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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
So why widen the remit of PCCs, in light of so much criticism? Looking back on issues surrounding the system gives some insight into challenges facing any extension.
The PCCs replaced an old three-pronged system of police governance, which was comprised of the home secretary, the Local Police Authority and the local chief constable. It was hoped the new system would address accusations that these authorities were opaque, that their membership was largely hidden from public view and that they were far too distant from the communities they claimed to represent.
Under the new system, PCCs are elected by the general public and “held accountable” by police and crime panels, which are made up from all local authorities within the force area PCCs. Elected PCCs possess a great deal of power. Their many responsibilities include creating a police and crime plan, and setting the police precept – the share of council tax received by the police, commissioning victim and community safety services. Perhaps their most contentious power is to appoint and dismiss the chief constable for their area.
The new model has also come under sustained criticism from both the Local Government Association (LGA) and The Home Affairs Select Committee, which have both voiced concerns over lack of democratic representation due to the spectacularly low voter turnout. The Stevens Report by the Independent Police Commission, published in November 2013 described “serious disquiet” over both concept and workings of the system, and called for a new system to put the structural defects of the present one to rights.
A flawed democracy
The “strong democratic mandate” promised by the new system has simply not happened, and not just because of low voter turnout. The problems since then have been many and varied.
One of the most troubling issues is the inability of the Police and Crime Panels to hold PCCs to account. According to research by the University of Leeds’ Dr Stuart Lister, this is largely due to the legislative weakness of the panels, which leave them without substantive powers to veto the decisions made by PCCs. Another problem Lister revealed is that 68% of panel members shared the same political affiliation as the PCC, leading to political partisanship in the system.
Adding to these concerns, a number of scandals have dogged the new system. These included the resignation and suspension of high profile chief constables, which became the subject of a critical report by the Home Affairs Select Committee. The report urged the government to bring in a range of amendments, to ensure that the panels had the information and authority necessary to fulfil their role. They also suggested that the Local Government Association take an in-depth look at the panels’ experience with handling complaints.
Representation has also been a problem from the beginning. News stories ranged from accusations of cronyism to charges of ineptitude against the PCCs. Poor gender balance is another issue: of the 41 current commissioners, only six are women, while 15 out of 41 seats were contested by an all-male line up of candidates.
There is also a complete lack of representation of ethnic minorities. There were only 20 candidates from ethnic minorities, and none was elected. The Home Affairs Committee puts this down to the requirement for would-be candidates to provide 100 signatures supporting them, alongside a fee of £50,000, which are supposed to “discourage frivolous candidacies”.
To the rescue?
Under the government’s proposals, PCCs would take on responsibility for fire and rescues, where doing so would be “in the interests of economy, efficiency and effectiveness, or public safety”. The consultation also suggests that a single employer could take responsibility for both fire and policing, under the governance of the PCC.
A number of challenges would have to be overcome. The boundaries of several fire and police services do not currently align – changes would have to be made to bring coherent areas under the auspices of individual PCCs.
There is considerable concern from the unions that the culture and purpose of the two services are far too distinct to be brought together under one system of governance. Paul Embery, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) regional secretary for London, has argued that the move is based on the government’s wish to get rid of “awkward”, locally-elected councillors who block its attempts to cut services.
Others feel that this is part of a plan to undermine the power of both police and fire professionals, in a similar vein to the project which replaced 15,000 police staff jobs with a “home guard of 9,000 unpaid police support volunteers”. According to UNISON – the biggest union for police staff – the project was never the subject of proper public debate or scrutiny.
In light of these issues, it seems ill-advised to roll out a clearly flawed system to encompass an even wider remit. If the proposals go ahead without a review of the existing system, then the government could be playing with fire. It certainly risks further undermining public confidence in accountability and governance of the British emergency 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.
As children head back to class this week, another school will be opening its doors for the autumn term as an academy – in spite of opposition from parents and the community. From early September the Hewett School, a secondary school in Norwich, will form part of The Inspiration Trust, a not-for-profit charity which runs a chain of academies. In yet another blow for democratic governance the school is the latest in a long line to be converted against the wishes of many of its parents and the governing body, raising renewed questions about the democratic governance of the English education system.
As in the case of a number of other schools graded inadequate and subsequently turned into academies, it is only a short time ago that the Hewett School was judged to be “good” by schools inspectorate Ofsted. In May 2013 it received a “good” report in all areas – an improvement on its previous grade of satisfactory – with teaching graded as good and sometimes outstanding. But in November 2014 the school was placed in special measures after a follow up Ofsted inspection.
