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.
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