It had to happen, given the pace of change in the education policy area. First, there has been the onslaught on our school leaders, tempted as they have been (and many succumbing) by the extra money and "freedoms" of academy status. Then the appeal to anyone and everyone to open up a school, and the disproportionate amount of resources being allocated to a tiny amount of schools.
Now it's governance that is under the cosh. Ian Carmichael, MP, and member of the Education Select Committee, has dreamt up a report, entitled "Who Governs the Governors?", which (unsurprisingly) heralds recommendations for changes in governance which would get rid of all stakeholder representation and would yield accountability only to the Secretary of State and Companies House. In fact in the entire 34 pages of the report, the words "democratic accountability" do not come up once, and I could only find one reference to the "maintained sector". (The report is not generally available yet, but you can request a copy by contacting his constituency office.)
I have been watching this area for developments very closely for the past several months. I wasn't sure if the DfE was intent on making all academies companies either because they had just adopted the model for academies version 1.0, without realising in their haste that version 2.0 is sponsor-less (and therefore does not need the same legal entity to account for the financial contribution of the sponsor), or because there was some other agenda based-possibly--around privatisation of education and schools becoming companies to facilitate the process of the dismantling of state education as we know it.
With the publication of this report, I am leaning more towards the second reason. The report recommends a professionalisation of school governance, which will select governors based on skills only, reduce the size of the governing body, and ultimately reduce the number of governing bodies around the country drastically as academy chains proliferate and dominate.
All comparisons are to the corporate model of governance and specifically how the Non-Executive Board model is now the most appropriate for academies, which are now independent and therefore must be able to account for the sound handling of public money. All the accountability now goes up--to Michael Gove--not out to communities. (So much for localism and the Big Society, then?)
Here is one extract: "We suggest that the corporate model of executive and non-executive boards would be a good one for school governing bodies to emulate."
And here is the "ideal composition", as regards the ideal experience of members of the school board:
--Accountancy (especially for the Audit Chair)
--Academics (to bring an HE perspective)
--Heads or deputies of a primary/secondary school
--Human resources leadership
The authors "believe that this will create an environment of professionals handling other professionals, able to make appropriate/suitable judgements and who would understand the difference between executive and non-executive roles."
It is indeed a far cry from an old 19th century definition of a governing body as “A body of local people to represent the public interest in the school”.
Though in many other ways it does take us back in time (though in a contrary way to the spirit of the 19th century quotation), reminding us of when the aristocratic elite ran the show. It's just that it is now Michael Young's meritocratic elite--typified by the current cohort of career politicians-- who have all the levers, and are now wanting to extend the use of them solely to others of their ilk, leaving a growing chasm of democratic deficit in the schools sector.
When are people going to start to sit up and take notice?
NB Ian Carmichael is set on launching an All-Party Parliamentary Group to report on governance, so, watch this space.