School-Based Management 5: Self-Governing Schools Revisited

I’ve been carrying out some further research into school-based management and came across the Self-Governing Schools etc. (Scotland) Act 1989 It’s interesting to read this with a different eye nearly 20 years on from when it first came into being. 

When the concept was first mooted it was driven by a Conservative Government’s agenda to break the control of Local Authorities.  Michael Forsyth, the last Conservative Scottish Secretary of State,  pushed through the legislation but only three schools applied for and attained self-governing status (one other school had applied but only to prevent closure).  The only remaining self-governing school in Scotland – which is funded directly from the Scottish Government is Jordanhill School.

Some key points from the Act include:

  1.  “the duty of the education authority to maintain or manage the school, or to provide school education in the school, or to keep it efficient, shall cease.”
  2. A self-governing school is governed by a board of management  comprising parents, staff, appointed members (by the Board) and the head teacher.
  3. Duties of the Board of Management include managing the school, all contract arrangments with staff and the ability to raise funds

As I read through the Act I began to wonder if there might be some potential for a scheme which took some of the legislative elements of the Self-Governing Schools Act but involved the local authority as the commissioning agent, in effect the authority would strike a concordat with the school. The major shift from how it was developed in 1989 would be that the scheme would be developed as a partnership between the school, the local authority and the government – as opposed to one which  tried to sideline one of the key members of that triumvirate.

I think the next stage in my research will be to contact Jordanhill School and try to find out more about how it works in practice, e.g.

  1.  How do the numbers stack up? i.e. is it cost effective?
  2. Jordanhill is in a very middle class area – would such a scheme succeed in a less affluent area?
  3. How do they access support services?
  4. How do staff feel about it?
  5. How do they engage in the quality improvement process?
  6. How do they meet the needs of children with additional support needs?

David Hartley provides a useful critique of self-governing schools in Scotland within “A Socially Critical View of the Self-Managing School” Edited by John Smyth, 1993

1 thought on “School-Based Management 5: Self-Governing Schools Revisited

  1. Don

    I am submitting this under the pseudonym of Samuel Smiles as I am not an educational professional and I am sure many of your readers will find my comments a little naive. However like yourself I think we shut ourselves up in silos and might sometimes benefit from a different perspective to that with which we are most familiar. I have put all my comments on your first five blogs relating to school based management below — probably not how you would like it but a bit easier to organise for a technophobe like myself. Anyway here goes:

    A Employing Another Service Provider (Don Ledingham – SBM1)

    “The school would deliver – through a contract – the education service for the local community if the outcomes were not achieved in a given period of time then another service deliverer would have to be employed.”

    This raises a number of questions:

    There would probably not be an alternative provider (school) with enough space to take on the pupils from the discontinued school. Alternatively does this mean the alternative service deliverer is the same school but under different management ie, changed governing body (parent council or whatever) or headteacher? Would parent councils, as currently constituted, provide the right format to oversee school management; maybe they would have to become more community and less parent centric or an entirely different monitoring board would be required.

    B. Voucher System Provision for Children with Learning Difficulties (Hilary Williams – SMB1)

    I think in the Netherlands provision is made for granting more ‘credit’ to these pupils.

    C. Job Security (Jane Peterson – SBM1))

    I have never worked as a teacher in a school but I have also never worked in an organisation which has not carried ‘passengers’ and usually to that organisation’s detriment. However much we would like to believe otherwise, there will always be people who take advantage of their employees and colleagues by not pulling their weight. The longer such people’s existence is tolerated the more harm to morale such people will inflict. As a vocation, teachers may well be ‘driven’ more than others in the business world by their learning mission, but it is still hard to believe there are no exceptions. In short, too much security might encourage complacency and not always be a good thing?

    D. Sharing Experiences (Jane Peterson – SBM1)

    Why should devolving power to smaller units have to be at the expense of losing ‘we’re all in this together and striving for excellence’ ethos. Good professionals will always be willing to share their experiences – in business this is somewhat restricted by the need to retain a competitive edge chasing the same client/customer; in the case of community-based schools, this should be far less of a constraint. Part of a headteacher’s remuneration might also be linked to his/her willingness to share ideas on best practice – already the case (I believe) in at least one Edinburgh Council department.

