A misinterpretation of roles

Jane Martin argues that headteachers and governors should be partners not opponents - for the sake of the public they serve

The introduction of local management of schools successfully clarified the division of powers between the local education authority and its schools. Yet, at the level of the school, delegated responsibilities to the school's governing body created an uneasy relationship between the governing body and the headteacher.

Since this relationship is central to the effective working of LMS, the need to clarify respective roles has remained a matter of serious concern - not least because muddled understanding leads to frustrating disputes about responsibilities, inefficient use of time and resources and confusion about accountability.

Recent TES Platform articles have drawn attention to this relationship in questioning the effectiveness of governing bodies. Anthea Millett proposes a thorough review of functional responsibilities, whereby governing bodies concern themselves with outcomes rather than process, and a support package designed to "increase the ability of governing bodies to improve the standards of performance and achievement of our pupils".

David Hart rightly describes the relationship between headteacher and governing body as "the central dilemma" that government legislation has failed to resolve.

His argument suggests that headteachers are frustrated in their proper role of school management since all the powers they need to discharge their responsibilities derive only by grace and favour from the governing body, a situation he describes as "wholly unsatisfactory".

Moreover, he describes the current separation of powers as "confusing and illogical", implying that governing bodies have power invested in them which should more properly be assigned to the headteacher. All of which appears to suggest the need for clear boundaries between governance and management - governors govern and headteachers manage - and a redistribution of power.

There is certainly a need for some clarity. I share the view that the current situation can lead to disputes. I agree that the advice from the Department for Education and Employment and others that governing bodies have a management role, serves to compound rather than alleviate the confusion.

In my view, however, it is precisely this misinterpretation of roles that is the source of confusion, not the balance of power.

While David Hart has the central dilemma in view, his solution suggests a mistaken retreat to the past, with heads in the strategic role unfettered by governors with only a symbolic function to perform. He fails to recognise that the challenge facing the management of schools, and public services more generally, is to construct a new public management, and thus a new professionalism.

In education, in particular, we know that a public service must connect with the public it serves. We know that young people achieve their potential only when pupils, teachers and parents reach shared agreement about the values which are to shape the educational purposes of the school.

An education cannot just be professionally delivered, for to do so would run the risk of remaining detached from an understanding of the wider public purpose and, moreover, the conditions required to achieve that purpose.

This is the work of governance. It is the domain of agreement about public value, and judgment about public purpose and policy. It is a domain invested with public accountability. Such an analysis suggests that governance must lie at the centre of the movement to improve our schools.

A recognition of the proper processes of governance can reorientate our thinking, not only about the relationship between governing bodies and headteachers but also the interface between governing and managing.

To govern is to exercise judgment and take decisions on behalf of others. It is an essential part of our political process. At one level, our current structures of school governance mirror the traditional system and invite clear boundaries between those who make the rules - those who govern - and those who administer them - those who manage.

Put in this way, then, we should require nothing more from our governing bodies than the ability to participate and make sound judgments on behalf of the communities they serve. In this way, the expertise of the head and senior staff - a professional administration - is acknowledged and valued for enabling and supporting the processes of governance.

And, indeed, such an analysis is helpful to us in clarifying relationships. If governors do concentrate their efforts on becoming effective in making sound judgments, participating and connecting with those they represent, then the reforms required become apparent.

To make sound judgments, governors need clear and concise management information; they need to reflect the views of the customer and the community. To participate actively they need support mechanisms which enable them to get to meetings and get to grips with the business.

To connect with others they need public acknowledgement that they are performing a worthwhile function in the interests of the local community. At the same time, it becomes the role of the professional to ensure the information, the support and the public acknowledgement is there so that the processes of governance are efficient and effective.

If we could begin to concentrate our thinking on the core processes of governance in this way, then the balance of power as it currently stands would not only become clear and logical but would be legitimated as the proper way to govern.

However, the reality is not so clear-cut, for the managerialist tendency cannot be ignored. We do need our schools to be run in line with modern management techniques. Quality teams and target-setting should all have their place. And so the interface between management and governance becomes blurred as we try to distinguish between policy-making and policy implementation; strategic decision-making and day-to-day management.

The reality is that governance and management are interdependent. Any governor who has experienced the development planning cycle knows that policy cannot be made in a vacuum without a sense of how policy is implemented "at the chalkface". The very suggestion is ludicrous. Strategic plans cannot be plucked from the air; they must be grounded in a knowledge of the institution.

Does this not, then, require a dialogue between heads and governors about the day-to-day realities of managing their school? Ultimately, the local management of our schools must require heads and governing bodies to work in partnership to enable the necessary dialogue between the public, the recipients of the service, and the professionals charged with delivering that service.

Those who run one of our key public services must create a service with and for the public. Heads must see their role as enabling public involvement through elected representatives on governing bodies. There can be no clear-cut boundaries between governance and management - only respected territories.

Jane Martin is chair of Action for Governors' Information and Training

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