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BCTF Research Report

Section XII

Staff Committee Research Project

The following is the text of the Introduction to the BCTF Research "Staff Committee Project: A Study of Staff Committees in Five Schools." A copy of the entire report may be obtained by contacting Charlie Naylor or Anne Field in the Research Department at the BCTF.

School governance structures are being redefined in a number of Canadian provinces. In New Brunswick, school boards have been abolished, a move which is being considered in Ontario. In B.C., with the amalgamation of school districts, and in the context of increased centralization of the school system, governance structures are being re-examined. Changed governance is being introduced in other provinces to save money. One argument is that by centralizing decision-making, governing structures which exist at the local level become increasingly irrelevant and costly, so that by removing them duplication is avoided and less money is spent. Such simplistic yet persuasive arguments have resulted in the removal of long-standing democratic structures which have promoted community and employee input to decision-making.

It can be argued that such changes reflect an international context of ideological change. In a recent paper on governance I argued that:

It should not be assumed that changes in governance spring from desire for efficiencies or that the rhetoric of what they claim to state actually reflects the reality of what they may eventually mean. On an international level some of the most significant changes in governance which increase site-based governance at the expense of school boards have stemmed from two of the most reactionary governments in the western world: the United Kingdom and New Zealand. While the NDP is hardly in the same mold, significant changes to the B.C. educational governance structure may unwittingly unleash many of the same forces which have decimated the educational governance systems of new Zealand and England/Wales. The purpose of such governments in introducing new governance structures is not to increase empowerment but to destroy any district with a different ideology to that of the central government and to break the perceived power of teacher unions.

Thus it can be argued that the twin strands of economics and ideology drive current changes in educational governance structures, which include proposals for abolition of district influence accompanied by some form of site-based management.

Most of the changes are "top-down" initiatives. Central governing bodies claim that they wish to devolve power, a claim that might be treated with some scepticism. One might reasonably question what form of "devolutionî might come from such groups or why their members should elaborately and cheerfully plan their own demise. There appears to be a fundamental contradiction: why should those who manage or govern abdicate their power? The simple answer is that they don't, but they change the nature of governance or management in such ways that real power is maintained by the centre, as before, but far more responsibility is devolved. In this scenario those lower in the power structures make decisions with minor budget amounts while major budgets are decided centrally. They also potentially make difficult and unpopular decisions which appear separate from the strait jacket of fiscal control imposed by the central authority, be the authority a national government, a provincial government, or a school district.

One might also believe that districts with substantially "devolved" structures would substantially reduce their central staff, but according to the recent Leithwood and Menzies (1996) report on school-based management:

"Remarkably few studies indicate a changing role for central office staff or any downsizing in central administration."

This would seem irrational. How can "management" be devolved but the central district administrations stay the same in terms of role or size?

Governance changes are dressed in a rhetoric that suggests empowerment and innovation. It has been stated that site-based management is capable of "alleviating the morale-diminishing and effort-reducing effect of strong central control" (David (1989), quoted in Reitzug and Capper (1996) ). There appears minimal evidence from the research that those supposedly empowered actually believe that they have been emancipated, or that their power extends into any area of significance.

Even some researchers appear to have bought in to such rhetoric in preference to reflecting a range of reactions to governance changes. The study of Langley's site-based management model by Brown and Ozembloski (1996) portrays a district "characterized by substantial discontent in the late 1970s" which now appears to have undertaken "voluntary district reform" through site-based management. The purported outcome of this reform -- a district with consensus that the imposed model is appropriate -- is news to many teachers and to the local teachers' association, whose many concerns with the current governance structure are not reflected in this research.

If changes with governance structures have predominantly been top-down, what of other governance structures that have been promoted by teachers rather than senior district staff? One such structure is the concept of Staff Committees, which has been a key initiative supported by teachers. Staff Committees essentially aim to increase teachers' collective role in the governance of schools. Some Staff Committees consist only of teachers and others include school-based administrators. Various styles of Staff Committees exist, some with a strong governance role and others more advisory in nature.

