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Out of the ghetto: training in governance, not just training for governors

Image credit: "Love padlocks" at Pont des Arts, Musée du Louvre on the background by Jorge Láscar - licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Out of the ghetto: training in governance, not just training for governors

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Dr Tony BreslinDr. Tony Breslin is a public policy analyst and writer, specialising in education, participation and the third sector. A teacher by profession and a former local authority education adviser, he is chair of the board of governors at Bushey Primary Education Federation and was, until Autumn 2016, chair of the Academy Council at Oasis Academy Enfield. He is also chair of the awarding body Industry Qualifications and a trustee of the charity, Adoption UK. You can contact Tony on Twitter at @UKPolicyWatch or via www.breslinpublicpolicy.com.

This is the second part of a two part article. Read Part 1 – Governance beyond the governance ghetto: why governance isn’t just about governors – here.

Out of the ghetto: training in governance, not just training for governors

Any approach to school inspection or to school improvement that ignores governors ignores governance itself – and with this its role at the heart of Leadership and Management, and school improvement more broadly.

Worryingly, this marginalisation of governance in inspection and review processes, which I explored in Part 1 of this article yesterday, is indicative of a broader marginalisation of governance itself. The virtual absence of the consideration of governance issues from a range of education White Papers, from initial and continuing teacher education and, notably, from leadership and headship development programmes is a testimony as to where we expect governance to sit in the minds of teachers and school leaders. Thus, a headteacher’s experience of governance is almost entirely a consequence of the access that they have had to governing board meetings, and the quality of these boards, on the ‘way up’. No doubt some will have participated regularly and actively in board and committee meetings as deputy and assistant heads or principals. Others will have little experience of governance, academic or practical, or at least high quality governance, until they land the ‘big job’ – simply because their mentors have not opened the governance door to them, or they have not experienced effective boards, on the way up.

Training in governance, not just training governors

Further, the call for more ‘professional’ governing boards and for better governor training all-too-often assumes that the focus of that training must be governors themselves. Of course, we need much better induction and training for individual governors and for boards as groups, if we are to raise the standard of all Boards to that of the best; some local authorities and academy groups, and bodies such as the NGA, do excellent work here. But we need to get beyond the idea that governance is just exercised by governors and only governors need governor training. This contributes to the notion of the governor as willing amateur rather than active, engaged citizen, typically with a considerable degree of professional skill and experience, and a wealth of local knowledge.

The truth is that we need to get governance out of the governance ghetto. We need to build support for the view that there are many partners in the governance process and that each of these partners needs to understand the key principles and purpose of governance. Critically, we need to see a grasp of educational governance as being vital to any serious professional who is keen to carve out a career in either educational leadership or education policy, and any professional development programme that seeks to support them in the fulfilment of this aspiration.

Distributed governance

With a broader understanding across the educational community of what great governance is – or could be – like, the job of those on governing boards is likely to itself become easier and more effective, as will the work of professional leadership teams, trained and ready to work with governors as partners in the school improvement process.

And if policymakers also grasp this notion of their part in a broader, more distributed governance process, we might just begin to see educational reforms that reveal this understanding from the start. Let us be clear: school and college governance is too important to be left to chance, too complex to be reformed through afterthought and because of the unintended consequence of some other reform, and too big a task to be left to governors alone.

The widely held view is that the current Secretary of State for Education has taken her foot off the accelerator towards a MAT dominated system, even if the direction of travel remains broadly the same. If this is the case, we are likely to see the current diversity of governance practice endure for some years to come.

Perhaps this diversity, in all its messiness, provides an opportunity to really define what we mean by great governance, to agree on who the key participants are, and to ensure that governors, teachers, school leaders and policymakers are signed up to the outcome of the ensuing discussion.


Tony Breslin has served on the board of an Education Business Partnership, as a governor at an FE college, and as the chair of a teachers’ subject association. He has also chaired or served on the board of a number of campaigning groups in education and beyond. Between 2001 and 2010, he was CEO at the education and participation charity, the Citizenship Foundation. In October 2016 the RSA published his paper on the future of learning: A place for learning: putting learning at the heart of civic identity, citizenship and community life.


Image credit: “Love padlocks” at Pont des Arts, Musée du Louvre on the background by Jorge Láscar – licensed under CC BY 2.0.


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