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.

 

 

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 .

Debate over national values is a threat to the education system

The results of seven school inspections in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets have brought a fresh wave of allegations that some schools are not providing a broad and balanced curriculum for their pupils, who may be vulnerable to radicalisation. A memorandum on the inspections sent by Ofsted’s chief inspector of schools Michael Wilshaw to the education secretary Nicky Morgan has upped the ante in debates that conflate conservative religious values with the risk of radicalisation and extremism.

In six independent schools that were visited in the borough, inspectors found serious concerns over the safeguarding and welfare of pupils, lack of provision of a broad and balanced curriculum and issues around leadership, management and teaching.

Four of the six independent Muslim schools have been judged inadequate, with two failing to meet independent school standards. The only maintained school involved in the recent inspections, Sir John Cass in Stepney, was also downgraded by Ofsted from outstanding to inadequate. This followed concerns about segregation between boys and girls in school areas and insufficient guidance on “the dangers associated with using the internet, particularly in relation to extremist views”.

The ‘British values’ minefield

Kenny Frederick, a former school leader in Tower Hamlets, articulated concerns that resonate with those also voiced in Jewish communities that have been subject to similar inspections. Frederick said that putting a school in special measures “will only be negative” for a school and its community. “People will feel resentful. All we are going to do is alienate. If I was one of the kids, it would not be doing anything for my British values.”

The whole area surrounding “British values”, schools and religion has been thrown into confusion since the Birmingham “Trojan Horse” affair over allegations of a takeover of school board by hardline Muslim governors. The Muslim community is not unique in stating that the subsequent introduction of a responsibility for schools to promote “British values” and the apparent conflation of religious conservatism with extremism by both government and media is riddled with ideological and political complexities.

For example, Nigel Genders, speaking on behalf of the Church of England, raised serious concerns during the recent consultation into the Proposed New Independent Schools Standards in July. His response agreed that: “There is a legitimate exploration to be undertaken of values in the context of our distinctive national culture, literature, legal and political systems.” But he added that “many of those values cannot be defined as uniquely British”. He continued by highlighting the church’s concerns that the “British values should emanate from a broad public conversation,not from the secretary of state”.

Schools and culture

The apparent appropriation of values by the state is a worrying trend. More worrying still is how Ofsted is being used to police these values – particularly as they have yet to be fully defined. A recent Ofsted report following a snap inspection at the St Benedict’s Catholic secondary school in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, claimed that younger pupils “show less awareness of the dangers of extremism and radicalisation”.

The report, which was withdrawn very soon after its publication, went on to question whether the school prepared pupils “for life and work in modern Britain”. It was apparently withdrawn due to concerns around quality – a little too late for those who had already seen the report posted on the schools website.

The new values police

The present guidance given to inspectors on how to spot a “British value” is scant to say the least. The 2014 revised school inspection handbook contains four references to values which link to curriculum and safeguarding, the most specific of which are articulated in terms of the social development of pupils.

School governors are also instrumental in the whole area of values. The extent to which they are expected to define and be conversant with values at every level of school life is outlined in detail on the National Governors Association website. But the question of how all of these areas will be effectively investigated by the inspectorate and then translated into a tangible threat of radicalisation and extremism remains a very grey area indeed.

Again the issue of British values is making life difficult for governors, as Naureen Khalid, school governor and co-founder of @ukgovchat told me. She said: “I personally think in terms of human values. As long as my school promotes these, I’m happy.”

As director of the Universities’ Police Science Institute in Cardiff, Martin Innes points out that there is a distinct lack of knowledge – not only around what works in preventing extremism, but equally how we can effectively identify real triggers. He also brings home the dangers of branding schools and their communities with extremist labels, quoting the steady decline in Muslims between the ages of 16 and 24 who feel that police treat them fairly.

Trust eroding

The announcement by the home secretary, Teresa May, on the intention to include new statutory powers to prevent individuals being drawn into terrorism within the Channel anti-radicalisation programme, looks likely to place increasing levels of pressure on governors, school leaders and inspectors. But they are already working in communities where levels of trust in public bodies appears to be reaching an all time low.

Of course, it is vitally important to prevent terrorism, but the present system risks undermining hard-won community cohesion. It also risks transforming schools from being trusted institutions at the heart of their communities into organisations undermined by suspicion, doubt and a panoptecon-like scrutiny. This is more likely to give rise to the very activities that both government and inspectorate are so eager to expunge.

To avoid this, as the Church of England’s Genders points out, we need a public debate about the human values that form the core of our society. Until this happens, the grey area around these “British values” is open to mis-interpretation, political manipulation and false assumptions. That may well cause repercussions which could fundamentally undermine our system of education.

