Education Mar 9 2010

Who should govern schools?

I have written my Guardian column this week on governors – the Cinerellas of the education world.  Ever present behind the scenes, unpaid volunteers who need to be expert but objective and expected to perform that tricky dual role of critical friend to their schools.

We rarely get a mention when school reform is argued over, yet our role goes to the heart of so many current political promises, not least for public services which are responsive, democratic, locally accountable or owned by their users or consumers.

At the moment schools are drifting away from local accountability. The academy model, favoured by all the main political parties, gives overall power to sponsors who control the majority of the governing body and permit one elected parent. Often the governing bodies are front organisations for distant corporate or charitable trusts that actually run the schools from other parts of the country. At least local authorities, from whom many of the schools have been ‘freed’, can be voted out by their electors.

The new fashionable idea – the co-operative school – sounds more persuasive to people who worry about loss of local control. But even if they are to be run and owned by members of the local community, how should governing body be broken down. Should parents have total control, or teachers? What about local residents who don’t yet have children, or the pupils themselves, or local businesses and the local authority, which may still have responsibility for hard to place children, special needs, funding and admissions. Should it have representation on the governing body and should any of these groups have to stand for election before they can join a governing body, as parents and staff governors currently do?

Before any more new schools are started,  some general principles should be established, based on democracy and accountability. That wouldn’t preclude outside bodies having a role in school governance, but it wouldn’t give any one group sole control either. There is no evidence that giving a school to a sponsor or a parent group is a guarenteed recipe for school improvement. Too many of the existing academies are failing for that to be proven.

The founding principle would be the one of a stakeholder model, which still works well in many schools around the country, in which all interested groups are fairly represented and then invested in, just as schools invest in training for their heads and staff, so that every member understands how any effective governing body should work. Without that schools risk drifting even futher away from their communities and all those promises about power to the people are just hot air.





3 Responses to “Who should govern schools?”

  1. Customi says:

    Yes, yes… we should, of course!


  2. Politique says:

    Governors of all community school should be representative of the community they serve. They are the servants of the parents and the whole spirit of community. All governors should be democratically elected and not to be confused with directors. Directors of school serve the interest of the few and not the many. New Labours belief that diversity and choice produces excellence is a mirage and is replaced by conflict, fragmentation and inequality in all communities where Blairs educational doctrine exists. A complete failure. Standards are important, but should not be priority over the social and emotional aspects of childrens learning. I must stress however that Ed Balls has got the backbone of a jellyfish and lacks the ability to listen to genuine concerns of ordinary people… as well as wallowing in a quagmire of political depravity. Good article Fiona, More comments and debate needed here

  3. PaulEast says:

    I’ve been a governor of local primary schools for over 25 years now and the truth is that even the pushiest parents only seem to have stamina to last the few years that their own offspring are involved. As for the fly-by-nights that come from central casting, sorry, the clearing house for city types whose firms encourage good works, don’t hold your breath waiting for them to show, either. Making a good school takes time, effort and commitment and, in my opinion, some kind of altruism combined with the realistic acceptance that at some point your energies will run out and others will need to replace you. If the sound of happy children, contented parents and the sight of teachers satisfied with a job well done isn’t enough, you’re in the wrong place.

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