Is Bangladesh descending into lawlessness?

Contributed by Dr Palash Kamruzzaman, Research Fellow, University of South Wales

This piece first appeared in The Conversation, 30th November, 2015

An Italian priest has been wounded by gunmen in Bangladesh, the latest in a wave of attacks on foreigners there. Only weeks before, an Italian citizen working with a development organisation was shot in Dhaka’s diplomatic zone – one of the most heavily guarded places in the country. A few days later, a Japanese citizen was murdered in northern Bangladesh in a similar style.

The motives for these murders are not yet clear, but political leaders have rushed to suggest who could be behind these killings without presenting any credible and concrete evidence. Another spin-off of these events is to create an atmosphere of panic, which has been greatly heightened by Islamic State (IS) apparently claiming responsibilityfor these incidents – including the bombing of a Shia procession on 24 October 2015.

Initially, the government of Bangladesh denied it was aware of any such threats, but it soon transpired that some foreign consulates did actually inform the government about credible risk against Western citizens in the country.

Broadly speaking, security is a major issue in Bangladesh, with several murders reported in the national newspapers every day. Many of these murders are taking place because of political rivalries, extortion, and everyday quarrels – and alarmingly, a great many of them never see anyone brought to justice.

In 2012, a journalist couple were murdered in their bedroom, and the murder of an innocent man by the student wing of the ruling party was captured on live television. In 2013, a young student was said to have been murdered by the relatives of influential members of the ruling party.

Then 2014 saw the sensational “seven murder” case. Members of the country’s special elite forces were apparently involved, allegedly taking a bribe from the mastermind of the incident. Some of the violence has been religious, too: in the last two years, a number of secularist bloggers have been killed by Islamist extremists.

And in the meantime, no-one has yet been brought to justice for the 2013 disaster at Rana Plaza in which over 1250 workers died.

Don’t go there

As is all too common in Bangladesh, the investigations into most of these cases are still dragging on after an agonisingly long time. The failure to secure justice for these incidents and thousands more like them creates a sense of lawlessness, where local gangs, muggers, and terrorist groups feel that with strong political patronage and power it is possible to get away with serious crimes, including murder.

This has all hardly flattered Bangladesh’s image, and the consequences have already been humiliating in many ways. In autumn 2015, Cricket Australia (CA) cancelled a scheduled tour in Bangladesh citing credible threats by militant groups against Westerners. The CA raised the security concern and delayed the team’s departure while working on a “revised security plan” with the Bangladesh Cricket Board and top level Bangladeshi security forces.

The uptick in attacks on foreigners only made the situation worse, and the tour was finally cancelled despite Bangladesh offering VVIP security (given to the visiting Presidents of other countries) to each player. The Chief Executive of the CA said that in the end, it was simply not possible to proceed with the tour, because:

The safety of our players and officials is our highest priority. We had hoped the security concerns would fade, but unfortunately the advice we have received from government, our own security experts and independent security advisors has clearly indicated that there are now high risks to our people should they make the trip.

Soon after, the South African Women’s cricket team cancelled their Bangladesh tour too, and a number of foreign textile buyers and research teams have also written off their planned visits. Most of the Western embassies have warned their citizens to be careful.

Crying wolf

Paradoxically, this is nothing less than blowback from years of cynical propaganda on the part of Bangladesh’s leaders, who deliberately maintain this culture of impunity and denial. They have also used brazen fearmongering to score political support from the rest of the world.

Chaos reigns. joiseyshowaa/flickr, CC BY-SA

Let’s not forget that the present government’s mandate is questionable in the eyes of many; at the last election more than half of its MPs were elected unopposed, and only a reported 5% of voters turned out. And yet its senior figures maintain that their government has to remain in power to stop ill-defined “militants” overrunning the country.

The unresolved murders of foreign citizens have simply given them more fodder for this self-serving rhetoric, even though what they most clearly demonstrate is the impotence of Bangladesh’s law enforcement agencies.

And on October 24, amid the heightened tension and ramped-up security, a Shiite procession was bombed, with two people killed and over a hundred injured – even after national newspapers published stories saying the government had in fact predicted just such an event.

