Professor John Diamond (Director of the University’s Institute for Public Policy) comments on the Government’s White Paper on Education:
The significance of the many changes announced by the Government recently will be taken up by a number of groups over the next few months.
Clearly the headlines have focused on the way teachers are educated and assessed as full and potentially excellent teachers. I will return to that in future blogs but I want to pick up on the role of parent governors.
The announcement that the requirement or expectation to have parents as members of governing bodies is to be relaxed so that they may cease to be present, reflects one of the many contradictory features of the current Government.
The idea that service users should be involved in decision making is not the preserve of progressive interest groups. It sits quite easily within the framework of seeing service users as consumers. They are one of a number of so called ‘stakeholders’ who have rights to be consulted and to participate in the governance and oversight of professionals or administrators running public services.
There is a litany of failed public services from hospitals to schools to social work departments, where it is claimed lack of suitable arrangements for the governance of those services excluded users from having a voice.
Indeed in the recent budget, the Northern Powerhouse initiative and the associated agreements with local public authorities in the setting up of city regions, include governance as a non-negotiable element. In this case it’s the election of a city mayor as part of the package.
So what do the new developments in education tell us? There is a plausible argument which says it’s difficult to recruit, train and retain parent governors; the role and expectations are complex and require significant commitment; and the growing needs of schools especially financial ones require more professional expertise than is always available. These are familiar arguments but not necessarily new ones.
There are a secondary set of arguments which are not explicitly stated and they include the restructuring of school based education takes it away from local oversight – the creation of academies or trusts detached schools from a sense of the ‘local’ or the ‘neighbourhood’ and as such parents are actually only have temporary interest in the school.
What is needed are individuals who are there for the long term and who see the needs differently from local parents or local interests. It is the logical perspective if you do not see schools are rooted in specific geographies and communities.
There is an additional pragmatic argument too. Parent governors are likely to be resistant to changes and maybe become oppositional to the current funding decisions. I think we can anticipate changes in governance elsewhere across the public services as the space to be critical is closed down.
Changes in the voluntary sector are good examples of where this is already happening. I think this is the issue. It’s not parent governors in principle, but local voices being excluded and critical or different perspectives being excluded too. That seems to me to be the big story behind the White Paper.