One of the key approaches to restructuring the education system and promoting social change is the school-level decentralisation, which is seen as essential for broad based participation to promote democracy. The key principles in establishing School Governing Boards (SGB’s) include efficiency, good governance and social responsibility.
The SGB’s comprise the school principal, elected representatives of parents, teachers, non-teaching staff and (in secondary schools) learners. Parents have the majority stake to ensure that previously marginalised constituencies have a greater voice.
The SGB elections are the third largest public elections in South Africa, with over 5 million parents eligible for voting.
Whilst this policy encourages democratisation and involvement of the community, it presents challenges in the poorer communities:
● There are skills gaps between teachers and parents, which is compounded by an “expertise-drain” from township schools as parents move their children to better resourced schools.
● There are serious infrastructure backlogs to contend with.
● Problems with sustaining active parent participation, caused by literacy levels, lack of time and costs (such as transport) and a lack of understanding of their role and empowerment issues in asserting themselves.
● Tensions between school management teams and SGB’s with concern about SGB’s involving themselves in teacher conduct over professional matters.
● Issues regarding learner admission, relating to the inability to pay fees and lack of proper documentation. The OECD review claims that poor parents are being discriminated against.
● Claims of cronyism in the appointment of teachers.
While it is right in principle to increase the autonomy of schools, the OECD report highlights the fact that many poorly equipped SGB’s struggle to fulfil their basic functions. A lack of skills, sustaining active participation and the enormous infrastructure backlogs are key challenges to the SGB’s functioning efficiently.
Improvements are needed in certain critical areas, such as parental involvement, school development plans and fundraising. Criticisms have been made about “ceding power to the local site” which fails to take account of the diverse interests at local level.
Whilst it is the responsibility of provincial governments to provide training for SGB’s, the OECD report could not find clear evidence of this happening. There appears to be “a deep sense of despondency and hopelessness among those faced with the daunting task of governing schools in these circumstances”.
Issues of finance and budgeting take up a large proportion of the SGB’s time as they have the authority to set and collect school fees, but this is at the expense of other matters of learning and teaching. SGB’s do not always publicise the parents’ right to apply for discounts or exemptions in paying for school fees.
Despite these challenges, most SGB’s have encouraged public participation and accountability, with 200 000 volunteer citizens involved. SGB’s are now recognised as a juristic person, which redefines conflicts from a political to a legislative nature.
The OECD report recommends the following actions for improving governance:
● An administrative model based on constructive oversight should be devised, to improve accountable implementation of policy. A revitalised professional inspectorate could be introduced to ensure greater educational quality.
● The policy development cycle needs to make provision for partnership representation of provinces in policy design and in providing feedback on implementation challenges to inform policy revision.
● Focused training programmes are required to build capacity at provincial and district levels.
● To improve co-ordination of policy design and implementation, it is proposed that periodic staff transfer should be implemented between national and provincial levels.
● New policy should be tested with pilot projects, to “road-test” and identify potential challenges for implementation.
● Policy initiatives need to be supported with effective communication, which needs to be incorporated from the initial stage of the policy process, not limited to the “selling stage” once a policy has been developed.
● It is recommended that the education system would benefit from a period of relative stability and an era of consolidation to address the “reform fatigue” which is being experienced on the ground.