It is with great pleasure, as the project's Principal Investigator, that I launch this first series of ‘Educators in Educational Governance (E-EDGE)’. The first series includes three blog contributions from project members Dr Andrew Allen (see blog) and Bernadette Reilly (see blog). Our project aims to explore the professional status of teaching and Academic Staff Governors (ASGs) in the governance of educational institutions in Birmingham. In this early stage of our project, we present three pieces introducing the project and explore important concepts, such as Post New Governance, democratic educational governance, communities of practice, and community governance.
Lecturer in Education Studies
The 'Professional Role of Practising Educators as Academic Staff Governors in the Governance of Birmingham’s Educational Institutions' research project is externally funded by the British Educational Leadership Management and Administration Society (BELMAS) and aims to gain insights into how academic/teaching staff governors (as teachers, lecturers and professors) contribute to the governance of their educational institutions in Birmingham and surrounding areas. We will also ascertain the value of the professional roles attached to academic/teaching staff in their governance roles. The fact that we are focussing on Birmingham is of importance. It was not long ago, Birmingham was embroiled in a governance controversy surrounding a number of local schools (Education Committee, 2015). Birmingham City University's (BCU) lead in unpacking governance in Birmingham and its surrounding areas provides yet another opportunity to highlight the University's important role as an actor in improving education systems in the local area.
My background and interests lie in educational governance in England and I hope my work will be benefitted from my interactions with international research in public policy governance. This project is unique in its aim to demystify governance across three sectors of education: schools, colleges and universities: not an easy feat and a rare one at that. Of additional excitement is our attempt to revisit in a wider sense what academics, Professor Earley and Professor Michael Creese (Institute of Education, London; Earley and Creese, 2001), concluded through their school governance research two decades ago: that is, if you are a teacher/educator in a governance role at your institute, your role follows a ‘restricted professional’ model. So, fast forwarding to 2022, the question we have is this: can the same conclusion still be drawn of the ASGs or teachers, lecturers and professors acting as governors in their own institutes?
The aim of the E-EDGE blog series is not only to report on the project but to engage in a conversation with the educational governance community and the wider educator public about the implications of their role for public policy governance.
One of the ideas that we are exploring is the value that educators could bring into governance deliberations. Speaking to school, college, and university leaders I hear them often talking about the challenge in recruiting ASGs to governing boards. Governors from any constituency, whether it is from the staff/student body or externally from the community, appear to be difficult to recruit. Yet they comprise the largest body of volunteers in the UK, with 350,000 volunteering in UK schools and over 8000 in HE and FE institutions (Mckenna, 2017). Estimating the numbers of educators as governors is challenging but if you go with one ASG per school/college/university (based on number of UK schools, FE colleges and HE institutions provided by BESA, 2022), as I have seen on many boards, there may be 32,000 teachers, lecturers and professors acting as ASGs in their own institutions with the potential to double the number to 64,000 places. These figures consider the maximum numbers usually observed per institution, as such amounting to two places for ASGs per board. Numbers may also be significantly higher in some universities, for instance, Oxbridge may have most of the whole staff body in their governing body, and, to take another example, up to six academic staff forming the Senate at the University of Manchester.
Given this significant number of educators with the potential to influence strategy in their school, college or university, it is important to consider why it may be a challenge to recruit educators to these positions. Perhaps, therefore, it is due to time and commitment restraints. Added to this is consideration of the stressful work they do to support children and adults’ education. Or, they may consider that they already do enough unpaid (voluntary) work as part of their roles!
Some leaders express frustration at what they call the lack of interest amongst their academic staff but a point to also consider is how much effort their management puts into publicising and incentivising academic staff to take up staff governor roles. Amongst the staff, how much do we know and hear about who the ASGs are at our own institutions? Where ASGs are elected by the wider staff body, how are the elections advertised and perhaps more importantly, once elected how influential role do they play or can play in contributing to key strategic decision of the institutions, whether the institution is a school, college or university? External/lay members of governing bodies may sometimes feel they are too remote form the institution. This is simply because if they are external or experts in fields other than education this underlines the specific area where ASGs are most needed. For example, providing the shop floor perspective to governance as front-line staff serves the needs of children and students. This is about changing the educational direction of the institution, expanding or sharpening the focus of the organisation in institutional improvement.
Very often, academic staff are expected to provide academic or pedagogic expertise but in my research, ASGs have been observed to play a much wider role (Sodiq and Abbott, 2018). Some ASGs believe they are management experts by virtue of being the observer of how effective the management is, or simply because they are part of the local community, or sometimes because of their academic subject expertise which other governors are not necessarily aware of.
In our project, we have now collected the data through surveys and interviews. Through our data analysis, we hope to address some of the above points and also other poignant points, such as: establishing how fulfilling a role an ASGs is; and how they contribute to governance. A key focus also is how they answer the important question: are ASGs at the four institutions a group of restricted professionals embroiled in a net of bureaucracy, institutional politics and questions about democracy? And, if they are not in a restricted role, we aim to establish how freeing and invigorating a role it is.
We hope to return to you with the second series of the E-EDGE blog around October 2022 with emerging findings from the project, to discuss the wider questions of researching educational governance, and to improve the field through the exchange of ideas between educational governance and tangential fields such as corporate governance.
Earley, P. and Creese, M. (2001) The uncertain teacher governor: seeking a role? Research Papers in Education, 16(4).
Education Committee (2015) Extremism in schools: the Trojan Horse affair, 17/03/2015. [Select Committee Paper] Education Committee (HC 473, 2014-2015, para 80). Available at: Link
Mckenna, D. (2017) Just how many public governors are there in the UK? Available at: Link .
Sodiq, A. and Abbott, I. (2018) Reimagining academic staff governors’ role in further education college governance. Research in Post-Compulsory Education, 23(1).