of a think tank and radically cut their numbers.

Having worked in and observed hundreds of classrooms over the years I’ve seen some brilliant practice amongst teaching assistants and some that fell short of adequate.  Sometimes the best practice was seemingly divorced from whatever was happening in the classroom. But TAs most often in my experience have the most impact in classrooms where the teacher knows how to manage the teaching assistant’s work so it complements their own practice and doesn’t occur as just an add on. It may seem strange but in many schools TAs are not managed by teachers, they have a line management all of their own. This means that many teachers simply don’t know what to do to maximise these extra bodies in the classroom. And yet in so many cases they are vital in supporting both children with statements and equally as importantly those who don’t actually have a statement but so desperately need that one on one that a busy classroom teacher with 35 or more students to occupy them simply does not have time to give.

At a time when class sizes look set to rise again and cuts are hanging like the sword of Damocles over every element of state education we are increasingly seeing perfectly good babies being thrown out with the bathwater: teaching assistants were brought in for a reason: to give hard pressed teachers a chance to focus on good teaching whilst needy students were offered the one to one help that they need.   Why not re-evaluate the use of TAs instead of doing away with them ? Why does our Ed policy have to swing from one extreme to another rather than taking a more considered approach ?

 

Lets be reasonable : re think the role and function of TAS and clamp down on cases where they are used as cheap and unqualified replacements for teachers. Otherwise we end up doing the educational quick step again…one step forward three steps back, another innovation, another proclamation, and the outcome ? Mounting frustration.