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Coda: DIY bureaucracy & good governance

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Coda: DIY bureaucracy & good governance

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This is the summary & notes of a serialisation of Dr Andrew Wilkins‘ paper Professionalizing school governance: the disciplinary effects of school autonomy and inspection on the changing role of school governors. It has been edited for brevity and ease of reading online, references are hyperlinked inline where available, otherwise most footnote references have been removed. The article with full references is available at and it is reproduced on the Modern Governor blog with permission of the publishers.

Prior to this post, you may wish to read:

  1. Good governance – a modality of state power?
  2. Two trends in school governance
  3. Academies – an accountability sinkhole?
  4. Supporting autonomous, professionalised schools and
  5. Professionalised governing bodies: businesslike & effective, or antagonistic & tense?

Summary & Notes

In these posts, I have considered the ways in which good governance (an appeal to professional standards, performance evaluation, and technical expertise) operates as a new modality of state power and intervention; a set of policy technologies, political discourses, and mobile strategies by which schools, and in particular school governors, are disciplined within new regimes of professionalisation, inspection, and accountability. These trends are inclusive and productive of what Ball (2003, 215) calls ‘performativity’:

the managerial discourses and practices which require ‘individual practitioners to organize themselves as a response to targets, indicators and evaluations.’

As Ball (2003, 224) goes onto later argue,

‘Truthfulness is not the point – the point is their effectiveness, both in the market or for inspection or appraisal.’

Today school governors are confronted by a similar interpellation: a duty to mould, train, and fashion the self in ways that can be measured, audited, and inspected as evidence of effectiveness, of performative efficacy. In essence, school governors are being called upon to simulate the bureaucracy once performed by local government. As Fisher and Gilbert observe,

Bureaucracy has become decentralized. It’s not (just) something to which we are subject now; it’s something which we are required to actively produce ourselves (2013, 91).

Since 2010 an unprecedented number of schools have converted to academy status and therefore opted out (or been forcibly driven out) of LA control. According to recent statistics obtained by the DfE in June 2014 (DfE 2014c), 3924 state secondary and primary schools have converted to academy status. Technically the same in legal terms (they constitute exempt charities and are supervised with the support of the Charity Commission by the DfE), academies and free schools operate independent of local government intervention, enabling them freedom to determine their own budget, admissions, length of school day, curriculum, and staff pay terms and conditions. A regulatory gap therefore exists (Adams and Mansell 2014). School autonomy means increased risk (risk of poor governance, poor training, poor evaluation, poor challenge, poor standards, etc.).

The removal of local government steering has in turn given rise to demands for good governance, namely the inspection and professionalisation of all governing bodies. So while the official role of school governors is to hold senior leadership to account for the financial and educational performance of the school, school governors are themselves held to account (by Ofsted and senior leadership who conduct a skills audit, for example) and in effect bound to ‘a technology, a culture and a mode of regulation that employs judgements, comparisons and displays as means of incentive, control, attrition and change’ (Ball 2003, 216). This is what might be called a form of ‘meta-governing’ – the relation and process by which government and non-governmental agencies cultivate the conditions for ‘reflexive self-organisation’ within public sector institutions and among actors (Jessop 2011, 246).

Foucault (2008, 67) defines governmentalisation as

the function of producing, breathing life into, and increasing freedom, of introducing additional freedom through additional control and intervention.

On this account it is possible to identify the doubling effect produced by processes of decentralization and deregulation. The state grants powers to schools to become administratively self-governing but does so through subtle, indirect forms of control and regulation which demand good governance and the fashioning of school governors as professionals (not amateurs) who can justify and evidence in market terms school processes, outcomes, and performance. Regulation is thus exercised at a distance – through discourses of professionalization and accountability, for example. It sets limits on the kinds of people who get to perform the business of governance, people with the right knowledge, skills, and (claims to) expertise, people who can in effect enhance accountability. This is not to assume the success of governmental projects in practice across different sites and domains. Rather, it highlights how neoliberalization operates through processes of ‘roll-back’ (the removal of local government steering and command, for example) and ‘roll-out’ (the dissemination of market values and attitudes through multiple conduits, apparatuses, and the creation of new actors) (Peck and Tickell 2002).


Depending on the type of school, governing bodies go by different names. For schools operating within a Multi-Academy Trust (MAT), the governing body, if one exists, is called a Local Governing Body (LGB) or ‘advisory group’. Under these arrangements many of the high-risk decisions concerning strategy, finance, admissions, premises, and curriculum are decided by the trustees of the MAT and sent to the LGB for feedback/deliberation. In many standalone (converter) academies, free schools, and maintained schools, the governing body is called a Full Governing Body (FGB), but technically this only applies when all governors are present. Alongside the FGB are committees with governors who, by virtue of their expertise, deal with specific areas of governance. A typical school will have five committees – education and standards, finance and audit, human resources, premises, and pastoral and well-being. I have selected to use the preferred term governing body by way of condensing the varied and complicated work undertaken by school governors. Unfortunately, the scope of this paper does not lend itself to a full discussion of the division of labour that underpins and animates school governance.

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