Becoming and being a school governor: parents’ experiences in neo-liberal times

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


This paper is based on a critical review of the literature concerning the role of parent governors in schools, specifically barriers to becoming a parent governor and the influence of marketization on the roles of serving parent governors. The idea for the paper stems from my experiences and observations made as a parent governor over the past decade and is supported by existing research (Fretwell, Osgood, O’Toole and Tsouroufli, 2018; Hetherington and Forester, 2022; Young, 2014) which highlights the underrepresentation of certain groups within school governance and specifically barriers to some parents becoming a parent governor. Young (2017: 815) points to the typical profile of governing bodies as being ‘disproportionately middle class, white and not young’. However, this review goes further by linking barriers to parental participation and the under-representation of some groups, to the selection of parents with specific skills and values and the marginalisation of parents within governing bodies and their roles (perceived and actual) in decision making. It develops a theoretical basis for understanding how schools perceive the ‘ideal’ parent governor, as malleable, passive and with skillsets that can be utilised to address policy-driven managerial level, and not community level concerns. The context of the review is the growing influence of macro-level policy, often informed by neo-liberal values, on school leaders and governing body decision making (Hetherington and Forester, 2022). It is a context in which parental involvement is viewed through the prism of ‘professionalism’ and what potential governors can ‘bring’ to the school, but also one in which other actors, such as the school leaders themselves, are constrained. The paper therefore explores how governors are selected and actively recruited based on skills they offer to the governing body, not on the basis of providing a critical voice for the local school community. It considers how ‘passivity’ (Young, 2017) in decision making is valued and challenges to managerial decisions based on the pressures they face from external forces are not. The review forms the basis for further research on the co-option of parent governors to managerial processes and the marginalisation of critical voices within governing bodies. It provides a theoretical framework that allows the barriers to governance and the under-representation of some groups to be examined in the context of the pressures school leaders face to implement decisions in the context of competition between schools and where performativity takes priority over inclusivity (Crozier, 2019). It suggests holding values that do not fully align with policy driven decisions may be implicated in the underrepresentation of some groups.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 6 Oct 2022
EventCritical Education Leadership and Policy (CELP) Conference 2022 - University of Manchester, Manchester, United Kingdom
Duration: 5 Oct 20226 Oct 2022


ConferenceCritical Education Leadership and Policy (CELP) Conference 2022
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


  • School governor
  • Parental engagement
  • Education policy
  • Education leadership


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