Few districts are supportive of Staff Committees which govern schools, as most believe that such committees should play an advisory role only. Hence there is still a gulf between what most districts view as devolved power and what is preferred by some teachers. Districts with a form of devolved governance want school personnel to advise on decisions in ways that comply with district parameters, or they want a school administrator who is essentially the business agent of the district to carry out the management role. The latter is devolution of a sort but hardly empowering to anybody but the agent. Nevertheless, a number of districts have agreed to contract language which enables the establishment of Staff Committees in schools.

District trustees or managers rarely appear excited with or enthused by any governance model they have not developed. While the same argument could be said of teachers, it is reasonable to argue that those to whom decision-making is theoretically being transferred should have a greater say in the form it takes. However, not all teachers support increased teacher governance in schools, believing that involvement in governance detracts from what they see as their essentially pedagogical role. The separation of teacher views on governance from the concept of participation in governance is unexplored territory. It remains unclear whether some teachers are concerned about the concept of increased teacher governance or about their potential involvement in governing, In exploring the practices of a number of Staff Committees during this project it is clear that at least in some of the sites described, teachers are satisfied with the structures and choose their level of participation in ways that are manageable for them and which allow the committees to function effectively.

The BCTF Members' Guide states the purposes of Staff Committees to be:

  1. to promote democratic decision-making in schools
  2. to ensure greater commitment to decisions
  3. to enhance professionalism and the quality of teaching

While the language of such purposes may at first sight appear neutral, it reflects philosophies and values which stress greater teacher control of educational processes. Promotion of democratic decision-making challenges hierarchical systems of organization and management. As such, Staff Committees may be seen as problematic by managers and governors. However, the development of Staff Committees reflects not only a desire to increase teacher influence but also stresses teachers' responsibility and professionalism, by encouraging teachers to participate in consideration of organizational and policy issues which affect students' learning and teachers' work. BCTF policy reflects a belief that such participation is a valid form of professional engagement.

Policy provides a rationale for the existence of Staff Committees. Building on policy has involved both the negotiation of language in collective agreements and the work of many locals and BCTF staff to support the development of Staff Committees through training and facilitation.

The Staff Committee project is a collaborative project involving teachers and BCTF Research staff. The impetus for BCTF Research to initiate this study came from the BCTF "Report of the Task Force on Changing Roles and Responsibilities of School Personnel," which recommended:

"that the BCTF institute a program of support for locals and school staffs in developing and improving the operation of staff committees." (page 77)

The Case Study project is the BCTF Research contribution to meeting this recommendation. We have two aims in writing the Case Studies. By describing Staff Committees we can more closely identify key components and good practices. By finding such components and practices, other school staffs may consider a variety of approaches to developing or improving their own Staff Committees. The second aim is to assist the BCTF to develop new Staff Committee training materials.

The Case Studies show that there are many forms of Staff Committees existing in BC schools. In some schools the whole staff may be the Staff Committee, while in others a smaller elected group exists. Some committees have a governance role while others are advisory in nature. There is much to learn from the examples of Staff Committees that teachers have shared and documented, including concepts, processes, and skills.

The reports are written by teachers with the support of BCTF Research staff. Each teacher involved in the project was provided with release time, initial research training, and on-going support as required. By involving teachers as the central research agents we hope to further promote the concept of teachers as researchers and to bring the skills and knowledge of practitioners to the heart of the research process.

Charlie Naylor,
BCTF Research


BCTF (1994). Report of the Task Force on Changing Roles and Responsibilities of School Personnel.

Brown, D. J., Ozembloski, L.W. (1996). One Canadian District's Road to Substantial School-Based Management. International Journal of Educational Reform, vol. 5 no. 4.

Leithwood, K., Menzies, T. (1996). The Knowledge Base for Educational Reform, prepared for the Ontario Ministry of Education.

Naylor, C. (1996). Governance in the BC Education System, internal BCTF brief.

Reitzug U. C., Capper, C.A. (1996). Deconstructing Site-Based Management: Possibilities for Emancipation and Alternative Means of Control. International Journal of Educational Reform, vol. 5 no. 1.

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