New research into international school governance has highlighted how the governing bodies of some schools around the world are leading change.
But the study, by ISC Research, also highlights areas where aspects of governance could be stronger, especially regarding representation and accountability.
A place within school governance
While many international schools are now valuing the role of everyone within a school community to achieve student success, when it comes to governance, some members of a school community have no representation.
Just 2 per cent of international schools that were surveyed have boards that include a full complement of a parent with a child attending the school, the head or principal, a teacher, an administrator, and a representative of the school ownership. Thirty-one per cent of international schools surveyed do not have a direct representative of the school community on the school board.
Thirty-nine per cent of international schools in the research said their governing bodies now include wellbeing of the headteacher as their responsibility. Commenting on this within the report, Bambi Betts, director of the Principal’s Training Center for International School Leadership, said: “If the governance doesn’t feel accountable to providing support, a healthy and efficient board-head relationship is clearly jeopardised.”
“Thirty-nine per cent of schools said their governing bodies now include wellbeing of the headteacher as their responsibility.”
Vanita Uppal, director of the British School New Delhi in India, shared the impact of her governing body supporting her wellbeing: “Every meeting I have with the board, especially appraisal meetings, they don’t just talk about my targets, they talk about my wellbeing and have actually put down my wellbeing as one of my targets, because they think I don’t pay enough attention to it. That has been incredible.”
Also prompted by the pandemic has been a move by school governance towards active crisis support. Forty-two per cent of governing bodies in the research said they now collaborate with senior leadership teams during times of crisis.
The report highlights the need for a clear understanding of the responsibilities that governors might and might not take.
Ian Hunt, CEO of the two Haileybury campuses in Kazakhstan, sister schools of the UK independent school, stressed the importance of school boards not “meddling in operational aspects of the day-to-day running of the school. They are there to support the executive,” he said.
“The board must be all about collegiality with a common goal to make the school that they represent the best possible learning environment,” he explained, and described how the Haileybury schools in Kazakhstan achieve this by welcoming the board into the school to observe classes, student interactions, and staff operation.
“The board members get a much closer and clearer understanding of the inner workings of the school and, actually, the soul of it,” he said.
Surprisingly, it appears that most governing bodies do not consider they have an important role contributing to their school as a place of learning. Fewer than 10 per cent of governing bodies researched said that they take responsibility for providing direction for the learning. “It is concerning that so few respondents connected in any way that governance had any strategic responsibility for the nature or direction of the learning programme,” commented Bambi Betts in the report.
“Most governing bodies do not think they have an important role contributing to their school as a place of learning.”
“A primary role of any governing [body] is to design and monitor strategic policy on the key drivers of the mission. Interesting that ‘learning’ doesn’t seem to be high on that list,” she added.
Assessing governance progress and responsibility
The report raises concern about the extent to which governance responsibilities are achieved, suggesting it is ambiguous in many schools.
While 83 per cent of international schools within the research said they conduct some level of annual evaluation of the governing body, 52 per cent do so through self-evaluation alone, and only 29 per cent conduct accreditation or external evaluation that includes an appraisal of the governing body.
The free report offers insight to all schools and their governing bodies about governance practice occurring within the international school sector, including areas of governance that may need review.