Thursday, 20 January 2011

Why do we have school governors?

Why do we have school governors?

The majority of our children are educated within the state system. What is taught in our schools is set within a framework prescribed by the government. Teachers are employed and paid by the state and our schools are built and funded by the state, sometimes supported by benefactors. But the state runs the system on behalf of the public. In this sense state schools are 'public' schools.

Funded by taxpayers' money, schools offer an education to the children of the citizens of the state – hence, they are providing an essential public service. Moreover, what is taught in our schools, how and what our children learn and how the education they receive is organised and delivered are of public concern – not only to parents, but to all of us, and in particular to local communities and employers. From a wide range of perspectives, we all want a society where our children are educated to be happy and fulfilled individuals, to be worthwhile members of society, of the community, of the family and of the workforce. As taxpayers we want to be sure that our money is being put to good use.

The public needs to know, and has a right to know, what is happening in our schools. The public has a right to affect how things are going. In other words, there has to be public accountability. This is the reason why we have school governors.

Representing parents, staff, the local authority (LA), the local diocese or church, the local community and other benefactors, school governors are the voice of the public in our schools. A public service must be run in the interests of the public it serves and those who manage the public services need to be informed by those who best know the needs of the public. Moreover, the public that pays for the service must have confidence in it and when it comes to schools, parents who use them should be able to trust them to do the best possible job.

Just as private organisations use market research techniques to stay close to the customer, it is no longer good practice for public services to be run solely by 'detached' professionals who reckon to know best the public's wants and needs. Yet education is more than a product on the supermarket shelf, so market research techniques are themselves inadequate. More sophisticated methods are needed to produce a dialogue between school managers and the public. The governing body is the appropriate mechanism for this.

Could public accountability be exercised some other way? Don't local elected councillors have the right to question what goes on in our schools on behalf of their constituents? Don't we elect Members of Parliament to represent the views of the public to the government about what they are doing? And shouldn't parents go directly to the school if they are unhappy about something to do with their own child? Certainly these are ways in which members of the public, directly or indirectly through representatives, can and do seek information and present concerns at a local or national level. But these are inadequate on their own. The first two are too remote, likely to be retrospective and influenced by other concerns. The last one is too individual, and only answers specific grievances.

Written by: Jane Martin and Stephen Adamson

About the authors
Dr Jane Martin is currently Local Government Ombudsman and Vice-Chair of the Commission for Local Administration in England. A former local authority officer responsible for school governance, she has researched and written widely on education and school governance issues.

Stephen Adamson is an author and publisher of books offering practical guidance for school governors. He is Vice-Chair of the National Governors' Association.

The full article can be found at

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