There are, of course, a range of groups in Bangladesh espousing violent fundamentalist ideologies, and over the years, scores of people have been arrested for militant activities – including suspected members of IS and al-Qaeda. But the state has never been able to prove that a genuine offshoot of IS or al-Qaeda is actually operating in Bangladesh.

Nonetheless, the government’s fearmongering seems to be serving it well, and its complacency has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. This sense of lawlessness, coupled with a tense political environment in which governing and dissenting parties both resort to violence, means that Bangladesh is becoming a highly conducive environment for radical terrorism.

Superficially reinforced security and policing is all very well, but if the law and order situation does not improve and exploitation of a culture of fear continues, Bangladesh might become a story of the boy who cried wolf.

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‘Sacred Stones and Bodies’, Festival Studies Network Research Seminar

University of South Wales, Cardiff
Tue 28 Feb 2017
This short seminar will examine the material culture and some of the sacred loci of modern arts and performance festivals.  The blank canvases of the festival fields, which in their majority contain ephemeral yet well established, storied, structures, such as the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury, have some permanent residents: ‘sacred stones’. What are their relationships with the festival bodies that rest, play, sing and dance among them?
14:30 Introductions 
14:40 Dr Jacqui Mulville, Cardiff University: Current Research Projects and the Festival Research Network (20 mins and 10 mins for questions) 
15:10 Zé Aruanã Kouyaté Cardiff University: ‘Every – Body – Festival’ (20 mins and 10 mins for questions) 
15:40 Group discussion with online participation: Proposals and suggestions from Dr Florence Ayisi, John Morrow and Adeola Dewis.
17:00 Seminar ends
This seminar will be streamed online, link will follow.
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More young professionals are key to helping the elderly

No one who has a relative or friend that has required a care or nursing home bed in recent times can be unaware of the problems now being set out so graphically (Overstretched, underfunded. Care of the Elderly is in Crisis … Special Report last … Continue reading
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Thailand Flood Hacks. Plastic Bottles, Expatiation and Innovation

Contributed by Chris Bolton from the Good Practice Exchange, Wales Audit Office

Everything is wrong with this picture. There is no cat I’ve ever known that would permit me (or anyone else) to:

  1. Put a vest on it,
  2. Sew plastic water-bottles into the vest, and
  3. Sit around to have its picture taken wearing the offending garment (it does have its back to the camera though).


Thai Flood Hacks. To be fair to the cat these were unusual circumstances and this may have been a concession until normal ‘cat like’ behaviour could be resumed.

The floods that inundated Thailand in 2011 were a disaster that caused death, suffering and huge economic damage. In response to extreme circumstances people will often do extraordinary things to save lives or make everyday living a little bit easier. Necessity, frequently is, the Mother of Invention.

To help share the knowledge about some of the clever solutions that people created a site called Thai Flood Hacks sprang up in 2011 (link here). Basically people ‘hacked’ what they had available and used it for variety of purposes to alleviate the dangers posed by the rising flood waters. The ‘hacks’ covered a numbers of areas including:

  • protecting life (plastic bottle vests for cats and dogs)
  • protecting property (huge plastic bags for cars) and
  • getting about in the flood water (modified vehicles and plastic bottle boats).

Two things stand out for me on the site; just how much you can do with a plastic bottle and, the emergence of exaptation.


What is Exaptation? The most basic explanation of exaptation (I understand) is: something that has been created for a specific purpose, is picked up and is used for a completely different purpose.

The idea originates in biology and was first introduced to me by Dave Snowden who has written about it here.

Examples from biology include the idea of feathers, originally developed as a cooling mechanism, before being exapted for the purpose of flight.

Another good example is the electromagnetic radiation that ‘leaked’ from early radar equipment, melted the chocolate bar in Engineer Percy Spencer’s pocket, and was eventually exapted into the microwave oven. You can see the full story in the video below.


Video Link: Radar – Father of the Microwave Oven


When you look at the Thai Flood hacks site you can see some very clear examples of exaptation, things successfully used for purposes they were never intended for. It’s not all imaginative uses of plastic bottles. Protecting your car from the floodwaters by driving it into the large plastic bag your sofa was delivered in is genius.


