Towards a new interpretation of school governors' roles in the 1980s
The powers acquired by governors during the 1880s seem to have indicated expectations that governors would control and direct schools' managers. It is suggested instead, that governors developed covert functions predisposing them towards being supportive and protective of the principals and staffs of their schools. Existing education elites absorbed governors and prevented them from becoming contenders for power. Governors concurred with this. The first of governors' covert functions has been termed consent. This confirmed principals' rights to leadership. Consent legitimated headteachers' centrality in policy determination and confirmed the rightness of policies selected by principals. Secondly, governors protect headteachers by providing a forum through which heads referred, and deferred, decisions. Governors also protected heads through deflecting criticisms away from them and towards government and parents. Governors were particularly protective of curricular policies, accepting the professional leadership of teachers concerning the content of education and thus, performing the function of educational protectionism. The belief that governors should become more powerfully involved in school management arose from a renewed emphasis upon the value of accountability. School governing bodies became more representative to make this accountability a reality, but a fourth covert function of governors was to create the illusion of democracy rather than its reality. The explanations for the development of covert functioning are searched for within a framework of structural, political imperatives. The thesis examines the extent to which governors' covert functioning was related to their legal position, their political resources and their political will. Their legal status gave them a powerful position as government but their modes of action made them more like pressure groups. To extend their influence, governors needed to have interests for which they had the political will to bargain and resources critical to the survival of their schools. In the 1980s, governors had neither.