The role of the chair of governors in school governance : a view from the chair
Since the introduction of Local Management of Schools(LMS) as a result of the 1988 Education Reform Act (ERA),the role of the school governing body has evolved and been refined by successive legislative acts and consequent regulations. In recognition of this development, governing bodies have been the subject of a number of research studies eg Kogan et al (1984), Earley (1994), Deem et al (1995) and Scanlon et al (1999), all examining a range of themes from role and context, composition and early development, citizenship and effectiveness. Suchr esearchp rovides the context for this study into the role of the Chair of a school governing body. Other than Esp and Saran (1995), Sheam et al (1995) and Scanlon et al (1999), little research has been conducted into the role of the Chair. It is the contention of this study that, through incremental legislative acts, statutory instruments, circulars and other official DfEE documentation, the role of the Chair has become central not only to the workings of the governing body but also central to the operation of school governance as seen through the eyes of the DfEE. This position has, however, not been a planned progression of deliberate steps but an unplanned incremental development. The Chair of governors, it is argued here, has emerged as a"key player" in the operation of school governance. The research was conducted in four LEAs in the North East of England using a number of research instruments which included a questionnaire, semi-structured interviews, diary recording, recorded observations and documentation analysis. The questionnaire was sent to all Chairs of governors in three LEAs - Northshire, Newshire and Sunshire. The sample was 320 and the response rate was 43%. The interviews were conducted with twelve Chairs in three LEAs with the author's LEA of Southshire replacing Sunshire. Three interviews were also conducted with the Governor Training Co-ordinators in three LEAs in the region. Eight Chairs of governors were invited to record a structured diary for a period of four weeks and six Chairs did so. Three governing body meetings in the author's LEA were observed and recorded using an observation schedule. Finally, in addition to the close scrutiny of all legislative acts since 1980 with regard to education and school governance and other official documentation, minutes of meetings of school governing bodies in Southshire for the academic year 1998-99 were examined. The findings from this localised study show that the Chairs' perceive themselves as "key players", with the Head teacher, in the operation of school business. This is supported by factors such as the amount of time spent by Chairs on school business, their role in the committee structure of governing bodies, their working relationships with Heads and the routes of contact to the WEE and LEA. Whilst pressures continue to grow and the pace of change quickens, Chairs feel that they are able to cope. Evidence of tensions in the relationships between Chair and Head were found to be less than expected and where they did exist, they were largely as a result of difficult inter-personal relationships rather than policy differences. The research also shows a lack of formal and informal contact between Chairs. There is no self-supporting network at local, regional or national level. Chairs' acknowledged the importance of training but were willing to demote its priority in the face of other factors eg budgets. Chairs did not access training for themselves. The research concludes with the need to re-assess the role of the Chair in the light of the key functions now allocated to the position by legislation and the growing significance the position has in the operation of effective school governance.