You can do anything with a plastic bottle. I’ve got to talk about plastic drinks bottles for a moment. If you have looked at the Thai Flood Hacks site you will see they feature a lot. I suppose that once you’ve made the link between the need to stay afloat and the abundance of plastic containers that hold air, there is no end of uses you can put them to.

The fun with plastic bottles doesn’t end there though. I’ve been browsing the internet for ‘interesting / alternative uses for plastic bottles’. There are absolutely dozens of things you can do with a plastic bottle and a little imagination. Have a look at this article on life; 30 Ways to Upcycle Plastic Bottles, lots of alternative uses, but are they really exaptation?


The Trouble With Exaptation. The problem with exaptation is that it is incredibly difficult to plan for. How do you know that electromagnetic radiation is going to be useful for warming your lunch? How do you make that leap between having a drink of water and tying the empty bottles onto the side of your dog?

A lot of exaptation comes down to about four things as far as I can understand; deep curiosity, wide diversity, the willingness to experiment and acceptance of mess and failure:

  • Deep Curiosity. Continually asking the question why and looking for new answers might just lead you to the answer you never thought of.
  • Wide Diversity. The more sand you sift the more likely you are to find a diamond.
  • Experimentation. When you spot an opportunity, test to see if it might work.
  • Accepting the Mess. This is unlikely to be a process where everything goes to plan and often fails.


I spoke about this challenge at the All Wales Continuous Improvement Community recently where I offered a few suggestions around how you might ‘normalise innovation’ and have a better chance of spotting exaptation opportunities. These included:

In addition there is some work happening at the Cynefin Centre in Bangor University to put some structure around the area which has been called; Managing for Emergence or Managing for Serendipity. More of that in future posts, but this slideshare from Marc Rettig on Managing Emergence gives a good idea of some of the challenges.


In Summary

  1. Necessity can be the Mother of Invention. Extreme situations can lead to some incredible innovations and exaptation.
  2. Exaptation is difficult to ‘manage’. How do you plan for the unknown? Is it possible to create an environment where exaptation flourishes?
  3. Activities like hackathons and crowdsourcing can create the environment where ideas flow and there is opportunity for expatiation to emerge. The trick is recognising it.


Chris can be contacted on, Twitter – @whatsthepont


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Disability, Well-Being, and False Consciousness: Conflicting Approaches to Rationality and Reasonableness in Moral Discourse and Promoting the Social Model of Disability

Summary of argument

Broadly speaking, two approaches to rationality and reasonableness in moral discourse, can be found in recommendations for radical political change. These approaches reflect conflicts between analytical and continental philosophy and their different interpretations of ‘false consciousness’ (i.e. what are viewed as mistaken beliefs concerning the ‘true interests’ of oppressed or marginalised groups).1 However, the recommendation here is to hold this conflict in tension, recognising that this pulls radical politics in opposite directions, particularly when applied to disability issues and how the social model of disability is understood and promoted.


The analytical approach

Risking oversimplification, analytical philosophers tend to reflect the political, economic, and social goals of modernity and the European Enlightenment derived from certain assumptions about the role of rationality and reasonableness in moral discourse. Their main claim is that using rationality in logical argument and scientific enquiry, combined with an appeal to reasonableness when defining the parameters of moral engagement with other human beings, provides a secure foundation for understanding human progress and human relations in various social, economic and political spheres. Radical politics, born from this approach, emphasises the importance of using standards of rationality and reasonableness as a universal moral yardstick for critiquing oppressive and exploitative regimes. For example, this might include measuring the extent to which oppressed and disadvantaged groups are exploited under certain social and economic conditions through examining and scientifically measuring their diminished access to opportunities or ‘life chances’.


The continental approach

Continental philosophers, on the other hand, are generally more sceptical about the possibility of making these kinds of objective claims for rationality and reasonableness in moral discourse. The use of rationality and reasonableness, despite its apparent benign character in underpinning a moral critique of existing regimes, is regarded as potentially oppressive and exploitative. This oppression and exploitation occurs because the very categories of rationality and reasonableness are defined and imposed through dominant institutional norms and practices. The imposition results in many groups being social excluded and marginalised if they do not conform to the so-called universal criteria of rationality and reasonableness which falsely underpin a set of ‘ideals’ about what is a ‘best’ or ‘better’ life to maintain and pursue. Consequently, the radical politics, born from this approach, promotes these marginalised identities as a challenge to these dominant norms and practices, not by appealing to rationality and reasonableness, but rather through promoting methods of social and political assertion and engagement which variously challenge these ‘ideals’.