The Conversation

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

Ofsted’s future at stake after Trojan Horse scandal

 

profile picture the convers (1 of 1)

 

See the full article by clicking the link below :

 

 

https://theconversation.com/ofsteds-future-at-stake-after-trojan-horse-scandal-25936

School Inspection

Find below, the link to the presentation
Wednesday, 21 May 2014, 10:30 – 17:00

https://www.open.ac.uk/ccig/events/governing-by-inspection-insights-from-international-studies

An event that examined school inspections across Europe

School inspection is employed in a number of countries as a means by which to govern increasingly complex education systems. Despite a tenuous link between inspection and school improvement, it remains a key driver in the shaping and implementation of education policy, as well as taking a central role in the politics of educational change.

This seminar drew on three national and international research projects in order to examine perspectives on school inspection in Europe. The first project: Governing by Inspection investigates inspection as a governing practice in England, Scotland and Sweden; the second, explores the relationship between school improvement and inspection in  six countries, and the third investigates accountabilities in inspection. You will find the slides and recording of the talks on the link above

10:00-10:30  Registration and coffee

10:30-10:40  Welcome and introductions-Dr Jacqueline Baxter- Convenor

10:30-11:15  Dr Melanie Ehren – The Institute of Education: The Impact of School Inspections on Improvement of Schools

11:15-12:30  Professor John Clarke – The Open University UK: The Uncertainty Principle: governing schooling through inspection.

12:30-13:15  Lunch

13:15-14:00  Dr Andrew Wilkins – The University of Roehampton: The Shadow of Inspection: School Governance, Accountability and Governing Practices

14:00-14:15  Coffee

14:15-15:00  Dr Jacqueline Baxter – The Open University UK: Working knowledge: shifting criteria in inspection

15:00-15:15  Summary and Close

 

Lesson Observations and teaching style: counting caterpillar legs or producing butterflies.

Image

Lesson Observations and teaching style: counting caterpillar legs or producing butterflies.

The recent publicity and debate surrounding Ofsted inspections and lesson observations is an interesting one: not least in terms of the function of inspection. The 2012 Inspection Framework does put a great emphasis on teaching and learning; and rightly so. It also structures inspections in such a way that inspectors may have to fit observation of 50 lessons or more into just a two day period during which time inspectors are also expected to explore teachers’ professional development plans.

During the course of the ESRC inspection project : Governing by inspection http://www.education.ox.ac.uk/governing-by-inspection/ the three research teams based in Sweden, Scotland and England, interviewed a considerable number of inspectors and engaged them in discussions about their work: the challenges it brings and their own expectations of the role, whilst investigating inspection as a means by which to govern complex education systems (Ozga, Baxter, Clarke, Grek, & Lawn, 2013). The research revealed a number of challenges inherent within lesson observation as part of the inspection process; not least of these was the communicative challenge of conveying inspection outcomes to schools: in both written and oral form.

In England the changes made by the 2012 inspection regime, on the surface, appear to be something of a return to the HMI (Her Majesty’s Inspectorate) form of inspection, with an emphasis on development and on teaching and learning as core to the inspection process. But we are not living in the period 1945-1984, a period when, as Stuart Maclure pointed out,

‘The Inspectorate was not like the rest of the Ministry. It was not neat and tidy. HMI’s were a disparate group of talented individuals. For much of their time they acted as such, dependent on their own professional initiative and controlling their own time. (Maclure, 2000:105)

But even then, resting on individuals’ professional judgement was far from unproblematic, as John Dunford describes in the case of Madeley Court in Shropshire, in which the criteria for judgement by HMI in school inspection were different from the philosophical basis on which a school was being run (Dunford, 1998:111): a pressing issue for the current inspectorate given the number of free and academy schools within the current system.

The post 1992 inspectorate Ofsted, was deliberately designed to be a very different beast from its predecessor. Founded on the principles of John Major’s Citizen Charter which advocated amongst other things, transparency of practice in the public services; the agency developed a series of criteria inspection frameworks from 1992-2009 which meticulously detailed 29 criteria on which schools were to be judged. This was accompanied by voluminous sets of handbooks designed to be read by both inspectors and school staff, and aimed again at opening up not only the secret garden of education to public scrutiny, but the equally secret garden of inspection. (Maw, 1995). The initial frameworks never appeared to set out to define good and bad teaching styles, but over a twenty year period they began to take on a life of their own. To understand how this came about it helps to understand the way in which Ofsted was and is structured.

When the agency was first developed many of the HMI that had been employed full time, were made redundant. The shortfall in HMI and the far more regulatory nature of the new inspectorate gave rise to an organisation whose day to day operation was run by numerous sub-contractors. In the early days this amounted to well over a hundred tiny agencies that were contracted to perform inspection (Baxter & Clarke, 2013). It is not difficult to imagine how difficult it must have been to attain consistency of practice across such a devolved system. In 2009 the contracts were streamlined and awarded to three main contractors: Serco, Tribal and CFBt. (Ofsted, 2009). To a certain extent this did streamline operations but meanwhile, due to the 2005 Education Act which implemented a multi -agency approach advocated in the Every Child Matters paper,(DFE, 2003), the agency was tasked with integrated inspection which added the inspection of all children’s services 0-18 and, following the inception of the Education and Inspections Act 2006 the inception of a new agency on the 1st April 2007. The new agency brought together: the Adult Learning Inspectorate (ALI); the Commission for Social Care Inspection (CSCI); Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Court Administration.

