On the evening of Monday 10th September, BottomUp was once again in the mix as we ran a Parent School Governing Body workshop which was held at the Parkwood Tech Centre.
The evening began, as per usual, with an excellent and yummy array of snacks to welcome in teachers and parents as they arrived.
There was an illustrious panel on hand to share some thoughts and field some questions, but before we got there we started off by filling in a pre-survey that asked some basic questions about our knowledge of the school SGBs:
# Do you know who is allowed to be elected on to the SGB? If yes, please list two examples.
# Do you know what is required for the SGB to function well? If yes, please list two requirements.
# Do you know what information SGBs are required to disclose to parents and students? If yes, please list two.
# Do you think the SGB is an effective body when it comes to representation of parents and students at your child’s school? Please explain your answer.
Ashley Visagie the panel to the stage and gave us a bit of a rundown of who was there:
Panelist A: Riyaadh Najaar [ex-principal of Spine Road High School & Progressive Principals Association]
Panelist B: Dr Solange Rosa [UCT GSB & Bertha Centre]
Panelist C: Dr Malcolm Venter [Governing Body Foundation]
Panelist D: Janice King [WC Street Children’s Forum & Westerford High School parent and SGB member]
Before he started with the questions to the panel, he gave us a brief reminder of what the SGB is [School Governing Body] and informed us that it is actually quite a recent body in its current form, having come into effect in 1996. In effect it replaced the Teacher/Parent associations with the key difference being that it carried actual weight and authority to make decisions, having been mandated by the SA Schools Act.
It was interesting to note that both the liberation parties and the National Party had wanted SGBs in the 90s but for very different reasons.
As we moved into the question time Ashley made mention of the importance of speaking to the parents who could not be there and considering the reasons for that.
Here is the first question that was asked and some of the conversation that followed:
QUESTION 1: What is the main role of the SGB in ordinary government schools?
RN: It is unfortunate that in township school governing bodies no-one wants to be there. The idea of being nominated vs. being elected. This is 90% driven by the principal and so is therefore completely dysfunctional in our schools. On the other side, you have resourceful parents who can contribute meaningfully to the schools. Township schools thus need training and resources to help them function more effectively.
The raising of funds becomes the main function and this is challenging. Therefore the quality of education suffers. The mindset becomes that real education can only happen at schools across the line, which , of course, is a fallacy. If the school values itself and becomes a school of excellence it will infect the parents with passion for the school.
SR: I was on the SGB at Grove Primary school which has access to lots of resources. It didn’t necessarily mean that we had more parent participation though. We got straight on to the board because there were not so many people vying for it. It has evolved over time and now there is a huge group wanting to be on the board and I think the difference was participatory democracy and the accountability of educators, principals and each other. We encouraged much wider participation from as many people as possible so that it was not just seen as the SGB doing the work.
Two critical functions:
[I] Financial Management
[II] Policies that make schools function effectively
We tried to cluster schools to create a mechanism to help them support each other. Idea-sharing.
We started an admissions audit to make as much space possible for those who are disadvantaged to have access.
MV: Let me also stress that it is not rosy elsewhere – everyone is struggling in this area. One of the most important things is getting the people on the SGB to feel comfortable. There is a need to train and up skill people not just for the governing body space but generally in life as well – things like budgeting and managing finances.
In the end, the principal has to run the school – the SGB is there to provide alternative perspectives so that those who are managing the school understand what the community wants and thinks.
JK: The educators will manage the school. Our role [as SGB] is to manage policy [admissions, finance, recruitment, religion as some examples]. The ruling is that there must be more parents on the SGB than anyone else according to the act which means that the power is supposed to lie with the parents.
The school’s responsibility is to equip those on the governing body.
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The Panel Speaks
A number of other questions followed and it was really helpful that there was not always agreement between panel members, so we got to see some healthy debate and be challenged as audience to make up our own minds having seen a variety of perspectives. Instead of continuing with question and answer, I want to share some of the reflections that came out from various panelists at various times that really struck me:
RN: When it comes to setting the curriculum of the school, the governing body doesn’t have the capacity and so that is an area where subcommittees can help.
SR: There can be corruption anywhere but as a group you can hold each other accountable. One of the key focal points should be Employment Equity – how can we get more people of colour as staff in our schools?
SR: One idea is to have a collective vision for your school such as a three-year plan for example. This is a way of breaking down overwhelming problems into manageable solutions. You get people asking the question, ‘What would we like to change in this period?’ and then you invite parents and teachers and students to participate, remembering that it is really important to involve people beyond just the SGB.
MV: One idea is to draw up a protocol. Having a 15 page document which nobody reads is unhelpful. So putting it together in a shorter point form idea of what we want and are trying to achieve.
JK: It is important that we don’t think of each group as a lobby group carrying their specific groups needs because that tends to pitch parents against teachers against learners and so on. Everyone is there to decide everything, while bringing the specific needs of the group they represent to the table so that they can be heard.
RN: Democracy is good but democracy with responsibility is vital and we need to all be learning that, not just the children.
SR: All of the protests that happened last year in the schools were learners who were uncovering abuse and racism. They were the ones highlighting the problems therefore it is important that we listen to them as they understand the present cultural norms of the time.
SR: Ideally the SGB is internally a very democratic space, but it doesn’t often work like that. Teachers might feel criticised by parents and parents don’t feel like they are being taken seriously and so blocks occur.
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Questions from the Audience:
The floor was then opened up for some Q & A time and here are some of the questions that were posed to our panel:
# Has there been any meaningful partnership between model C schools and township schools. Any case studies? And has it worked?
# Can we have some feedback on the collaboration schools model?
# The time a learner is on the SGB [1 year] compared to that of an adult [3 years] – do you think this time is sufficient and why is it different?
One of the big problems across the board, whether we are talking about fee paying or non-fee paying schools seems to be parent/student/teacher participation. When SGBs do not function and when the relevant stakeholders do not participate, schools can fall prey to bad practices such as nepotism, corruption and exclusion.
Ashley suggested that how we frame problems are important and that while there are significant challenges with SGB functioning, such problems are not simply resolved by initiatives that seek to partner principals or that seek to import leadership models from advantaged and well resourced spaces into disadvantaged schools. We need to also consider that such interventions may communicate deficit views of schools in oppressed and marginalised communities, and that they mask serious distributional problems that if resolved might facilitate better functioning.
Finally Robyn did a brief thank-you to the panelists who had given of their time and expertise to share with us and we had more chance for final snacks and conversations before heading home.
Once again another excellent BottomUp event. BottomUp are providing some really insightful and significant opportunities for people to engage with the real issues that our schools and education models are confronted with and we need to figure out how to get more people to take advantage of these occasions.