There was a national election before the summer to “improve the education of pupils across England” and “shape the future of the education system”.
Missed it? You might be forgiven for this because only academy headteachers had a vote. Also, the education “system” these elections are helping to shape is just the academy part: 58% of secondary schools and 12% of primaries.
Still, 1,600 of these headteachers used their votes to elect 4 heads to each of 8 new regional Headteacher Boards and the results were announced here on 17th July.
These bizarre elections come at a low point in the history of democratic accountability in English schools when the idea of a ‘system’ has never been more distant.
This apparent blossoming of democracy with a tiny electorate of appointees electing representatives from among their number has none of the normal characteristics of a democratic process. The wider public had no say, there was no public campaigning, there were no competing manifestos or policy debates. Although the implication is that headteachers have been given a greater role in leading the “system” these boards offer no wider accountability or mandate for any education policies other than the government’s. Without any kind of popular involvement or debate one wonders what the point was of having elections to populate these bodies.
Nevertheless, there are now 32 new elected members of these regional Headteacher Boards and both their electorate and the citizens in their regions may wish to hold them to account.
One big loser in these elections has been London. The nation’s capital does not have its own regional schools’ commissioner or Headteacher Board and it has been carved up and shared across 3 different areas: South London and South East England, North West London and South Central England and North East London and East England.
As if this wasn’t bad enough, the results of these elections have delivered only one London headteacher out of 12 elected to the 3 boards (the head of the Compton school in Barnet, elected to NW London & SC England). Had London been a region of its own, it would have had 4 London heads on the board.
So should we be annoyed about this or shrug the whole thing off as a massive irrelevance? It may be that these bodies won’t have much of a profile and will work quietly behind the scenes away from public scrutiny. But if and when local controversy flares up somewhere on their patch about a proposed or forced academy conversion or a choice of sponsor, the views of the Regional School Commissioner and their Headteacher Boards will matter. The point when difficult decisions have to be made in the glare of publicity will be the point when the absence of transparency and popular accountability will be a real weakness.
Previous posts about Headteacher Board elections: