An independent report compiled for the government has suggested that a number of key aspects of school governance need to be reformed.
The report, by PricewaterhouseCoopers, is the result of a study into school leadership commissioned by the DfES in April 2006 following a recommendation by the School Teachers’ Review Body.
Among a number of detailed recommendations, which the report suggests could transform school leadership in England and Wales, is one to review governance. In particular, it suggests reviewing the size and composition of governing bodies and exploring the possible development of what it calls a ‘slimline executive governance model’.
Heads and governors were amongst those interviewed during visits to 50 schools and in a sample of 3,260 schools surveyed by post and on line. When questioned on the effectiveness of their governing bodies, a fifth of headteachers thought they were quite or very ineffective. A similar proportion felt their governing bodies were very effective and close to half thought they were quite effective.
Where heads found governing bodies effective, they most often cited the ability to listen to and support the head as a strength, followed by having a sensible, proactive approach or an ability to challenge situations. Those who thought their governing bodies were ineffective found inexperience and lack of skills and knowledge the greatest hindrance, followed by a lack of support for the head, or a failure to give practical assistance.
Governors surveyed said they would welcome better and closer working relationships with headteachers. When asked what could be done to ensure that governors could best support leaders of the future, the largest number (23%) backed ensuring that governors are fully trained and have a good understanding of the issues.
The study reported mixed views on the composition of governing bodies with some participants emphasising the need for a skills-based approach to recruiting governors while others highlighted the importance of governors being representative of the local community. There were also concerns about the lack of diversity in the composition of governing bodies with many groups continuing to be under-represented.
In its final recommendations, the report noted that:
‘A particular issue arising from our research is the need to balance the representative role that governors and governing bodies fulfil on behalf of their local communities and parent bodies, and the extent to which they bring professional skills and expertise that can support school leaders. This links to how governors are recruited and rewarded for the role they play, and how this needs to be set in the context of the increasing demands on their time and commitment. There is also some evidence to suggest that governing bodies could be smaller and more strategic. On the other hand, the emergence of extended schools also opens up the possibility of co-opting representatives from other services such as, for example, health, social services and the voluntary sector.’
A major element of the report’s overall recommendations for improving school leadership is the consideration of a range of different leadership models. ‘Schools cannot be compelled to adopt new structures but they can be invited and encouraged to review their current arrangements and be offered examples of alternative ways of organising themselves,’ says the report.
The findings on the effectiveness of five leadership models in raising standards are detailed in the report. It identifies the traditional model as being comprised exclusively of qualified teaching staff and typically including a headteacher supported by a deputy and/or assistant heads. It argues that the apparent success of this model may be more to do with the behaviour of school leaders than the model itself and suggests that its sustainability is being put under significant stress by the ‘current policy environment’.
Alternative systems investigated are the managed model, where specific roles are allocated to the senior leadership team in a flatter management-style structure; the multi-agency managed model, which is again flatter but more ‘outward looking and inter-agency focused’; the federated model, characterised by varying degrees of collaboration between schools; and the system leadership model, which embraces the different roles that heads can assume outside their own school.
Recommendations for interaction with governing bodies
The DfES should further examine a number of key issues in relation to governance that have been identified in this study, and have an important impact on school leadership, including:
- The size and composition requirements of governing bodies, balancing the need to reflect the various constituencies, eg parents, staff, local authority, church, with the increasing need for people with the required range of skills, knowledge and experience. As part of this it will be important to explore in particular the possible development of a ‘slimline’ executive governance model;
- The key implications for school governance of the emergence of multi-agency involvement in schools, driven by the delivery of the ECM and the 14-19 agendas;
- How government, the National Governors’ Association, local authorities and schools can best work with employers and employers’ organisations to increase the pool of potential governors with the right skills to offer;
- Whether aggregating governance structures is a good way of accommodating new school models such as federations;
- The extent to which a more formal modus operandi could be developed for pro-bono contributions to governance from the private sector, focusing initially on support to schools with the greatest levels of need, and building on the existing work of the School Governors One Stop Shop; and
- The extent to which there is a requirement for further guidance on the roles and responsibilities of governors, particularly in regard to their strategic involvement in the school, and to wider accountabilities in relation to, for example, extended services.
The report makes a number of recommendations based on the study findings which, it says, taken together have the potential to transform the face of school leadership in England and Wales and ensure that leaders are equipped to embrace and deliver for the future. These recommendations include:
- Diversifying leadership models: proactively promote new and emerging leadership models; develop a national programme to support schools seeking to move towards new models; and remove the key legal and regulatory barriers to the development of new models.
- Distributing responsibility with accountability: review policy and practice in relation to accountability in order to facilitate greater distributed leadership. This will involve, inter alia: a review of legislation and regulation in relation to accountability in schools; further communicating the flexibilities in relation to accountability afforded under the 2002 Education Act; and extending the provision of training and licensing to leaders who do not have Qualified Teacher Status (QTS).
- Reviewing governance: consider further the interaction between leadership and governance, addressing issues including: the size and composition of governing bodies; the implications of multi-agency working in schools; and the modus operandi for pro-bono contributions from the private sector.
- Streamlining policy: review the mechanisms currently in place for limiting the bureaucratic burden on schools; conduct a regular mapping exercise of existing and future regulations; and provide greater clarity around which aspects of policies and requirements on schools are mandatory and which are optional and/or advisory.
- Developing people, diversity and succession planning: promote suitably qualified professionals from outside the schools sector taking on school leadership roles; encourage shortening the time from QTS to headship; and develop a pilot initiative involving the rotation of leaders at periodic intervals around a cluster of schools.
- Adopting a new approach towards leadership qualifications and programmes: reform NPQH and Head for the Future, focusing on a range of aspects including: sharing modules with professionals from other sectors and wider accreditation of prior learning.
- Rewarding new roles and individual performance: modify the existing reward system in a number of areas including:
— examining how salary ranges for executive heads and chief executives can be best determined, and also how the salary range of heads should be adjusted where they report to an executive head; — reviewing the ways in which non-QTS senior support staff are rewarded in order to promote effective recruitment and retention; and
— providing further guidance and training to headteachers, governors and local authorities, on how to reward leaders most effectively.
- Maintaining the integrity of the reward system: review a number of aspects of the existing system including: pay differentials between heads, deputies and assistants; the different weightings of pupil numbers set out in the School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Document; and whether there should be a distinction between the pay scales for deputies and assistants.
- Role of parents and learners: provide support to school leaders in the use of low burden ways to seek and respond to the voice of the users of their services, in particular, learners and parents.
- Winning hearts and minds: develop a communications campaign in order to challenge the conventional wisdom (eg around ‘hero heads’), explain the benefits of new leadership models and enlist new entrants into the talent pool from diverse backgrounds.
- Measuring and managing the change: ensure the national steering arrangements for school leadership reform are based on up-to-date, insightful management information, and that there is clear ownership of all recommendations being taken forward as a result of this study.
Independent Study into School Leadership is available from DfES Publications on 0845 60 222 60 (quoting reference RR818A). It can also be downloaded free from www.teachernet.gov.uk/publications