BELMAS Conference: Keynote abstract “New Organisations, New Leadership – Community Ownership of Schools”

I’ve been invited to give one of the Keynote addresses to this year’s BELMAS conference. Founded more than 30 years ago, BELMAS seeks to advance the practice, teaching and study of educational management, administration and leadership in the United Kingdom, and to contribute to international developments in these areas. The theme of the conference is “New Organisations, New Leadership”.

Here’s an abstract of what I’ll be saying.  I’m leaving it relatively broad at this time so as to give me some scope to include developments which will take place over the next six months.  The reality is that I rarely complete a presentation prior to the night before it’s due to take place.  This isn’t to do with laziness or lack of organisation but simply that my mind is usually working on the topic right up to the event.  If I submit a summary/PowerPoint too early I’ve found that it places unnecessary limits on what I want to say. 

Nevertheless, here’s the abstract:

“New Organisations, New Leadership – Community Ownership of Schools”

Throughout the world educational goverance is under intense scrutiny.  The common factor is a dissatisfaction with the centralised bureaucracy which characterises so many of our systems and stifles innovation, local control and diversity.

Allied to this exploration of the principles of governance is a recognition that the costs of a centralised bureaucracy must be reduced to reflect the financial reality which is impacting upon public services throughout the world.

In the course of his presentation Don Ledingham will reflect upon changes to school governance on a global scale and use this context as a backdrop for the changes taking place in Scotland.

The evolving model of “Community Ownership of Schools”  being developed in Scotland is in direct response to a singular challenge presented by the 2007 OECD Report on the Quality and Equity of Scottish Education.  A key finding of that report was that the Scottish system was essentially a “command and control” model with relatively little autonomy or accountability being transferred to schools.  This leads in turn to a lack of innovation or diversity between schools.  The outcome of this uniformity of provision is that Scottish education is being gradually overtaken by other countries in relation to educational attainment.

Community Ownership of Schools rests upon a governance model whereby a local community takes on responsibility for delivering an agreed set of outcomes for it’s local primary schools and associated secondary school.  A local Board of Governers will oversee the development of the educational process for children aged 3-18. The funding body – currently the Local Authority – will provide significant freedom for the local community to develop local solutions to meeting the agreed outcomes. 

In many ways this approach reflects a genetic link to a time when Scottish education was seen to be an international beacon for high quality education through the “Parish School” system.  Parish schools succeeded because they were so closely associated with their communities and accountability for success lay at the school’s doorstep – as opposed to being “handed over” to a faceless bureaucratic system.

A key feature of the presentation will be to explore how the development of educational policy and practice will have change over the next ten years, as the classic solution of governments using additional funding as the main lever for change will be out of reach for most countries. Countries who can enable, encourage and capitalise upon local innovation and improvement, within existing resources  will move well beyond those who have relied upon regular funding injections to maintain momentum.