Contrasting attitudes to false consciousness and well-being

From the above we can see that many analytical philosophers promote a version of ‘false consciousness’ based on an objective description of what is viewed as ‘true’, with this truth being considered universally comprehensible, given it can, in principle, be understood by every rational person. This claim for objectivity provides a universal moral yardstick to measure and critically evaluate the normative deficiencies of the world we presently live in, which leads to an objective description of a ‘better world’ and what can best enhance an individual’s and/or group’s well-being. Moreover, any objective description of this ‘better world’ will tend be future-orientated insofar as it not only allows for the depiction and objective description of a future ‘better world’, but also recommends moral and political strategies to bring this ‘better world’ about.


In contrast, continental philosophers tend to promote ‘false consciousness’ as a denial of the positive and life-enhancing aspects of marginalised ‘subjective identities’ as these occur presently and so underpinning their well-being as it is presently experienced. This contemporising of subjectivity and well-being, which include many of the beliefs persons who are marginalised have about themselves, are positively asserted now as a radical alternative to presently occurring dominant norms and practices. Therefore, positively promoting these marginalised identities, reflects a force for change that is often beyond what can be rationally or reasonably comprehended by dominant groups. This is because the latter groups are committed to exclusionary paradigms which maintain particular logical structures for interpreting the world that are opposed to these radical critiques, and, in the process, falsely ‘legitimate’ the exclusion of minority groups based on the view that the present experience of members of these groups are necessarily diminished or ‘less than ideal’.


Two interpretations of the social model of disability2, well-being and false consciousness

The first interpretation of the social model of disability can be called the Politics of Disablement (POD) interpretation. Its central claim is that the opportunities of disabled people are reduced, not by their medical condition, but as a result of social causation processes which unjustly exclude disabled people from valued community activities, routinely enjoyed by non-disabled people. The POD interpretation will therefore compare the ways in which disabled people are unable to access social, political and economic resources on the same basis as non-disabled people. This state of affairs is understood by the POD to be unreasonable and unfair based on identifying what are seen as ‘objective measures’ of discrimination which are said to unjustly reduce the opportunities of disabled people.


Consistent with the arguments so far, it can be seen how the POD broadly reflects the analytical approach, for it uses objective and universal understandings of rationality and reasonableness as a template for increasing the future expectations and opportunities for disabled people, anticipating, by implication, that disabled people’s ‘objective’ well-being will be enhanced as a result.


However, there is a second interpretation of the social model which highlights, not so much the social causation of ‘objective conditions’ which unjustly undermine the capabilities and expectations of disabled people, but instead focuses on the ‘social construction of disablement’ (SCOD) as a particular kind of mis-description of presently occurring ‘subjective states’ or conditions. The central claim for the SCOD interpretation is that in a disablist society dominated by the medical model, disabled people’s subjective experiences and identities as disabled people now (which include the beliefs disabled people have about themselves), are defined or socially constructed as ‘less than ideal’ or ‘dysfunctional’ compared with the prevailing ‘universal norm’ of non-disablement. This social construction of disablement is, in turn, seen as oppressive and discriminatory.


Concluding thoughts

Following the other arguments presented here, it can be seen how the POD and SCOD interpretations broadly reflect the analytical and continental approaches to philosophy outlined above. The former interpretation stresses the ‘objective conditions’ of disabled people which diminish the well-being of disabled people now, and so looks forward to a future where the objectively measurable capabilities of disabled people are enhanced by a more inclusive and participatory society free from unfair discrimination against disabled people. The latter interpretation, on the other hand, stresses how the ‘subjective conditions’ of disabled people as these occur now challenge dominant medical norms and practices which define disability and necessarily ‘deficient’ and ‘dysfunctional’.


