Effective co-governance the key to success
Effective co-governance the key to success and wellbeing for 21st century schools
Proposed changes to school governing structures recommended by the Tomorrow’s Schools taskforce will take some time to work through, however NZSTA is delighted to see that the report recommends community-led school boards of trustees retain responsibility for the key governance areas of student achievement, community engagement and strategic planning and reporting for their school.
The inclusion of a new governing body at district / hub level will add complexity to the governing structure but could potentially work well to help formalise the collaboration and consistency (coherence) between schools and government agencies that the sector has been striving for over recent years.
A member of the sector Advisory Group that has been a sounding board for the taskforce throughout its deliberations, NZSTA President Lorraine Kerr says that if the taskforce report is not uncomfortable reading, at least for some, it is probably not going far enough to be useful.
Transforming education culture
"Making this new system work will require some serious thinking about the place of government and officials, and on their willingness to regroup into agencies that genuinely support system stakeholders rather than trying to second-guess them. This has been a real issue with the Tomorrow’s Schools system, although there’s been a genuine effort from the Ministry to address that over recent years," Lorraine says.
Community participation at governance level is essential to create a partnership with the local community and to embed community voice throughout the system. This includes student participation, which is a crucial part of any 21st century school community.
In this new-look system the "community DNA" needs to be not only embedded into the system but the status and mana of that community needs to be explicitly recognised and valued by other stakeholders as one of the keys to education success.
Further clarification needed
"What we call ‘governing’ is a complex activity, with many parts, and the way we do it in schools at the moment includes a lot of activity that is really high-level management rather than actual governance. Property management is a classic example.
"For example, we note that the Taskforce refers to governance sitting at the Hub level, but also says that planning and reporting, and creating local goals will be carried out at school level. Now as far as NZSTA is concerned, planning and reporting and defining strategic goals for the school is most definitely a governance activity, so we need to have those conversations with the Taskforce to work out exactly what they are thinking and create a common language to carry us forward.
"It may sound trivial to be talking about the words we use at this point, but words are what carry meaning and its important that the meaning is conveyed accurately," says Lorraine.
"We have repeatedly been told by Ministers that school boards of trustees will continue to govern their schools under any new system, but that the focus and structure of school boards of trustees may change. We have taken them at their word on that.
"We know that there are many things that site-based, community led governance of our schools has achieved very well over the past 30 years, and there are other things, like the lack of effective support for community participation, that have got in the way of that success.
"An ideal outcome will be enough change to enable school boards of trustees to perform their strategic governance role on behalf of the local community without constantly getting tied up in the compliance aspects of running the ‘business’ activities of the school."
Co-governance with local communities has real possibilities
"One of the models we have observed overseas is a system of deliberate co-governance, where the district (what the Taskforce refers to as an Education Hub) and the school are each responsible for specific aspects of governance," Lorraine says.
The Taskforce proposals effectively create a two-tier system of co-governance, distributed between school level (boards of trustees) and district level (education hub boards). School boards retain the key governance responsibilities at school level, for student progress and achievement, and the aspirational and strategic planning that is reflected in the school’s charter with the local community, and reporting on progress towards those local aspirations.
The Taskforce proposals provide for a middle layer in the system that shares and supports school boards’ responsibility to fulfil this role effectively.
The co-governance model extends the concept of collaboration into governing processes and is already working in other places such as Canada. Making it work here will require much clearer shared understandings of what ‘governance’ is (and isn’t), and the way the different levels interact.
NZSTA believes that a system of co-governance between school and district level boards has great potential to promote a coherent and collaborative schooling system that ensures local schools are better supported to genuinely engage and reflect their local communities.
Strengthened school support welcome
NZSTA also welcomes the proposal to reinstate effective support and services for schools through a district hub model, particularly for property, health and safety and teacher professional development. The continual erosion of these services over the 30 years of Tomorrows Schools has placed huge burdens on boards, principals, staff and communities and compromised students’ experiences and achievement levels.
Empowering communities the key
NZSTA is looking forward to working with other stakeholder groups through the practicalities of how the Taskforce proposals can be successfully implemented.
"The most important thing will be that the review empowers local communities to actively pursue their aspirations for the education of their children and young people. The best way to do that is through a community-led governing body that is permitted and supported to govern well," Lorraine says. "We’re excited to be involved in the next phase, which will be working out what we have to do to ensure that this system makeover produces the best possible education experiences and outcomes for our students.
"As always the devil will be in the detail, but the Taskforce report looks like a promising start."