E-EDGE series: Governors and Communities of Practice

As co-investigator in our BELMAS-funded research project, I am happy to introduce part two of the three-part Educators in Educational Governance (E-EDGE) blog series. My background and interests centre on supporting schools categorised as stuck (Spielman, 2019) in ‘Special Measures’. I research the impact of the Community Governor on school improvement in this context. The BELMAS-sponsored governance research project is important because there is a synergy in identifying governors’ roles such as governors who are teaching/academic staff, to reflect on their impact and value in governance through the capture of their views and voice.

Bernadette Reilly
Doctoral Student


The research reflects on educators’ professional status in educational governance across all settings. In schools, the academization policy DfE2010-11 changed the governor's accountability for school improvement,  removing parents,  teachers and the community, from any form of contribution to the direction of school improvement. The role of Ofsted is to monitor performance in strategic planning and to hold a school’s headteacher and leadership team to account. A similar climate of performativity exists in colleges through Ofsted and university frameworks ( for example, the Teaching Excellence Framework). Government policy is exclusive, excluding governor agency and capital creating passivity in governing. 

The academisation initiative has chosen to develop a ‘corporate governance model’ with non-executive boards, often in other parts of the country, removing power from communities, raising concerns of inequality about ineffective democratic governance. Research indicates there is a gap in the understanding of the differing roles of governors within governing bodies. This lack of awareness of the factors that act on decision-making in developing effective institutional improvement leads to ineffective governance.

The research project aims to explore academic staff governors’ power relations, individual professional affiliations, their status in their governing roles, and the knowledge and skill set of the governors deferred to by the other governors at the institutions.

Communities of Practice

In providing a safe platform for governors to share knowledge and experience, I have explored Communities of Practice, defined as Situated Learning and Legitimate Peripheral Participation: merging concepts of identity, community, learning and social practice (Lave and Wenger 1991). This can be expressed as participators committed to a common interest, who learn by engaging and contributing to the practice of governance, through experience, and passion. Here individuals learn from each other through active participation. There is equitable mutual learning and sharing of corporate knowledge through governor collaboration. One may envisage such learning with peers as community learning, refining practice, and transferring knowledge between the community in dynamic increasingly complex thinking processes. Community learning may pervade the setting and wider community building, increasing complex knowledge capacity, sustaining new knowledge, and building confidence and value as an organisation (Lave and Wenger 1991).

Thinking about learning as a social practice feels clear in its logic and construction for governors grappling with dynamic complex critical thinking in decision-making. Placing the governor at the centre encourages learning situated in social participation as a conduit for growth, propagating ‘successful democratic learning'. There are challenges to the conception of social participatory learning, but the model offers opportunities for fresh eyes for governors and may offer a way in 'turning the tide' on the mass exodus of disillusioned volunteer governors. There are also questions of policy and intersections of power that act as limiting factors on ASGs’ capital and agency (James 2011).

An open collaborative engagement may provide a platform to explore feelings about governance moving into effective action. I am looking to develop my research skills in collaboration with my project colleagues, and to raise awareness about the importance of governance frameworks within education in building capacity and improvement.


Bourdieu, P. (1986) The Forms of Capital, in J. G. Richardson (ed.) Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education.  New York: Greenwood Press.  pp. 241-258.   

Bourdieu, P. (1996) The rules of art: genesis and structure of the literary field. Cambridge: DfE, 2010. The importance of teaching. London: DfE. DfE, 2011a. Academies [online]. Available from: http://www.education.gov.uk/schools/leader ship/types of schools/academies. DfE,

DfE 2017 A Competency Framework for Governance The knowledge, skills and behaviours needed for effective governance in maintained schools, academies and multi-academy trusts January 2017 Competency_framework_for_governance_.pdf

DfE (2019) Governance handbook For academies, multi-academy trusts and maintained schools March 2019 governance_handbook_2019.pdf.

Horner. K, (2016) Co-constructing research. A critical review of ADRC. Available from: https://connected-communities.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/16019-Co-constructing-Research-Lit-Review-dev-06.p

James, C et al., (2011) https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1741143211404258

James, C. (2014) Trends in the Governance and Governing of Schools in England, Local Government

Studies, 40:6, 893-909, DOI: 10.1080/03003930.2012.722839 To link to this article:  http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03003930.2012.722839

James, C. (2014b) Trends in the Governance and Governing of Schools in England. Local Government Studies, 40(6).

James, C., Connolly, M., Brammer, S., Fertig, M., James, J. and Jones, J. (2014) A comparison of the governing of primary and secondary schools in England. School leadership & management, 34(2).

Lave, J. and Wenger, E. (1991) Situated learning: legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Mead, Lawrence M.  “The Great Passivity.” Perspectives on Politics, vol. 2, no. 4, 2004, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3688535

Toma, D., J.  (2000) How Getting Close to Your Subjects Makes Qualitative Data Better, Theory into Practice, 39:3, 177-184, DOI: 10.1207/s15430421tip3903_9  

Visker, R. 1995, Michel Foucault: genealogy as critique, Verso, London.  

Wenger, E. (1998) Communities of practice: learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wilkins, A. (2015) Education reform in England. International journal of inclusive education (19:11).

Wilkins, A. (2015) Professionalizing school governance: the disciplinary effects of school autonomy and inspection on the changing role of school governors. Journal of Education Policy, 30(2).

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