It is clear that these two different interpretations of the social model and, more broadly, the two different approaches to reasonableness and rationality in moral discourse, are conflicting. The argument here though is that we should not respond to this conflict by recommending an either/or choice between these two approaches. Instead, we should combine them, but recognising that these pull radical politics in opposite directions. However, this strategy will help us make better sense of the Disability Movement’s political demands and what it regards as ‘false consciousness’ of the medical model – that is, a consciousness which diminishes both the present experiences and future opportunities of disabled people.


This is a summary of working paper given at Treforest Campus, University of South Wales – November 23rd 2016 – Steve Smith – Professor of Political Philosophy and Social Policy


  1. Also see David West (2010) Continental Philosophy – An Introduction – 2nd edition (New Jersey: Wiley), for an excellent introduction to this distinction between analytical and continental approaches in philosophy.
  2. Also see my exploration of these two different interpretations of the social model in S.R. Smith (2009) ‘Social justice and disability: competing interpretations of the medical and social models’ in Kristjana Kristiansen, Simo Vehmas, and Tom Shakespeare (eds) Arguing about Disability: Philosophical Perspectives (London: Routledge). And see my arguments in S.R. Smith (2011) Equality and Diversity: Value Incommensurability and the Politics of Recognition. (Bristol: Policy Press).


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British Academy workshop on interdisciplinary research

History researcher Dr Maria Nita (left) displays our poster at yesterday’s British Academy workshop on interdisciplinary research. We’ve achieved much of what we set out to do on the Hippy Trail. We interviewed dozens of really interesting and lovely people. We’ve provided a resource (this forum), which will be ongoing, and will allow ex-travellers to continue to share their experiences and reconnect with old friends. And we’ve published some of our research, with more to come next year. This project has inspired us to continue research into this era so we’ve started a new project called ‘A Social History of Pop Festivals: Woodstock, Glastonbury, Altamont, Isle of Wight’. We’ve set up a new blog on that subject and it will be up and running soon:

hippy-trail-a1-maria-nita-%282%29 british-academy-poster

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Local Government in Wales – Services and not Structures

The structure of local government in Wales is once again on the agenda and there is talk about the existing 22 councils and whether they need to be re-organised. This topic goes back a long way, possibly starting shortly after the 22 were put in place in 1996. Questions about whether local authorities were too small to deliver services including education, whether there should be 22 heads of service across Wales and whether the best leaders were in place were all being asked about local authorities in Wales.

The size of public organisations including local authorities is an important issue. However, in relation to size of public organisations and their effectiveness, the jury is still out. Bigger organisations do not necessarily deliver better services no more than smaller ones. No one size fits all. There may be a range of factors supporting and promoting effective services and these will also include leadership, expertise and the demand for the service, for example. Sometimes, government looks more favourably on ‘big is better’ and sometimes ‘small is closer to people and better for democracy’.

At this point in 2016, with all the demands on public organisations including local authorities and finances are really stretched, Ministers will look back and wonder why reorganisation hasn’t happened. For now, a full scale re-organisation is off the agenda. It’s too expensive, too much of a distraction and public want the focus to be on services and not structures.

Instead and building on existing good practice, local authorities will do what they have been doing for some time – building up effective joint working around service delivery. It is reduced budgets, cuts in funding and a desire on behalf of local politicians and officers to keep up services have both been a big driver of this change rather than politicians in Welsh Government.

Welsh government is now keen for this joint working to go much further.
The local government cabinet secretary Mark Drakeford laid out his vision for the future of local government in Wales on Tuesday last and said the current 22 councils would remain in place unless there were cases where authorities wanted to merge voluntarily. In relation to the delivery of services, the Minister is keen on an approach were cities and regions are responsible for services including strategic transport, and economic development, with organisations similar to health boards in Wales delivering other services including education and social services. Local authorities will be strongly encouraged to deliver services jointly and work even more closely with other bodies including health, police and the ambulance service.
Clearly, then the agenda is much more regional for the delivery of key services. Over the next five years, I think that a new pattern of local government will emerge and there will be joint heads of service across two or three councils in some areas of delivery and maybe even a shared Chief Executive or two. A few councils are likely to merge voluntarily.

