Thursday 12 January 2012

Brent governors out in the cold on radical education proposals

School governors are the largest group of unpaid volunteers in the country and their role has become increasingly onerous with successive governments. They remain a vital chain in terms of the democratic accountability of schools with elected representatives from staff and parents, representatives from the local authority according to the political make up of the local council, and co-opted members of the local community. They oversee the strategic management of the school and provision on special needs,equality,  child protection, health and safety and safe recruitment. They have a specific role in terms of financial management and the setting of the school priorities.

You would think that given all the above that the local authority would be working closely with Brent governors in the current state of educational flux where all sorts of proposals for future education provision are being mooted. Unfortunately this is not the case,

Last year, following rumours that some schools were looking at joining together in a Cooperative Trust or conversion to Cooperative Academy status I wrote to Cllr Mary Arnold, Brent Council's lead member for children and families to suggest a one day conference open to headteachers, governors and professional associations to discuss the issues. I followed this up with a letter to the Willesden and Brent Times calling for an open debate about the future of schools provision in Brent.

Unfortunately events have overtaken such a conference. Last night there was a meeting of the Wembley cluster of schools where headteachers invited their Chairs of Governors to head a speaker from the Cooperative College make a presentation on options open to schools. These were a Cooperative Education Improvement Partnership, becoming a Cooperative Trust School, joining a Cooperative Trust Cluster of Schools, becoming a Cooperative Academy, or becoming a Cooperative Trust Cluster Academy.  Just that sentence tells you how complicated the issue is. The Teachers Panels asked for a speaker to address the meeting for three minutes at the beginning but their request was refused. It was emphasised that this was an information giving meeting and not a decision making one. The meeting followed a similar presentation which was made just to Wembley headteachers. The Cooperative College has had separate discussion with the local authority.

Although there was some governor representation at that meeting there is none at a meeting which is happening about now. The School Improvement Service is presenting a possible model for future service provision in Brent where the Council will retain only core services and others will be handed over to a Social Enterprise or external providers. LINK This is quite similar to the Cooperative Education Improvement Partnership above. The local authority appears to be agreeing with those who say that the service cannot continue as it is, which makes it extremely hard for someone like me to argue that we should retain the local authority and not cooperate in its dissolution.

If the local authority is not offering services to schools or those that remain are inadequate, why stay with it? My main concern is that the alternatives remove or reduce local democratic accountability - the Cooperative College argue that their alternatives, including their Academy model, offer more accountability than other provision. I argue that it contributes to the break up of the post-war local authority school system and introduces privatisation and centralised control of schools at the same time.

Complicating the picture even more is that Brent Labour is holding a meeting about academies, free schools and other issues to which only Labour appointed governors have been invited along with teacher organisations. The full range of governors listed in my introduction are not being involved. I understand that the meeting is at the Stonebridge Hub on Wednesday January 18th.

So we end up with a picture where one group of Brent headteachers (Wembley) is discussing possible Cooperative arrangements but other headteachers are not involved. Chairs of governors in the cluster have had an initial briefing but other other governors and teacher associations have not been involved.

Governors and teacher associations have not been included in discussions of a new model for school improvement services and non-Labour governors have been excluded from a discussion organised by the Labour Party about academies and other issues.

I believe in the provision of full information to encourage transparency and open debate amongst all concerned. What is happening at the moment doe not provide that and instead feeds suspicion and feelings of exclusion. Not the way to reorganise vital provision such as schools and educational support services.

One person remarked after yesterday's meeting, "Did you notice that no one once mentioned the children?"

Something to think about.

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