Community Based Governance of Schools

We held a successful conference on the 22nd May with over 170 delegates representing local headteachers, education and other East Lothian Council staff, elected members, parent council reps, community council reps and delegates from outwith East Lothian.

Highlights of the day were the sessions presented by Professor Richard Kerley and Professor Dennis Mongon.

Richard Kerley had a piece printed in the Times Educational Supplement which is certainly worth reading.

Denis Mongon provided us with five cameos in a wide ranging and practical description of possible governance models.  He finished by suggesting that a Community Based Governance (note – not management) model was potentially the most effective.

The cameos are as follows:

1. The Conglomerate

Schools would be educational brands delivering highly standardised educational provision across a number of sites. Think of Starbucks or Tesco.  Authority, would be delegated from the corporate centre to other sites through a franchise or subsidiary scheme to ensure consistency.

 Key rules, working methods, branding and strategy would remain identical throughout. Parents and children would have little voice in the running of the school and local heads would act as incentivised ‘branch managers’. Governance would tend to be formal though not overly procedural.

While capable of entering into partnership with other public sector partners and community actors, these partnerships would be contract based and imply little integration.

2. Professional Governance

Senior professionals could form a partnership (as in accountancy and law) to run one or more schools. The partners would be akin to equity holders. As in a professional service firm the partners could hire managers to administer the business.

The partnership would allow skilled teaching professionals to focus on what they do best. This model needs to attract and reward good teachers, by making them partners. Partners might enjoy a dividend in the form of money, time or freedom.

The governance framework would maximise the partners’ commitment and they would make the key decisions. Parents, children and the wider community would have a limited say in overall governance. They would buy into the “professional” partnership ethos of the schools involved.

3. Consumer Governance

Parents could own and certainly govern schools which might then come together in a larger collaborative, sharing resources and a philosophy of parental involvement in education.

Parents would be directly involved in electing a board or governing council.

There might be common policies on parental commitment. For example, all parents might sign up to a contract setting out what they commit to put into the school. The parent ‘Council’ would be responsible for making major appointments and deciding major educational policy issues – the framework of goals and values – within which the staff would work. The council would appoint the head who would report to the parent council.

The key to this model would be strong parental leadership

4. Alliance Governance

An alliance of schools might be organised along the lines of, say, NATO. An alliance might work within a locality, across a region or it could be a national alliance of schools specialising in particular subjects.

The members of the alliance agree to collaborate and pool resources, but for limited objectives and without compromising their capacity to act independently, with different educational philosophies, admissions policies and distinct governance procedures. A school might be in overlapping alliances, each focussed on a different issue. Alliance governance could take different forms.

To deliver effective change, a diplomatic style of alliance leadership would have to be combined with ‘command and control’ style leadership for the agreed objectives.

5. Community Governance

Schools and perhaps other providers would make a joint commitment to one another, to pool resources, share services and develop a common education philosophy. This is akin to a political federation such as the United States or the EU.

Governance would depend on principles of subsidiarity, specifying the decisions taken at individual school level and those taken by the ‘Trust’ on behalf of the whole.

The keys to success would be:

the ability to mobilise commitment from multiple stakeholders, and

combining democratic ethos with dynamic leadership of the whole.

Professor Mongon concluded by suggesting that governance works best:

Where the professional school leaders have a sense of the school as a community and then locate that community within a framework of geographical and service communities.

Where the strategic authorities, local and central government, have a strategic, commissioning role – not a micro-management role – which they exercise to promote the sense of community.

Where governance arrangements reflect the relationship between schools and the communities they serve or work with: mutual interdependence and shared capacity for improvement.

A closing question:

If the five cameos presented by Professor Mongon can be metaphorically represented by Tesco; a Law firm; Swedish Free Schools; Nato; and the EU, I wonder what might be the most appropriate metaphor for the current school governance model extant in Scotland?

3 thoughts on “Community Based Governance of Schools

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  3. I see this as building structures of empowerment through fostering processes of enablement. In so doing a culture and framework of true responsibility could arise, a very different concept from accountability. It would mean that accountability would become intrinsic and organic which would necessitate systems approaches, for instance as per the work of Deming, Senge and Seddon. These are high order processes and would need careful fostering of the relevant skills with clarity of remits and roles. It must not lead to erosion of the central core of teacher professionalism, nor lead to management by central committee, or worse knee-jerk reflex management from whatever a community governing board’s flavour of the month was. It would require integral ownership of process. I’d still see formal vested responsibility in local government, since if the process went awry, democratic governance is still vested in local authorities, and they could steer a local board back on track. There is the danger of cliques and cadres taking over, those with an axe to grind wielding undue influence, of meddling and non-productive interference at the micro level, and these may be the greatest dangers to recognise and build mechanisms and processes to prevent. The aim should be to build a locally responsive system which assists in steering and formulating common purposes and goals, and realising them to build a common sense of ownership.

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