A big issue for the future is integration with other services and not just local government – police, fire and rescue, ambulance, housing, health and so on. Joint working arrangements to deliver services will become the norm and these will be different across Wales. It is services which interest citizens more than structures.

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You Say You Want a Revolution? (exhibition at the V&A)

You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966 – 1970

What : Exhibitions

When : 10 September 2016- 26 February 2017

Where :  Victoria and Albert Museum, Cromwell Road, London, SW7 2RL

EXHIBITION: This major exhibition will explore the era-defining significance and impact of the late 1960s, expressed through some of the greatest music and performances of the 20th century alongside fashion, film, design and political activism. The exhibition considers how the finished and unfinished revolutions of the time changed the way we live today and think about the future.–Records-and-Rebels-1966—1970/dt/2016-10-07/free/2

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USW Support Staff Conference 2016

Ben Calvert’s talk on Student Experience I recently attended the support staff conference here at USW as I was asked if I’d like to run a small session on sketchnoting, and thought it’d be rude not to go along to the rest of the event. I was glad I did. The first session was Ben … Continue reading USW Support Staff Conference 2016
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Who Governs our Schools?

The governance of our schools and our children’s education has been under the spotlight over the last month, as Education Minister Kirsty Williams announced proposals to alter the current system.


It is pleasing that the new Education Minister has chosen the reform of school governing bodies as one of her first initiatives in the improvement of education in Wales. Effective governance is an important part of successful schools.


For years, school governing bodies have been made up of a range of different members including head teachers, teachers and non-teaching staff, parents and other members of the local community. Staff members and parents on governing bodies are currently elected.


When we look at the future make-up of these governing bodies and how they might be reformed, there are two big issues that we need to consider.


The first of these concerns who sits on governing bodies. Currently, the number of people from each of the groups is determined by the size of the school. A smaller school will have a lower number of parents and community representatives on their governing body, when compared to a larger school.


The new proposals for governing bodies will allow schools to have a greater flexibility in determining how many parents, staff and community representatives sit on a governing body. This is to be welcomed. It will give schools more of a say in deciding what is right for them.


The second issue to consider is the contribution and skills which individual members of a governing body bring to the school.


In Wales, the ‘stakeholder’ model of governance is currently used, where each governor will contribute their particular interests.



Parents will bring with them a knowledge of the school through their children, their children’s education, and how the school fits into their local community – they may even have been a pupil there themselves. Community members can add expertise from their employment, volunteering, public office or private sector backgrounds.


The changes suggested by the Minister indicate that schools should continue to be governed on the basis of this ‘stakeholder’ approach but with a much sharper focus on the skills that they have within the governance field. This is called the ‘stakeholder plus’ approach to governance.


The continuation of the ‘stakeholder’ approach to governance in Wales is in sharp contrast to the ‘skills based’ approach operating in the academy schools in England. Here, lawyers, accountants and other professionals are appointed to sit on governing bodies and the contribution which others bring in is not valued.


This means that parents who may have the greatest knowledge of schools, and arguably the highest level of interest, are being left out. Retaining the stakeholder approach in Wales is therefore a positive decision as parents have the depth of knowledge and an interest in schools performing at their best.


The Minister’s new proposals, which will be consulted on in the autumn, will mean that schools in Wales will have greater flexibility in terms of the number of people who can sit on the governing body. Even more interests can be represented as the formula which determines how many governors of each type must sit on a governing body may be removed.


There is also an intention to bring in short term co-opted members to assist a school when it is dealing with a particular specialist issue – something that I am sure schools would find useful.


But how will the proposed changes to governing bodies benefit our children’s education?


The new proposals are primarily focused on getting governing bodies to better lead schools and this should in turn mean that the education of pupils is improved.


On the basis of the ‘stakeholder plus’ model, having the right governors in place for each school is likely to assist school improvement and the achievement of pupils. Schools with the weakest governance will not be as successful.


They don’t just need to be the right people, they also need to be able to challenge head teachers and schools to deliver against important issues such as pupil performance, employability and key skills. This is essential if schools are to have robust and effective governance structures in place.


Improving governance is just one part of making schools better for pupils in Wales, but it is a good place to start.

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