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The Big Society Takes Shape: Policy Vision for One Group of Volunteers A response to 'Who Governs the Governors'

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The Big Society Takes Shape: Policy Vision for One Group of Volunteers A response to 'Who Governs the Governors'
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  The Big Society Takes Shape: Policy Vision for One Group of Volunteers A response to ‘ Who Governs the Governors ’   Julie Cooper September 2011  1 Julie Cooper  –  Sept 2011 The Big Society Takes Shape  –   Policy Vision for One Group of Volunteers In this paper I intend to examine a document released in May 2011 by Neil Carmichael MP and his colleague Edward Wild. It is a report titled ‘Who Governs the Governors  –   School Governance in the Twenty First Century’ and claims its remit to be to “assess how the role and responsibilities of governors will need to adapt to a changing context and to offer ways in which schools both individually and collectively may develop and enhance the quality of governance”   (p3) I will examine the use of language within the document and explore how this particular text moves through a series of meanings to construct a proposed model for strategic leadership in schools that reveals in some detail the intentions of the new Conservative government to ensure that the driving force behind education in Britain is a business model that is target driven and aligned to executive management practices in commercial industries, and indicates that schools become less accountable to what have previously been key groups of stakeholders. The paper explores a number of contradictions within the document and suggests some reasons for these and also examines the layout of the text and use of emphasis through tables of information, headings and bold text. Context The document has been compiled by a Conservative Member of Parliament and a Director of an executive recruitment agency who was previously a teacher in an independent boys’ school and a former Conservative parliamentary candidate. It claims to have been ‘underpinned and informed by a series of meetings and interviews with Heads, Chairs and Chief Executives of education providers and institutions’ ( p4). These are listed in the Acknowledgements (p35) and number twenty-six in total. Of these eighteen are male and eight female, and only two represent  2 Julie Cooper  –  Sept 2011 maintained schools; one an infant school and the other a grammar school. There are eight representatives of the independent school sector and six representatives from professional bodies and commercial businesses. From the public sector there are two people from NHS foundation trusts and a former commissioner for civil service appointments, a representative from Teach First, two scholars (a university professor and an historian), a theatre director and two representatives from the Association of Colleges. The low level of representation by state-funded schools suggests that any good practice identified within existing governance structures in these schools is being disregarded and only the executive incorporated model of governance from these other contributors ’ organisations is being considered as effective leadership practice. The bibliography (p36) is narrow and drawn largely from recent Conservative government papers, predominantly the white paper ‘The Importance of Teaching’ ; though one of the five primary sources for the paper is listed as a Guardian newspaper article about Finland schools and cites the Eversheds Board Report 2011 in several instances. Of the documents or articles pre-dating the current government there are two; one a very controversial research report by Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) from 2007 in which they undertook a case study of the governing bodies of three schools and suggested this could be generalised to all schools (a suggestion that was met with some opposition in schools, local authorities and academic researchers) and that made recommendations for smaller governing bodies and for school governors to be paid for their work. The other is a research report produced in 2008 by Business in the Community (based at University of Bath) that looked in particular at the challenges facing those in employment in taking on the role of a school governor. This particular report has been used very selectively in the Carmichael-Wild paper, and an immediate contradiction that is apparent is how the Business in the Community paper highlights the ‘stereotyping of governors as parents and older people’ as a misperception of governors in  3 Julie Cooper  –  Sept 2011 maintained schools, and this stereotype is perpetuated in the discourse of the May publication. The white paper ‘The Importance of Teaching’ has met with a mixed response and a certain amount of caution from the education sector. The NAHT response to the white paper states specifically on the subject of school governance: “  It is essential that schools are able to recruit appropriately skilled governors to meet the needs of the school. However, these needs are best determined at school level and should not be dictated centrally. ”   (NAHT 2011:11) I will attempt to explore some of the historical contexts of this particular policy by reflecting on former Conservative education policy and also the cultural and economic context in which this policy is framed, particularly with some of the political concepts on which it is based. Executive Language This particular paper is rich in the ‘ language of reform technologies ’  (Ball 2008:42). The reform that is being enacted here is reflected across not just education, but other areas of public services reform and the introduction of new policy language that is creating a vocabulary of policy problems and a ‘ family relationship ’  of evolving policy narratives (Ball 2008:101). An interesting observation that can be made of the paper is one word in particular that dominates  –   use of the word ‘board’. Traditionally in maintained schools the collective term used for Governors is ‘body’ and only in the independent sector has the term ‘board of governors’ been adopted. The use of this word is also indicative of the emphasis government policy has on returning to the free-market principles that were evident in Thatcher’s policies by adopting the terminology of the executive ‘boardroom’, and could possibly have gained greater prominence through  4 Julie Cooper  –  Sept 2011 the discussions with the participants with whom the authors consulted; after all this is the language with which they are familiar and identify with. That the text of a policy serves to act as a vehicle of political discourse, and “policies produced by and for the state are obvious instances in which language serves a political purpose, constructing particular meanings and signs that work to mask social conflict and foster the commitment to the notion of universal public interest” (Codd 1988:237)  It is important to consider that in analysing policy, the authorial intentions may be of less relevance than the different effects the text has on different groups of readers (Codd 1988: 239). Thus in this particular document we need to consider the different audiences, both as individuals and as institutions; existing school governors, schools, head teachers, local authorities, parents, commercial businesses, men, women, etc. Looking at Local Authorities as an audience, it seems that the determination to reduce the influence and indeed existence of local authority education services is apparent throughout the document with every reference to the involvement of Local Authorities (interestingly referred to as LEAs which is also a term that has not been used in state education for several years) being embedded within a negative or deficit statement. For example, statements are made about schools ensuring improvement and accountability ‘without LEA involvement’ (p8) or ‘in the absence of LEAs’ (p14). In the introduction to the paper (p3) the authors clearly state “the removal of Local Education Authorities (LEAs) and changes to the inspection role of Ofsted will create potential risks and challenges which will place new powers in the hands of school governors and make their role of even greater importance in the  future that at any time since the 1944 Education Act”   
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