Our stakeholders really do matter

A stakeholder: a person with an interest or concern in something, especially a business.

The term “stakeholder” is not always hugely loved by educators.  We know we are “there for the kids” but this shouldn’t mean that we always do what they say.  If we did, then school life would be very different to what we have now.  Equally, we appreciate that we need to listen to parents but teachers tend to feel that we need the authority to make decisions given our training and educational experience, and perhaps to counter the growing pseudo-eduexpertise we are seeing in some parents. 

It feels like there has been an exponential increase in the number of organisations bending over backwards to listen to those they serve.  Last week I went to a hospital which had lovely shiny buttons they wanted me to press to show how highly I rated the quality of their service.  Then at the weekend I found an almost identical set of buttons in a Scandinavian furniture superstore near me.  Even the Department for Education is getting in on the act.  At the bottom of their website it reads: “Is this page useful?” with a YES/NO answer followed by, “Is there anything wrong with this page?”

Most schools have conducted some form of stakeholder analysis for years.  Usually this takes the form of a major annual or biennial pupil and parent questionnaire; sometimes we have surveyed the staff too. Again, these have given some interesting and important information about their views but should certainly not be seen as the only measure of a school’s success. 

The Labour Party has announced this week that they will abolish Ofsted in its current form. So that is one key regulatory stakeholder that would be silenced. But despite the “Ofsted call” often being the headteacher’s nightmare, I think many heads and educationalists do recognise deep down that there should be some form of external, unambiguous and objective stakeholder for schools; albeit with caveats.

Many simple tools for mapping/plotting your stakeholders exist.  These can be a good start for senior leadership teams or local governing bodies in embracing the views of a wider range of stakeholders.  A matrix can then start to show how the views and interests of different stakeholders might differ.  There are plenty of such models out there.  My personal favourite was devised by Eden and Ackermann.  It helps identify the power and interest of stakeholders as well as simply who they might be. 

Whilst such stakeholder identification, consultation and engagement can be time consuming, I have found that it draws us closer to those we serve and helps us ensure that we really are serving those we should as best as we can. 

Written by:
Julian Dutnall
CEO, LIFE Education Trust

References:

Eden, C. and Ackermann, F. (1998) Making Strategy: The Journey of Strategic Management , London: Sage Publications, pgs 343 – 347.

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