Step One: Becoming a member of a school governing body

Step One answers questions about why schools have governing bodies, what they are for and what they should do.

Why do we have school governing bodies (SGBs)?

The values of the Constitution apply to the way we run our schools. All parents, educators and learners have rights and responsibilities.
The Schools Act has made it a requirement that every public school must establish a governing body.

What is a school governing body?

A SGB is a group of people who promote the best interests of the school and ensure learners receive the best education possible. Its main job is to help the school principal to manage the school’s activities in an efficient way.

What does the school governing body do? A SGB must put the best interests of the school first. It is not involved in the day-to-day running of the school - that is the work of the principal and the educators. The SGB helps to decide on:

School policy: school hours, language and religious policy, dress code and code of conduct.

School development: development plan, getting voluntary helpers, partnerships with the community and relationships with other schools.

School administration: looking after property, appointment of staff and the annual general meeting of parents.

School finance: raising funds and overseeing the school’s finances.

A governing body can also request extra powers from the head of department in each province.

What is a member of a school governing body?

Members of a SGB are people who care enough about what goes on in their school to want to be involved and make a difference. Being involved in school governance takes hard work and time. You will be expected to attend meetings regularly, to prepare for them and to follow up. SGBs must work in a way that helps to run the school well. A good member of a school governing body should be:

-interested in and aware of what is happening in education

-attend SGB meetings and be willing to take the role seriously

-open-minded, questioning, and critical in a positive and constructive way

-prepared to participate fully in meetings and to make contributions

-prepared to build a dedicated team

-able to respect the need for confidentiality

-prepared to learn about becoming an even better governor

-prepared to put the good of the school before any personal interest

-independent and not influenced by outside groups when appointing staff, awarding contracts or making recommendations

-accountable to the school by answering questions about activities, including questions about money spent

-a leader by promoting school values, principles and programmes.

What can members contribute?

All members of governing bodies bring their skills to the task of governing the school.

Your experience Skills and knowledge

You have brought up a family on a low income. You are used to working out how money should be spent.

You have helped to run a sports club. You have organising skills (such as planning matches and booking transport).

You own a small business. You can plan ahead and check on spending.

What can you bring to the work of your governing body? Write down your experiences and skills. Share this with the governing body. It will also help you to decide which area of work you would most like to focus on.

How do you become a member of a school governing body?

There are three types of members of a school governing body. They are:

The school principal.

Members who are elected.

Members who are co-opted from the community.

The principal is the only member of the SGB who is an automatic member.

Elected members are the biggest group and consist of: Parents of officially enrolled learners who are not employed at the school. A parent can be either the parent or guardian of the learner, has legal custody or who is in charge of the learner’s education; Educators (teachers) employed at the school; Officially enrolled learners, in eighth grade or higher. Learners have to be elected by the school’s representative council of learners; and anyone employed at the school who is non-teaching staff.

Co-opted members help the governing body but do not have the right to vote. If a school is on private property, then the owner will be a co-opted member. Schools providing special needs education should have a co-opted member who is an expert in this area.

How long can a member serve?

Up to three years. Learner members can only serve one year. After serving their time, members can be re-elected or co-opted.

When can a member be removed from the governing body?

A school governor can be removed from office for:

missing more than three meetings in a row, without a reasonable explanation

not fulfilling the rules required to stand as a member

acting in a way that is prejudicial to the best interests of the school. In this case, the head of department in the province must make a decision.

How members of a governing body are elected?

Election procedures are more or less the same for parents, educators and non-educators. The MEC for education in each province decides how the elections take place.

What do governing bodies need to know?

Governing bodies need to know:

-about each other

-about the school

-about previous governing bodies

-about laws to do with school governance.

-The governing body itself

When a governing body is new, or when new members join, the members must get to know each other so they can work as a team. There are all sorts of other things which you can do to help members to get to know each other. For example:

informal meetings where new members can meet each other and the principal

asking each member to say something about him/herself at the first meeting

giving out members’ names and addresses to all members at the first meeting

making name tags/labels for members for meetings.

The school

Members of the SGB must do everything they can to familiarise themselves with their school. Arrange a tour of the school with the principal. Visits are better if members do not simply look, but also talk with educators, non-educators and learners. Members should make regular visits.

School governance

There are many documents that describe the rules and regulations about South Africa’s new school governance. It is important for SGBs to have these documents. The South African Schools Act and the various provincial school acts deal with general requirements for school governance. The provincial education departments also set regulations for how things should be done. The national Department of Education has published a guide to the national Schools Act, called Understanding the South African Schools Act, and every school governing body should have a copy of this. Provincial education authorities send circulars to schools regularly. School governing bodies should collect these.

Keeping things confidential

Part of being a good member of a SGB is to be able to respect things that are confidential. The SGB must decide if anything it discusses is confidential. All reports to the SGB and its committees are public documents. They must be made available at the school after the meeting.

Getting help

It is the duty of the governing body to keep itself informed. There are people and institutions that can help school governing bodies to get information. Write down a list of people or organisations that could help your governing body.

Getting training and support

Governing bodies are entitled to training. This should be provided by the provincial education department.

Think about what skills you have as a governing body and where you would like some training. One way of doing this is to make a list of the tasks you are responsible for and see how confident you feel about them.

If you have not heard anything from the local education department about development programmes, contact them and ask them for help. It is their duty to provide support.

- The Teacher/M&G Media, June 2001.

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