Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 380 - 399)



  Q380  Jeff Ennis: Governing bodies in trust schools: one of the themes within the White Paper is to promote parent power, which we have focused on to some extent, given the fact that trust schools do not have to appoint any parent governors on the trust body—we have got the situation whereby you can set up a parents' council instead of parental representation on the trust school governing body—are parents going to be happy with that model, being demoted to a parents' council rather than representation on the trust schools?

  Ms Windass: It was my understanding that trust schools will have to have parental representation on their governing body.

  Q381  Jeff Ennis: I think it is one, is it not?

  Ms Windass: They have to have one elected parental governor, and my understanding is they will still have to have a third of parents on their governing body, but they would be appointed rather than elected as with the majority of other schools. I think it reduces parental influence because they are trust appointed, they are not elected independent representatives on the governing body. They become trust representatives on the governing body, therefore it does potentially reduce parental influence rather than increase it.

  Q382  Jeff Ennis: I cannot see the incentive for somebody standing for election on a trust governing body when the others are appointed. We have all seen the situation in some schools—I have been on governing bodies for over 20 years now—where occasionally you get the clique situation with parents developing in some of the schools, whereby if you are not inside that clique, you are not going to get anywhere as the parental representation within that school. Will this new model reinforce that sort of cliquey situation which can prevail in some schools?

  Professor Adams: I do not know if it will do that. A motivation to stand for election is that it might be the only way you can get on to the governing body if you are only talking about one or two places for an elected parent, so there is a motivation there. My concern about school councils is we can have school councils and we do have them in many schools now, but if we do not have them, the schools where they have not got them, there must be a reason for that. Governing bodies have tried everything to get parents along to the school. The Education Act this year has abolished the requirement for an annual meeting because simply it was so difficult to get people to them. My own school, we offered free drinks—it was a white working-class area—for people to come along.

  Q383  Jeff Ennis: The Chairman has tried that!

  Professor Adams: Chairman, I would not dream of suggesting that it might work rather better in this institution, but it did not work in my school.

  Q384  Chairman: In response to Jeff Ennis's questions, one of the things that hits you when you read the White Paper is it is just one meeting of the school governing body that can decide to opt for a foundation/trust status. You do not have to talk to all the parents, it does not have to have a referendum or any engagement at all as far as I understand it.

  Professor Adams: You have to consult.

  Q385  Chairman: It is up to the school how far you describe the consultation as confrontation, is it not?

  Professor Adams: I believe there are guidelines about that.

  Q386  Mr Marsden: Professor Adams, you said at the beginning that you thought the situation currently in terms of recruiting governors was mixed across the country. Do you think overall the proposals of this White Paper will help or hinder the recruitment of governors in schools?

  Professor Adams: I think it will probably be neutral.

  Q387  Mr Marsden: You think it is a cost-neutral effect? Are there any aspects of it you think will make life easier or difficult at all?

  Professor Adams: I cannot think of anything that would be particularly problematic. If the thrust of the proposed reforms is to increase the amount of responsibility coming to school governing bodies, frankly I do not think that would be universally welcome.

  Q388  Mr Marsden: We have only got six paragraphs in which to do it. Mr Butler, can I pursue the issue of the parents' council in trust schools. We have heard concerns about trying to get parents involved anyway, are you worried that you could have a situation where there would be a conflict set up in a trust school between a parents councils' view and the view of the trust governing body? Let me give you a concrete example of where a group of parents who are reasonably representative of the parental community are very unhappy about the activities of a particular teacher but the trust governing body is quite happy with him or her, and maybe there are other examples as well. I am asking you to focus on is there an institutional tension between those two bodies.

  Mr Butler: There is a difference though, is there not, because a parents' council is an advisory body as distinct from a trust board or a board of governors which is a managerial body. We often have discussions and debates with parents who are involved in schools and we say to them, "It is great if you get a level of engagement with the school or with the head teacher. Please welcome any approach from the head for that engagement, but remember at the end of the day, the people who are responsible for the management of that school are the head, their leadership team and the governing body and because your advice is being sought, it does not mean that necessarily is going to be what is carried forward". Therefore, a parents' council is advisory. Yes, you could get that tension, but that tension is not going to exist if we did or did not have the White Paper.

  Q389  Mr Marsden: At the moment, because there is direct stakeholder and, some would argue, potentially substantial parent representation on the governing body, the ability of the parents' council in that situation to say, "No one is taking any notice of parents' views", is limited. You could have a situation, could you not, where because parental representation on a trust schools' governing body was pretty limited, the objections or the concerns of that particular parents' council would have that much more force?

