Education: Complexity and coherence

The more you think about education, particularly the secondary sector, the more complex it gets. There are around 3.5 million students in secondary school, each with different backgrounds, capabilities and needs. There are already a significant number of different types of school to meet these needs.

There are maintained schools and private schools (students split roughly 93% to 7%)

Within the maintained sector schools can be further differentiated by their governance structures and the degree to which they come under local-authority control. There are Community schools, foundation schools, Trust school, Voluntary-aided schools,  Voluntary-controlled schools, there are Academies (I suppose we should now call them old-Academies). There are other differentiating factors. Most secondary schools are Specialist schools, which helps to define their curriculum in a limited way. Others are City Technology Colleges, Special Schools, Faith Schools, Grammar schools and there are even some maintained boarding schools.

So, already there is a wide degree of diversity within the sector. The nature of a specific type of school may also depend on the Local Authority within which it sits.

What are common features of the school? Well, they all have a governing body of some kind. They are all inspected by OfSTED. And thats about it really. Some of them can admit students based on ability or aptitude. Some have opt outs from the National Curriculum. Some employ their staff and some don’t. Some own their land and buildings and some don’t.

Soon we will have (new) academies and “free” schools. Now, I have some severe reservations about these new types, but that’s for another post. What they will do, however is add to the fragmentation. This makes the task of a parent selecting a school for their child even harder. It that sense the fragmentation is not good.

What is needed is a common factor and I think I have one. The current common feature is that all schools have a governing body. They are made up in a  number of different ways. The change I would make is quite a simple one. Currently, for maintained schools the number of parent governors is between a minimum of one, and a minimum of 1/3rd of governors. I would change this so that for all schools receiving taxpayer funding the minimum would be that one half of all governors were parents of students at the school. This could be modified to allow for parents of ex-students from a few years past to remain, or to allow for parents with students who will be able when they are of age to attend the school.

Why would this be good? Firstly, it drives democracy into the process. Whilst it should be possible to co-opt parents who have specific skills, the majority of parent governors should be elected. Secondly, as the parents change then so will their world experiences. If an area changes character, so will the parents and so should the school governing body. This could help schools be more responsive to both local and national needs.

Thirdly, it will also make the system more coherent. A parent will know, that whatever the particular nature of the local school, it will be that way because at its heart is a democratic drive from the parents in the locality.

And finally, by making the  role of parent governor a more powerful one, it should help recruitment of more, well-qualified (to be governors) parents into the role. Which can only be  a good thing.

So. Zero cost and democratic. What’s not to like?