A monitoring visit paid to the school in February 2015 showed that although there were still outstanding issues, progress was being made. A follow up visit in May 2015 confirmed that the school was making reasonable progress towards the removal of special measures. But in March 2015 the Department of Education (DfE) had already informed the school that it was to constitute the governing body as an Interim Executive Board (IEB) and that it was possible that the school would become an academy. The final decision, that the school would be academised and taken over by The Inspiration Trust, was made in August 2015.
Of the parents that participated in the consultation, 4:1 were against it. In some cases respondents to the questionnaire accepted conversion to academy but questioned the process, the lack of choice of sponsor and a failure to communicate effectively why such a decision had been made.
A pervasive sense of dissatisfaction with the choice of sponsor was a key reason why many were so against it being turned into an academy. The reasons given for this in the consultation were: “perception of the ethos of schools in the trust, political links of the trustees, the governance arrangements of the trust and lack of accountability.”
The Inspiration Trust has been linked to controversy. The trust, headed by Dame Rachel de Souza, ran one of three schools that were the subject of an investigation by Ofsted following allegations in 2014 that they had received prior notification of inspection dates due to De Souza’s position as both a “superhead” of the three schools and as a part-time school inspector. This raised questions about the detrimental effects of employing practising headteachers as inspectors. In January 2015, the schools were cleared of wrongdoing by an independent review of Ofsted’s original investigation.
Convert or close
The government’s academisation project took another leap forward earlier this year when the education secretary, Nicky Morgan, announced her intention to address the problem of “coasting schools”. The government plans to convert these schools – who fail to ensure that 60% of pupils gain five A* to C grades and don’t have a “credible” improvement plan – to academy status. This is in spite of the fact that to date there is no convincing evidence that the current system of academies improve performance.
Morgan and Cameron continue the academy drive. Reuters/Stefan Wermuth
As the education and adoption bill – the legislation seeking to implement Morgan’s proposals – makes its way through parliament after the summer recess, the outlook for coasting schools that resist conversion looks decidedly bleak.
Resistance against “forced” conversion is not a new phenomenon. The Anti Academies Alliance contains a catalogue of conversions of local authority-run schools into academies that were bitterly opposed by governors and parents. Many within education and outside of it are opposed to the highly politicised nature of conversions and the lack of evidence that these conversions are in the best interests of the students.
Holding school commissioners to account
Tensions surrounding the whole area of forced academisation are also reflected in the new system of local accountability, set up by the government in response to the public and political outcry surrounding the so-called “Trojan Horse” affair in 2014, and fears over an Islamic extremism agenda in Birmingham schools. The affair exposed the dearth of local accountability that prevails in many regions of England, caused by an erosion in funding and consisted media attacks undermining public trust in local education authorities.
Under the new system, eight regional school commissioners (RSCs), appointed by the DfE are advised by a headteachers board made up of four elected academy heads and “experienced professional leaders” to provide sector expertise and “local knowledge”.
The scheme immediately provoked questions following the announcement that one of the key performance measures for RSCs was the number of academy conversions they had each achieved within a given period. Although this may yet be reversed, the whole area of school commissioners, how they are held to account and how they manage the vast areas that fall within their remit, is still not clear.
The relationship between regional commissioners and headteacher boards is also fairly vague and is contained in a single line on the DfE website which states that:
Each RSC gets support from a headteachers board (HTB). HTBs are made up of experienced academy headteachers who advise and challenge RSCs on the decisions they make.
What is not clear is what power headteacher boards have to veto any decisions made by a regional commissioner.
The whole system of accountability in education is worrying to say the least. It is far from clear how the current arrangements are fit to ensure that those in leadership positions are abiding by the seven principles of public life: that they are acting in the public interest with integrity, objectivity, openness and that in their leadership roles they are acting in accordance with these principles.
Parliament’s education select committee is now starting a inquiry into how RSCs will be held to account, and will also explore their relationship to Ofsted, individual schools and local communities. It is hoped that MPs’ findings will do something to provide clarity in the increasingly muddy and obfuscating system of educational accountability in England today.
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 ‘
haven’t had a chance to complete it you still can –
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.
Jacqueline Baxter – Lecturer in Public Policy and Management : The Open University Business School .
