Newsletter 170 - School Governance - Neglect or Derelict of Duty
One of the most profound changes in the transformation of the South African schooling system has been the introduction of the democratically elected school governing body (SGB). SGB’s has significantly changed the terrain of school governance but has brought with it serious unintended consequences the like of a crisis in conviction. Simply put, South Africa has failed the SGB’s in poorer communities and is nothing short of Departmental neglect. Since 1996 this crisis has been exacerbated due to a serious lack of competence and capacity amongst both the officials of government and the members of the SGB.
The South African School Act very ambitiously provides for a “set uniform norms and standards for the education of learners at schools and the organisation, governance and funding of schools throughout the Republic of South Africa.” The SGB stand in trust and is a juristic person. The roles, duties and responsibilities are plentiful but can be summarized as (1) making school policy (2) learner discipline (4) school budget and finances (5) appointment of staff (7) administer school resources (8) support the school principal and teacher.
The efficacies of governance in affluent and poorer school are worlds apart. The law gives governors enormous powers but fail to recognize fully the assumptions implied by these provisions of authority. One such assumption is the capacity of elected members of the SGB. The Act places on obligation on the Provincial Education Department (PED) to “establish a programme to provide introductory training for newly elected governing bodies to enable them to perform their functions; and provide continuing training to governing bodies to promote the effective performance of their functions or to enable them to assume additional functions.” The school principal and the PED must “render all necessary assistance to governing bodies in the performance of their functions.”
The schooling system has failed SGB’s since 1996. The budget allocation for training and development of members of the SGB is a mere fraction (less than 1%) and not enough to adequately deal with the obligation of the state. The challenge however is more than just money. The law equally assume that the District Office of Provincial Education Departments have the capacity to effectively respond to this huge responsibility to train and support SGBs. In fairness to the District Officials they espouse the willingness and are able to give initial training but not nearly enough to respond to the need.
Becoming an elected member of the SBG is a thankless job with very huge responsibilities and only parents with learners at a particular school qualify to be elected for a period of three years. The position as implied by the law makes false assumptions of initial levels skill, power relations and the capacity of the Education District to respond adequately to the need of members of the SGB in poorer communities. I have served schools in poorer communities for more than fifteen years and have members of the SBG carrying themselves with great conviction, dedication and dignity. I have also experienced ineptitude with dire consequences for the school.
Since 1996 the Western Cape Education Department has battled with finding an appropriate model and design for training members of the SGB. This quest till today is an ongoing one and there are many reasons for its lack of success. Staff at the District Offices is more than competent to support SGB’s but the development work is undermined by the lack of funding, lack of time and focus and the elusive model of implementation. Let me explain. The principle of departure is the fact that Departmental Officials are there to serve and be at service. Finding an appropriate and workable model for training must be governor focused. Governors are mostly working people. Factor in the effect in poorer communities and you appreciate the challenge faced by the District Office. A workshop for four hours can only accommodate 40 participants and how many can the District afford? Do you have the workshop in a Circuit or provide the service across Circuits? How many members of an SGB can attend at one time? Is a week night good or should we use a Saturday? Whatever choice the District makes will by its very nature include some and exclude other. By the time three years have lapsed the state has not even touched the surface.
The initial levels of skill implied by the law are mostly elusive in poorer communities despite the great effort and this has a profound impact on good schooling. Interaction between the SGB and professional staff at schools is important to maintain a healthy learning and teaching school environment. Both parties contribute to this stalemate flexing muscle and intellectual prowess to the detriment of the school.
The school principal is an ex officio (by virtue of being the school principal representing the Provincial Head of Department) member of the SGB. A good functioning SGB can make the life of the principal good and vice versa. Principals therefore (with good intention) invest in stacking the odds in their favour sometimes by twisted means.
Governing Bodies and its members in poorer communities need more, better and ongoing support. More funding must be allocated and the state must recognize its responsibility to incentivize the volunteer services not only of members of the SGB but across the spectrum of South African society. We need a national database to record volunteer services of individuals across the length and breadth of this country and later reward them and their children and grandchildren with free secondary and tertiary education.