Structures, strategy and stakeholder communication: three key challenges for the public leadership and governance of education in England.

Baxter, Jacqueline; Cornforth, Chris and Stansfield, Annette (2017). Structures, strategy and stakeholder communication: three key challenges for the public leadership and governance of education in England. In: 2nd Public and Political Leadership conference, 6-7 Apr 2017, The Open University Milton Keynes.

Abstract

Substantial changes to the English education system most notably since 2010, have resulted in many changes to school governance, with schools, academies and free schools breaking away from Local Education Authority (LEA) control, and the emergence of new governance structures as the result of the formation of formal partnerships between schools that are very often geographically distant from one another.

This combined with an increasingly marketized environment of education in England places new pressures on school boards as democratic strategic leaders of education. With 300 thousand volunteer school board members tasked with governing over 22 thousand schools, held to account for the performance and leadership of schools, one of the boards’ key duties lies in setting the strategic direction for their school or group of schools. This has resulted in a concerted drive to recruit governors for their skills rather than their representative role (Baxter, 2015,2016); James, Goodall, Howarth, & Knights, 2014). As a result school boards face an important challenge in managing the tension between a business-like, performance oriented and a democratic representative role reflecting the concerns of parents and the local community (Nolan, 1996; Cornforth, 2004b). It also constitutes a significant leadership challenge. This paper examines some of the challenges and tensions facing board members within multi-academy trusts. Using data from 40 qualitative interviews with board members of MATs and key individuals within governor support organisations, combined with documentary analysis of formal reports, the paper concludes that leadership challenges for boards are focused on three principal areas: governance structures; communication with stakeholders and using stakeholder information and knowledge to inform strategy and as a driver for school improvement. It also concludes that the three areas are key to future research in how board members in nested governance structures go about setting and monitoring the strategic direction of their organizations.

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