Morgan at the NGA – the end of parent and staff governors?

Over the last couple of days, the media have been concentrating on the government’s attempts – unsuccessful on the whole – to make some sense of their coasting schools policy. But as a result Nicky Morgan’s speech to the National Governors Association has rather passed under the radar.

It’s important though that it isn’t allowed to. It starts with the usual warm words about how wonderful volunteer governors are and goes on to say that:

“Because a school-led system doesn’t mean schools as islands, making their own way. It means schools fully integrated with the local community, responsive to local parents and, crucially, connected with, learning from and supporting other schools. And you as governors will play a crucial role in this; ensuring your school is fully linked with the world outside.”

Nothing you would think to get excited about there. But she went straight on to say:

“What that doesn’t necessarily mean is a stakeholder model of school governance, and I should be clear now that I intend to look further into how we can move away from that model over this Parliament – because what makes your contribution so important isn’t the particular group you represent, it’s the skills, expertise and wisdom you bring to the running of a school.”

It soon became clear that this is likely to mean the end of elected parent and staff governors and to local authority appointed governors. There is much soft soap about consultation and listening, but we know how this government really operates. The behind the scenes whispers are already emerging. The shift will be towards a business model of non- executives appointed because they have particular skills. The message is clearly that there should be more business governors and they should be focussed on things like financial management.

Put this alongside the Education and Adoption Bill with its insistence on academy status as the only way forward, then we begin to get a clear picture of how this government sees the place of schools in our society.

To them schools are clearly not meant, in any real sense, to be part of their local community. They’re put there and run by people appointed by the government. They don’t represent the community coming together to improve itself. Rather missionaries from on high will descend and give people what they think is good for them.

Locally elected councillors are on their way out of the picture. Now parents and teachers are on the way out too. The message is “take what you’re given and be grateful”. The unelected cosy club of Tory politicians and their friends and relatives, party donors and “experts” from business will run schools. New governors will be co-opted by the existing governors so the cosy club will continue to renew itself without reference to the outside world. For parents, the choice will be between Sainsburys and Tesco. It’s not their place to try and have any say in how schools work and what they should be doing.

This is not to say that the stakeholder model is perfect. Sometimes it’s very far from it. In recent years we have loaded far too much responsibility onto governors and given them far too little support. Too often all they have to go on is Ofsted which is a very flawed and limited source of evidence against which to judge a school’s performance.

But a stakeholder governing body working alongside and with support from a local authority which itself has strong roots in the community – that can work well.

If you insist that schools are an island disconnected from any local structures and with no meaningful professional scrutiny and support – then yes, you probably do need more professional governors able to provide (for free) that scrutiny and support.
But you’ve lost something very fundamental – the links that really do make a school part of its community and keep the focus on what that community wants for its children.

3 Comments on “Morgan at the NGA – the end of parent and staff governors?”

  1. Mick Fletcher says:

    The experience of further education since 1993 strongly supports this analysis. Governing bodies changed from a ‘stakeholder’ model to one based on business expertise with results that were less than rosy. Read about it here

  2. terryloane says:

    Another excellent analysis, John. As I said in a comment to another of your posts earlier this month, there is a hideous irony in the government requiring schools to “promote the fundamental British value of democracy” while they dismantle democratic accountability from the governance and management of schools. And it sounds as if Nicky Morgan’s speech to the National Governors Association was preparing the ground for an acceleration in handing schooling over to the corporatocracy.

  3. alangurbutt says:

    It’s worth remembering that LAs are required to include Parent Governor Added Members on their committees for looking at education. However, the Parent Governor Representatives (England) Regulations 2001 make it clear that in order to be eligible for election as a Parent Governor Representative the person must be a Parent Governor at a maintained school.