Parktown Boys incident is a wake-up call for school governing bodies
Friday, 24 January 2020
The tragic drowning of a Parktown Boys’ pupil on an orientation camp attracted national attention—and should prompt the governing bodies of all schools to take a long, hard look at their governance processes, says Parmi Natesan, CEO, Institute of Directors in South Africa (IoDSA).
“Aside from the human tragedy of this incident, it is also a major setback for the school, which has suffered acute reputational damage and the collapse of its relationship with its stakeholders, most notably parents,” she says. “The school governing body is analogous to a company’s board of directors, and they have the responsibility for ensuring everything is in place to ensure the institution’s long-term sustainability.”
The IoDSA has long believed that while governance in schools is critical, it is often poorly understood and thus neglected. School governing bodies need to take governance seriously in order to discharge their duties effectively and provide the kind of leadership that will allow schools to navigate their risks, and respond appropriately when a risk does materialise.
Ms Natesan says that members of school governing bodies have the same responsibility that a board of directors has towards the school, taking into account the stakeholders (parents, learners, donors and the state in the case of public schools).
“By adopting good governance principles, school governing bodies will improve the quality of leadership, decision-making and strategic vision they can offer, to the institution’s ultimate benefit,” she argues. “A well-thought-out and properly executed governance strategy will also build the confidence of stakeholders in the institution.”
Another key benefit of strong governance is a better understanding of the risks that threaten the school, how to mitigate them and how to respond effectively when they materialise, adds Muhammad Seedat, Chair of the IoDSA, who has extensive experience as a member and chair of school governing bodies.
“The governing body bears the ultimate responsibility for ensuring that the school not only understands the risks that it faces, but also how to mitigate them. For example, has it put a risk register in place along with policies to mitigate the identified risks?” he says. “King IV recognises that risk and opportunity are often two sides of the same coin; in this case, the opportunity is to ensure that this kind of disaster does not happen.”
Mr Seedat further argues that school governing bodies also have to accept that risks do materialise and that it is vital they have policies and procedures in place to ensure the school’s response is effective on all fronts. A concern in the current case is the lack of comment from the governing body.
“Crisis communication is essential in helping an organisation recover from a disaster, and the governing body must ensure a strategy is in place,” he says. “Stakeholders have a legitimate need to be kept informed, and effective communication shows that the school recognises its accountability, and willingness to take the right actions.”
The IoDSA’s guide, Governance in Public Schools, is available on its website to help school governors in applying King principles. Please visit https://cdn.ymaws.com/www.iodsa.co.za/resource/collection/01E7EA8E-CA19-4F70-B99A-50A0362028FC/Governance_in_Public_Schools_-_2nd_Edition.pdf.