The considerably extended remit of the new agency rendered it more powerful than ever; rendering it an  inspectorate of both national and international renown: a study carried out early in 2011 revealed that 45% of the UK population had heard of the agency (Baxter, 2014). But as the agency broadened, so did the vast industry that had developed around it, offering everything from; how teach the Ofsted way, to a full package of consultancy for schools on, for example, how to present your school in such a way as to gain a higher grade at inspection. Added to this, many local authorities and consultancies offering training either post or pre inspection, had developed checklists instructing teachers (and heads) how to get a 1 in teaching observations.

The 2012 Framework not only reduced the amount of judgements but has also brought back the idea of professional judgement, creating a superficially simple framework that in many ways, occludes the super complexity of the job it is tasked with: judging schools that are in many cases autonomous and lack post inspection LEA support in cases in which they are judged to be failing; schools that form part of complex academy chains or federations or schools or schools that have for example recently been taken over by chains with little knowledge of local contexts.

The first key challenge inherent within the observation of teaching and learning is as our study revealed, to be found in the communicative elements of the inspectors’ work. The inspection criteria may well state judgements must not be made on the basis of particular teaching styles, but in a system which relies upon the extensive experience of inspectors, many of whom are in service head teachers, it is highly likely that individuals will base their judgements upon what in their considerable experience tells them is good teaching,this in combination with  information that permits them to gain an impression of how successful that teaching has been over time. This may well be a good basis upon which to proceed, but it is one thing to judge a lesson and yet another to be able to articulate that judgement in a way that whilst not judging teaching styles, does involve making a judgement on the teaching. The communicative element of the work of inspectors has been recognised by those tasked with their training, and is indeed the focus of a great deal of intensive work on the part of both Ofsted and its contracted agencies (see for details Baxter & Hult, 2013), but nevertheless, the communicative challenges inherent within the inspector role remain considerable.

The second key challenge for inspectors is located within the history and culture of the organisation itself : inspectors do not go into schools with a ‘clean slate’ they carry with them the baggage of an organisation that has evolved against the political, historical, economic and social background of the country in which it is placed. The teaching profession has a long memory and although Ofsted may have said Farewell to the Tick box inspector;  the minds of many teachers he lingers on; producing the type of misunderstandings, myths and confusion around inspection that have never really never gone away. These were particularly well summed up some thirty years previously, in the words of Ann Jones, then head of a very successful school in Hounslow, who describes here her experiences of inspection in 1984 under the then HMI:

In the HMI inspection of my school in 1984 by a team of 29 delightful intelligent inspectors, I was constantly caught in a tension between the traditional and the transitional. There was a sense in which they seemed to be counting caterpillar legs, whereas we were trying to produce something quite different, namely, butterflies. Furthermore, they caught us at the chrysalis stage when it was rather difficult to judge what would come out at the other end. We found ourselves backtracking to produce evidence of caterpillar legs. However, in my view, our caterpillar legs were not very convincing because we were in the process of giving them up and moving on to a new way of working. So there was this built in tension between what we were trying to do, what we thought we were expected to have done and what we were doing.

 I expect this is a common dilemma for schools (Jones, 1987:203)

It may be that although teaching styles themselves are not being judged, that during the communication of the basis upon which the inspector judges lessons, it appears that in praising certain elements of the lesson whilst questioning others, that inspectors are almost certain to favour elements that are core to certain teaching styles and not others. Overcoming this communicative element whilst creating a convincing narrative that is shared by teachers and that, in addition, may be considered to be developmental is perhaps where the real challenge lies.

References

Baxter, J. (2014). An independent inspectorate? Addressing the paradoxes of educational inspection in 2013. School Leadership and Management http://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/tY4sKEuNn6NBQAggrGkM/full.

Baxter, J., & Clarke, J. (2013). Farewell to the Tickbox Inspector ?Ofsted and the changing regime of school inspection in England. Oxford Review of Education 39(5), 702-718.

Baxter, J., & Hult, A. (2013). Professional training for professional inspection: contrasting inspector role, professionalism and development in England and Sweden Paper presented at the ECER Conference : Creativity and Innovation in Educational research Istanbul, Turkey.

DFE. (2003). Every child matters  Retrieved 121213, 2013, from https://www.education.gov.uk/consultations/downloadableDocs/EveryChildMatters.pdf

Dunford, J. E. (1998). Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Schools Since 1944. London: Woburn Press

Jones, A. (1987). Leadership for tomorrow’s Schools Oxford: Blackwell.

Maclure, S. (2000). The Inspectors’ Calling Oxford: Hodder and Stoughton.

Maw, J. (1995). The Handbook for the Inspection of Schools: a critique. Cambridge Journal of Education, 25(1), 75-87.

Ofsted. (2009). Press Release: New inspection contracts signed, Ofsted Retrieved from http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/news/new-inspection-contracts-signed

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.