The Educational Excellence Everywhere white paper has taken something of a battering before it even reaches the Queen’s speech, and it looks likely to face more opposition over the issue of parent governors.
The requirement for elected parent governors is set to be removed in favour of an all-professional governing body. Parents can still govern if they possess the requisite skills, but they will no longer have a right to governance just because they’re parents. The role is, apparently, only ‘symbolic’ so it will be reduced to membership of a parent council where parents can allegedly have real influence.
There will, I’m sure, be heads breathing a sigh of relief at the prospect of parents no longer using the governing body to air every perceived grievance from homework to holidays. And while that may be the case, keeping governors focused on core issues is the role of the Chair, to whom heads should be talking about effective management, rather than waving parents a relieved farewell.
With all the drawbacks, no-platforming parent governors is to strike at the basic tenet of stakeholder involvement. There are many serving governors who first tentatively signed up as an elected parent, and who have stayed on in other roles as their terms of office have come to an end or their children have left the school. It’s because they understand the power of community engagement.
Internal parent governor elections are an ideal means of focusing parental attention on the issues of their child’s education in way that outsiders and Parent Councils cannot. When the relationship works well, parent governors get out into the community, advocating for the school leadership and the staff. They can sense trends and undercurrents in a way that nobody else can. Parent governors increase diversity – they need not be educated professionals, because their commitment and passion to do the best for their school community gives them an energy and determination that’s often lacking in governors with less personal interest.
So, whatever happened to the Big Society, with its ideas of community engagement and working for the common good? Moving towards MAT boards of management is to impose on our education service a business model based on transaction. Removing parents and labelling them ‘symbolic’ is to miss the very essence of community – relationship.
Transaction is driven by measurable outcomes such as cost effectiveness and economies of scale. Relationship is driven by a desire to treat each person as uniquely and equally human, with equal opportunity to flourish. Relationship takes responsibility for others as well as self, and that is exactly what parent governors do. There’s nothing in it for them. They do it because they are willing to commit countless unpaid hours to taking responsibility for other people’s children as well as their own. It’s the most powerful motivator around.
But it’s possible that there’s something more ominous going on here than just converting school governance into a business model at the expense of community. Maybe it’s another step on the journey of minimising parental influence on children. Think of the relentless creep of secular ideology in schools (gender identity, SRE policy content, definitions of marriage) and think of the people who are most likely to object to the imposition of a liberal secular orthodoxy where nurturing of self is the only underpinning value.
That would be parents. Particularly parents of faith with their awkward moral squints and value driven worldviews.
So, remove them from any places where they can influence policy and you have erected another barrier to parents raising their children with religious and moral views that conflict with the current social agenda.
Parent councils are no substitute. They are forums for discussion, sharing of ideas and raising of questions. They have zero influence on policy, and parents who care deeply about involvement in school governance won’t be fooled by the offer of parent portals.
And if the role of parent governor is symbolic in the minds of this government, how long before the role of parent itself becomes purely symbolic?