The investigations into the Trojan Horse affair, where a group of schools in Birmingham were accused of failing to protect children from extremism, has provoked a number of criticisms centred on the way schools are governed in England.
During a recent inquiry of the education select committee into extremism in schools, the head of Ofsted, Michael Wilshaw, told MPs that schools in England have relied on “amateurish governance to do a professional job”. His words provoked an angry response from the National Governors’ Association (NGA) who insisted that being a volunteer is not synonymous with amateurism. Wilshaw also suggested paying one or two governors in each governing body, a move that the NGA are also opposed to and which reflects the views of their members. In a 2013 survey only 30% of governors believed they should be paid.
The NGA’s policy manager Gillian Ashcroft told me the NGA’s view is “that one can perform a role professionally and in a business-like fashion without being paid”. She also said there was no evidence to suggest that paying governors would improve governance.
The end of excitement?
Given their heavyweight responsibilities, not least in ensuring that the money allocated to pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds is used to close the enduring gap between rich and poor pupils, governors don’t deserve to be called amateur.
They have been hit pretty hard by the changes in England’s educational landscape. Amid the excitement of creating a new system of autonomous schools while also severely cutting Local Education Authority budgets, the government seemed to assume that the old system of school governance could simply be grafted onto a new system of education. This was without any real thinking behind what this system would entail for school regulation and accountability.
Until the Trojan Horse affair, school governors had attracted surprisingly little attention in the media. Perhaps they weren’t seen as exciting enough – after all, if the government didn’t give it much thought, why would it attract media attention?
But governors have always done important work. The difference is that now they are far less supported in their role and subject to far more stringent regulation.
In order to do this, the pupil premium was introduced by the coalition government from an idea conceived primarily by the Liberal Democrats. It is now increasing from its current £1.875 billion to £2.5 billion in the 2014-15 financial year. In an average sized secondary school with an average number of pupils on free school meals, this translates at around £200,000 – the equivalent of five full-time teachers. It represents one of the most substantive strategies to combat the gap between rich and poor pupils, an area in which England performs poorly compared to many of its peers.
One of the key tasks for governors is to monitor how the premium is spent, as well as the more difficult task of monitoring its impact on pupil performance. Following allegations in mid-2013 that schools were misusing the premium to plug holes in budgets, Ofsted has increased its monitoring of governor performance in this area. In its most recent update, it reported that while school leaders were spending the premium more effectively, “weak leadership and governance is still an obstacle in too many schools.”
Grafting not crafting
It is often quite difficult for people outside of England to understand this form of school governance and how it has come about. An emphasis on recruiting school governors from the business sector during the early nineties – which persists today – has gone a long way to creating the idea that the most effective governors are those with a business background.
This prompted a move to link governors’ professional backgrounds with roles on the governing body: an accountant for the finance committee, an HR professional for staffing. Mirroring practices from other public sector boards, payment of an allowance could be the next step in this type of policy borrowing.
But as in the case of international policy borrowing, taking one policy and grafting it onto another context often provokes unexpected results. Already, in the processs of borrowing ideas from non-profit boards, the government has largely negated to consider the very particular context of school governance.
A recent study showed that polarised thinking about governors’ roles – conceptualising them as either willing volunteers or adept professionals – is causing tensions among inspectors and head teachers that are counterproductive to accountability.
It is therefore not surprising that Wilshaw feels it would be more productive to separate the two: paying a couple of professional governors whose day job is to keep up with the myriad legislative and policy-related documents issued to governors on a weekly basis. The same governors would presumably have greater responsibility for feeding back during inspections – a prospect that must sound pretty seductive to the inspectorate who often struggle to meet with governors at short notice.
But the idea does raise considerable issues – not least in terms of their recruitment and funding. School budgets are already creaking under the prospect of the extension of austerity measures until 2018. Paying governors for their services, as well as mandatory training, would be highly contentious if it looked to be taking from schools’ teaching and learning budgets.
Looking back over the Trojan Horse affair, it is difficult to see how paying governors would have prevented the issue. Paying just one or two on each board – including the chair – may well have the regulatory advantages mentioned earlier, but it would also create a hierarchy within the governing body, which in the longer term could be equally, if not more, counter-productive.
A hierarchy that would undoubtedly change the whole character of school governing and may well erode the goodwill that has for so long supported, sustained and nourished the foundations of education in England.
Jacqueline Baxter does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.
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.