A quick literature search can provide many methods which, if applied effectively, would enable your school to develop and maintain an engaged and high-performance governing body.
However, the methods that would be the most crucial to ensure that this happens would include:
- making time for strategic discussions and strategic planning
- the provision of robust, data-based governing body reports
- the provision, and take up, of valid and engaging professional development that targets governing body members’ specific needs.
Governing body members at most schools are volunteers who give freely of their time to ensure that their school can benefit from their collective talent and wisdom. However, and many business managers will attest to this, as volunteers it is difficult for many school governing body members, as time-poor parents or time-poor professionals, to find time to engage in meaningful professional development (PD). It is also a genuine source of frustration if a school offers their governing body quality PD and it is not taken up.
The above three methods can also be described in risk language. For example, a failure to provide their governing body with good quality, easily accessible and time-effective training that changes behaviour for the better is one risk that schools often miss.
A Mandated Training Requirement
Laurie Patton, Executive Director of Internet Australia in “The Case For Mandating Governance Training For NFP Boards” in Pro Bono Australia notes:
Not-for-profit boards must ensure proper governance principles and processes are in place so mandatory governance training and a review of board performance by an external expert from time to time is a good idea.
According to the Department of Education (WA) in relation to school governing body training for independent public schools:
Training has been developed to strengthen public school councils/boards and enable chairs and members to effectively perform their role in supporting the directions of their schools.
Regardless of whether schools are government or non-government schools, training for governing bodies assists individual governing body members to understand their roles and responsibilities as governing body members, how their governing body can effectively contribute to the success of their school and the resources available to them.
All schools are committed to the ongoing PD of their governing bodies and most schools provide their governing bodies with several training opportunities each year. Strategic governing bodies also allocate an annual budget to encourage members to participate in training and development programs. It also equips them to be able to arrange bespoke training and development for each governing body member.
In some states and territories there is a mandated requirement that governing body members undertake PD during their governing body tenure.
The following examples are pertinent:
- New South Wales: the Registered and Accredited Individual Non-government Schools (NSW) Manual (Section 18.104.22.168) and Registration Systems and Member Non-government Schools (NSW) Manual (Section 22.214.171.124) require that schools have policies and procedures in place with specific reference to the mandatory completion of 12 hours of professional learning in governance by board members and principals over a three-year time frame. Training must be predominantly in the context of school governance and provided by a NESA-approved training body.
- South Australia: the Standards for Registration and Review of Registration of Schools in South Australia (paragraphs 2.9 and 2.10) require schools to provide appropriate PD and that their teaching and non-teaching staff, contractors, volunteers and visitors are regularly informed of their child protection and mandatory reporting obligations.
- Western Australia: the Guide to Registration Standards and Other Requirements for Non-Government Schools 2020 - (Chapter 1) in relation to school governing body members requires evidence of training opportunities offered to and undertaken by members that target gaps in members’ knowledge and expertise as well as providing regular updates covering accountable and ethical decision making, complaints handling, duty of care and protective behaviours with particular attention paid to the context of school boarding facilities where applicable.
Regardless of whether there are mandated requirements, it is essential that when any person joins a school governing body, they are made aware of their obligations and accountabilities regarding induction and ongoing PD.
How Could Schools Mitigate this Risk?
It is recommended that all new governing body members, at a minimum, complete training, and testing of their knowledge where relevant, in the following areas.
General School Policy Induction
- child protection program
- human resources
- student duty of care
- work, health and safety.
Depending on their specific requirements, they should also complete training in the following areas.
High Level Induction
- legal responsibilities and accountabilities of a not-for-profit governing body
- strategic planning processes
- strategic risk management
- managing the risk of principal/leadership burn-out
- understanding financial documents: cash flow statements, balance sheets and dashboards.
- responsible person (NSW)
- directors’ and officers’ duties
- conflicts of interest and related party transactions
- governing body protocols:
- protection of commercial in confidence information
- channels of communication
- meeting processes
- legal and regulatory compliance.
Downloading and sharing with your governing body the CompliSpace White Paper 12 Key Risks for School Boards to Consider in 2019 would be an excellent starting point for all business managers or bursars.
It could be used by your governing body to review your school’s strategic risks for this year, how these risks link to your strategic plan and, most importantly, to assist your governing body members to develop an effective governing body training or PD program that is actively taken up. These actions would be valid mitigation strategies for the risk “failure to develop and maintain a high-performance governing body”.
McKinsey & Company in “High performing boards: what’s on their agenda?” suggests that low performing boards focus on “the basics” – compliance, financial reports etc. High performing boards do the basics but also spend much more time on strategy - evaluating the allocation of resources, adjusting strategy based on changing conditions, assessing whether strategy stays ahead of the trends, debating strategic alternatives and engaging with innovation.
Training for governing bodies assists individual governing body members to understand their roles and responsibilities as governing body members, how their governing body can effectively contribute to the success of their school and the resources available to them. Most schools provide their governing bodies with several training opportunities each year.
However, most governing body members are volunteers who give freely of their time to ensure that their school can benefit from their collective talent and wisdom. As volunteers, it is difficult for many school governing body members, as time-poor parents or time-poor professionals, to find time to engage in meaningful face to face PD.
Online governance PD can provide governing body members with easily accessible PD that can be accessed at times when they are freely available- not only on yet another weeknight or another Saturday away from their families.
So, how will your school governing body go about mitigating this risk?