Empowering community governor decision-making in school improvement

I am a researcher governor collaborating with schools that have experienced failed governance, defined as being in a category or stuck in Special Measures for 10 or more years (Spielman 2019). I have collaborated with community governors within a governing board to understand their perspectives on why governance has failed, the factors marginalising groups within it, and how we transform it. This blog starts a conversation around how the troubling has directed the methodological framework, leading to a process of transformation through emancipation and empowerment.

Bernadette Reilly
Doctoral Student

Governance policy in 2010 culminated in the academisation initiative promoting ‘corporate’ governance models with non-executive boards, which led to governors of diverse cultures struggling to interact with middle-class positionalities and political ideologies. Research indicates there is a gap in the understanding of the role of community governors within governing bodies in junior schools in Special Measures (Young, 2017).  This lack of awareness of the factors that act on decision-making in developing effective school improvement has led to prolonged periods of schools being stuck in categories of failed governance and failing education. The deteriorating environment has impacted on governor's agency and capital (James, 2014) diminishing self-esteem and status, creating passivity, disempowerment and marginalization in governing and communities.

Facilitating conceptual frameworks

The methodological framework constructed in my research reimagines community governor operation and practice.  It facilitates a space for community governors and me as a researcher governor to develop critical thinking in decision-making through integrated theoretical frameworks.  Governance learning is considered a practice of power enhancement and liberation; (hooks, 1994) suggests a revolutionary pedagogy of resistance but within that frame of thinking she draws on Freire’s conceptions of critical pedagogy which facilitates and empowers community governors to see education and learning as intimate and communal contextualised within community, school and family.

The notion of “conscientisation” (Freire, 1997 cited in Klees and Edwards, 2015: 493) is a powerful conceptualisation of governance, evolved through community life journeys, knowledge, and experience, through the development of democracy (Freire 1977).  There is synergy with Young’s research (2017) on perspectives of participation and deliberative democracy as potentially transformative decision-making approaches (Crocker, 2008 cited in Young, 2017).  The recognition that education affects society, including an individual’s ability to exercise their agency, was illuminated in earlier research (Education Doctorate Pilot Enquiry, 2019) and supports  research into empowered participatory governance, elaborated by Fung and Right (2003, cited in Edwards, 2015) combining the principles of deliberative democracy with principles of transfiguration and reconceptualization

Reimagining Communities of Practice

In reimagining Communities of Practice, I recognise that governance must be a passion, joy, pleasure and fulfilment for each collaborator (hooks, 1994). In this excitement and challenge of engagement, we draw on our intellectual social and life experiences to bring about praxis, to transform new processes of thinking and new knowledge in governing in school improvement evolving further into democratic, governor, school and community learning. I concur with Hook that this form of ‘transgression’ (hooks, 1994) is not only necessary but fundamental for governors to know each other’s voices minimising feelings of marginalisation and building critical thinking, agency and capital. Nhat Hanh, Thich. (2002) further developed the holistic consolidation of mind and soul bodies striving as complex seekers of knowledge on how to live in the world. Governors must become self-actualizing releasing, this inherent if not latent power.

Methodological conceptual frameworks

Habitus, (Bourdieu, 1996) Positionality, identity, (Nutbrown, 2011) and provenance, (Hill, 2018) set the ontological and epistemological platform for governors to share life histories. The framework of communities of practice releases the governor's voice through centripetal situated learning and co-construction (Horner, 2016). This is underpinned by autoethnographic methods expressed through post-human feminist materialist models of data collection (Barad, 2007) such as the identity box and walking interviews. These approaches provide concepts of place, space, movement, and freedom to meander physically, interacting with the school campus. Abductive and diffractive data analysis places the voice of the governors centrally and participatory in the outpouring of narratives (Lambert, 2021). The ontological and epistemological location of the researcher governor is positioned as a collaborator, conceptualised through co-construction (Horner, 2016). The framework of communities of practice allows scrutiny and control of power relationships (Foucault, 1977). The collaboration will involve, sharing provenance, (habitus) a core interest (governance) enabling trust, and understanding to emerge (Ansell and Gash, 2007). To facilitate this environment requires the researcher to take a position of vulnerability (Toma, 2000) recognising the research relationship as intimate, ‘transactional, and influential’ (Guba and Lincoln, 1994).

My aim in the project is to create knowledge through a reimagining of the community governor's role in decision-making in school improvement, in an inner-city junior school, stuck in a category of special measures or requires improvement. The school achieved ‘Good’ in January 2022.  I also hope to achieve a reinterpretation of the application of models of communities of practice and habitus in understanding community governor decision-making. 


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