School governing is tied up with how education is delivered and where the center of power lies. Devolution has changed a great deal. Wales has not seen the rise of the academy schools as is the case in England.
At the present time, Wales is at a cross roads in education delivery and policy with a number of areas up for review.
The issue which has hit the media concerns the qualification system – will Wales retain the existing A level, AS level and GCSEs as qualifications for young people in education? The Education Minister in Wales* has clearly expressed his preferences here and he is at one with the Minister in N. Ireland. There will be an issue about what England decides to do. How far would we want devolution to go? Recognising that Scotland already has its own system, how would different qualifications operate across the UK?
In addition to the qualifications discussions, Wales has been working seriously on other aspects of education which go right to the core of the system. The publication of the international PISA results a few years ago left Wales with questions about why its pupils were underachieving and Ministerial efforts have been focused on securing improvements here. It could be argued that this lower achievement record has been the driver for the current review of education, undertaken by Robert Hill. The Hill review has focused on a number of areas of education delivery and how education is organised and will have implications for the governance of schools. The improvement of school governing skills will be important in building effective change.
As the options for change get considered in the coming months, existing school governing arrangements will be reviewed. The vast majority of schools in Wales are governed on the basis of the stakeholder model with representatives on the board from the key stakeholding groups. There is a great deal of evidence that this approach works better in some schools than in others.
What then are the alternative models of governance?
Options for consideration will include the skills model of governance where governors are selected for their skills and expertise and perhaps also their networks and connections. Without wishing to through the ‘baby out with the bathwater’, there is perhaps a model of governance which has elements of both the stakeholder and skills approaches built in. In this, there would be a skills based governing body which could be responsible for governance across a number of schools with key representatives on there from the schools themselves. This option integrates representation (stakeholders) and skills for the governance of schools. A shift to a model of governance based completely on skills is a third option.
As Wales considers these approaches, it is within the context of a need to improve standards and achievement for young people in education. The Inspectorate, Estyn, is building in more of the effective governance of schools into successful inspections and parents are also becoming more demanding in terms of their expectations of schools.
It is imperative that education in Wales takes the right road at the crossroads.
* On Tuesday 25th June 2013, the Minister for Education who had led on this reform agenda, Leighton Andrews, resigned as Minister and giving up his cabinet seat. The background to this was apparently a decision on his behalf to support the parents of a school which was threatened with closure from their local authority as it had surplus places. Mr Andrews compromised his Ministerial position as the removal of spare capacity in schools had been one of his own policies.