  Mr Butler: I am not so sure that would differ from a situation of a parental concern with an existing governing body which did have high parental representation. My experience is that when a governing body comes together, it comes together as a body corporate. Usually, when you sit around a governing table, there will be some people who have been put in there by their local authority, some who have been elected from the teaching staff and some who have been elected from the parent body, but when they meet together, they meet with the interests of the school as a whole. I am not so sure that necessarily they are saying there, with this huge badge across their chest, "I am a parent, listen to what I am saying as a parent".

  Q390  Mr Marsden: I agree with you. With respect, that is an idealised view. In situations of conflict, and obviously they are a minority, certainly it is my experience in my own constituency that people do retreat to their producer or their consumer interest areas.

  Mr Butler: I think then we come back to the point I was making before the parents' council is an advisory body, the body that has the power to manage and cast the authority is the governing body.

  Q391  Mr Marsden: Ms Windass, in the NGC's written submission to the Select Committee, you say in section 4.5, paragraph one, that you are concerned that the academy's programme is being used as a model for the governing bodies of trust schools. Is that because you think the academy's model is currently not a very good model or because you think there is no need for trust schools at all, therefore why do we need a separate model which is based on an academy model?

  Ms Windass: I think it is a bit of both. NGC does have concerns about the model of governance in academies in that it is appointed by the sponsors.

  Q392  Mr Marsden: Are these theoretical concerns or are they based on specific cases that you have already seen with the governance of academies?

  Ms Windass: It is a general concern that the model of governance in academies is not necessarily representative of the local community, it is not the stakeholder of local governance as it is in most other schools where you have a third of elected parental representation. The academy's model is different, the sponsor has the right to appoint the majority of the governing body in perpetuity. We think there should be more local representation.

  Q393  Mr Marsden: Even though we have heard that trusts will not have the same freedoms of manoeuvres as academies, in terms of where you see it, from the point of view of the parental community and the governing community, academies and trust schools sit in one section as being less representative of their views as opposed to the rest. Would that be a fair characterisation of your comment?

  Ms Windass: The fact that the majority of the governing body could be appointed by a trust, yes, does concern us in the sense that it could be unrepresentative of the local community, unlike current schools, and going on to the fact that we already have very good community schools and very good voluntary controlled, voluntary-aided and foundation schools which do not have this model of governance. The academy model has not been around long enough for an effective evaluation of whether it is the best model.

  Q394  Mr Marsden: It is conceptual, it is not that you have got existing horror stories from academies?

  Ms Windass: No.

  Q395  Mr Marsden: Professor Adams, you were quite dismissive about the overall effect of the White Paper in terms of your particular area, certainly beneficially. What would you like to have seen in the White Paper that would have made a real difference to governors that is not there?

  Professor Adams: The most important issue for school governors is their ability to do the job. I think there is an important issue about their constituency and where they come from. Gillian talked about the stakeholder model, it is clearly not the only way of running a school, but it is the model that we have and it relates very closely to a number of concerns in other agendas, like the Every Child Matters agenda, to the concept of community. My real concern about the ability of a trust school, or any other organisation, to appoint clashes with that. There is an important issue there. The real concern I have, which I think I said earlier on, is that governing bodies now are "running" very substantial organisations and they have virtually no resources to do that with, they simply have to do it on their own. They are very grateful to the governor support units that most local authorities operate, but they are shoestring operations.

  Q396  Mr Marsden: You would like to have seen a bit more of a "pot of gold" in the White Paper to devote those resources or not?

  Professor Adams: I would not have used the phrase a "pot of gold".

  Q397  Mr Marsden: A few coins perhaps!

  Professor Adams: Neither that. I think an injunction on school governors to take professional advice, and to be required to do so, would help. The reason they do not, as I am sure you well know, is it would be a call on the school budget, so they do not do that.

  Q398  Mr Chaytor: Professor Adams, you referred to the gap between high performing and low performing schools in your opening remarks, do you think the extension of parental choice as the base of the admission system will increase or decrease the gap between those two council schools?

  Professor Adams: I guess it could go either way depending on how that parental choice is exercised. I am not sure the proposals in the White Paper will diminish that gap.

  Q399  Mr Chaytor: Do you think the operation of choice as it is now, and developed over the last few years, has influenced the gap in any way for better or worse?

  Professor Adams: Your Committee has discussed at some length the whole issue of admissions and reported on it, and I think that is where the issue lies for things like oversubscribed schools. We, as an organisation, would support the Code of Practice becoming mandatory rather than voluntary as it is at the moment. How that choice is exercised is the crucial thing.

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