In 1987, the government of Ghana embarked on a process to decentralise education management to districts as part of wider social and democratic governance reforms. A central part of this reform was the prescription of active community participation in the affairs of schools within their locality. This paper explores the different meanings community participation had for school community stakeholders. It examines the multiple understandings of how community and school relations work and the factors which influence this relationship. Drawing on case study data, it argues that much of the theoretical and policy expectations on representation and participation in education by community members are only evident in form, but not as intended in practice. In poor rural contexts, it is often the local elite and relatively more educated members of the community, who become the new brokers of decision-making and, through their actions, close up the spaces for representation and participation by community members in the affairs of schools. Furthermore, the extent of community participation appears to be shaped by a ‘social contract’ based on the principle of reciprocity of roles between the community and schools, and that increasingly teachers feel accountable to the traditional hierarchical educational structure, and not to the community. The paper argues that the realisation of decentralisation policy in education has to contend with the realities of local politics of influence in the community, and tap into the positive side of this influence to improve education service delivery.
Journal of Education Policy (2011) 26 (4) 513-527 [DOI:10.1080/02680939.2011.554999]