External agents, providers and specialists: an exploration of the other individuals invited to be involved in schools and classrooms

This study examines the other individuals involved in schools and classrooms who are not teachers or teaching assistants. Many terms exist for these individuals including external agents, providers and specialists. This is set within a policy background of government reports, Acts and initiatives from the early 1900s which contain invitations for these external agents to be involved in schools in England. Those invited include statutory agencies, military-style organisations, the voluntary sector, community members, parents, post-16 educational institutions and employers. The literature which examines the involvement of these external agents in schools does so from a narrow perspective, such as a specific agent type or policy initiative. In contrast, the aim is to identify the full range of agents involved across four case study schools through a broad approach in that it does not focus on a type of agent (e.g. employers); a specific initiative (e.g. extended schools) or period (e.g. 1960 to 2000). It adds to knowledge in terms of this broad approach to the identification of agents, against the approach taken in previously studies. The research involves the completion of a pro-forma by a staff member at each of the four case study schools to identify the external agents involved during one academic year. It also includes semi-structured interviews with school staff and external agents plus documentary analysis of school websites and reports. The findings indicate a high involvement of external agents in the schools, with trends of agent type being linked to government policies. There is a decline in agent involvement in relation to New Labour policies such as extended schools which set a duty on every school to work in collaboration to offer activities and services (e.g. extra-curricular activities). The agent involvement has shifted to the wider aspects of the curriculum (e.g. PSHE, careers) as opposed to the wider aspects of the school (e.g. community access). There was a ‘messiness’ in the identification of agents which resulted in just a ‘snapshot’ of the agent involvement. This is a consequence of insufficient staff knowledge related to their role, time in service or value they place on the capitals (e.g. financial, cultural) of the agents. There is a disconnection between some agent perceptions of their relationship to the school and the inclusion in the data and a suggestion that some agents are involved as a tick-box exercise. In these cases, it does not appear to matter who the agent is, just what they can deliver, which poses questions over quality.