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Who governs our schools? Trends, tensions and opportunities

Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

Who governs our schools? Trends, tensions and opportunities

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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

A new series of articles reflecting on the recently published RSA report Who governs our schools?

The RSA report "Who governs our schools?"Almost two years ago, Joe Hallgarten, who at the time was Director for Creative Learning and Development at the RSA, invited me to identify a couple of issues that I felt had been either long-overlooked or insufficiently explored in education policy debates, with a view to investigating each further. The issues I identified were lifelong learning and school governance, and so begun the pursuit of funding partners, supporting organizations and expert group members for each piece of work. Our endeavours have led to the production of two reports, A Place for Learning: putting learning at the heart of citizenship, civic life and community identity (published in October 2016), and Who Governs Our Schools? Trends, Tensions and Opportunities, launched at last month’s meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on School Governance.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be publishing a series of guest articles here on the Modern Governor blog, each highlighting one of the six themes and headlines from the second report, The first of these themes highlights a common belief that runs through both reports.

This belief is that participation and engagement are good for learning itself and are vital, not just to the ongoing and core business of school improvement, but to a key element that sits at the heart of many, if not all, school improvement stories. This core element is an engaged community committed to supporting the learning of its children and young people, and to developing its own capacity for learning in the process. As a generation of academics have long acknowledged, successful schools are learning communities for all involved: children and young people, teaching and non-teaching staff, parents and families, and those who serve on the governing board.

Background to the report

Before we get to those headlines, a word about the study itself: the project was funded by the Local Government Association, The Elliot Foundation and RSA Academies and could not have taken place without their generous and enduring support. These organisations were joined around the Expert Group table by senior colleagues from the National Governance Association, the Centre for Public Scrutiny, the Association of School and College Leaders and the Catholic Education Service. The Expert Group met on several occasions and convened a summit of governors, school leaders and policy influencers from a range of settings at the RSA in June 2016.

In addition, a plethora of other organisations were consulted, including the Institute of Directors and the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, and a series of blogs were posted, two on the RSA site (Governance in the Academies Age: a less or more localised future? and Governance in the Academies Age: a loss of power, participation and autonomy?) and two here on Modern Governor (Governance beyond the Governance Ghetto and Out of the Ghetto: training in governance, not just training for governors). Emma Knights, CEO at the National Governance Association was a key contributor to our discussions and the NGA facilitated the report’s launch through the All-Party Parliamentary Group. Julian Astle – Joe Hallgarten’s successor as RSA Education Lead – and Matthew Taylor, CEO at the RSA, took a keen interest in our deliberations and contributed much of value, both to the study and the final report.

Themes and headlines from the report

As noted above, the report frames our thinking in terms of six themes:

  1. Purpose and participation;
  2. Induction and development
  3. Landscape and policy;
  4. Stakeholders and experts;
  5. Leadership and autonomy;
  6. Collaboration and partnership

and offers a headline for policymakers and practitioners on each.

In tomorrow’s article we’ll explore why these themes matter at a time when the organisation of the school system in England is going through a period of unprecedented change. We’ll follow this up with a series of longer articles examining each of the themes of Who governs our schools? in turn – with questions about how we might consider each of these on our governing boards.

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Image credit: Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash.

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