The Governance Handbook published this week speaks of schools being “fully integrated with their local community” and yet the document promotes a business model of governance where non executive members of a remote board make decisions across a number of academies in the name of a brand rather than the families whom they would once upon a time have served.
In the past, a school served a defined geographical community which had both positives and negatives. Overtime, this has become diluted through the creation of markets and, to an extent, the reinvention of the school as a business is a natural progression. The problem with the business model is that education is not a commodity like any other. Learning requires a far greater relationship between people than the purchase of an item in a shop or supermarket. It takes a community to raise a child whereas individuals consume at the mere click of an amazon button. The trust needed for me to learn can not be built simply through customer service desks and complaints’ departments. The parent or carer is too important to education to compare to a customer in other contexts because children are complex human beings. Whilst removing the decision making from a school to a comparatively remote Multi Academy Trust board will support the difficult financial cuts ahead, the distance undermines the key relationship up on which education in the past stood.
Gone are the days of OfSTED requiring schools to promote Community Cohesion. As long as we explicitly instruct children to adopt British Values, we do not need to worry about the shared understanding and ethos that defined the relationships across generations and defined a community. The only community we seem to focus on now is that of a ill-defined group of consumers making choices in a fragmented education system. In the developing market, the Multi Academy Trust’s brand is becoming more important than the education of a community’s children. Yet the world has not moved on sufficiently and, even in cities of high mobility, people continue to identify with an area and a school. Parents want to be recognised in their community and by their school. In rural communities, there is little choice and having a multi academy trust making decisions about academies many miles apart reduces the voice of the parent and the partnership upon which education used to rest.
We may be evolving into a species whose relationships and networks are online but education still requires real life parents and teachers working together for the good of all children. The love and trust that learning requires cannot be packaged, branded and sold from a distance because it exists within the shared human values of real communities.