    E. Privatisation (Jane Peterson – SBM1)

    I would agree that privatisation in some areas has been a disaster (eg Network Rail). In some areas though, (eg train operators) it has generally worked well. The North Berwick to Edinburgh train service may rapidly becoming very overcrowded but it is a lot more reliable, and offers much greater frequency of journeys, than in the days of British Rail. It might even be better if it were operated by a local company owned by employees and railways users? [In Sri Lanka, privatisation is called peopleisation!]
    F. Principles of School Based Management (Don Ledingham – SBM3)

    To me the attraction of SBM is that passing control of the education process from The Scottish Executive/Local Authority to local schools should free up headteachers and their staffs from complying with a plethora of detailed instructions and top-down initiatives. From above, these are inevitably seen more as chores than as aids to teaching, and result in a box ticking and somewhat resentful approach to compliance however well-meaning their authors may be. Too busy complying with external requirements, headteachers can easily lose the urge to bring in new ideas themselves and risk becoming increasingly dependent on others – frustrated apparatchiks rather than enthusiastic innovators. At worse, the lack of local responsibility can lead to total detachment from reality until it hurts. There is, for instance little doubt that all schools are going to find life financially much more challenging over the next three years than now. The looming threat of further budget cuts is however regarded (if thought about at all) as a local education authority not a schools’ problem. Much better to anticipate than respond.

    In the business world we have seen this need for radical revitalisation again and again in organisations as they grow larger and become too process rather than people driven, losing originality and nimbleness of thought as they do so. Companies in the pharmaceutical industry have started spinning of their research arms and/or contracting out their research function to smaller companies, recognising that there are huge diseconomies of scale in such operations. The major oil companies are relying on junior explorers to supplement their reserves, as they acknowledge that their own corporate structures stifle rather than stimulate entrepreneurial activity. In my own business of investment management, large banks and insurance companies are finding great difficulty in competing with the huge number of investment boutiques springing up all over the world. If you empower people to use their initiative down to the very bottom level, the rewards in terms of energy release and proprietorial responsibility can be enormous.

    G. Competition (Don Ledingham – SBM3)

    I was especially interested in the way one of DL’s questions (no 19) – “how do you prevent schools from competing with each other?” was phrased. The idea of our roads being cluttered by cars, full of school children travelling to what is perceived as the ‘hottest’ school in the area, presumably fills all of us with horror. Daily commuting to Edinburgh and unable to find a seat on a train, [these already being occupied by children attending one of the fee-paying schools in the city], is already bad enough. The focus must therefore be to bring all the schools up to such a level that the local school, taking into account its convenience, is almost always the preferred option.. However, competition between schools at sports, music and in every other activity should surely be encouraged as a way of generating local pride and ambition. There is certainly very little evidence of inter-school competitions in the East Lothian media and its absence has always intrigued me.

    H. Chartered Teachers (Dorothy Coe – SBM3)

    On Dorothy Coe’s point re Chartered Teachers, the qualification is a highly regarded one and would merit recognition through access to better jobs. I can think of no example in the private sector where specialist qualifications abound of a professional being paid more, purely because he/she has bothered to obtain an additional qualification. However, I can think of many jobs to which access without a certain qualification is very hard indeed.

    Any selection interview results in very subjective judgements being made and simply because the benefits of chartered qualifications cannot be measured easily should not imply that they will not be given their proper weight. However I agree with Donald’s point that we are becoming far too focused in some areas with what can be measured only. I am not sure if there is space allocation in the school inspectors’ report for ‘cultural ambience’ but there certainly should be.

    I. Independent Directly Funded Schools (Jim McDougall – SBM3)

    Even if this were to be the logical conclusion of school based management – and this is very debatable anyway – would it not be far better to move one step at a time? At the end of the day, there presumably has to be some external input into determining and monitoring outcomes – be it at national or local level – if public funds (direct or via individual vouchers) are being used. There has also to be some way of ensuring that every child has access to a reasonable standard of education.

    J. Schools Being Owned by the Community (Don Ledingham – SBM4/5)

    The extent to which local (or national) government representatives might participate through board representation, as opposed to being their main contractual partner, is a fascinating one. I suspect, again from personal business experience, that the governing board should itself determine who sits on the board – a decision made by its chairman in consultation with the headteacher and subject to confirmation by the other board members. Probably most of the governing body should live in the cluster area and a couple of local councillors (community and/or district) would be natural candidates for membership but not in an ‘ex officio’ capacity. An important feature of any board would be that all members represented the schools’ interests as a whole even if they had other (potentially conflicting) interests as parents, teaching staff, local politicians etc and that they recognised the need to work harmoniously for the good of the local school.

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